Will your partner's affair mean the end of your relationship? Not necessarily. Experts agree that healing after cheating is possible, however, rebuilding a healthy relationship won't be a walk in the park. According to licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, it can take up to two years of determination to get the relationship back on track. While couples can recover from infidelity (and they do), "it takes a lot of work to repair broken trust."
Psychologist Paul Coleman adds "if a couple is dating or just started living together, there is less of a need to go through the work of rebuilding trust." In other words, a couple with children or who own a home together may have more of an incentive to try to work it out than a couple that more recently started dating. That said, in terms of moving on, experts stress the need for total honesty, a focus on rebuilding trust, and addressing the root cause of the infidelity, among other things.
Read on for tips on how to heal after cheating.
Have Total Honesty
First things first: The cheating must stop. Caroline Madden, a marriage therapist specializing in affair recovery, says it's essential for the unfaithful partner to be forthcoming about what happened and leave the affair behind. She says, "When I see couples divorce after an affair, it's not usually because of the infidelity itself: The betrayed spouse simply gave up trying when their husband or wife continued to be selfish, shady, and untrustworthy." At the same time, the extent of details about the affair that are required to be shared will be different for every couple, noted licensed professional counselor Lena Derhally. For example, Derhally said that some people will want a play-by-play breakdown (How long? With whom? How many times?), whereas others aren't interested in the full scope of the transgression.
Give a Genuine Apology
If you were the one who cheated, your typical apology just won't cut it. According to clinical psychologist. Janis A. Spring, your apology needs to confirm you've heard and understood specifically how you've hurt your partner. Then, it's about demonstrating with your actions that you won't repeat your mistake. "Verbal reassurances, promising you won’t do it again, that means nothing after cheating," Spring said.
Make Your Partner Feel Secure
Broadly speaking, experts agree that to rebuild trust it's important to do whatever is necessary to make your partner feel secure, whether that includes sharing social media passwords, texts, or credit card bills. Marriage therapist Michele Weiner-Davis said, "This period of increased accountability shouldn't last forever, but it proves you're committed to doing whatever it takes to get the relationship back on track," she said. By being as open as possible, you show your willingness and eagerness to regain your partner's confidence.
Don't Withhold Information
Never withhold information following an affair, even if your intentions are good. Always share when and if an affair partner contacts you, no matter how much you think it'll hurt your partner. Hiding information will only hurt the process of rebuilding trust.
Get tested for any sexually transmitted diseases that might have been contracted during the affair and be willing to share the results.
Root Out the Real Issues
If a monogamous relationship is what you both signed up for, then cheating isn't part of the deal, and a troubled relationship isn't an excuse, said Coleman. In addition to rebuilding trust, Coleman said that working to improve other areas like communication and time spent together (like your sex lives), "can be reassuring to both that cheating is less likely to occur."
Fife ST, Weeks GR, Stellberg‐Filbert J. Facilitating Forgiveness in the Treatment of Infidelity: An Interpersonal Model. J Fam Ther. 2013;35:343-367. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6427.2011.00561.x
Why Some Couples Can Recover After Cheating and Others Can't. Self. December 27, 2018.
If You Want to Save Your Marriage After An Affair, Read This. HuffPost. November 4, 2015.
How To Heal A Relationship After An Affair. Your Tango. September 4, 2008.
Abrahamson I, Hussain R, Khan A, Schofield MJ. What Helps Couples Rebuild THeir Relationship After Infidelity? J Fam Issues. 2011;33(11):1494-1519. doi:10.1177/0192513X11424257