Advice from a Matchmaker: How not to Deal with Infidelity: Digging for New Pain


Earlier this year the South China Morning Post published n article about life after an affair called How couples can survive, even thrive, after one partner’s affair. Couples therapist Esther Perel is quoted saying: Don’t “keep digging for sordid details. If you keep excavating the pain, you’ll never heal.”

Excavate = new pain = never healing

I love this advice. And while Ms. Perel says this in reference to infidelity, it’s very pertinent to the subject of breaking up and the quest for closure (and a lot of other things to tell the truth).

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Non-committal closure

People are too fixated on closure when it comes to the end of a relationship. But what’s the point? There is none! Why chase after closure when it’s elusive and literally impossible to achieve.

Closure requires the removal of all ambiguity and that’s never possible with a break up because your mind is going to very great lengths trying to understand why the relationship ended by asking a never-ending litany of questions.

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Questions, questions, questions

This is especially the case when we get broken up with and it’s hard to compute…How it could have been prevented? Why does it always happen to me? Who could have warned me? Why didn’t they warn me? What could I have done differently? Do I deserve this? Am I at fault?

The questions are literally endless.

Even if you get all your answers, they will only create more questions. Which get us more answers, which get us more questions…a mobius of heartbreak.

I like what Ms. Perel says that at some point we have to stop the questioning and accept our present reality. It’s only by doing this that we stop excavating new pain. This is the first step in moving forward, starting to heal, and allowing ourselves to create the future we want.

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Glutton for punishment

It’s not easy to stop asking questions, especially when it comes to being cheated on.

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book where the character finds out they’ve been cheated on and they don’t ask what happened? Of course not. Every single movie and novel, when a character finds out they’ve been cheated on they invariably say, “I want to know everything!”

Unfortunately, this is art imitating life.

Why are we such gluttons for punishment?

Sometimes I can’t help to think it’s because we want to be disgusted to the max by the cheater’s actions so we can feel superior and indignant and make it all about us, feel we are the victim, the world is unfair and we can’t do anything to change it.

But it’s not always like that.

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It’s not me, it’s you

If there is one thing I learned in Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity, it’s that many times a partner cheats not because the relationship is broken but because there is something inside of them (the cheater) that they are exploring.

I had always thought cheating was a symptom of a relationship that wasn’t functioning but I see now I was wrong. Cheating can sometimes be because of a dysfunctional relationship but other times it’s because the cheater is coming to terms with something they’ve kept inside themselves (which answers the question why people who are perfectly happy in their relationship cheat.)

This is why I think it’s pointless to make their cheating about you. Asking, “how could you do this to me?” doesn’t get you anywhere. Rarely will someone cheat to spite their Significant Other.

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Next steps

What are the next steps when you find out your SO has cheated? Well, I guess you can break up but, according to Hong Kong relationship counsellor Nikki Green, who is quoted in the SCMP article, you can work on things. She says, “The couples who are successful at getting over an infidelity are the ones who are willing to take a good hard look at and change themselves. They do the reading and the homework. They deal with difficult emotions like anger and shame in constructive ways.”

What they don’t do is blame one person for everything or play the ‘martyr card’ and make it all about them. A relationship is about working together so if you want to move on together (or “consciously uncouple”) you need to remember you’re still on the same team.


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