Infidelity is a nuclear strike against all the values that define a romantic relationship. The ultimate betrayal.
It casts doubt on the mutual trust and closeness that has been built over years.
How can one ever recover from that?
What can you do to save the relationship, or if you have already broken up, how can you emotionally recover from such a betrayal of confidence?
A few days ago I received the following Twitter Message:
“How does a relationship recover from infidelity? My boyfriend cheated. He says he’s sorry and wants us to continue. What must each of us do?”
The author of this Tweet – and everyone who has this problem right now – has to face a bunch of difficult obstacles and decisions. From deciding whether to give the relationship another chance, to overcoming the overwhelming anger towards your partner/Ex.
I’ve asked my Twitter followers, “How can couples move past infidelity?”.
Here are some selected responses:
The main effect an affair has on those who are betrayed is a sense of identity loss. In that it is similar to a break-up or divorce.
Your partner is violently removed from the center of your world, and this creates a void that needs to be filled and overcome.
This is one of the main goals after a break-up, the same as it is after adultery.
Infidelity experts state that trust and closeness after an affair can be restored and the relationship or marriage rebuilt… but it takes work.
No surprises here.
When we put it simple, after an affair you have mainly three choices:
- To break up
- To stay together and do the rebuilding work
- To just stay together because of x
I know of two cases in my immediate surrounding who both made choice number three, and I can tell you right now that this is the worst of these three choices.
When you make that choice, you are still together – technically – however you are not living the marriage you deserve, you are living something else, very often hell.
Once you’ve decided to remain together you MUST forgive and do the work to re-build trust.
There is no alternative.
How To Decide Whether To Forgive Or Not
The theory behind this decision sounds simple: Is there a chance that trust can be restored and thus the possibility of a fulfilled relationship?
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you come to a decision:
- Is there a history of dishonesty and thoughtlessness?
- How is communication in your relationship? Were you able to deep-talk about real problems in your past?
- How much do you really know about your partner? Do they reveal their emotional reactions to the events in your mutual life?
- Is there still a deep emotional connection? (Let’s disregard for the moment the question of whether it’s really possible to cheat when you are in love)
- Is the “cheater” really willing to reconcile and prepared to go beyond “I’m sorry”?
What Is The First Step To Re-Connection?
According to a very interesting article in the health department of U.S. News, the first thing that is needed is full transparency.
The cheating party must be ready to answer ALL questions about the details of the affair in all honesty.
A survey revealed that when the “cheater” reveals all the details, there is an 86 percent survival rate of the relationship. It drops to 59 percent if they refused to respond to questions.
Helen Fisher, a Rutgers University anthropologist who’s marriage suffered from infidelity and survived it, states it like this:
“The person who’s been adulterous has to be willing to answer any question that the offended party wants to ask, and then, at some point, the offended party has to say to themselves, ‘OK, I will never bring this up again,’. 17 years later, they’re still talking about it, and that is not useful. You’ve got to rebuild.”
Doing The Re-Building Work
The second step after total transparency is to take responsibility and to confess themselves to the relationship.
The person who had the affair must completely take all the blame for the betrayal. They earn forgiveness and indicate their willingness to do what it takes to get things right “through bold, heartfelt, meaningful acts of repair”, says Janis Abrahms Spring, author of the book After the Affair.
Additionally, it’s a must that “the betrayer ‘redraws the boundary’ around him and his wife, ejecting the mistress from their inner circle”.
According to Spring, even the hurt party “also has to take a ‘fair share’ of responsibility for how they may have created a state between them that made room for someone else to come in between.”
Hurt and anger will make this very difficult to do. So it’s advisable to, on one hand, express the anger, and on the other hand to disallow it to interfere with the reconnection work.
After that comes the slow process of re-establishing trust.
The “cheater” has to believably prove (with action, not just words) to their partner
- that they know it was a mistake that will never repeat itself
- that all bonds whatsoever to the “mistress” or “lover” are permanently terminated
- there is a substantial willingness to save the relationship
The “victim” has to:
- acknowledge the “cheaters” efforts
- stay open for reconnection
- take into account the mistakes they may have made themselves
The cheater should additionally thoroughly assess their own reasons and motivations for the affair, and use the findings to strengthen the relationship and prevent future infidelity from happening.
How Do I Recover When Broken Up Because Of Infidelity
Adopt a mindset of someone who has simply made a bad decision in the choice of partner
If your relationship ended because of the betrayal of your partner, you will have to additionally deal with emotions of anger, fear, distrust, and shame… on top of the emotional roller-coaster of a break-up.
As said before, you have to acknowledge and process these emotions in a healthy way.
It is extremely important that you don’t fall into the “it’s me” trap. This can only do you harm.
Instead adopt a mindset of someone who has simply made a bad decision in the choice of partner – no matter how happy you were.
You have to get out of the “victim-role”, to whom everything “happens”, to a more active role – someone who takes their lives into their own hands.
The extent to which you are able to do this defines your progress to get over the betrayal.
My advice for you is to come to a definitive decision which way you want to go after the affair, (use the questions I’ve stated above). And to take your time.
Once you’ve decided, stay by your decision no matter what.
A pragmatical approach to the problem and a resolute course of action will help you to do the right thing with the minimum amount of suffering.
Whether it is to walk away or to patch things up, after infidelity there are challenges ahead of you that will not be easy.
But as always in life, the pain we experience serves a purpose to make us understand, learn and grow.
Regarding recovering from infidelity, it will result in a stronger bond between you and your partner, or in a stronger, more self-aware YOU… an evolution of your soul.
In both cases you win… even if it doesn’t seem that way now.