Infidelity is a cut to the heart. If you’ve been cheated on, you probably feel a myriad of emotions from resentment and anger to hurt and betrayal. Not surprisingly, you might even feel like you want to hurt your partner back for the pain they’ve inflicted, including participating in revenge cheating.
“Revenge cheating is when an individual cheats on their partner as a response to their partner’s infidelity,” Hannah Guy, a licensed clinical social worker, says. “Simply put, it’s cheating on your partner as a way to get back at them for cheating on you.”
Revenge cheating might seem like a quick fix in the heat of the moment, but in the long term, it’s not a healthy response to your hurt. Here’s what you need to know about revenge cheating.
What is revenge cheating?
“Revenge cheating is discovering your partner had an affair (whether emotional or physical), and you then go and intentionally cheat on them to ‘get back at them,’” Guy explains. It’s typically done in a long-term relationship and marriage when the betrayal cuts deep and there’s a sense of entitlement for the investment of years and energy into a relationship.
Types of revenge cheating
According to Guy, the main types of cheating fall under the umbrella of emotional or physical cheating. “However, each relationship has its own boundaries around cheating. I’ve talked with some couples who consider watching porn cheating, whereas plenty of other couples wouldn’t consider it cheating.”
Emotional cheating means when you’re emotionally involved with another person — like sharing intimate stories, being someone’s confidante, and developing an emotional attachment — without any physical consummation.
Physical cheating is when someone is sexually intimate with someone other than their partner. It can include sexting and sharing nude photos.
Why do people revenge cheat?
It boils down to having attachment trauma. “Attachment trauma is when you’ve never been taught how to have healthy and secure relationships with others,” Guy explains. “For many, this trauma occurs in early childhood by their parents. It is possible to also undergo attachment trauma later in life too (let’s say having a partner cheat on you). This will then impact how you move forward with future relationships as a way to keep you safe.”
Someone who has this type of trauma, Guy says, has learned the only way to react to their partner’s infidelity is to hurt them back. “This is out of a place of deep hurt, anger, loss, and fear of abandonment. It’s to the point where it hurts so much that the only way to feel in control again is to make your partner hurt as much as you hurt.”
Does revenge cheating make the relationship or partner feel better?
Simply put: no. “Cheating in general breaks down trust between partners. Revenge cheating may feel satisfactory at first but eventually, it comes back to haunt you,” Guy says. “Hurting your partner, especially out of revenge, will not help or heal your relationship. It doesn’t wipe the slate clean because you are now ‘even’ because you both cheated.”
According to Guy, revenge cheating is never a good idea, especially if you want to salvage the relationship. “Even if you don’t want to repair your relationship, it doesn’t help you heal from the hurt and pain your partner caused you.” Not only are you avoiding processing the betrayal you’ve experienced, but by revenge cheating, you’re also jeopardizing your own morals and values, and you could suffer a great deal of guilt. As a result, you might experience feelings of low self-worth and compound that with the loss you’re already experiencing from your partner’s infidelity, and you’re bound to feel more pain.
What should couples do about infidelity?
“You can’t fix this on your own,” Guy says. “The issues you’re experiencing were likely present before anyone cheated and those issues need to be addressed on top of the issues that developed because of the infidelity. You most likely have maladaptive communication patterns within the relationship that are really hard to change. This is definitely the time to seek professional help.”
How do you forgive your partner’s cheating?
There is no step-by-step manual to forgive your partner. “Each person’s journey to forgiveness is going to be different. I will say forgiveness takes time and patience,” Guy explains. “Don’t rush it. Give yourself space to actually feel the pain you’re going through. By forcing it, you are impeding your ability to fully heal.”
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