Revenge cheating is the practice of giving a cheating spouse a taste of their own medicine if they were unfaithful. While it may be tempting to seek revenge, doing so will likely cause more harm than good. Keep reading to learn more about revenge cheating, and why it never works.
Someone who discovers their partner has been unfaithful may wish to retaliate by cheating on them. This is known as revenge cheating. In other words, fighting fire with fire.
Infidelity is a concern in many relationships. One study suggests that 20-52% of relationships will be affected, depending on how infidelity is defined.
Finding out that your partner had an affair can be devastating, and can understandably leave you feeling hurt, deceived, and like your trust was broken. Revenge cheating comes from the urge to level the playing field and make the cheating partner feel as bad as they made you feel. Revenge on a cheating spouse or partner can take various forms, from physical sexual relations to an emotional affair, or even just flirting with someone else via text or social media.
The short answer is no — cheating is never the answer. It might be tempting in the heat of the moment, but revenge cheating is rarely a good idea and hardly a good means of conflict resolution.
Even if you successfully make your partner feel bad as a way to get back at them for being unfaithful, this won’t change the hurt and distress you suffered in the first place. The partner who revenge cheats may find their emotional turmoil only gets worse.
“It’s not weird to want to make your partner emotionally hurt as much as you hurt. After all, it feels like they cheated just to hurt you,” explains Moraya Seeger DeGeare, Paired’s In-House Relationship Expert and a licensed marriage and family therapist.
“What’s happening in these moments is the betrayed partner is feeling deeply lonely, perhaps the loneliest they have ever felt. By making their partner hurt, they’re telling themselves: ‘I won’t be so alone, we can be in that pain together’,” she adds.
“Being together in pain feels better than being alone in it. The craving to hurt them back is often equally reactive as it is avoidant. Because a part of the healing after an affair is being able to see what was happening in the relationship before it happened. If we move forward with even more hurt we are avoiding the deeper issues.”
Research shows that revenge in a relationship can leave the partner that sought vengeance with negative emotions including fear, anxiety, remorse, and anger. Tit-for-tat revenge or punishments have no place in a healthy, respectful relationship — yes, even when there’s been an affair.
Infidelity is not always black-and-white. Boundaries vary from person to person, couple to couple, and relationship to relationship — so there’s no textbook definition of what constitutes cheating. An open and honest conversation about views on infidelity helps couples set parameters early on and may need to be revisited throughout the relationship.
Perhaps the easiest type of cheating to recognize (and the one that gets the most airtime), sexual infidelity usually involves physical intimacy with someone outside the relationship.
This may be a one-off or a long-term affair. Sexual intimacy doesn’t always have to involve direct physical contact. It could take place through exchanging sexually explicit text messages or images. While sexual infidelity is usually easier to define than emotional cheating, it is always a good idea to discuss boundaries and expectations.
Recognizing and responding to emotional infidelity can be more complicated. An emotional affair is when a person in a relationship builds a significant connection with someone other than their partner at the expense of maintaining their bond with their partner.
For example, the emotionally unfaithful partner may share sensitive feelings or quality time with another person that would once have been reserved for their romantic partner.
“If you notice yourself wondering if you are having an emotional affair, one thing to ask yourself is this: If something big happens in my day, who do I want to share it with first?’,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“We should crave to share with our partners because that’s our person. Some people might say their best friend or mom — that’s totally valid also. But if your answer is that person at work you have been flirting with recently and taking extra long lunch breaks with, then absolutely take a pause to examine that relationship.”
An emotional affair doesn’t involve physical infidelity but may include sexual attraction. A strong emotional connection could also involve behaviors, feelings, or language that may be understood as romantic.
The desire to get revenge on a cheating ex or current partner may be understandable but it won’t fix what was broken. Instead of wishing to hurt your partner, work on helping yourself. Whether you’re processing a breakup or looking to save the relationship, the best revenge is moving forward constructively.
A partner’s infidelity can take a huge toll on your sense of self-worth. This may extend to body image issues or feeling undeserving of a respectful relationship. It is important to take time and personal space to deal with heartbreak, even if the relationship continues. Perhaps you need to limit how much of your partner’s social media you can see or instigate no contact for a period of time. Professional help from a therapist or counselor may help to gain an outside perspective.
“One key part of affair recovery work is separating out what disconnection was happening in your relationship before cheating,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“From the feeling of blame, ‘I did something wrong or they cheated because they didn’t want me’, or ‘I am not attractive enough’. The partner who cheated did this because of something going on with them. In your recovery, if you choose to, they need to understand and share what was happening for them that they broke the boundaries of your relationship,” she adds.
“This is a key part of affair recovery. By separating the disconnection patterns in your relationship from your partner as someone with individual needs, we can help the betrayed partner feel like they have something clear to work on and that the cheating was all because they aren’t wanted. This part of healing after an affair is vital for mental health and self-esteem.”
Experiencing cheating can have a significant effect on how a person feels about trust in relationships. Working on trust issues is especially key if you are considering staying together after an affair.
Asking your partner certain questions can help you understand what happened and how to move forward. Open and honest discussion about their feelings for the other person, the degree of guilt they feel, and how they intend to act in the future may suggest whether the relationship can be saved.
If an affair leads to a breakup, understanding why your partner cheated — and how it impacted your relationship — could still help you to move on. Whether it’s through self-care or with professional help, this will support you in having better trust in your next relationship.
You deserve a relationship that is built on deep trust so you can feel joy, relax and not have that worry in the back of your mind if and when you will be hurt.