SKILL/ CONCEPT TO UNDERSTAND
HP AND INITIAL THOUGHTS ON REBUILDING TRUST
One of the things that gets in the way of relationship recovery is the use blame. When a partner steps outside of the relationship’s exclusivity rules—whatever they might be—for physical connection or emotional support, it’s almost second-nature to place the blame of the relationship problems on that one person. However, the reality is more complicated. In my experience as a therapist, an honest relationship assessment will illuminate how infidelity is often a manifestation (or symptom) of problems rather than the problem itself.
Let me be clear: There is no excuse for violating a partner’s trust. It’s wrong, plain and simple. But there are many reasons why people cheat. They could be using physical connection as a means to resolve past trauma or simply needing novelty that isn’t otherwise provided. Maybe there were times in your relationship when you weren’t having your needs met and started to build resentment against your partner. Perhaps your partner didn’t assert themselves in the bedroom so they could feel more satisfied sexually. Perhaps you both haven’t been managing stress and have forgotten how to work together on life’s challenges.
Again, none of these reasons excuse the trust violation, but finding a healthier path forward (either individually or collectively) requires looking beyond the choice itself and exploring the “why.” This is, of course, easier said than done and understandably so. But if you and your partner are committed to staying together, it is imperative to explore what the relationship problems actually are.
Some questions you may want to ask yourself:
- Had I been feeling happy and fulfilled in the relationship before the infidelity occurred (or before I became aware of the infidelity of my partner)?
- Have my needs been met throughout the relationship?
- Have I asserted my needs?
- Have my partner’s needs been adequately addressed and fulfilled?
- Have I been listening to and been curious about their wants and desires?
Whatever the reasons for infidelity, it’s essential to forgo blame and focus instead on accountability if you decide to stay together. Blame only seeks to punish and humiliate, whereas accountability helps create a path forward towards healing. How can you both be accountable for the ways that you failed each other? How will you both act in better ways towards one another moving forward?
Be Prepared For an Emotional Rollercoaster
Cheating, or being cheating on, is relationship hell. This experience is not just about how your partner (or you) crossed a relationship boundary, but also about all the hurt and resentment that’s been a part of the relationship for some time, or in the aftermath. The process of healing and recovering from infidelity is arduous enough to bring any person to their emotional breaking point.
Most often when we think about infidelity, we think about the anger and sorrow of the person who has been cheated on, and rightfully so. But going through that experience can bring about a host of emotions for both parties in ways they may not expect. I’ve worked with many clients who have cheated, fantasized about cheating, or been cheated on (or some combination of the three). The feelings that come with this experience are about as complex as it gets and reminds me that infidelity is often also about grieving.
When we enter a relationship, we are full to the brim with hope, excitement, and infatuation. It’s an incredibly thrilling time. If betrayal enters the picture, our image of a healthy relationship becomes tarnished with lost hopes and unfulfilled dreams. Infidelity forces us to grieve for ourselves, the ideas we had for the relationship, and even for our partner.
We hope for full honesty and transparency from our partners, but that is not always the case. When that line is crossed, it can leave us in a process similar to the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and finally acceptance.
Each person has to go through their own process of mourning the relationship and what came to be. It’s a painful, non-linear process without a neat and clean resolution. Be kind to yourself and consider seeking out professional support.
Seek Out Support
Both individual therapy and couples therapy can prove incredibly helpful for partners who have experienced infidelity. Couples therapy, of course, is more challenging as it requires a commitment by both parties to work on things together intentionally. That may mean working towards healing and reconciliation, or finding a healthy path out of the relationship that minimizes further damage.
Individual therapy can also be invaluable, whether or not reconciliation is on the table. That healing space can provide a non-judgmental format to work through your relationship grief and hold yourself accountable for your individual emotional health and your part of relationship wellness. While challenging, it can be just what you need to walk out on the other side of infidelity much healthier. Much like grief, the process of forgiveness is not often pretty or linear.
Understand What Forgiveness Really Means
Recovering from infidelity is incredibly hard and if you’re the one who was cheated on, the question of whether or not to forgive is challenging. I’ve talked with more than one client that believed forgiveness was akin to approving (or minimizing) their partner’s violation of trust, but this isn’t true. Forgiveness is about accepting what has happened and making a conscious choice to move forward.
Saying “I forgive you” also doesn’t mean that you absolve you or your partner of negative emotions moving forward. Forgiveness doesn’t mean there is no longer space for anger, hurt, jealousy, or sadness. Acceptance of a transgression allows you to forge a path forward, while not forgetting where the relationship has been. Most often, forgiveness starts the process of reconciliation. Much like grief, the process of forgiveness is not often pretty or linear. For the person who has been cheated on, it is incredibly important to have time to process, emote, and make an informed decision about their next steps with the relationship.