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Recovering from Infidelity

Is it possible to love and trust a partner who has cheated?

Among the questions a therapist hears frequently are “Will I ever get over his affair?” and “How can I ever trust her again?” There is no answer, of course. Some people not only get over a breach of trust but can even forge a stronger relationship afterward. Others break up because of a partner’s cheating and never look back. It not only depends on the people involved but also on the severity of the situation: Was this a one-night stand while on a business trip or an affair of several years? Was there love involved or just a bad decision made while drinking? And mainly, what is each partner’s definition of cheating?

I’ve seen one person in a committed couple shrug off an indiscretion at a party when in another situation someone else will go ballistic over a partner just looking at erotic pictures in private.

It would be nice if every couple had a sit-down early on in a relationship, while they were still learning each other’s likes and dislikes like music or sports, to ask each other, “What would be cheating to you?" or “Would it bother you if a guy has women friends?” Whenever I have done premarital counseling for two people, I ask about each person’s definition of cheating and what would bother them if they knew this about their partner. Unfortunately, such a conversation usually only takes place – if it ever does – after some disturbance occurs.

Some people will get over the knowledge that their partner cheated; fewer that their partner is cheating. I can’t tell anyone dealing with the initial shock or upset of discovering infidelity whether they will get over it or when and whether they will ever be able to trust again. I do know it takes work on both people’s part if they aim to do that.

The one who has broken trust must become absolutely trustworthy and transparent from that point on—disclose what happened and why, for instance, and what needs to change in the relationship so that it does not happen again. Does the agreement between the couple need to be redefined so that one or both have more freedom, more friends, more privacy? Can the one who strayed be more responsible about other agreements in their life together—be on time, do what is promised, etc.? Trust must be rebuilt since it has been broken. As with re-glued china, sometimes the glued break will be stronger than the original, but there will always be a flaw in the original piece: the relationship.

Another frequent response to a partner’s breaking of trust is “How could you do this to me?” I can assure you that someone who strays from a monogamous agreement is very unlikely to be doing this to a partner. They are doing it for themselves. Lust or desire is very singularly focused in the moment. Remember that, and you are unlikely to feel as victimized by the circumstances.

I recently put together a dozen or so titles dealing with the subject of getting over a partner’s affair. I have not read them all but each was recommended by a client struggling with the issue. I’m sure you will find something helpful in at least one:

  • Blindsided by His Betrayal (Madden)
  • Cheaters: A Woman’s Guide to Why Men Cheat (Wilder)
  • Loving Your Spouse When You Feel Like Walking Away (Chapman)
  • Infidelity: A Survival Guide (Lusterman)
  • When Good People Have Affairs (Kirshenbaum)
  • After the Affair: Overcoming the Pain and Rebuilding Trust (Spring)
  • How Can I Forgive You? (Spring)
  • Healing From Infidelity: The Divorce-Busting Guide (Weiner-Davis)
  • Surviving Infidelity: Making Decisions, Recovering from the Pain (Subotnick)
  • Intimacy After Infidelity (Solomon)
  • How Could You Do This to Me?: Learning To Trust After Betrayal (Greer)
  • I Thought We’d Never Speak Again (Davis)
  • The Science of Trust (Gottman)
  • The Art of Forgiveness (Kornfield)
  • I Love You but I Don’t Trust You (Kirshenbaum)
  • Infidelity: A Survival Guide (Lusterman)
  • How to Help Your Spouse Heal from Your Affair (MacDonald)