Names of all clients have been changed.
Maybe you have been suspicious or have a lack of trust for months. There was the time that you looked at your husband’s phone when he was in the bathroom and when he came back he pounced on it like a tiger. There were late nights, unreturned texts, and no explanations. When pressed, he acted like you were being paranoid.
The warning signs of infidelity were everywhere.
And, yet, you hoped you were wrong.
Or perhaps you had absolutely no idea your partner was being unfaithful. It’s not that you thought your relationship was perfect– the distance had been growing and communication was breaking down– but you are nonetheless stunned by the deceit.
Now you know the truth: your partner has betrayed you by turning to another.
The pain you feel is real.
The impact of infidelity on your relationship is devastating.
Now the question becomes: Can your relationship survive this betrayal?
Is my marriage worth saving?
First, let me be clear: If both of you want to rebuild trust in your relationship, you can. The first step is to decide if that’s what you truly want.
Right now it feels like your world has collapsed.
- Every assumption you’ve made about your marriage and your partner feels shattered.
- Your foundation and your stability feels broken.
- You are dazed.
- You are enraged.
- You are wounded.
- You are anxious.
- You are lost.
- Your life can feel entirely out of control.
All of these feelings are normal reactions to this crisis.
And yet, don’t assume that just because you are consumed by shock, betrayal and rage that this means that your relationship is over. The intense pain you feel may actually be evidence that there is something worth fighting for.
What does it take to forgive someone who cheated on you?
Anne and Charles* have been married for 22 years when Anne accidentally uncovered Charles’ two year relationship with his colleague. Casually picking up his phone to make a call, Anne saw an open text message that said, “See you at 7 after I’m done dinner with the wife, honey.” Anne felt her world fall apart.
Anne and Charles had a friendship before they married. They were in the same social circle, discovered they had similar hobbies and interests, and came to truly value their time together. They fell in love. When their now college-age kids were born, they faced those exhausting years together. When the kids went to school, Anne took a part time job and Charles was promoted. The years passed; they drifted apart.
Though Anne knew that their relationship was far from perfect, she would have argued with anyone who suggested that Charles might cheat. And yet he had.
When Anne and Charles came to couples counseling, the first months were focused on Anne’s despair and anger. It was important for Anne to share her feelings until she began to feel that Charles not only heard her perspective but truly understood how much he hurt her. It took time, but Anne did eventually feel Charles’ regret, and began to believe that he still cared deeply about her.
This is when the true healing began.
When Charles felt truly regretful, and Anne could feel his genuine remorse, the conversation shifted. It now became possible for trust to build again.
How do you rebuild trust with someone you hurt?
Charles never thought of himself as a cheater, even as he engaged in a two year affair with his colleague. When he was promoted, his responsibilities skyrocketed. Charles had never been good at talking about his feelings, so he sealed himself off from Anne. Then there was a new colleague at work who seemed interested in his ideas and was a good listener. He found himself talking to her about his worries.
Charles did not intend to have an affair. He found the friendship comforting and it had been a long time since he had felt important and truly connected to Anne. In Charles’ mind, he just “fell into” the affair. He was still committed to Anne. Somehow his relationship with his colleague felt separate.
One of the first things that Charles needed to do was to see how personally hurtful his affair was to Anne. This takes time and courage from Charles; it is very difficult to face the pain we’ve caused others.
While Charles needed to face his mistakes, it was also critical that he explore why he felt the need to look elsewhere for connection. In addition to hearing Anne’s perspective, we also had to discuss Charles’ difficulties in opening himself up, making himself vulnerable, and risking being seen as the flawed human he is.
For a marriage to heal from infidelity, and to rebuild trust after betrayal, everyone’s feelings count.
Is it worth it to forgive?
Healing a relationship after infidelity isn’t easy, but neither is ending one. Charles and Anne were in marriage counseling for quite some time. At first they focused exclusively on the affair, but eventually they began to discuss why things had fallen apart. Why couldn’t Charles share his worries with Anne? Why did Anne feel that her concerns were less important than his? As these and other issues were explored, Anne and Charles began to see how they had drifted so far apart.
Before long, they began to feel close to each other again and rebuilt the friendship and intimacy that brought them together in the first place. Out of this crisis came a stronger sense of self, joy, connection, and appreciation for each other. Though it was a deeply painful and difficult experience, both Anne and Charles say that it was the affair that brought them back to each other.
Though it may not feel true today, forgiveness and trust is possible after infidelity. Marriage counseling can help you emerge from this crisis with a better knowledge of yourself and a relationship that is stronger than ever.
*Names have been changed