Overcoming the Pain of Past Infidelity in a New Relationship

You think you’re over it. The relationship or the marriage ended. You’ve taken a little time to work on yourself, and you’re ready to get back into the game.

You now know the signs to look for – the common characteristics of people who cheat. You know better than to spend too much time with someone who isn’t “looking for anything too serious” or “likes to keep options open.” You’ve had that. Now you’re looking for someone who’s open to an honest relationship.

And then you find that person, and the connection is so natural. He or she is looking for the same thing you are: an end to the games and the playing around. Exclusivity and commitment are valued, and, for the first time in a long time, you feel safe, secure, and even happy.

And then it happens. He gets the time wrong on that home-cooked dinner you were planning and shows up a half-hour late. You know it was a misunderstanding, but you can’t help wondering where he’s been, or more pressingly, with whom. She says she’s going to a movie with her girlfriends, and you start to wonder if she’s there.

Or is she with someone else? If everything is going so well and your partner has given you no real reason to question their behavior, why the doubt?

If you have been a victim of infidelity, this is only normal, and the default position of your brain’s self-protective mechanisms as you grow closer to a new lover. How many things come to mind that were more painful than your partner’s infidelity? Your brain, wanting to shield you from that emotional trauma, begins to throw up red flags, even around the most innocuous, harmless actions, mistakes, and circumstances.

In your brain, as a result of your previous partner’s behavior, action “A” signified outcome “B.” When he said he was just running a little late or that he had been mistaken about the time, there actually may have been another woman involved. When she said she was going out with the girls, she may actually have been with another man. You are not wrong for making these natural sorts of connections because these experiences have conditioned you.

Initially, you may wonder if it is even possible to genuinely heal from the pain of the past and the fear that comes to haunt you even in your new, healthier relationship. Will you always live with the scars of someone else’s past cheating?

The answer is that it is indeed possible to move past the pain of infidelity in a past romance or marriage. Time helps, but even many years later, some of the same emotional triggers will pop up. This is to be expected, but it is not a death sentence for your love life or potential happiness with a new partner.

When you have established some trust and emotional intimacy with your new partner, it is time to touch upon what happened in your prior relationship. This will be especially helpful for your partner, who does not have the context for adequately understanding negative emotions or intense reactions that you may have over something that to him or her seems innocuous.

When you explain that your brain naturally resorts to worst-case scenarios, he or she can choose to be more sensitive to your emotional needs or take extra steps to make you feel secure.
However, your healing and emotional management is not the sole responsibility of your partner.

It is also necessary to work on seeing this relationship as a new and unique partnership. You must decide not to allow past infidelity, deception, and other misbehavior to poison your view of all future partners. This is hardly fair or even rational.

Recognize that what happened to you was sad and even tragic, but it was not fatal. Love is painful, and we all will go through breakups that feel like they’re going to break us. But you have come out the other side and lived to love again. Embrace that. Acknowledge what you learned from your past relationship, and then welcome the possibility of a better love. You are wiser now; you know things your younger self didn’t know.

And in the end, you may be hurt again. Yes, it is a possibility. But you also have the emotional resources and personal strength to handle that. Love is always a gamble, but every mistake or heartbreak need not make us jaded, just a little wiser. Embrace the fun and excitement and personal challenge of loving and trusting again.