Infidelity is like a nuclear attack on the very values that define relationships. It’s the ultimate betrayal. It casts doubts on the mutual closeness and trust that was built throughout the relationship.
Is it possible to recover from that? How can you save the relationship? Or if it’s already ended, how do you recover emotionally from such a profound betrayal of trust?
Anyone facing infidelity must overcome obstacles and make difficult decisions. Should you give the relationship another chance? How can you overcome your overwhelming anger towards the cheater?
I posed this question on Facebook: “How can couples stay together after infidelity?”
Sue N. said that the couple must get at the root of infidelity, and then trust must be regained.
Ben F. said that the couple should seek therapy, but even then, “I don’t think they can stay together,” he wrote. “It never goes away completely.”
Ed R. wrote, “Why sleep with one eye open for the rest of your life?” He said the couple should end the relationship and move on. “The cheater doesn’t deserve your love.”
Affairs give the victim a sense of lost identity, making the situation quite similar to a divorce or a breakup.
The cheater violently removed the victim from the center of their world, creating a void that will need to be filled to overcome. Infidelity experts generally agree that closeness and trust after infidelity can be rebuilt, and the relationship or marriage can be restored. But it will take a lot of work.
No surprises there!
More simply put, after infidelity your three main choices are:
- Break up.
- Stay together and rebuild the relationship.
- Just commit to stay together.
I personally know two couples who chose the third option. That’s the worst of the three! That choice means you’re technically still together, but you don’t have the marriage that you deserve. You’re living something much less.
Once you’ve chosen to stay together forgiveness and work will be necessary to rebuild trust and recover from the infidelity. There’s no alternative.
Can the Relationship Be Salvaged?
Here are some questions to help you discern if your relationship can be rebuilt after infidelity:
- Does the relationship have a history of thoughtlessness and dishonesty?
- How is communication in the relationship? Are you able to discuss real problems in the past?
- How much do you truly know about your partner? Do they reveal their true emotions to you?
- Does the cheater still have deep emotional connections with the other person?
- Is the cheater prepared to go beyond “I’m sorry” and willing to truly reconcile?
How to Reconnect
To reconcile the relationship, the first thing that’s needed is total honesty.
The cheater must be willing to honestly answer any question about the affair.
One survey showed that if the cheater answers all the questions, the relationship has an 86 percent chance of surviving. That chance drops to 59 percent if the cheater refuses to answer questions.
If one person was unfaithful, that person must be willing to answer any questions that the victim wants to ask. At some point, the victim must choose not to bring it up anymore. It’s not helpful to dwell on it. You’ve got to move on and rebuild.
Doing the Work
The next step after total honesty is to take responsibility and to commit to the relationship.
The cheater must take total and complete blame for their dishonesty. Forgiveness can be earned if they’re willing to do what’s needed to restore the relationship. Their actions will need to be meaningful, heartfelt, and bold. The cheater should redraw a boundary around the relationship, excluding the lover from this inner circle.
The victim must take their fair share of responsibility for their part in creating a relationship that left open the opportunity for someone else to come in between.
Anger and hurt will make it difficult to rebuild the relationship. The anger needs to be expressed, but in a way that doesn’t interfere with the work of reconnecting.
The next step is the tedious process of rebuilding trust. The cheater must believably prove to their partner, in both actions and words, that they know the cheating was a mistake, and it will never be repeated. All bonds with the lover must be terminated permanently. And they must be substantially willing to work to save the relationship.
The victim must acknowledge the cheater’s efforts and remain open to the process of reconnection. And they must own their own mistakes in the situation.
Additionally, the cheater must honestly assess their own motivations and reasons for the infidelity, and use that knowledge to strengthen the relationship and to prevent any future infidelity.
Recovery from a Breakup After Infidelity
If the relationship ends in breakup, the victim must adopt the mindset of somebody who made a bad decision in choosing a partner.
Besides the emotions caused by a break-up, the victim will additionally be dealing with fear, anger, shame, and distrust due to the cheating. Those emotions must be acknowledged and processed in a healthy way. And it’s critical that you don’t let yourself believe that it was your fault. This train of thought can only harm you.
No matter how happy you were in the relationship, you need to get out of the role of the victim, the one everything just happens to. Adopt a more active role. Takes your life into your own hands. Your ability to get over the betrayal depends on how easily you can do this.
In conclusion, my advice is for you to definitively decide which way you want your relationship to go after the affair, and take your time. Then, once you’ve decided, stand by your decision. A pragmatic approach and a dedication to your course of action will help you do the right thing while minimizing suffering.
After infidelity, whether you choose to break up or reconcile, challenges lie ahead and things won’t be easy. But as always in life, our pain serves a purpose. It helps us to understand, to learn and to grow.
After recovering from infidelity, you may forge a stronger bond with your partner. And you will certainly be more self-aware. Your soul will evolve. So either way, you win—even if it doesn’t feel like that yet.