Relationship Resuscitation: is reconciliation possible after infidelity?
“But it didn’t mean anything!”
That is a common defense that many an unfaithful partner will use, at least according to popular media. The problem is that infidelity does mean something. In fact, it may mean a lot of things but first and foremost it is a wake-up call for both partners that things are being taken for granted. I know it hurts; I’ve been there. If you believe your relationship is worth fighting for, this is the time to abandon all assumptions. Instead of assigning blame and generating conflict you can reevaluate every aspect of your connection.
Both partners need to take stock of the situation and make responsible decisions. By openly admitting and discussing what happened the partner who cheated disarms hurtful speculation. Full disclosure will be uncomfortable, for both partners. It is however necessary for healing. To read more about “Triage for Trust” click HERE. Personal growth requires commitment to lifelong learning. The most important subject you need to study is you. What do YOU dream about? How do YOU imagine your life five or even ten years down the line. You cannot just assume your partner wants the same things you do and call it a day. A life together should be planned and dreamed about collectively. Your future includes your sex life. If you don’t use it – you will lose it.
“But it was just sex…”
Sex is a very important part of a healthy, happy enduring relationship. If is a dynamic part of your connection that should be talked about and engaged in enthusiastically! If someone says “But it was just sex…” that means that you have made them believe that sex is not important to you. Yes, by saying such a thing they are disrespecting their relationship partner, the person they cheated with and themselves. But it also means that insufficient attention has been invested in that aspect of your relationship. If you step out on a committed relationship it is never “just sex”. Sex is behavior, and our behavior is pretty much the only thing in our lives we have some control over. If someone hits on us that is out of our control, but how we respond to their overtures is a choice. That said eroticism is a need, humans are sensual creatures and sex is literally everywhere you look. If you want your partner to only have eyes for you, that is a two-way street.
Responsibility for reconciliation must be shared and the effort mutual. Just declaring your love and expressing regret will not cut it. Loving words are nice to hear, but our actions are what prove we mean those words. If you have cheated you are going to need to proactively work at rebuilding your partner’s confidence in your commitment. For more information on how confidence can be restored after infidelity click HERE. Most importantly, if you are tempted to cheat ask yourself what need is not being met by your partner. Is it something they can work on if you let them know in a supportive loving way that it is important to you? If they really love you they should be willing to make the effort. If they cannot understand the importance you place on certain things then maybe it was not meant to be.
Moderation in all things.
There can be other factors that complicate interactions, alcohol is a prime example. I have yet to encounter anyone who has not done something they regret, at least once, under the influence of alcohol. Several controlled substances can significantly impair our judgement and tear down inhibitions. Alcohol just happens to be to most universally available. When alcohol is combined with stress and/or disappointment the result is usually regret of one form or another. 14% of unplanned unwanted pregnancies involve binge drinking. It is impossible to determine exact figures for alcohol involvement across the total number of accidental pregnancies, but the scientific consensus is that the figure is probably higher than most people imagine. Irresponsible behaviors can have life altering consequences. You owe to yourselves to avoid putting yourself in mortal danger in the name of “fun”.
Holidays and special events can put even more pressure on our relationships and even strain our physical health. It is hardly a coincidence that most holidays and special events often involve alcohol consumption, one more reason to remain on high alert. To navigate these potential stressors it is important to examine your expectations regularly. It is easy to forget that we create and maintain our own expectations. Nothing can breakdown a relationship faster than unrealistic expectations that have not been communicated. For more information on how these factors impact relationship health read HERE.
Tear off the Band-aid.
Whatever circumstances are involved in a cheating episode what happens after is very important. Some people believe that ignorance is bliss, that what their partner does not know cannot hurt them. The problem is that the person who cheated does know. That incident can remain stuck like a thorn, festering in the back of one’s mind. If it comes out, after having been concealed for a long time, it can potentially be even more damaging than had the person come clean in the first place.
Another factor that many underestimate is the impact that carrying around such a secret has on the morale of person who cheated. Concealed feelings of guilt or remorse frequently cause the person to pull away from their partner without realizing it. A person with a guilty conscience may even respond to kindness with anger. The best bet is always honesty. The truth may be uncomfortable or even painful, but keeping secrets is slow-burning torture.
Keep it between you.
