Infidelity is certainly one of the most challenging issues a couple can face. The depth of pain experienced by the partner who was cheated on can be excruciating and unrelenting.
For those who are not able to move past this transgression, it can represent the death of the relationship. The breach of trust is simply too much for some to bear which is completely understandable.
However, for those who want to try to move past this event and rebuild their relationship foundation – there is hope. Make no mistake – it requires hard work and a commitment to the process.
The issue of “cheating” and having an “affair” comes up frequently in my couples work. Though this is one of the more challenging circumstances to work through in relationship therapy, the fact that the couple has presented themselves at all to work on it is a great sign.
Infidelity can not only be very damaging to the partner who was cheated on but shaming for the one who did the cheating. When a couple such as this sits down on the couch in front of me, they both know they are about to climb an incredibly steep mountain together in which they may not even make it to the summit.
There will undoubtedly be slippery rocks, sharp grades and formidable weather along the way.
I want to provide some guide posts to help navigate this treacherous climb in the form of ways a couple begin their ascent together. The following are five thoughts on how to heal from infidelity:
1) Cease the affair
This may seem obvious but sometimes “obvious” is better off stated. I have heard of more than one couple who went to therapy (not with me) to work on infidelity with the understanding that the affair was over – but the reality was it was still going on. This is not helpful.
2) There is no such thing as too much apologizing
The partner who cheated must be willing to apologize as many times as needed – and as sincerely as possible. They need to continue to take responsibility for wounding their partner and the relationship.
3) Allow the wounded partner his/her feelings
There could possibly be a wide range of emotions from the hurt partner, sometimes even seeming erratic and unrelenting. Remember that they are dealing with images, thoughts, suspicious thinking, anger, hurt and other swirling thoughts and emotions.
4) Learn how to communicate effectively
Sometimes affairs can come on the heels of build-up of resentments, unexpressed needs, feelings and so on. Be clear that I’m not excusing unfaithful behavior, only highlighting that effective communication between couples can only help build and maintain a strong relationship foundation.
5) It takes time
A couple dealing with infidelity needs to understand that this is a process and can take a long time to work through. There is not formula to figure out, “how long.” It will depend on a lot of factors specific to who they are, what transpired, the length of time it occurred and so on.
After following these guidelines, nagging doubt or mistrust of the unfaithful partner might remain. The wounded partner can be vulnerable to having his/her insecurity triggered. Stay aware of maintaining behavior that is kind, loving, loyal and supportive of each other.
In other cases, there are couples that weather the storm of infidelity and come out stronger in the end. In either situation, if you both believe the relationship is worth fighting for, this is the first and most important step you’ve already taken towards the healing process.