Thriving After Infidelity

I work with a lot of couples who are struggling with what to do after infidelity and wonder whether their relationship can survive. The answer is not only can it survive, but it can thrive. Whether or not it does, in my experience, is down to a few factors. There are factors on each side of the event that determine a couple's success post-event. The first factor is down to the partner who did not stray. It is down to that person to answer honestly whether or not the cheating is something they can forgive and move forward from. This event that they had no control over will forever change them, whether or not they stay. If you're that person: that’s a hard truth, and I’m sorry for that. You do not deserve what happened to you, but now you must decide if everything else in your relationship is worth the hard work it will take to craft a new normal. The second factor is with the partner who strayed. If that is you: Do you want to stay? You are the same person you were before the event, and you are in the wrong. You will have to dig deep to understand that you violated the fidelity agreement, which means you will have to do the work to earn your partner’s forgiveness. What earning that forgiveness looks like is surprisingly the same for the couples who succeed.  

Post-event, whether or not forgiveness can be earned is down to transparency. This requires transparency on both sides. If you are the partner who strayed, transparency about the details and why you strayed and what will change are paramount. I advise my clients to exchange passwords and to randomly give phones unlocked to their partner. This is terrifying at the start, but the couples I work with report that over time it becomes freeing. It is an adjustment, but one that expedites trust and promotes a feeling of security. I advise that all partners share their phones and devices this way so that it is a two-way street. I recommend that the partner who strayed, in addition to this new level of transparency, writes down all the details of the event and what led up to the event. This brings us to the next factor: patience. Everyone will need patience. In my experience, post discovery it is about 4 to 6 months of daily questioning and then another 3 months of every 3 days. At around the 9-month mark, it tapers off to once a week and then at the 1-year mark it drops to a monthly rate. It takes about 18 months to create a new normal in which the event only comes up sparingly, and then at the 2-year mark it generally only comes up around triggers. That is a long path back, and you should be honest with yourself: Is your relationship worth 2 very difficult years?

What I find is that the couples who survive and thrive all have in common is structure. At 3 months post-event, I suggest putting in place days in which they do not discuss the event and start to structure when it is discussed. This gives everyone a break and a time where they are not focused on what happened and instead focused on positives. What the positives are tend to vary depending on personal focus. I find that individual sessions intermixed with joint sessions tend to allow everyone the opportunity to speak with confidentiality in place. This allows free exploration of whether the relationship is worth saving and what is best for the individuals. Revelations had in individual sessions can then be brought into joint sessions and discussed with support. I find that, for some couples, the partner who strayed has more individual sessions, and sometimes it is the opposite. Although the paths are similar for the couples who thrive, they are not identical. Every couple is unique. If you’ve read this all the way through, I think you may be leaning towards doing the work to stay. Even in this case, sometimes the result of the work is that the couples separate with love. The only thing I can guarantee is healing. Beyond that, it is down to what is right for everyone in the relationship. I can also promise that this is not your forever.

Posted on 10 Apr 2023 09:46

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