1. Don’t ignore the signs
“See the situation for what it is,” says relationship expert Audrey B. Chapman, author of `Man Sharing: Dilemma or Choice’ (William B. Morrow & Co.). “Too often women excuse the fact that their partner is less attentive or his schedule has suddenly become mysterious.” If all indications point to your partner being unfaithful, he probably is.
2. Be safe
Even if your man has cheated only once, you’re still in danger of contracting an STD. “Your first priority should be your own health,” says Chapman. “Request that he wear a condom. He also needs to see a doctor, get tested, and show you the results.” Of course, your partner might not be willing to comply, especially if he’s denying the affair. In that case, the sex must cease.
3. Recognize the impact
His cheating injures you emotionally. Maybe you’re thinking, The affair doesn’t really bother me; their relationship is not that deep. But think again. Does his cheating make you feel depressed, anxious or angry? A good relationship shouldn’t bring you down.
4. Realize you can’t change him
“Sometimes the fact that she can’t control her man is the hardest thing for a woman to understand,” says Chapman. “She might feel like, ‘I did this and that and gave him all my love, and now he owes it to me to be faithful.’ But loving somebody is not enough; they have to want to change.”
5. Don’t take it personally
“Women always think everything that happens in a relationship happens because of them,” says Chapman. But your partner may have come to the relationship hauling a truckload of bad experiences, and this is how he’s choosing to cope. “Until he realizes that he needs to get himself together to keep you, it doesn’t matter what you do,” counsels Chapman.
6. Understand he could have a serious problem
Sometimes cheating is a sign of a deeper psychological issue. Constant infidelity is typical of sociopaths, sex addicts and men with narcissistic personality disorder, says Chapman. “These are men you really need to watch out for,” she adds. “Without professional help, they are lifelong cheaters.” Chapman advises that if you’re wondering whether your man has a psychological problem, seek professional advice. “It’s too much for a woman to try to figure this out herself,” she says.
7. Uncover what’s holding you back
“I’ve treated women who are so psychologically dependent on the relationship that they find it impossible to leave, even when they know their partner will never change,” says Chapman. “For instance, women who have abandonment issues with their own fathers might find ending a relationship particularly difficult.” If you think this may be you, seek professional counseling.
8. Leave with a plan
If you decide to leave, be very strategic about it, says Chapman. For example, you may need the advice of a financial counselor to help you determine whether you can afford to get your own place or whether you need to stay with friends or family.
9. Lean on loved ones
Just because he cheated doesn’t mean you won’t miss him. “You may need some support while you grieve the relationship,” says Chapman. If you don’t have a group of good friends to support you, you may want to seek out a counselor or clergyperson.
10. Consider your options
“If you think there is such a shortage of Black men that you need to stay with a cheater, think again,” counsels Chapman. “There are many types of men out there for you to form a healthy relationship with, but they may come from a different class, educational background or culture than you are used to. You need to think outside the box, because a woman who feels she has no options is a woman who is really in trouble.”
For more of our exclusive study and interviews on why men cheat, pick up the October 2008 issue of ESSENCE.