Part III of Angelus’ Couples’ Communication & Connection Series
Is there Hope for a Relationship After Infidelity?
The short answer to this question is yes, it’s possible if all parties agree. But it may require a lot of work. Infidelity, or betraying a partner’s trust, creates a huge disconnection in the relationship. The safe place you had created is gone in an instant. Some people may be quick to forgive, because they want to just move on and forget what happened. This makes sense, because no one really wants to sit with the pain of a betrayal. However, if you don’t allow yourself the time to express, honor, and process your feelings, it can spell trouble further down the road in a variety of ways. Couples therapy, as well as individual therapy, may be a good place to start to heal a broken relationship.
What Is Infidelity?
There are different definitions of infidelity, and couples often define for themselves what it means. Infidelity typically entails a breach of trust or the breaking of a mutually agreed upon commitment. Ideally, the things to which people are committing should be clear and jointly defined, such as agreeing not to be intimate with anyone else. You and your partner may want to have a conversation about how emotionally involved you will become with other people. There are not any “rights” or “wrongs,” but open communication is best. Essentially, being honest with yourself and your partner is key.
“Cheating” has a lot of grey areas in the age of technology. Are you ok with your partner communicating with other people online? Meeting people online? Exchanging pictures or other information? Again, know yourself well, so you can communicate your needs to your partner. If you are not clear what your boundaries are you stand a greater chance of being hurt emotionally from that miscommunication.
Infidelity Happened, Now What?
If you’ve recently found out that your partner has been unfaithful or somehow betrayed your trust, the pain and confusion can be excruciating. It’s easy for outsiders and well-meaning friends to say: Just leave him/her! But they don’t understand the inner workings of your relationship. The best thing you can do for yourself right now is to not make any rash decisions. You probably want the pain to stop and to understand why your partner did what they did. The hard part is that they may or may not be able to give you an answer, and even if they do, it likely won’t be satisfying. Allow yourself to grieve the trust you had in your relationship regardless of whether or not you stay. If you choose to stay, know that forgiveness and the rebuilding of trust take time, often close to a year, depending on the nature of the betrayal. If the relationship is to mend, here are some essential healing elements:
What Do We Need To Start Working Through The Infidelity?
- Your partner should be accountable for what they have done.
- Your partner must understand the extent to which they’ve hurt you.
- Your partner must be willing to take a good look at themselves to figure out why the betrayal happened.
If you are the partner who strayed, you also have some decisions to make. Do you want to stay in your relationship? It’s important that you take an honest look at yourself, your motives, and your desires. It may be difficult and painful to talk to your partner about these things, but if you want your relationship to heal, honest conversations are required. On the other hand, if your infidelity symbolized your desire to exit the relationship, now is the time to do it. It can be hard to leave what is familiar and comfortable, but stringing someone along hurts both parties in the end. If you’re unsure about the actions you took, you’re not alone. A counselor can help you sort through your thoughts and feelings in a nonjudgmental way.
A Decision Has Been Made
Choosing to leave your relationship is a valid decision. You need to do what feels right for you. You still will have a grieving process and a professional counselor can help you through this in a healthy way.
On the other hand, if you and your partner have decided to try and work things out, that’s also valid. Other people may or may not agree with your decision, but what matters is that you’ve made the right choice for you. If you are going to make a real effort to work through your situation, here are some general do’s and don’ts that may be helpful to follow.
- Fully commit to working on this for a period of time (ex: 6 months)
- Try to be as honest as possible
- Figure out what underlies the betrayal behaviors
- Take responsibility for your own actions
- Communicate anger in a healthy way
- Threaten to leave the relationship during heated moments
- Continue an affair
- Blame yourself for your partner’s behavior
- Fight dirty (swearing, name-calling, intimidation, emotional manipulation)
This may seem very overwhelming for all involved, but this is normal. Seeking counseling can help you to get a game plan everyone feels safe with. Because infidelity is traumatic. [Read More Here] Victims in these situations may need extra support, so they no longer feel victimized, but empowered. You can learn to trust yourself and other people again. Dennis Ortman wrote a book, Transcending Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder, specifically designed to help people overcome “post-infidelity stress disorder” and the many uncomfortable symptoms that go along with it. It can be a useful starting place to to explore how the affair has impacted all involved. Click here for more information.
You have Decided to Try Counseling… Now What?
Couples’ Counselors may approach your treatment many different ways. At Angelus what we normally suggest if you decide to seek out Couples’ Counseling is to see a neutral therapist. If you or your significant other are already in treatment, Great! That can be a very important and useful tool to explore where you are at and what you are feeling individually. Bringing your spouse into your sessions can be helpful for your therapy but is not recommended for the core couples’ work because it often comes with a natural bias and a discomfort. You may feel more on edge that your counselor may ‘slip’ and share something you were not ready to give voice to yet, or your spouse may feel that the therapist already has judgements against them or that they are somehow being double teamed and become more defensive.
If you are seeking out couples’ counseling prepare yourself for many potentially uncomfortable conversations. It is easy to say that the person who ‘cheated’ is fully at fault for the problems in the relationship and expect all the changes to be on their side. However, loss of trust and intimacy often start forming far below that surface and involve exploring the full history of your joint relationship, your individual relationship histories, and some level of being challenged to explore your own pain and internal messages.
If you would like to set up an initial Couples’ Counseling Consultation at Angelus please feel free to reach out to us by phone at 724-654-9555 or by completing our “Getting Started” questionnaire. We are generally able to accommodate intake appointments within one week and have flexible scheduling. Feel free to call us with any questions or concerns that you may have.
Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University and soon to be clinician at Angelus Therapeutic Services & Nessa L Wilson, LCSW Director Angelus Therapeutic Services