Sunday, September 5, 2010
Restoring Relationships After Infidelity
One of the most devastating experiences in a relationship is infidelity. Whether it was emotional or physical, one time or many, the issue of broken trust and violated commitments can create deep wounds. It is important for both partners to take action toward honesty, restoration, and healing. The healing process can take two very different pathways. One pathway is when you and your partner are trying to save the relationship and the other is when you are trying to heal after the break-up.
If you are trying to save the relationship or marriage after your partner has been unfaithful, here are a few key pointers from a mental health perspective: (A future blog will address healing from infidelity when the relationship is over.)
1. The unfaithful partner must be willing to cut off the affair and do the work required to regain your trust. You can not heal from a wound that continues to be deepened by on-going infidelity. To move forward, the affair needs to be in the past.
2. When someone has broken your trust, you will likely have a range of feelings, including but not limited to anger, sadness, frustration, fear, and numbness. It is important that you and your partner recognize that this is normal and healthy.
3. You both must recognize that restoration will take a lot of time and effort. There will be reminders or triggers that bring the pain back. There will be ups and downs and times where you feel things are going backward. You both will need to have patience with the process.
4. The unfaithful partner needs to take responsibility for the choices he or she has made. It is inadequate and immature to simply blame your partner or the person with whom you had the affair. While issues in the marriage may have contributed to relationship difficulties in the end the unfaithful partner made a choice – a choice that was a violation of trust and the emotional as well as physical safety of the partner. The partner who was unfaithful needs to do some serious soul searching about the choices they have made and then take action to increase accountability and trustworthiness.
5. While some partners don’t want to know any details, if you do want to know any details you should ask your partner. Unanswered questions and pressure to quickly press fast forward can increase feelings of distrust and distress. While facing the realities of the infidelity, you should also both go and get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. A part of facing the truth is facing the truth about the fact that your physical health has been compromised.
6. Both partners will have to work to rebuild the relationship. You will both need to work on your individual concerns as well as any issues within the relationship. To assist in this process, you may find it helpful to speak with a professional counselor.
7. The person who has been cheated on should express what they need from their partner to assist in the restoration. While you want the partner who was unfaithful to take initiative, if you need something and don’t share it, you can set yourself up for further disappointment and set your partner up for frustration and feelings of hopelessness.
8. Forgiveness is an important component of the recovery process but it is not the first step. When people feel forced by their partner or an internal moral code to quickly forgive, it is often premature and not authentic. You need to allow space and time to work toward forgiveness so that it will be sincere. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what happened doesn’t matter it means that while it hurt you are ready to turn the page and work toward the future.
9. Spend time together doing things besides talking about the infidelity. If you want to have something to work toward, you will need to see that the two of you can build something that is more positive than the wounds of the past.
10. Be honest about the positive and negative aspects of the relationship. We can often fall into two traps. Either we idealize the relationship and fight for something that was never good for us or we may see everything through the lens of the infidelity and forgot about the good things about our partner and our relationship. You should both be honest with yourselves and each other about what needs to be fixed and what should be celebrated.
Healing and restoration are possible but you have to both want it and be willing to work for it.