July 30, 2014 at 4:33 PM ET
Cry like a baby
There is no pain like the pain of betrayal—especially by your significant other—so go ahead and crawl into bed, curl up into the fetal position and just wail if you want to. “You’re going to go through phases of anger and sadness. Acknowledge that this is a tough time and give yourself time to grieve and permission to cry,” says psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness
Stay mum till you're less angry
You’re shocked. You’re wounded. You’re furious. But even though you’re tempted to scream at him or post ranting comments on Facebook about how unimpressive he is in the sack, you’ll be better off if you say nothing to him or about him until your blood stops boiling. “When your stress level is high, you tend to be irrational, and you can end up saying things you regret later. So, don't to talk to him until your stress level comes down," says Lombardo.
Take care of yourself
Let's be real, easing the pain of heartbreak sometimes means digging into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. But you should add a few healthier things into the mix to calm the stress of this situation: Get some rest, eat (at least some) real, nutritious food, exercise and even meditate, says Lombardo. “If your stress is already high, and then you add a relationship crisis on top, it makes it even harder to cope." Find ways to cope with your overall stress level will help you cope with your heartbreak.
Get (at least some) dirty details
Where did you meet her? How long has this been going on? Did you do it in our bed? Did you use condoms? “You don’t necessarily need to know every sweaty detail, but to get past the pain, you do need a one-time opportunity to sit down with your guy and get every shred of information you need so you can get some closure for yourself and move forward,” says Miami marriage, family and sex therapist Lisa Paz, Ph.D. “If you don’t, the 'Did yous'? will torment you and keep you from healing.” That said, do yourself a favor and steer clear of any question that ends with the phrase "than me," such as, Is she prettier than me? Sexier than me? Thinner than me? Better in bed than me? “These are Catch-22 questions,” says Paz. “If he’s truthful and what he says is not in your favor, it’s going to be a knife in your heart. If it is in your favor, then you’re going to be like, Well, why’d you do it anyway? Questions like these are not going to give you closure, so it’s best not to ask.”
Contain the news
As women, it’s our nature to share. It’s how we get through the grieving process. But spilling the gory details to everyone you know could backfire big-time if you ultimately decide to stay together, says Paz. “Pick one or two girlfriends you can really unload on and who will offer you solace without judgment, and keep it at that. If you let the world know he cheated on you, the world is going to form an opinion of him. Then, not only do you have to forgive him, but if you take him back, you have to defend him, and that’s going to get old,” says Paz.
Don't turn into Sherlock Holmes
Absolutely nothing good will come of combing through old cell phone bills, credit card statements, emails or monitoring future communications if you decide to stay together. “Digging keeps you stuck in an unhealthy place and just breeds obsessive, crazy behavior,” says Paz. “And the danger in spying is that you’re not going to be happy until you find something. Not only is that unhealthy and invasive, if you do find something, then you’re hurt all over again.”
Think about therapy
Girlfriends are awesome, they’re supportive and you’ll lean on them like crazy to get through this awful time. But they’re also loyal to you and can’t help but be a wee bit biased. Getting some objective, professional input from a therapist or counselor, even if you only go for a session or two, can help you see things more clearly, say Paz. It doesn’t matter if your relationship is over or you’re trying to work things out, an unbiased opinion can help you move past his cheating. “For most relationships, infidelity is the cardinal sin and it’s hard to work through this highly emotional situation without a mediator,” says Paz.
Beware the booze
A little Cabernet seems like the perfect prescription for a broken heart, but while a glass or two can take the edge off your heartache for a bit, alcohol is a depressant and can make you weepier than you were before. Alcohol also takes the edge off your inhibitions and clouds our thinking. After a few cocktails, calling your guy to sob or scream might seem like a really good idea. “As our inhibitions retreat, we often get brave or angry,” says Paz. “So if you’re going to drown your sorrows in a bottle of wine, do it for your healing, not to gain the courage to ask the questions you couldn’t ask before.” If your girlfriends aren’t around to say, “Don’t call!” download a “don’t dial” app that locks out his number so you can’t call or text till you sober up.
Lose yourself in a movie
For 100 minutes or so—longer if you do a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings marathon—you can get caught up in someone else’s story and forget about your own. “Stewing about his cheating raises—and keeps your stress level—at a 9 or 10, and that’s when our thoughts can spin out of control: I’m worthless, I’ll never have another boyfriend, I’m going to die alone,” explains Lombardo. “Going to a movie, your stress level goes down, to a 7 or 6. So when the movie’s over and you start thinking about your guy again, you’ll have a little more control over negative thoughts.”
Sign up for kick boxing
There’s nothing like an hour of punching and kicking a heavy bag to clear your head and help you feel better about yourself. “Exercise changes our perspective,” explains Lombardo. “It releases these feel-good endorphins, so you feel more self-confident and can see things in a more positive light. Not like you’re glad he cheated, but that your life isn’t over.” There’s one caveat, she says: “People often say, ‘Punch who you’re mad at. See their face on the bag.’ It’s okay to punch out your stress, anger and sadness. But if you imagine beating your guy up, that actually makes you angrier.”
Be patient with the healing process
“The most unfair thing about infidelity is that, through no fault of your own, your life suddenly gets turned upside down,” says Paz. Fortunately, time really does heal all wounds and within three to four months, she says, even the sharpest aches will dull. But you’re in for a bumpy ride in the meantime. “Strap in because you’re on the emotional roller coaster,” she says. “You’re going to have good moments and bad moments, good days and bad days. It’s going to take time to recalibrate.”
Yes, we said it. Forgive him. Right now that sounds impossible, but eventually, you’ll be able to and you’ll feel better when you do. “Forgiveness is not a gift to him, it’s a gift to you,” explains Lombardo. “Forgiving him doesn’t mean you forget what he did, or that it wasn’t a big deal or that you would allow it to happen again or even that you reconcile. Forgiving him just means you get rid of your anger and resentment. You can still be sad that it happened, but you don’t want to be an angry, bitter person for the rest of your life because of something he did. You let go of your anger and hurt for yourself, not for him.”
Decide to stay or go
No question, this is a tough one. On the one hand you may still love him, on the other, you may wonder if can you ever trust him again. Assuming that he isn’t angling to break up with you, these three questions can help you decide whether you hang in or make a clean break, says Paz.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.