We are hearing about it all the time in the media- politicians, celebrities- infidelity is rampant and is as painful as it is rampant. Maybe you have experienced it either as one who was betrayed or the one who betrayed. I have many couples each week that I work with on this painful problem and most of the time there is ambivalence on the part of the betrayed partner. Should I stay or should I go? This article is discussing what are the reasons one should stay after such a breach of trust. This does not mean that if your relationship meets these conditions that you should stay. That decision is yours no matter what I write. However, I have had a very large sample by now of couples that I have worked with who have this issue and can see that those who followed these conditions that I wrote below have fared very well post -infidelity discovery.
1) The partner who had the affair is willing to come to therapy with you to understand what was behind the acting out of the affair. It is very difficult to really change patterns on your own without a skilled professional.
2) The partner who is betrayed can see that the betrayed partner understands the underlying factors that lead to the relationship sabotage. As I have said and written many times before, we are not giving someone who cheats and hides excuses. At the same time, everything we do is for some reason so if there ever will be trust again, there has to be some insight into how that betrayer got to the point where that person did what they did.
3) The betrayed partner can see changes in the partner’s behavior in the direction of more emotional presence and engagement and communicates his or her pain and desires more openly. I have found that when partners engage in deeper and more open communication, the chance of repeating the affair goes significantly down. When couples get in the habit of opening up and being more transparent, it is far less likely to then hide. It becomes incongruent with how you are behaving and feeling with each other.
4) Your partner is learning how to be less defensive and gives you the space to grieve the relationship in its prior “innocent” state and heal. People who have been caught cheating typically want the problems to just go away and want their partner to be forgiving. However, the betrayed person has a process that must be gone through that includes anger, resentment, hurt, disappointment, the desire to leave, etc. The person who strayed needs to decide to handle those feelings as a mature person and be willing to listen and be empathic no matter how uncomfortable it makes him or her.
5) The betrayed person has some positive feeling about the partner despite the act of betrayal. This person realizes that the person who cheated is still good at heart. In your deepest heart, there is some big part of you that wants to stay and work it out. (That is fine if you have decided that. Many people who have been cheated on are critical of themselves for staying and there is no need for that. There are reasons to stay as well as leave and no matter what friends and family tell you, the choice is yours and there really is no bad choice. You just need to follow your heart).
6) The person who cheated has either totally stopped all contact with anyone he or she has been intimate with outside the marriage or has reduced contact to an absolute minimum if contact is unavoidable. The intimate energy has to be with the committed partner and any intimate energy towards the extra-marital relationship will pretty much kill any chances of healing, recovery and improvement.
7) The betrayed person has access to everything electronic. This person can check emails; look at the partner’s phone, etc. However, I suggest to not act on it even if you have permission, because you want to create a new relationship with your committed partner based on trust and not fear. Work with your partner on developing the other conditions I have talked about rather than spend time checking. This is paradoxical because you have permission and then don’t use it; however I see this arrangement as the best of all for couples in this situation. Also, the partner who cheated needs to let his or her partner know if there is any contact at all between him or her and the extra-marital person. This is all in the spirit of having a trusting and transparent relationship.
Couples that meet these seven conditions seem to thrive after infidelity. I have seen this over and over again. All 7 conditions are important. I am here to help if you need help achieving all the conditions. I wish you healing and joy.