Despite the ever prevalent number of cheaters in mainstream movies and television, researchers have found that the real threat of an affair over the course of a relationship is about 25%. That’s approximately 1 out of every 4 couples, which isn’t great, but it also isn’t as common as it seems when you’re addicted to shows like “Scandal.” (side note: I can’t believe Scandal is over forever!)
Still, all the statistics in the world won’t help you if your union is the one being affected by an affair. First, you have to decide whether or not you feel that the relationship is even worth saving. For some, an affair is a “cry for help,” where one partner essentially leaves the relationship by seeking the affection of a stranger. If the relationship was hopelessly flawed to begin with, there may not be much left to save.
Similarly, if a person has cheated more than once, you may want to strongly consider cutting your losses and moving on. As the saying goes, “Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair,” which means that multiple offenses are very difficult to undo. If your partner is cheating on you repeatedly, you may also want to seek assessment for sex addiction to see if this is the underlying cause.
However, let’s say that your partner cheated on you once, claims it was a huge mistake and you both want to work to improve the relationship and rebuild trust. What can you do then?
Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., who wrote the book,” After The Affair: Healing The Pain And Rebuilding Trust When A Partner Has Been Unfaithful,” shared some insights from her work in an interview with “Reader’s Digest.” Below, I paraphrase Dr. Spring’s main points:
Honesty, Openness, and Apologies
The first step to take after the discovery of an affair is to allow the person who was cheated on, (the betrayed partner), a chance to say everything that he or she is thinking and feeling. The betrayed partner needs free reign to go through all the necessary emotions of grief, anger, sadness, resentment, etc., and to be heard. New research is showing that being cheated on results in symptoms similar to PTSD, a mental illness that can occur after a major life-threatening trauma. The betrayer needs to be understanding of the emotional turmoil caused by his/her behaviors and “bear witness” to his partner’s pain without rushing her through it. One way to begin the process of rebuilding trust is for the betrayer to write an apology letter declaring his intentions to change his ways.
Avoid Cheap Forgiveness
Dr. Spring calls “Cheap Forgiveness,” the process by which the betrayed forgives the cheater too quickly, without going through all of the pain, anger, and sadness that comes with infidelity. Dr. Spring believes that some people rush themselves through to the acceptance phase of grief because they fear losing their partner. However, if you do this, you won’t fully heal from the incident and it’s likely to cause harm to your relationship in the future.
Here is one of the steps where it’s easy to tell how serious the cheater is about rebuilding trust. Dr. Spring recommends setting ground rules for allowing the betrayed to have access to the cheater’s private life. For example, she may request all of his social media passwords or request that he show her what he is doing on his phone when she asks. Yes, this may feel like an invasion of privacy to the cheater, but, it is necessary to be completely transparent to start rebuilding the trust that was broken. A cheater who really wants to change his ways will most likely be open to these invasions of privacy, whereas one who wants to continue playing the field might balk at these new restrictions. Hint: If he balks, it’s time to walk. Either he is still lying or he is not willing to do what it takes to rebuild trust.
Finally, Dr. Spring suggests that after some time, the betrayed should be feeling more comfortable to loosen the reigns on the rules mentioned above. With time and healing, she should be able to start trusting her partner again.
Recovering from an affair requires hard work, vulnerability and emotional risk-taking on the part of both partners. Emotionally charged conversations, tears, mood swings, and a reluctance to trust the betrayer are common reactions in the betrayed. Given the heavy emotions that infidelity causes, it’s often helpful for both individuals and the couple to be in therapy to facilitate the healing process.
Trust Your Journey
One of my favorite personal growth blogs, Mark and Angel Hack Life, posted an article called 7 Things to Remember When You Feel Cheated On and I’d like to leave you with some of their words today:
“A wonderful, life-changing gift may not be wrapped as you expect. – When you don’t get what you want, sometimes it’s necessary preparation, and other times its necessary protection. But the time is never wasted. It’s a step on your journey. Someday you’re going look back on this time in your life as an important time of grieving and growing. You will see that you were in mourning and your heart was breaking, but your life was changing for the greater good.”
So, whether this experience helps you grow stronger as a couple and improve your relationship, or whether you break up, trust that you are on the right path and everything is happening for your highest and best good. And know that I am here to help you through this or any other hard times.