Anyone who's ever been cheated on knows it can change you. It can affect your self-esteem, your ability to trust your partner, your ability to trust your future partners, and even your overall beliefs about relationships. To learn more about how cheating affects people, University of Nevada, Reno researchers surveyed 232 college students whose partners or exes had cheated on them over the last three months. Their study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, not only confirms that infidelity has a huge impact on your behavior but also suggests that this impact depends on how you think of the cheating.
One of the findings was intuitive: People who experienced more psychological distress after their partners cheated were more likely to develop disordered eating, over-exercise, and use alcohol or drugs. "Being cheated on seems to not only have mental health consequences, but also increases risky behaviors," study author M. Rosie Shrout told PsyPost.
But there was one thing that seemed to make these negative consequences less likely: If people believed the cheating was their partner's responsibility, they weren't any more likely to engage in risky behaviors than people with less emotional distress. But if they blamed themselves, they were more likely to. This was true whether people broke up with the cheater or not, and it was especially true for women.
"This gender difference is consistent with previous research showing that women experience more distress after being cheated on," Shrout explained. "We think this is because women typically place higher importance on the relationship as a source of self and identity. As a result, women who have been cheated on might be more likely to have poorer mental health and engage in unhealthy, risky behavior because their self-perceptions have been damaged."
The moral of the story? If your partner cheated on you, they made that decision. Recognizing that — rather than wondering what you could've done differently — could save you a lot of unhappiness.