There’s no doubt that infidelity is one of the most painful betrayals a person can face.
While cheating does happen frequently among couples, that doesn’t make it any less painful. For some people, falling out of love after infidelity is a given.
But is splitting up always necessary? What if there are kids involved, or what if you still love your partner?
These are hard questions that people face every day. Choosing between the love you feel and the simultaneous heartbreak you’re experiencing (if you’re the person who was cheated on) can feel impossible.
Likewise, partners who cheated may be coming to terms with how they may have lost their partner forever. Or, they may have had valid relationship concerns they want to address, but no longer feel they can now that trust is broken.
While it’s not easy, experts say that rebuilding trust and staying together after cheating is possible. Further, there are a lot of factors at play when it comes to being successful in rebuilding a healthy relationship, including how partners communicate, how happy they were before the infidelity took place, whether there are kids, and much more.
If you find yourself in this painful position, whether as the person who was betrayed or as the one who was unfaithful, know that you’re not alone. There are many, many other couples who have faced similar circumstances. Trying to sort out what’s real and what isn’t, questioning everything about your connection, and having hard choices to make regarding your intertwined lives is a complex task. Don’t make rash decisions.
In this article, we’ll look at why infidelity happens, how to be accountable if you’ve cheated, what the process of learning to love again is like, and when it’s best to walk away after infidelity.
Ready to learn more and grow through this article? Let’s get started.
How Common Is Cheating?
Cheating is actually pretty common. According to The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 45 percent of men and 35 percent of women cheat. However, given that not everyone is ready to admit to cheating, the numbers may be even higher. Some studies suggest that men and women may cheat at equal rates.
So why do people look for an emotional or physical connection outside of their committed relationships?
According to Scientific American, the factors are complex, and physical connection is rarely the only reason. Typically, there are emotional factors such as wanting to feel seen and appreciated, boosting self-esteem, a need to reduce feelings of powerlessness, or even wanting to punish a neglectful partner.
Interestingly, finances can also play a big role. The American Psychological Association found that people are more likely to cheat the more financially dependent they are on their spouse.
Whatever the reason, the fact is that infidelity causes a major breach of trust. Being lied to can be as traumatizing as knowing that your partner was intimate with another person. If the affair went on for a long time and if the person was serious about their extramarital affair, it could make it even more painful.
However, there are plenty of people who still want to stick it out.
The Bias Against People Who Stay
There was a time when partners who were cheated on felt like they had no choice but to stay in unhappy relationships.
When women’s only occupation was to be housewives, or when divorce meant being treated as an outcast, most people chose to stick around in unhealthy dynamics no matter how toxic they were. Likewise, the realities of marriage haven’t been historically discussed openly. So a man who was cheated on in decades past might have stayed in a broken marriage out of a sense of duty or social acceptance.
In recent years, that’s all changed, which means that both men and women have never been more empowered to make the choice that’s right for them, their sense of self-worth, and their overall happiness.
While this power of choice is a welcome change, it has created a cultural expectation for cheated on spouses to leave their relationships right away. According to infidelity expert and psychotherapist Esther Perel there’s now a stigma against partners who stay. Women might be criticized for being anti-feminist and not having better boundaries, while men might be seen as weak.
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But there’s more than just pride at stake when it comes to deciding whether to stay or go in a relationship. No matter how heartbreaking or humiliating being cheated on can feel, sometimes there are compelling reasons to stay together.
As with any decision, it’s important to filter out other people’s views about the most important life choices you have to make. This means letting go of even well-meaning opinions of friends and family. It certainly means letting go of the opinions of acquaintances or the culture at large.
There’s no need to rush a decision to stay or go in a relationship. When the betrayal is first discovered, emotions will run high and may be extreme — that’s not the best time for decision making.
If you care about your relationship, take the time to process emotions and if needed, and get help from a trusted couples therapist to help you sort out what to do next.
Deciding Whether to Stay or Go After Infidelity
The American Psychological Association states that 20 to 40 percent of divorce is the result of infidelity. Yet there are plenty of couples who stay together after the betrayal. Under which category your relationship will fall under is dependent on a complex set of factors.
