Surviving Infidelity

Infidelity can be experienced in many forms within a relationship since every couple is different and every individual carries his or her own definition of betrayal.  Therefore depending on the couple and the individuals within it, infidelity can be considered to be an emotional connection, online communication and relationships, or physical and sexual relationships with others outside of the primary partnership. Because the definition can vary, it is important for couples to share with one another how each partner views infidelity and expectations within their relationship.

Just like the definition, there are various possible reasons for why infidelity may occur within a relationship.  Some of these reasons include a lack of communication of physical and emotional needs; lack of affection; lack of caring or fond feelings between partners; mental health symptoms and disorders; physical problems; addiction and substance abuse; and ongoing unresolved relationship issues. 

Once infidelity within a relationship has been discovered, it can be expected for the partners to experience anger, hurt, sadness, depression, remorse, embarrassment, guilt, shame, resentment, and betrayal. Because these emotions can be powerful and intense, it is important for each partner within a couple to refrain from making any major decisions until adequate time has been given to allow for processing and clarification about what is needed to heal from the infidelity.  Here are some helpful steps couples can take to promote healing after a betrayal:

Partner who engaged in infidelity:
1.    Be open to actively listening to your partner about the effect the betrayal has on him or her without blaming or becoming defensive.
2.    Demonstrate to your partner that you can trustworthy by following through with your intentions to re-establish commitment and trust.
3.    Be an open book with your partner by sharing and answering any details and questions he or she may have about the infidelity.
4.    Take responsibility for your actions and be willing to look at and consider reasons you engaged in the infidelity.

Partner who was betrayed by infidelity
1.    Focus on your basic needs (sleep, diet, exercise, support network) in order to take care of yourself during this difficult time.
2.    Clarify with yourself what information you want to know about the infidelity before asking your partner since knowing too many details may be overwhelming and traumatizing. 
3.    Don’t blame yourself and regain trust in your sense of self by focusing on your strengths and resiliencies.
4.    Be willing to consider your role in any ongoing or current relationship problems. Remember, this does not mean that you are to blame or are responsible for the infidelity. 
5.    Give yourself time to forgive your partner and know that there is no time frame for it since every couple and individual is different.
6.    Prevent yourself from engaging in behavior that you may regret later on because of the strong emotions you may experience.  

Couples who are generally able to successfully heal, recover, and strengthen their relationship following infidelity are able to be realistic and patient about the process as well as be open and honest about each partner’s role and responsibility in any prior and underlying relationship issues.  These couples also have the ability to recognize any positive efforts each partner may be making to rebuild trust.  Therapy is highly recommended for any couple who may be experiencing infidelity as it can provide a safe and supportive environment in order to navigate through this oftentimes painful and difficult process. 

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT