You just found out that your partner has cheated on you. Maybe it was their distant behavior that tipped you off or the late nights coming home, whatever the clues were, it happened, so what to do now? Once a person learns of their partner’s infidelity they can feel shocked, physically ill, angry, sad, and a great loss for what they thought the relationship entailed. For many, their instinct is to end the relationship or assume that there’s no way the relationship can survive. The truth is relationships can be salvaged after an affair has occurred. In some instances, the relationship can become even stronger after a partner has been unfaithful.
I commonly hear the topic of infidelity discussed in the LGBTQ community and I find there is a great need to dispel the myth: cheating always results in a relationship ending. There is life pre-infidelity and post-infidelity, how each person in the relationship handles the betrayal can either repair or permanently tarnish the relationship.
There are many factors that dictate if a relationship can survive. Partner’s attitudes, ability to “fight fair,” and wanting to repair the relationship come first and foremost. How one learns of the infidelity, length of the cheating, and level of the emotional/physical affair are additional factors that need to be honestly addressed. If you are the one who cheated and want to come out of the storm with your relationship intact, be honest with yourself, why did the affair happen in the first place? Was it one night ending with poor impulse control or were you enjoying the thrill of the chase, attention, or maybe searching for an emotional connection?
In many long-term relationships a lack of intimacy or high conflict, precedes the affair. If this is the case, re-establishing the relationship would involve addressing the affair, allowing time for the non-cheater to process and re-evaluate the relationship, and confronting the issues that pre-dated the affair. There is hope after infidelity occurs and in many cases it’s an opportunity to rebuild a closer connection with your partner.
How to Rebuild Your Relationship
After the initial shock of the affair has passed, then it is time for you both to examine what role you each played in letting the relationship take a downward spiral.
1. Stop the Affair: This is the most important step. There is no way you can reinvest in your relationship if you are continuing to engage in the destructive behavior. This means having zero communication with the person you had an affair with.
2. Open Communication: The person who had the affair needs to be 100% honest with what happened or they are not truly trying to re-establish their relationship. This means answering all of your partner’s questions even if it means they may not want to stay in a relationship with you.
3. Why did You Cheat: As stated before, answer this question honestly and problem solve around it. If you do not change what drew you into the affair, expect it to happen again.
4. Re-establish Trust: This means being patient, empathetic, and avoid being defensive when asked to be accountable for your whereabouts, even if you think it’s unfair. If you are trying to rebuild trust you have to invest time and understand there will be skepticism surrounding your actions for a period of time after the affair. If you roll with those requests over time your partner will reduce tracking behavior (possibly with the help of a therapist), but you have to prove with your actions you are a person worth trusting again.
6. Be Realistic: Recovering after an affair is going to have many intense and stressful moments, remember this is completely normal.
7. Increase Security: There needs to be a willingness to make promises and commitments about the future, especially that unfaithful acts will not reoccur.
8. Timetable: If you are the one that has been cheated on, set a timetable for how long you need to heal. This does not mean you will be done healing by this set date (that would be nearly impossible to predict), but it does give you and your partner an idea of how long your road to recovery may last. It is all too often that the one who cheated wants to sweep the problem under the rug and move forward, not allowing the appropriate time for their partner to heal. Additionally, many people hold the infidelity over one’s head for years after the affair- this behavior is unproductive and keeps individuals living in the pain of the past.
9. A New Foundation: Both individuals in the relationship need to take responsibility for making the choice to stay together and to move forward. This is your chance to change and rebuild pieces of the relationship that were not working and increase the behaviors that were working. Ask each other what you can do that would improve the relationship and what actions should be avoided.
10. Therapy & Support: Surround yourself with support. No one should suffer alone and a lot of times the solutions to problems are hard to achieve without outside help. A third party such as a therapist can help you both break unhealthy cycles and address problems. I commonly encounter partners being more open to address issues when it is brought up by the therapist vs. the partner, in that the therapeutic relationship is not as emotionally loaded as the relationship with your partner, making it easier to discuss problems without an individual feeling accused or nagged by their partner. Find a pro-relationship therapist who believes you can repair the relationship. The take home message is that relationships can survive after an affair. Be honest to yourself, your partner, and make that commitment to heal together, if that is the path you choose to take. You may be surprised to find a healthier, happier, and stronger relationship as you build a new road together.
The take home message is that relationships can survive after an affair. Be honest to yourself, your partner, and make that commitment to heal together, if that is the path you choose to take. You may be surprised to find a healthier, happier, and stronger relationship as you build a new road together.