Every couple and every dynamic is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to making this decision. Likewise, there’s no way to predict how successful a reconciliation will be. It depends not just on the circumstances of the infidelity and the relationship itself, but also on how each person behaves during the healing process.
For example, transparency after cheating is critical to making things work, as the cheating partner will need to prove themselves trustworthy again after the affair. This takes time.
However, you can get a sense of whether reconciliation is likely to happen or not by asking the following questions.
How happy were you in the past?
If you and your partner were happy in the past, it may be easier to work things out. Recalling positive memories is one way that counselors guide couples to rekindle love and trust. And if you were once fulfilled in the relationship, then you’ll be more motivated to stick with it.
On the other hand, if your relationship was always unhealthy or unhappy, you may feel like staying together won’t be worth the work involved.
Of course, if toxic behavior was always a pattern, the infidelity may just be the nail in the coffin. If the cheating partner has a pattern of excessive lying, dishonest behavior, and avoiding responsibility for their actions, it may be time to leave.
Is the unfaithful person taking full responsibility for their actions?
Rebuilding trust after infidelity is delicate work. If the unfaithful partner is unable to take full responsibility for their actions, that’s a bit of a red flag.
While it’s natural to at first be defensive when caught doing something wrong, eventually the partner will need to admit their wrongdoing. Even if they had their reasons for the infidelity, they must avoid blame-shifting and giving excuses.
Note that this is different from authentically explaining the reasons why they cheated, such as feeling insecure or ignored. While it may be painful for the person who was cheated on to hear, knowing what conditions led to the betrayal can ultimately help the couple rebuild their relationship.
Are they honest about the details of the affair?
Infidelity shatters trust. In order to rebuild that trust, the person who cheated must be willing to be completely honest about the affair.
They must be willing to disclose details such as where it happened, for how long, under what conditions, and whether there were feelings involved. They may even need to be open about sharing passwords to social media accounts, to show that they have nothing to hide.
Keep in mind that they must be willing to do this, but not every cheated-on spouse wants to hear about the details. Some people want to hear everything, while others want to know as little as possible. Either way is fine, but the person who cheated should be able to disclose details if asked. Otherwise, it can feel like they’re hiding something.
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Do you love each other?
This question is simple, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. After all, some couples do fall out of love with each other over time — there’s nothing wrong with that. They may have just concluded the cycle of time they were meant to be together.
Some couples will choose to stay together even if they fall out of love because of children, finances, or lifestyle — no judgment there. However, if you’re struggling with a painful betrayal, it may be challenging to stick things out if you don’t really love your partner or vice versa.
The Path to Rebuilding Your Relationship
Most experts say it can take a long time for a partnership to feel normal again.
And while it may never be the same, committed couples can find ways to strengthen their bond in ways they weren’t able to before. They may get better at communicating with each other, balance unequal power dynamics, or bring romance back into their relationship.
It’s important to seek professional help if you’re in this situation. Not only will this raise the chance of successful reconciliation, but it will also help guide true emotional healing and recovery for both people. When it comes to infidelity, self-help usually isn’t enough.
Therapy might involve addressing the underlying issues in the relationship that led to the affair. It might mean addressing issues like a lack of affection, poor communication, lifestyle changes, or unaddressed trauma.
Both partners need to be all in for counseling to work. Both need to be willing to talk about uncomfortable feelings, admit to unhealthy patterns, and talk openly about their needs.
Besides addressing the conditions that led to the affair, the counselor can guide the couple in restoring trust and building intimacy.
Healing from Infidelity Is Possible
Sticking it out in a relationship after infidelity isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires a level of emotional maturity and the ability to work through painful emotions that not everyone has. Plus, some people are more naturally able to forgive than others.
That said, with the right tools (namely emotional regulation and trust-building skills, such as those guided by a trusted counselor) it’s absolutely possible. Every couple has to decide — is it worth it?
For some, the love they have and the lives they share are too precious to throw away after infidelity. If that’s you, don’t worry about how your family, friends, or society will judge you. You can achieve greatness in your relationship again, even after infidelity.
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