5 Ways to Recover from Infidelity

What both sides need to consider to heal the relationship.

Posted Oct 03, 2019

Dave Emmett of PhotoPin
Source: Dave Emmett of PhotoPin

One of the most devastating emotional, physical, and spiritual wounds in a couple happen when a partner cheats. Once this is discovered the betrayed partner wants to know the truth, and while the offending partner may acknowledge the infidelity, they may also be fearful of sharing more lest the relationship ends in a divorce, separation, or a break-up.

As a psychotherapist who specializes in sexual and cultural issues, here are five areas that are recommended for the relationship to heal after infidelity.

1. Transparency and disclosure.

Typically what happens is the betrayed partner "discovers" the infidelity through text messages, emails, pictures, etc. A confrontation occurs where the offending partner either denies or eventually acknowledges the infidelity. Yet the details and the depth of the betrayal is often kept hidden and minimized.

In a formal therapy session, the offending spouse reads a written account of what occurred, which includes dates, places, people (names not given unless it's someone known to the betrayed partner). This process can take a couple of months after the discovery so the offending spouse has time to write down what occurred and the process is guided by a therapist so what's needed to be revealed is shared. It's not an apology letter rather it's a letter of facts (what, when, where, and who in some cases).

The rationale for this type of disclosure is the offending partner would rather work on "healing" and "moving forward" without giving consideration to the crazy-making produced by the infidelity. In giving a thorough account of his or her actions, this helps restore a sense of sanity to the betrayed spouse. In addition, more indiscretions might need to be shared, including other sexual partners, subscriptions to dating or sex sites, money spent, and other pertinent details related to the cheating.

2. Personal introspection.

Understanding the cause of the infidelity is paramount if one is to prevent it from happening again. This usually means individual or group therapy where the offending spouse can feel safe to share what contributed to the betrayal (social, financial, relational stressors) and how they justified the behaviors (e.g. "my partner isn't interested in sex"). This allows therapists to then probe and help clients figure out new and healthier ways to work through the difficulties that will inevitably come up again in one's life and understand how to respond with a very different reaction than the need to cheat.

3. Recognizing triggers, stressors, and high-risk environments to mitigate future issues.

This is related to introspection as it allows the offending spouse to recognize emotional triggers, stressors, and environments where one may need to be extremely cautious and wary if put in similar situations (e.g. being away in another city while on a business trip).

4. Screening for past and current behaviors to see if this is a larger issue of compulsivity.

Is this an isolated incident or has this occurred in past relationships? If so, there could be a pattern where compulsivity has been recognized and must be treated with additional care under the lens of possible compulsive sexual behaviors.

5. The impacted partner should be allowed to grieve.

This is an understanding where the offending partner must recognize how their actions have shredded relational trust and how much effort and time it will take to regain it.  

I've seen far too many men and women who cheated on their partners think that since there hasn't been any more cheating and they're being loyal, the impacted partner doesn't have reason to question or distrust them anymore. Oftentimes, the offending spouse has a time period in their head of what they feel is enough time to continue to feel angry, betrayed, and distrustful. I would caution assigning any time frame other than to think of years rather than months when it comes to full restoration of trust, encouragement, and optimism in the relationship.  

While it's a very challenging road towards healing, those who do put in the time and effort have the potential to discover a new means of living that gives them even deeper appreciation, understanding, empathy, and vitality for their once broken relationship.

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