I hold a somewhat unpopular view on cheaters and being cheated on. I see little difference between being the one who goes outside the bounds of a committed relationship and being the one whose been cheated on even though it might not seem that way in the moment. My opinion is that both people are looking to regain their self-worth, dignity, and self-respect during and after the affair. Both people are hurting and both people need to create and own their personal lives without blaming or using another.

We can get into all sorts of pathological reasons why someone cheats. We can also study the individual who lets themselves be betrayed. Neither one is pretty. Both are aching. Both have a history of behavior that’ll fill a patient log for a therapist and often do. But what I usually see are two wounded and confused people trying to make their way in this world. If being cheated on hurt, if the loss of self-esteem and regret have run their course, the question remains: how to make sure it never happens again?

You can always walk away from a marriage, throw in the towel, and punish yourself giving into every demand out of guilt. Or on the flip side, you can spend your days enacting revenge until you’re tired of of punishing another human being. But creating and owning a life – your future – is a totally different kettle of fish and making sure cheating never happens again is where the magic power of fortitude and self-discipline come into play.

1: How do I take back my self-esteem?

Usually, both people feel some degree of emotional pummeling. The most difficult thing to face is your righteous behavior. But without seriously owning the choices and the actions… the innocent or not so innocent flirting, the affair of the mind, your inability to communicate with your partner; to know what you want, to be able to ask for what you want in your relationships. 100% ownership is the only way out of unwarranted complacency or self-serving moralizing. You’ll want fortitude and self-discipline to manage your thoughts and your feelings, to see your part, grieve, and to make sure you never let it happen again.

2: How do I get over the affair?

Are you going to punish yourself for going against your word? Are you going to push the pain aside and ignore the facts, and simply “deal with it” or power through the rest of your life? That attitude and mindset may be a short-term solution for a lot of stuff, but when it comes to your lifetime, that’s a long time to ignore something. I do not believe you’ll ever forget the person who reminded you that you’re entitled to love, romance and affection.

So when the pain comes up, when the grief finally surfaces and your heart softens, that’s a good time to find some forgiveness for your human frailties: your habits of mind, your beliefs about the opposite sex, the way you view commitment, the way you let bad people in, and how you want to show up in your own life.

3: How do I protect myself after being cheated on?

Up until this moment, you’ve been doing the best you can given what you know and how you’ve acted over the years. The way out of the pain and regret is to trust yourself again and to learn to trust another. But, it starts with small steps not grandiose declarations and commitments. It starts with you being your word – to yourself. To figure out what you really want and staying true to your values and desires. If you don’t want a committed relationship, own that. If you do, then make sure you pay attention to the person you’re inviting into your home, your bed, and your body.

Each and everyone of us deserves love. We deserve to create our futures, to be treated with kindness, to be seen and heard. When people cheat, everyone gets hurt. And as adults, we must deal with the painful lessons and be certain not to repeat them again.