One pillar of healthy relationships (of any kind, but especially romantic relationships) is trust. Feeling trust in a relationship helps us feel safe enough to be vulnerable, which helps to build connections between partners. While you can have a relationship with someone you don’t trust, chances are that the relationship will not be as deep or feel as safe as when you’re with a partner that you do trust.
Losing trust in a relationship can be a major turning point, where a couple has to decide to split up over the loss of trust or try to rebuild their relationship. In addition, finding out that your partner has been unfaithful can bring on post-traumatic stress symptoms like flashbacks, a heightened sense of distrust, nightmares, ruminating, and health issues, that will need to be managed in addition to the relationship. Even though it feels like you will never escape this pain, know that it is possible to heal from an affair if that is what you choose to do.
One important aspect of infidelity is defining it for your relationship specifically. What does it mean to be unfaithful to you? To your partner? Is texting or sexting someone cheating? Or is having an online dating profile cheating? Is following an ex on social media a betrayal to you? Everyone will have different answers to these questions, so it’s vital to talk about your expectations with your partner early on in the relationship. Assuming you’re both on the same page about what is and what isn’t okay can lead to big misunderstandings down the line. Even if you think your partner should know how you feel about all this doesn’t mean that they can read your mind, so make sure to talk about it.
The betrayal that partners feel when they find out their partner is unfaithful is devastating and traumatic. Not only does it feel terrible to realize someone you love has been lying to you, but it can make you question everything you knew to be true. You might find yourself ruminating on the situation, and you might feel compelled to ask your partner lots of questions about the affair.
If you find yourself reacting this way after finding out about infidelity from your partner, know that it is a perfectly normal response. You are looking to find some sort of safe ground to stand on while you process this information, and you feel like knowing the truth will help. You might also find yourself haunted by flashbacks or nightmares about the betrayal, which can be destabilizing and also prevent you from resting + healing. These are normal responses to trauma. Here are some other symptoms of trauma that might come up after infidelity:
- Intrusive or obsessive thoughts
- Unable to regulate emotions
- Feeling numb or feeling rage
- Feeling broken or powerless
- Blaming yourself for the betrayal
- Out of body experiences
If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, you might be dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of this betrayal. While the road to recovery after an affair can be long, if you decide to rebuild your relationship, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Relearn how to listen to your instincts
Having your suspicions dismissed or belittled can lead to a serious disconnect between you and your instincts. You might have been listening to a gut feeling when you asked your partner about infidelity, and if they dismissed you, you might have a hard time trusting your gut again. However, you deserve to feel connected to your own intuition without anyone trying to gaslight you. One way to do this is to take an introspective look at what your values are and who you are, and from there build boundaries based on what is important to you.
Be honest about how you’re feeling
This might be easier to do with a couples counselor present, but in order to reestablish trust in your relationship you will need to be honest with your partner. Don’t try to hide how you’re feeling to protect their emotions. Be up front about how this has you feeling emotionally, physically, and mentally. If you need space, communicate that. If you need more reassurances from your partner that they are committed to working on this, ask for that. You can’t get what you don’t ask for.
Let your partner atone
One of the first steps in affair recovery is called Atonement. This is when the partner who had the affair genuinely and empathetically expresses remorse in a way that the betrayed partner can accept. This doesn’t mean just saying “I’m sorry,” over and over again. This needs to be a deep, heartfelt apology where they acknowledge the harm they’ve done and attempt to repair it. Their actions should line up with their words, so if they’re simply apologizing with words and not changing their behavior, they might not be ready to make amends sincerely.
Work on making new patterns in your relationship
An important part of affair recovery is becoming reattuned to each other. Even if your relationship wasn’t unhappy before this betrayal, everyone could use some help learning how to communicate and resolve conflict in relationships. Reattunement can also include the partner who had the affair learning their partner’s new triggers and how to manage them. This part of the process helps rebuild trust and increases the sense of connection in the relationship.
Strengthen the friendship in the relationship
While you work to rebuild your sense of trust and connection with your partner, also work to tend to the friendship side of your relationship. Once there has been atonement for what happened and once you’ve started to become reattuned to each other’s needs, you can move through the raw emotions toward feeling happy and secure. Make time for dates and doing things you love together. Maybe pick up a new hobby together or learn a new skill. Think of the things you used to do back at the beginning of the relationship and use that for inspiration.
While there is no foolproof way to recover from infidelity, there are ways to repair and heal after an affair. Couples counseling is always a good idea when dealing with infidelity as it can be a safe space for the couple to relearn how to communicate and trust one another. If you’re interested in repairing your relationship after an affair, our clinicians can help.