Last Sunday, I was in an Uber coming home from church. During my conversation with my driver, I happened to mention that I was a marriage and family therapist. As expected, he began telling me all of his relationship issues. Through his venting, he mentioned that his wife had cheated on him in the past and now gets offended when he asks about her whereabouts.
Based on my experiences thus far, I believe infidelity is a special type of trauma. The individual who has been cheated on usually experiences recurring intrusive thoughts, anxiety about if it will happen again, images of their partner with someone else, uncertainty, resentment, and a variety of other emotions. The individual who committed the act may feel guilt, shame, regret, and disappointment in themselves. Therefore, they may want to move past the situation and try to get the relationship to go back to normal. However, what is normal for a couple who experiences infidelity? How do they get through an event as shattering as this?
For a couple to heal this hurt, the first priority is to release the feelings that are not benefiting the relationship. It’s important for the cheater to let go of their feelings of guilt and shame to make room for honest conversation and give their partner the openness and reassurance they need. Both partners should be able to discuss their feelings with one another honestly. If they establish that they want to continue working on the relationship, the partner that has been cheated on may need to release their anger and resentment to allow their partner to begin to earn their trust again.
The most essential aspect that needs to be restored is trust. There’s no time limit on how long it takes to rebuild someone’s trust. However, both partners have to be committed to doing whatever they can to restore the parts of their relationship that they love. Another component that needs to be restored is communication. Lack of communication and closeness between partners may have contributed to the start of the infidelity. Hopefully once trust and communication begin to be restored, the relationship can stand a fighting chance to make it through.
After open discussions and communication, the couple is able to reach a new level in their relationship. They can have new experiences together and share vulnerabilities that they may have not shared before. They can also resume, or begin date nights, and other special traditions they may have ceased.