You find out that your man has been cheating on you. The pain and heartbreak are unbearable. How could he have betrayed you like this? How could he throw everything we’ve built together away? Recovering from the suffering caused by infidelity is not easy, and in fact, many couples do not recover. So is it automatically over if your spouse is unfaithful? Not necessarily. Many marriages and relationships recover from an affair and their union comes out on the other side stronger than ever. The clincher is that BOTH parties want to actively make it work and put in place measures to make changes and repair the bonds of trust that were broken by the partner’s indiscretion.
Can a Relationship be Saved Once Cheating Has Occurred?
If there are no other issues in the relationship, and the cheater and the victim know that repairing the relationship is a marathon, not a sprint, then their relationship is salvageable.
Don’t immediately think that the relationship is doomed. When you first find out your partner is cheating or has cheated, you may think that everything is over. After all, how can you move on from this? How can you go back to the trust you had before the affair? The anger, the hurt, the betrayal all make it impossible to see clearly, but once the storm of emotions that’s raging inside settles and reality sinks in, it is the time to put steps in place and take action to repair the broken trust, open the lines of communication, and have faith that a new bond will emerge stronger than ever. Many couples recover from adultery and infidelity and although it takes a lot of work from both parties and doesn’t happen overnight, it IS possible to emerge as a solid couple and rebuild the trust that was severed by the affair.
Seek mediation. See a pastor, a counselor, a therapist or any qualified professional that can help you mediate the conversation and help you both see the role you played in the affair. A safe space must be created where you both can speak freely with boundaries and parameters in place so that each of you does not hurt the other while discussing emotions, concerns, hopes, and fears.
Both parties must recognize their role in creating an unhappy relationship. You know the old saying: it takes two to tango. Your man cheated but you had a part in pushing him away. It sounds harsh and if you’re honest with yourself, recognizing this reality can help put the relationship back on track. Of course, this in no way excuses the cheater, but in any relationship, a dynamic is established that can lead to destructive patterns and both partners play a role.
Take time to rebuild physical intimacy. Resuming physical intimacy after an affair will take time and both partners should feel ready for this. This is loaded with emotions on many levels and neither partner should be pressured into resuming sexual relations until both feel mentally, emotionally, and spiritually ready. There is no right time for resuming intimacy.
Remember what attracted you to each other in the beginning. Revisit your love affair. How did you meet? What did you see in each other? What were some cute little quirks that he had? Tell each other your story. Your story is how you met. Remind each other that you used to be crazy in love and in lust.
Trust takes time to rebuild.
FOR THE VICTIM:
Don’t ask specifics: what you don’t know won’t hurt you and won’t drive you crazy. You don’t want to replay scenarios over and over in your mind and torture yourself. There are things better left unsaid and not known. And in this case, you’re better off not knowing all the “dirty” details. You’ve heard the old adage “ignorance is bliss”? It couldn’t be truer in this case.
Don’t hash out the infidelity or throw it back in his face when you’re angry. Don’t use the affair as leverage to make him feel less than or inadequate. If he is already sorry or remorseful for what he did, piling on will not help the situation.
You need to feel and be heard. This is why it is important to seek counseling so that you can relearn proper communication skills. Your fears, hurts, concerns must be addressed and the cheater must actively “hear” you and validate your emotions of betrayal.
Don’t act in a distrustful and controlling manner. If you are really willing to forgive and repair the relationship, you cannot put “rules” such as curfews, check-in times, LoJack the car, etc., because you do not trust him so you need to know where he is at all times. Don’t monitor his cell phone or check his internet history 24/7 because all that’ll do is put you in a place of negative expectations. You are expecting him to cheat again. Conversely, he will resent the control and ultimately cheat again. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You shouldn’t forgive him so easily. Sometimes we want to make things go away and make things artificially better. You have to walk through the valley to get to the top of the mountain. You have to be in the darkness to get to the light. Going through the stages of the emotions of betrayal is very similar to grieving a death. In a sense, it is the death of the relationship you once had because that relationship is essentially over. Now you must start anew, so yes, grieve for your old love and take the time you need to feel you are in a place where you can completely let go of the hurt and actively start to repair and forgive your man.
FOR THE CHEATER:
Cut off all contact with the person. One of the famous lines from Silence of the Lambs was when Hannibal Lecter was giving advice to Clarice on how to get into the mind of the killer. And he said: you covet what you see every day. And although the context of the adage in the movie is unsettling, it holds true for the human psyche. If you want to get over someone, whether it is a consensual break-up or an affair, it is best to break ties with that person forever. Sometimes extreme measures must be taken even if it means relocating to a new town or state and finding a new place of employment. Ending all contact with the person is a way of assuring the victim of the affair that it is really over and as a way to eliminate the temptation for the cheater. Yes, it is true that in today’s day and age, it is easy to stay connected despite distances but at least an effort is made to get away from the environment that led to the infidelity.
Prepare for the consequences of your actions. Don’t expect things to be smooth sailing. Know that your partner will experience stages of grieving similar to a death. She will be shocked at first, then try to deny that you would ever do this to her and to your family. She will then enter the angry stage and possibly bargain with God, herself, you. Being patient and letting your partner go through these stages is crucial for your relationship to be healed. Once she gets past the depression stage and enters the acceptance stage you can begin to rebuild the brokenness and rebuild trust. You have betrayed your partner and she needs time to heal her broken heart.
Don’t try to justify your behavior. Don’t make excuses. Don’t use words like “but” “you don’t understand”, cast blame, etc. Often times people will apologize for their actions but try to justify what they do. Don’t use an apology and then follow by an explanation or a justification of why you did what you did. Don’t apologize in order to manipulate the other person into thinking that they were the cause of your actions. If you’re going to apologize correctly, don’t offer an excuse because that will just make your apology an empty excuse for self-defense. Taking responsibility for your actions is the mature thing to do. Although the causes of infidelity are complex and there are triggers in a relationship, it is important that the cheater owns up to his behavior and not cast blame on the victim or the mistress.
Be forthcoming. Do not sneak around. Don’t tell lies and don’t withhold the truth either. Lies by omission are just as bad as direct lying. Remember that you are trying to rebuild trust. Don’t make your partner pull teeth to get information.
Address the underlying causes that led you to cheat. This is where therapy comes in. You both should attend couples therapy but the cheater should also seek individual counseling to see what self-destructive behaviors rule his life. Many men experience guilt after infidelity and they know they shouldn’t have and say the affair didn’t mean a thing. They knew they were compromising the trust and love of their partner but they cheated anyway. DO you have trust issues that started in your childhood? Are you going through a midlife crisis? Do you feel inadequate? Only a licensed qualified professional can help you arrive at the answers to some of these questions and help you find the path to a healthy mindset and self-love.
You can recover from the setback of infidelity.
Rebuild fresh. You cannot go back to where you were before the affair and neither should you. What was before obviously was not working. Start new relationship rituals. Go on dates, make long-term plans, and visit new places. Make new memories and don’t let past experiences color the new world and new life that you will build together. And above all, know that you can recover from infidelity. If you truly believe that love is a choice and you choose each other, then nothing can come against the union of your love.