Few betrayals are as damaging as romantic infidelity. Even for those couples who manage to stick together after such a discovery or disclosure, the raw pain and injured trust can impact relationships for years.
When cheating occurs, the relationship changes, forever.
Upon learning that your partner has cheated on you, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed with anger or sadness. It’s understandable that you may feel like you’ll never trust them again. You may wonder if you’ll ever trust anyone again.
Couples who stay together after cheating often describe two relationships, “before” and “after” the affair. Infidelity never disappears. Once it happens, it remains an influential element, coloring the relationship.
That doesn’t mean an affair has to be the end of the relationship, but it cannot be erased.
Cheating Is Common
As hurtful such a breach can be, marital infidelity involving sexual intercourse is fairly common, with 15 percent of married women and 25 percent of married men having cheated, according to The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.
It’s safe to reason that in non-marital relationships, cheating is even more prevalent. When you factor in extramarital affairs that do not involve sexual intercourse, the rates are much higher.
So, now you know your partner cheated on you. What should you do?
First, let’s unpack cheating and find out what’s really going on in an affair.
What Is Cheating?
You may be surprised to learn that most marriages survive a cheating episode. Most people who cheat want to be with their spouse. But if that’s the case, why did they cheat?
Yes, it’s possible to have an “emotional affair” without sex. The betrayal of intimacy — your partner’s closeness to another person — can feel just as devastating as a sexual affair.
An Affair Is A Form Of “Exit” From The Relationship
When a person cheats on you, they are communicating a desire to prioritize someone (or something) they believe is more important than their partner.
Something? Yes, an affair can exist when one partner exits the relationship in favor of an activity, too. Alcoholism and drug abuse is a form of affair, where the person has a relationship with a chemical, rather than their partner. Both behaviors are a form of relationship exit.
Gather Information About The Affair
Infidelity can present an opportunity to address the problems that preceded the affair. As a partner who must endure the pain of betrayal, you should first understand exactly what happened.
How did you learn about the cheating? Was it a discovery or a disclosure? Is your partner remorseful? Has your partner ended the affair with integrity? What’s your willingness as a couple to talk it through with a therapist?
There are three stages to affair recovery:
1. Crisis Stabilization
In this phase couples discuss the above questions. The goal of this phase is to establish safety and trust. Can the person who had the affair answer their partner’s questions with honesty? Is there a willingness to be an open book and establish trust that was broken?
2. Full Disclosure
The second phase of affair recovery is telling the story of what happened. How did we get here? An affair is an exit and we all exit our relationships in various ways. (Pouring our energy into our work, alcohol, kids, excessive spending/shopping, affairs) Affairs are a way of exiting, turning your energy away from your partner and your relationship.
In the disclosure phase of recovery, couples begin the process of understanding how this crisis occurred. Couples do the work of listening to each other share about their own experience of the relationship, what was working and what wasn’t working, and practice new skills of validating and honoring each other’s points of view.
3. Emotional Reconnection
After working through the first two stages of recovery together, this is usually where couples decide if they want to stay in their relationship and heal together or if they want to end their relationship with integrity. Partners working together often forgive slowly along the way, but this phase is where a lot of forgiveness takes place.
This phase also involves erotic recovery and learning how to be vulnerable and sexual with each other again. Whether couples want to believe this or not, the old relationship before the affair has died and the couple is choosing to create something new and more adaptive for both partners.
The reality is that most couples who experience an affair choose to stay in their relationship and heal together. Each affair is different and nuanced.
If your partner has been unfaithful, before you make a life-changing decision, please consider discussing the matter with a couples therapist who is trained in the work of affair recovery.
If you need someone to talk with about your experience and want to start feeling better, please give me a call.