Although it is important for there to be full disclosure between intimate partners, your friends and family DO NOT need to know. Infidelity carries a lot of social stigma, so the fewer people that know the better. The last thing you need is “well meaning” friends or relatives advising you or even worse discussing your sex life at the supermarket. Stress and insecurity make us vulnerable to unsolicited attention. Someone letting us know they find us attractive can be a flattering distraction from unpleasant realities. That is why strong, candid and constant communication between partners is so important. To learn more about how you make up instead of break up click HERE.
Having a crush on someone is natural, even when you are in a relationship. The healthiest thing you can do is talk about it. The point is to do so in a way that is not comparative. It can be unsettling to learn that your partner is crushing on someone, but it should not be viewed as a threat. Finding other people attractive is natural. You can even spice up your love life by fantasizing together about people you have crushes on. What happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom!
Act. Do not react.
Finding out that your partner has cheated is traumatic. It may prompt you to call your entire life into question. You may want to scream and yell, to expose and shame the cheater, but that will only hurt you both. Especially if you have a family together the way you handle the situation is crucial. You cannot change the fact that your partner cheated, you can however choose how you receive that information. Most of all our pride and self-esteem bear the brunt of the hurt. But that bruising of our ego may not warrant placing our whole life track and or family in jeopardy.
To think about it clearly and make rational decisions try to listen without judgement. You and your partner both need to acknowledge and learn from the trauma. You both need to identify the unmet needs that made infidelity possible. To learn more about how to keep retaliatory reactions or brash decisions from wrecking your relationship read more HERE. Even if you end up deciding that you cannot overcome the betrayal, the way you choose to exit is important.
As if human relationships were not already challenging enough – enter COVID-19. Fear is a survival mechanism intended by nature as a behavioral mediator in response to danger. Paranoia and denial on the other hand tend to do more harm than good. This situation has been a huge challenge for communities and families the world over. It is in such times that it is more important than ever to think critically and really consider the sources of information.
Behaving responsibly is a sign of respect, for yourself and for others. Social distancing is an important factor in slowing the spread of infectious disease. Social distancing should not mean emotional distancing however. You can stay connected, stay safe, and still support each other. Read HERE to learn more ways to cope. Try to be aware of your behavior at home and when you are interacting with others. If you observe signs of cabin-fever in you or your partner talk about it. Look for ways to entertain yourselves and flirt as much as possible.
If your jobs mean that you cannot be together for safety reasons, then use technology to keep your connection strong. Facing mortality is a major challenge. Being surrounded by death makes people desperate to feel alive. If you or your partner cheats under these circumstances, know that you probably are not alone. You need to take stock and decide if your relationship is strong enough to overcome the hurt. Porn and online “sex” has been flourishing like never before. Maybe it is time to get a little crazy and try virtual swinging together! Just remember that “sexting” or “camming” is two dimensional, it is almost like gaming since there is no actual physical contact. Before you tear your relationship apart over a virtual “affair” think about what aspect of it really bothers you. Talk about it with your partner before making decisions you might regret.
Can you forgive?
This is the most important question you need to think long and hard on before you make a decision. Saying you can forgive your partner is a start but to do it takes resolve and determination. If you want to learn more about forgiveness and the other “F” words that are essential to reconciliation read more HERE. Forgiving can take time, and there is a danger of passive aggression. You need to be aware that your ego will try to use the indiscretion in future disagreements. You will need to be vigilant in your self-awareness to be sure that you don’t use that misstep as a battering ram later on.
Friendship is the strongest foundation.
Sexual attraction helps a lot. Wanting your partner and feeling wanted by them is a huge contributor to relationship longevity. But the factor that will provide the most support during hard times is friendship. If you and your partner have built a genuine friendship you have excellent chances of staying the distance, even after cheating. Doctors John and Julie Gottman have been studying human sexuality and relationships since the 1970s. Their extensive research has found that relationships based in deep friendship are the most resilient in the face of any stressor. The majority of couples who managed to overcome a partner cheating were those who considered their partner to be their best friend.
Friends with benefits.
Actually liking each other is important. That may seem like a silly statement, but it is true. There are many reasons for wanting to be with someone and most of them have more to do with our egos than our “hearts”. If you genuinely enjoy each other’s company, if the first person you want to share good or bad news with is your partner, the odds are in your favor. Play together to stay together! Engage regularly in activities that you enjoy doing together. Seek out opportunities to laugh out loud. Be affectionate and kind to each other.
If you make the effort to do those things, you will make it through even the worst of times.
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