If you’ve been cheated on, odds are good that at some point you’ve wondered if it was because you’re not pretty enough, skinny enough or sexy enough. I know this because I have worked with lots of women (and men) whose partners have cheated, and they all consider blaming their own appearances for the betrayal. If this describes you, you need to believe that your partner’s behavior is not caused by how you look. Don’t let his destruction of the trust in your relationship also destroy your body image and self-esteem. (Though both the cheater and the other partner could be either male or female, I’m referring to the cheater as a male for simplicity and to relate to the following stories.)
Susan’s Story: Susan has been married to her college sweetheart for over 20 years. They had a very close and loving relationship and were each other’s best friends. Susan’s friends often told her that they envied her marriage. Recently, Susan discovered that her husband has cheated on her, over the course of several years, many times, with many different prostitutes. He says that he loves her and is sorry, and he acts like he loves her and is sorry (including immersing himself in individual therapy). Understandably, this is all very confusing for Susan and involves many mixed emotions. She also finds herself questioning whether it would have happened if she was prettier, skinnier, more fun, etc. Susan’s husband has tried to reassure her that he finds her totally appealing, but it’s difficult for her to hold onto her self-esteem.
Lucy’s Story: Lucy’s marriage has had ups and downs since she had children, but she and her husband have always been committed to staying together and making it work. They support each other as parents and try their best to find time for each other, but their lives are extremely busy and stressful. Lucy has occasionally suspected that he had cheated, but he always denied it and they moved on—until last year, when he admitted to having an affair for many months with a colleague. In this situation, the relationship went beyond the physical and also entailed emotional entanglement, which added additional layers to Lucy’s heartbreak. Though the future is uncertain, they remain together for now, and he promises that the affair is over. Besides the shattered trust, the betrayal also destroyed Lucy’s already-poor body image. As they approach rebuilding the marriage, it is almost impossible for her to feel good enough about herself to be comfortable with any intimacy. By the way, Lucy is one of those women who is so beautiful that people stop and stare when she walks by.
Jessica’s Story: Jessica and her boyfriend have been together for several years. They have both been divorced before, and she has been embraced by his grown children and their families, as well. They have both a professional and romantic relationship, with many shared friends and colleagues. Over the past few months, it has become undeniably clear that he has been living a double life, spending huge amounts of time, energy and money pursuing sexual encounters online and abroad. Though she has ended the relationship and has received total support from all the family and friends who know the situation, Jessica is still tempted to blame herself. To this day she questions whether it would have happened if she were more attentive, prettier or younger.
The tendency for self-blame may stem from a predisposition to low self-esteem or may arise out of unhealthy relationship dynamics or manipulation by your partner. In the stories above, the three men all strayed for different reasons and were seeking different things. There is no reason at all to believe that the women they betrayed in any way caused the infidelity. There is also no reason to believe that the infidelity would not have occurred if the women looked or acted differently.
Whatever form an affair takes, it represents a violation of trust at the most intimate level. Whether you decide to break up immediately, or stay with him forever, there is healing to be done. The factors that contribute to infidelity may involve individual and couple's issues, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the one who cheated. It wasn’t caused by—and couldn’t have been prevented by—your size, shape or appearance. If your partner has cheated on you, you’ve already been hurt. Don’t damage yourself further by tearing apart your body image and self-esteem for no reason.
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