When it comes to relationships, most will agree there’s no greater breach of trust than infidelity. Cheating can shatter lives and end relationships. But, for the victims, relationship experts say there are options. There are ways to bounce back – even when all hope seems lost.

First and foremost, after discovering your partner has cheated, you must take time to honor and acknowledge your emotions.

Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent relationship therapist in Los Angeles, advises those facing infidelity to completely accept any emotional reaction they might be having and to give themselves time to allow what’s happened to truly register. Once you’ve taken the time to fully process these events, you can then make smarter life decisions with a clearer mind, as actions taken during the peak of your heightened emotional state could have an adverse impact down the road.

By doing so, you also afford yourself the opportunity to mourn your relationship as it once was and gain perspective regarding what’s to come.

“You need to take time to grieve. Infidelity is a loss, a loss of trust, and possibly a loss of a relationship,” Jessica Cline, psychotherapist and relationship expert at Cline Counseling & Consulting, LLC, tells A Plus. “It’s also a loss on a different level because it’s the loss of your view on your partner and yourself. Often, right after finding out a partner has cheated, you may feel like you need to make a decision about the relationship. However, taking the time to process the news and process the grief is the most important thing. You should not be rushed by your partner or friends and family to make a decision.”

Demetrius Figueroa, founder of the dating and relationship advice blog and podcast A Mighty Love, explains that, while instincts might tell you to focus on your own failings to figure out why your partner cheated, you cannot blame yourself. “Don’t try to rationalize why your partner cheated, especially if you’re shifting blame to yourself,” he tells A Plus. “Each person is responsible for their own actions. Your partner likely had a lot of reasons for cheating, but in the end, your partner made a choice. A choice they are responsible for, not you.”

Cline believes those who’ve been cheated on must take the saying “you have to feel it to heal it” to heart. You have to allow yourself to embrace every single emotion and work through the feelings that are bubbling below the surface. While Cline suggests leaning on friends and family for support, you should refrain from denigrating your ex-partner and the relationship. Doing so anchors your feelings in anger and mistrust, which will prevent you from moving on and healing. If it feels like you’re not recovering, however, Cline suggests working with a mental health profession to assist you in your growth.

“For many people, cheating signifies the end of a relationship. When the bond of trust has been broken, the relationship is over,” Susan Winter, NYC relationship expert and bestselling author, tells A Plus. “For others, cheating marks a major challenge in understanding each other’s needs and wants. The relationship may have been slowly eroding for years, until the right mixture of factors came into play.”

Winter notes that, when determining your subsequent approach, you must ask yourself the important questions:

  • Is there enough that is good and wonderful in your partner to make you want to work through this issue?
  • Are you hanging on due to economic insecurity or the fear of being alone?
  • Is your partner willing and able to correct their behavior and the issues that caused his or her cheating?
  • Are you willing and able to forgive your partner and move forward, fully?

“You and your partner need to fully discuss all the resentments that were left unvoiced, and all the actions taken – or not taken – that created friction and pain,” Winter adds. “Only by gaining real clarity on the issues that allowed the cheating to occur, can a partnership move forward.”

For those who wish to work past the infidelity and salvage their relationship, Dr. Brown advises couples to seek counseling both together and individually in an effort to find out why this has happened, how to prevent it from happening again, and to develop new ways of communicating and resolving conflicts – both within each individual member of the relationship, and the couple as a whole.

“Knowing why this happened is going to be a key to gaining some understanding what unmet needs either one, or both, of you might have been experiencing,” Dr. Brown tells A Plus. “An objective third party can help you get some perspective on this as you attempt to recover and rebuild your relationship.”

“The cheater must also understand that this is not going to be resolved over night,” he adds. “They need to give their partner a tremendous amount of time and room to feel whatever it is they are experiencing. This helps the person who was cheated on to feel heard, understood, and helps to begin to see if there is a chance to rebuild trust.”

Regardless of how you and your partner handle the aftermath, you must constantly reaffirm that their mistakes reflect their shortcomings, not yours. You must focus on what’s best for you and your mental health. Self-care remains essential, so don’t allow others to coax you into doing something that makes you uneasy. As Figueroa says, instead of trying to understand why your partner was unfaithful, or what you could’ve done differently, you should use that mental energy to focus on recovering your own joy. You deserve to be happy and, deep down, you have the power to reclaim that bliss.