So You’ve Been Publicly Cheated On*

How to recover from public humiliation

The New Zealand media has been all over All Black Aaron Smith’s toilet tryst. For those who missed it: Smith had consensual sex with a woman who was not his partner, in a Christchurch Airport disabled toilet.

The scandal has been the subject of many think pieces: moral debates, analysis of Smith’s history, the obligations of a role model, what our reaction says about NZ rugby culture.

But what about his partner?

What about a young woman who just a week or two back had a life she probably really liked, which included a super-star rugby boyfriend, with all the trappings (and sometimes insecurity) that brings.

So what about the change in her life? When you suddenly find yourself at the centre of a sex storm in which you have top billing as the Woman Scorned. When cosy “before” pics of you and him are everywhere you look. So if people didn’t know what you looked like before, THEY SURE DO NOW.

What about when everyone in the country has an opinion on whether you should kick him to touch? Give him another chance? Understand that getting to grips with these “little indiscretions” are all part of being the partner of a rugby God?

What a mess.

What a difference five minutes in an airport disability toilet can make. Couldn’t he have just gone to the bookshop?

There’s no doubt that Smith is sorry for what he’s done but I’ve been intrigued by some commentators’ claims that they can’t bear to see an All Black cry. Why not? He’s crying out of guilt, shame and fear. Those are valid reasons for distress. But I’m hoping his partner, an innocent player in all this, looks beyond his tears to validate her own feelings. Because they are worth even more than his.

Smith’s young partner may not see it now, but the woman who shot the toilet video footage did her a favour. As difficult as it is, she needed to know where her partner’s impulsivity can take him. Now she has a chance to work out if the relationship was real, if her man is worth more than silky footy skills and a lethal pass, if he’s good enough for her.

In my practice as a clinical psychologist I see a lot of relationship trauma, so much pain, so many tears. Infidelity tops the list of heart-breaks: although studies vary, research indicates up to 60 percent of men and 45 percent of women will cheat at some point in their marriages. Affairs are said to affect up to a third of couples. The discrepancy in the statistics indicates a significant number don’t get caught.

But the mental fallout is significant. People who’ve been cheated on often suffer mood and anxiety symptoms, similar to a post-traumatic stress presentation. Sleepless nights, intrusive thoughts, rumination on What, When, How and WHY, asking an endless flow of questions they don’t really want the answer to. There can be panic and flashbacks as they ride the emotional roller coaster; self-esteem and trust issues are rife and can take years to heal.

Ratchet up the stress levels when you can’t work through your distress in private. Every time you see someone (usually a woman) standing tight-lipped and stoic beside a Celebrity Cheat (usually a man), she’s concealing not just hurt, but abject humiliation.

So here a few tips for those who find themselves in that unenviable place:

  1. Don’t comment to the media — it’s your personal business

2. Talk only to trusted family members/friends — everyone else will be tempted to pass on a story about you, what happened and how you’re doing.

3. Be aware some of your friends will turn out to be bitches. Especially those who envied you for having a celebrity partner.

4. Get the facts from your partner. Listen to what he/she has to say about what happened and why. Ask questions — you have a right to hear the answers.

5. Take your time (if you need it) to make any decisions about your future. You’ve done nothing wrong. Don’t be pressured.

6. Consider your history with this person — have they cheated before? Have they let you down in other ways? Was the relationship rocky anyway? Be honest with yourself about the quality of the relationship before this infidelity.

7. Accept you’ll be on an emotional rollercoaster. Tears, anger, blame, fear, embarrassment, more anger — they’re all normal — but don’t let them take over your life.

Get some professional or, at least, neutral advice. Most of the people in your world will have an emotionally-based agenda which may not be helpful.

If you stay OR if you leave, get professional help to work through trust issues. Once you’ve been burnt, mistrust can blaze a mighty fire.

The Big Question, of course, is whether to take him/her back. Celebrities are a big package as partners— not just because of who they are and how they roll, but who they attract. Because of all that Temptation.

Infidelity does not have to mean The End. Relationships can be repaired. But toss the towel in now if you don’t BOTH really (really) want it — and if your partner’s words speak louder than their actions. Because the work required to move forward is not for the faint-hearted.

  • Media outlets are welcome to use this for free on the condition they do not accompany it with the name/picture of Aaron Smith’s partner.

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