If you've ever been cheated on, then you know just how violating and devastating that experience can feel. So if your friend or family member is going through the same thing, you probably want to offer some words of comfort. Knowing the right things to say to someone who was cheated on can make all the difference. Because the person who was cheated on is in a vulnerable place, it’s important to make sure your words of support are well-received.
Although it can be a life-altering shock, cheating is not uncommon, and no relationship is totally immune to it. Responding to your loved one with care and compassion is the key. “In short, to be helpful, focus on being understanding and showing support rather than pushing advice or making judgmental statements that might make someone's pain even worse,” Jason B. Whiting, Ph.D., researcher and relationship blogger, tells Romper. Also hold off on any immediate plans for revenge against the person who cheated. “If your first instinct is to let your friend know that you never liked their partner anyways and that they are better off without them, you are falling victim to idiot compassion,” Dr. Alexandra H. Solomon, licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, tells Romper. “Opt instead for wise compassion. Practicing wise compassion is about loving your friend without hating their partner. It is about staying present to their pain instead of rescuing them, problem-solving for them, or telling them what this means to them.” Although this more mature take is far from easy, here’s what you can say to a loved one whose relationship has just hit the fan.
1. "What Do You Need Right Now?"
Ask questions first. “Go meta. Going meta means asking your friend about what they feel like they need before you just start doing stuff for them,” says Dr. Solomon. Some people would benefit from a night out, while others may want to watch Netflix with you and have a good cry. Let your friend set the tone.
2. "Whatever You're Feeling Is OK And Normal."
People coming to terms with a cheating issue may feel like their emotions are all out of whack. It's normal to feel everything from disbelief to total pain from cheating, according to Elite Daily. Give your friend the space to start processing these confusing responses.
3. "This Isn't About You."
When you've been cheated on, it's easy to blame yourself for the event. Cheating can wreck your self-esteem in so many ways. That's why it's important to reassure your friend that the cheating incident is not necessarily a reflection of their character, attractiveness, or personality. It may not be about the faithful partner at all. Getting away with cheating simply feels good for some people, according to a 2013 study of cheating behavior in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It doesn't matter how amazing their partner may be.
4. "You Don't Have To Make Any Big Decisions Now."
Your friend may be wrestling with some big choices now, especially whether to stay in the relationship or leave, but these life-changing decisions can wait for a little while. As tempting as it may be, try to hold off on giving your two cents right now. “It is disturbing to hear of pain and betrayal, and friends often react with strong emotions and advice, like: ‘You need to leave now,’ or, ‘let's get you with someone better.’ However, in most relationship problems, victims benefit from support rather than force, which has the effect of silencing them or disrespecting their agency,” says Dr. Whiting. Remind your friend that there is plenty of time to process everything, and they don't have to make any major life-changing decisions right this moment.
Cheating is a complicated issue that differs for every relationship. The person who gets cheated on doesn't have to immediately dump the other person, as noted in Glamour. But they aren't obligated to stay put, either.
5. "I'm Here."
Opt for some emotional realness instead of platitudes. “When we speak from a place of wise compassion, what we say is empathic: ‘This is really hard;’ ‘I can see how much you are hurting;’ ‘I am so sorry you’re going through this;’ ‘I’m here,’” says Dr. Solomon. This is so much more meaningful than going “Everything happens for a reason” or something along those lines.
6. "You Will Be OK."
They might not believe it right now. But it's true.
7. "Let Me Know If I Can Do Anything For You."
After an affair, the person who got cheated on may feel empty, irritated, or even ashamed of the event, according to HuffPost. Anything you can say to provide reassurance can mean so much. If your friend wants your help committing some act of vandalism against the cheater, well, maybe don't do that. But if you're able to sit through a crying jag, or offer up your couch for a night, then you're the best.
8. "Here, I Brought You Ice Cream."
Bring your friend some of their favorite treat. Nothing can instantly take away the pain of cheating, but a glass of wine or a scoop of their favorite ice cream certainly doesn't hurt.
(2013) N. Ruedy, C. Moore, F. Gino, M. Schweitzer, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, "The Cheater's High: Unexpected Affective Benefits of Unethical Behavior" https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-a0034231.pdf
Dr. Alexandra H. Solomon, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University, licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, author
Jason B. Whiting, Ph.D., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, researcher, relationship blogger, and author
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