Not everyone can do it. I’m not sure I could, to be honest. Many couples choose to stay together after infidelity and I salute them. Remaining together is one thing, trusting ever again is another. So if you are in this situation, what can you do?
Earning trust back is a monumental task requiring an incredible amount of humility from both partners. It takes way longer than people want to admit. I have, however, seen couples who are committed to making things better, in spite of the horror and the obsessive thoughts, jealousy, and pain. Sometimes.
Working as a counselor I have, as you can imagine, my share of marital issues to wade through with people. Nothing comes close to the difficulty of rebuilding trust and safety. Trust and safety – two words that constantly come up when I talk to clients, especially female ones.
People don’t generally understand how devastating infidelity can be. For the partner who has been rejected (yes I said that word) the process can take years, if ever. There are nights and days of obsessing about the “why” of it all, about how they have failed as a lover and a spouse. There are hours and hours of anger and more obsessing. Even being touched by the cheater becomes loaded, and potentially volatile. The spouse who has cheated is often subjected to months and years of the “short leash”. They are forced to phone more often, report in more often, talk to potential attractions much less often. Sometimes there is punishment and condescension, anger and vengeance. The one who is on the short leash usually grows tired of the lack of trust. Why can’t your partner ever seem to move on?
Spouses who cheat, especially men, are prone to verbalize how tired they are of not being trusted. Many will, after some months, flatly refuse to jump through any hoops or even talk about the infidelity… yet again. They are sick of the same tears, the same logic, the same belittling. A surprising number of relationships break up a year or more after the actual incident. Things just won’t seem to go away and both partners are not getting what they need.
If you have been betrayed in this way the first thing you need to understand is that there is no template for how to respond correctly to such a nightmare. It’s so easy for counselors to give out prescriptions for happiness but the sad truth is that most of us are permanently damaged. There can be forgiveness, even reconciliation, but the relationship will change. For some of us leaving is the only emotionally healthy option.
If you or someone you love is tortured by infidelity, either their own or someone else’s, encourage them to talk to a professional. The most important part of moving forward is personal healing, no matter what the outcome. Learning how to process what has happened is the key to healing. Time doesn’t hurt either.
No one really knows what you are going through although some of us can understand that pain. Whether it’s your parents or your partner you owe it to yourself to do everything necessary to be whole again. You’re worth it, in spite of how you may feel right now.