Triage for trust – rebuilding relationships after cheating

Two people sitting on a sofa. The woman has her back to a man who is doing something with his smart phone.
Reconciliation is possible when the cheater can terminate contact.

Infidelity happens. A partner cheating does not always mean the relationship isn’t worth fighting for. Only you can determine what you can forgive, how you define infidelity, and what information and behavior you need from your partner to process the experience. If your partner wants to reconcile here is a blueprint of what that might look like. This is a time for straight talk because there will be challenges for you both.

For the partner who cheated:

Commit to cutting all contact. No more interaction with the other person means no phone calls or online chatting either. Even if that person is a coworker you will have to set definitive boundaries. That means no grabbing coffee or going to the food truck. Set clear boundaries and then honor them.

Reconciliation takes effort. Answer questions candidly and completely. Trying to avoid or deflect questions complicates the situation. Full disclosure may seem hurtful, but it eliminates speculation which is even worse. 

Do not make excuses. Take responsibility for what happened and be responsible for ending it. The more committed you are to this step can make a huge difference in the time needed to heal.

Respect your partner’s pain and show empathy. If you are not sure what empathy is it means the capacity to acknowledge the perspective of the other and sense how something impacts them. This is a very important interpersonal skill to develop.

Be patient and be prepared to discuss things more than once. Listen carefully to your partner’s questions and concerns. This is an opportunity to learn more about each other and deepen your connection – don’t waste it.

Know that there is no quick fix. Forgiveness and healing are processes. Each person has their own time frame and these processes cannot be forced or rushed. The trust that was violated will need to be rebuilt.

For the partner who has been cheated on:

Do not pressure yourself to process this. You will forgive when you have enough information and evidence from your partner that the case is closed. That is up to both of partners, not you alone. Quick forgiveness usually is not authentic. Trust and respect are earned, when trust and respect are back on track forgiveness will follow naturally.

Ask questions.

Do it when you think of them. It is better to get an answer immediately than to mull over how to ask or allow unanswered questions to build up. Addressing them as they come up will help emotional de-escalation and create context for the event.

Share your feelings.

Don’t try to suppress your emotions, that will make them ferment. Be forthcoming with your partner that you need to express what you are feeling, but that you will try to balance that with having the patience to listen.

Do not obsess.

When the cheating does enter a conversation set a specific amount of time that you will discuss it. You will revisit this topic many times before it is resolved but that does not mean that it should dominate your lives. You need to communicate about other things to and invest in restoring the functionality of your relationship.

Have fun.

Spend time together doing things you enjoy that do not relate to the infidelity. You got together because you wanted to spend time together. Focus on that aspect of the relationship instead of only dwelling on where your expectations were not met.

Discuss your doubts, concerns and fears.

Explain how this experience made you feel when you are not highly emotional so that your partner can receive that information instead of reacting to it. Give your partner the opportunity to understand your position and why you feel the way you do.

Expect some backlash.

Your partner is also processing feelings of guilt, anger and regret. They may deflect those feelings by overreacting to seemingly insignificant issues. Be prepared to encourage them to talk about their feelings also.

It is up to you both to push through. It is possible to come out on the other side stronger together than you were before. Remember why you fell in love, rediscover how amazing you both are and why two is better than one.

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