So you've caught your significant other cheating, but both of you have decided to forge ahead and try to make the relationship work. The first thing the cheater has to do is be honest and transparent. Says psychologist Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, "The partner who was unfaithful has to be willing to answer any and all questions the other partner has. You are the one who violated the trust and now your partner should have access to all of the information they feel they need to begin rebuilding that trust." However, experts warn that the betrayed party should be mindful of what information he or she seeks: "While it may seem important in the moment to get vivid details about every sexual encounter, etc., in the long run this info may be more detrimental, especially since it conjures a visual image and those are often very difficult to forget."
Experts agree that rebuilding a marriage shattered after infidelity doesn't stand a chance unless both parties are completely willing to commit to the process. Says Ask April advice columnist April Masini: "If one person does [want to stay in the relationship], and the other person doesn’t, it’s going to be an uphill battle that leads to failure. It takes one person to end a relationship, but two to make it work. You’re both in, or you’re both out." Psychotherapist Denise Limongello suggests that the two of you decide on your own whether to try and save your marriage — don't go running to friends and family for advice: "People often express strong opinions on the topic of infidelity," she says.
Recovering from a betrayal of trust of this magnitude isn't going to be swift or easy, and couples should realize this. Don't think that a couple of weeks after the betrayal bomb goes off, you'll be funning in the sun in Tahiti (and if you are, don't think this feeling will last). Says Masini: "Diminished trust requires time and shared experiences to rebuild. Patience isn’t just a virtue, it’s a requirement for overcoming infidelity in a relationship." There is no timeline for healing, so take your time.
The person who practiced infidelity has violated a trust code, and now needs to accept that he or she is going to have to rebuild trust from the ground up. This may mean handing over all passwords to the wronged spouse, keeping cell phones in plain view and checking in frequently whenever out. Cheaters may have to give up boys' or girls' nights for a while, and get used to having his or her email checked. Trust is earned, and when you lose it, it has to be earned all over again.
Find an outside source to help guide you through this emotionally-draining and complex process. A licensed therapist who specializes in marital issues can be extremely helpful — look around online to see who comes recommended, or even ask your friends. Hey, there's no shame. Plenty of people hit marital rough patches, you don't necessarily have to detail yours. You may also want to turn to a leader in your religious organization, if you feel committed to that. If finances are an issue, therapists will usually work on a sliding scale, or you can find one through a local church or free clinic. There are also plenty of marriage-saving books you can check out of the library. Says marriage and family therapist Anna Osborn: "Find people who you can trust, whether it's a pastor, counselor or friend, who can offer support without judgement or biased opinions. Do not go at this healing process alone."
While it shouldn't be suggested that the cheated-on party is somehow at fault, the reality is that there may have been a relationship dynamic that contributed to what happened. Says psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert: "Post-infidelity, both parties have to be open to addressing issues, behaviors, and things that may have contributed to the bad behavior. " Says Masini: "It’s easy to point fingers — and ineffective. If the cheater [cheated] because he or she was unhappy in the marriage, or felt they weren’t getting needs met, the person who was cheated on can make changes in their own behavior within the relationship." It's important, however, to not let someone gaslight you into believing this is all your fault, and that if you had been a better wife, mother, cook, whatever, the cheating would have never happened. The key is to open up to each other in a safe, professional setting that allows the cheater to feel he or she can express why it may have happened in a way that brings insight and healing not blame.
The cheating party needs to express genuine contriteness, says psychotherapist Jim Hjort. But probably the most difficult part of saving the marriage will be for the betrayed party to learn forgiveness — after all, without that, the marriage will remain doomed or permanently miserable. Says Hjort: "You'll need to work toward acceptance and forgiveness, felt genuinely enough that grudges won't be able to find a permanent foothold."
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