When someone’s world has been rocked by infidelity, they’re often left feeling a confusing mix of emotions. As their confidant, you’re there to help them find some solid ground again. Here’s how to do it with sensitivity and respect:
1. Listen without judging.
Crucial to their healing is the need to be heard. So, your first job? Listen. Just that. Let them spill their guts, wade through their story, and unpack their heartache. And while they do, bite your tongue on judgments or quick fixes. This isn’t about your take on the situation. It’s about giving them space to voice their turmoil without fear of critique or unsolicited advice. Remember, they may cycle through the same emotions and stories multiple times; it’s part of the healing process, not a sign they’re not making progress.
2. Validate their feelings.
“Of course, you feel betrayed,” or “It makes total sense you’re feeling lost right now,” are phrases that can affirm what they’re feeling. Validation doesn’t equate to agreement with all their decisions or emotions; it means you recognize their feelings as legitimate and understandable given the circumstances. Resist the urge to insert your feelings into the mix. This isn’t about how you would feel in their shoes; it’s about supporting them in their own, very personal, shoes.
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4. Offer specific help.
“When people offer help, they mean it. But when you’re in the pit of despair, sometimes you don’t know what to ask for, or you don’t want to impose,” you might say to them. So don’t leave it open-ended. Offer to help in tangible, practical ways. Bring them a meal, offer to pick up groceries, or take their dog for a walk. By presenting specific offers, you make it easier for them to accept help without the pressure of having to ask for it.
5. Encourage them to find a new routine.
Disruption in personal life can bleed into daily routines, so help them stick to theirs. Encourage them to continue with their gym class, to not skip meals, and to get enough sleep. If they’re struggling, be that buddy who turns up with two yoga mats or the one who sends a text saying, “Hey, it’s lunchtime, have you eaten?” Routines are the guardrails on the bumpy road of recovery; they can keep someone from veering off into unhelpful territory.
6. Help them avoid making rash decisions.
Right after the discovery of an affair, emotions are high, and logic is often tied up in the back seat. Be that calm voice that gently suggests taking a beat before doing anything drastic. “Take some time to think this through,” you could advise. “What feels right in this heated moment might not feel so right in a week or a month.” Be supportive but encourage them to consider the long-term implications of any major decisions.
7. Be patient with them.
Understanding that there’s no quick fix to mending a broken heart is key. You’re in this for the long haul, and your patience is a testament to your support. They may have good days where it seems like they’ve turned a corner, and bad days where they go right back to square one. Remind them, and yourself, that healing isn’t linear. It zigzags, it loops, and that’s perfectly normal. Your steady presence is a reminder that they don’t have to rush through their pain.
8. Encourage them to talk to a professional if they’re struggling.
There’s only so much comfort you can provide as a friend or family member. Sometimes, the best way you can support someone is to encourage them to seek out a therapist or counselor. These professionals can offer strategies and insights that go beyond the scope of friendly support. It’s not about handing them off to someone else, but rather about providing them with a resource that can help them work through complex emotions and rebuild their self-esteem.
9. Create a distraction.
While it’s important not to avoid the heavy stuff, sometimes a temporary distraction can be a lifeline. It’s about balance. Invite them out for a movie, a hike, or a concert—something to give them a break from their thoughts. Make it clear that this isn’t about forgetting what happened but giving them a much-needed respite. A good laugh or an afternoon in nature can sometimes be the best medicine.
10. Avoid bad-mouthing the cheater.
It might be tempting to join in if they’re slagging off their ex, but try to resist this urge. The situation is already charged with enough negativity. Plus, if they decide to forgive and work things out, any harsh words from you might come back to haunt your relationship with them. Keep the focus on your friend’s feelings, not on the character of the person who hurt them.
10. Encourage a bit of self-care.
Encourage them to look after their physical and emotional well-being. This can include regular exercise, healthy eating, and sufficient sleep, but also indulging in activities that nourish the soul: reading, music, art, or whatever brings them joy and peace. Let them know that self-care isn’t selfish; it’s a necessary part of healing.
11. Help them set boundaries.
If the person who cheated on them wants to talk, help your friend establish what they’re comfortable with before diving into any conversations. They might need space and time, and it’s okay to ask for it. Support them in setting and enforcing these boundaries, and remind them that it’s not about being punitive but about protecting their own heart and peace of mind as they figure out their next steps.
12. Stay neutral.
You may have strong opinions about what they should do next, but it’s important to remain neutral. Whether they decide to leave or stay in the relationship, they need to come to that decision themselves. Your role is to support them without pushing them in either direction. Just be the person they can count on to discuss options with, someone who can help them think things through without bias or pressure.
Remember, your role in their healing is to be a steady presence, an ally, and sometimes a voice of reason. Be the person they can rely on to help them find their footing again, without judgment or impatience. Your support might not change what happened, but it can make all the difference in how they recover from it.