“The “symptom” theory goes as follows: An affair simply alerts us to a preexisting condition, either a troubled relationship or a troubled person.”
~ Esther Perel
Too often when a guy has cheated and wants to get back together, he wants you to just move on and forget all about the episode.
However, that’s rarely beneficial to the relationship and does nothing to help rebuild your trust.
Trust is built on a belief, a hope, and an expectation that he will keep your well-being and needs uppermost in his mind and behaviors even when you aren’t there.
You are relying on his commitment to your relationship to keep you emotionally and physically safe and protected. When that faith is broken, it can—and should—take real, verifiable behaviors over time to bring that confidence and trust back.
Like many women, you may have a tendency to think that you did something that made him cheat.
Keep in mind that he chose his own behaviors. If he blames you or says he was carried away, it just happened, I was drunk, or it’s because you did/didn’t do–he is clearly not taking responsibility for his own actions.
Without responsibility, there is no way to trust that he can be reliable and dependable in the future—no matter what else he says. You didn’t make him do anything. It was his choice.
You also deserve a heartfelt and honest apology.
An apology does not start with “I’m sorry that you feel hurt”. A true apology specifies what the person did, acknowledges the pain it caused, clearly identifies his shame and remorse, and specifies how he will make sure he doesn’t take that action again. But it doesn’t stop there.
A true apology has to be followed up with verifiable action over a lengthy period of time.
To be able to trust again, you will need to see some truly different behaviors, that are reassuring to you. So, you’ll need to let him know what will help you move forward.
Cheating doesn’t just happen for no reason at all.
So, it can be helpful to look at your relationship as a whole and see where there are stresses, lack of communication, unmet needs, and general differences that need attention from both of you.
First of all,
- What is your commitment level?
- Are the two of you in real agreement about the behaviors you expect from each other?
- Have you actually talked directly about what you expect or have you assumed or just hoped for certain behaviors?
I worked with a couple in which it was OK for him to talk with his ex-girlfriend, but not for her to talk with her ex, but neither of them had ever clearly discussed that. Have either of you been reluctant to voice clearly what you really want and expect for fear that the other wouldn’t agree?
Making your commitment explicit can help both of you know where you stand in the relationship.
- Do the two of you share a common goal for the relationship?
- Are you both wanting the relationship to be monogamous?
- Can and do you talk about your goals together?
- Can you talk about your fears, concerns, and challenges in keeping focused on how you want this relationship to move forward?
- Are there fears or other feelings that aren’t being expressed by either one of you that need to be clarified and responded to?
I have often used the following exercise with couples who truly wanted to move forward in their level of intimacy.
Brave Questions/Brave Answers.
- In this exercise each person is given the option to ask a Brave Question, for example: Did you sleep with Shari?
- What did you want to have happen because of that choice?
- What deep feeling, desire or yearning have you not shared with me?
- What do you wish I would do differently?
- What is a goal for our relationship that you haven’t yet shared with me?
The answers to these questions could be very difficult or unsettling to hear—thus, why they are called brave.
Each person also makes a commitment to give a Brave Answer. That is, an answer that is as deeply honest as possible. Brave answers are ONLY about the person answering. For example: I would like it if you would–NOT, you should, if only you would, or I’ve never told you because you would get mad.
Stating what you truly feel and want can seem risky, but it is the real road to intimacy and trust.
This exercise moves couples into deeper sharing and honesty. Most couples lie, hide things, and keep secrets from each other because they want to keep the relationship, and they’re afraid to share the hidden information with their partner.
We all want to be accepted for who we are, but when who we are doesn’t match what the other person wants, then cheating is a mistaken way to try to keep a relationship without the required honesty and intimacy.
If you choose to give him another chance, look deeply into your heart about what you want in this relationship and what it will really take for him to regain your trust.
Don’t just hope that things will be better, expect some real action, ask for the reassurances that really matter to you, and give yourself and him a timeline to see change to be assured that you can reasonably trust him again.
Margalis Fjelstad, Ph.D., LMFT – www.margalistherapy.com
It can feel like a punch right to your soul. The wind is knocked out of you and you are not sure what end is up.
Take a moment to breath, gather your strength and consider the following process:
How to navigate the first of many difficult talks.
You will need to have the first of many very vulnerable conversations with your partner. You may think you want to know the details of the affair but I strongly caution you to refocus on the answers that you REALLY need.
The first conversation would be to find out the following:
- Is the emotional/physical affair over?
- Are they invested in healing the relationship?
- Are they committed to change?
Without the answers to these three questions you will have no basis to consider the level of commitment and likely be headed down a road that is full of more pain.
How to wrap your mind and heart around what happened.
You do not need to know immediately if you want to stay in this relationship or not.
Take some time to gather information.
If you need a trial separation so that you can get the space to think then do what YOU need to do for you. I strongly advice seeking a professional therapist to help navigate these waters because they can be murky and painful.
Healing can only happen when you are ready to hear your partner and they are ready and able to hear you.
- What are the underlying factors of why they had an affair?
- What was the nature of the affair (i.e. one nightstand, long-term?)
- Is your partner remorseful and willing to be radically honest?
Radical honesty means that they are able to open themselves up to you as an open book.
It means no little white lies no half-truths etc. If it is important to know more information than they must be willing to supply that information for you to even, consider moving forward with them.
You can’t deny the negative emotions or pretend that the affair didn’t happen. There is room for growth either together or separately.
Life after the affair.
If you decide to stay together you will need to create a new relationship together. It is not the amount of time that matters it’s what you do during that time that determines healing.
- What were the struggles in the relationship prior to the affair?
- What do we want to do differently in our new relationship together?
- What would be our warning signs that something is not working between us?
Does the past repeat itself?
Sometimes we find that we had poor role modeling and/or we are repeating patterns that have played out for generations. This is not an excuse for an affair but it should increase you and your partner’s responsibility to talk about healthy relationships.
It is not true “once a cheater always a cheater” however if you don’t invest in healing what brought the relationship to this point old patterns may continue.
Dana Hall, LCPC, MA, TF-CBT – www.danahalltherapy.com
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