Is it possible to rebuild trust after your partner has been unfaithful? The loss of the relationship you envisioned can cause intense rage, jealousy, and sadness, and also raises many questions. Should you stay? Will things ever be the same? One thing is certain: learning to love again is a slow process.
Although regaining trust offers extreme challenges for both partners, there is reason to be hopeful.
Over time, the unfaithful partner must be willing to put the relationship first and demonstrate trustworthiness through their words and actions. In The Science of Trust, Dr. John Gottman posits that trust is an action rather than a belief – more about what your partner does than what they say.
Below are three questions to help you decide whether to end your relationship after an affair:
1. Would you want to be committed to your partner if you trusted them again?
In other words, do you have enough admiration and respect left to salvage the relationship? Be honest and ask yourself: Do we still have fun together and enjoy each other’s company most of the time?
2. Have you let go of your anger and resentment about your partner’s betrayal and are you able to move forward?
Can you imagine ever feeling happy in your relationship or wanting to be close or intimate with your partner in spite of their actions?
3. Can you forgive your partner for their actions?
This does not mean condoning their actions but simply not letting them have power over you. Research suggests that a willingness to forgive can help heal marital problems, both big and small. In fact, marital therapists have found that forgiveness is an essential ingredient of healing from infidelity and contributes to a long-lasting, successful marriage.
If your answer to one or more of these questions is “no” and you think it is time to take the next step, you owe it to yourself to tell your partner you want a divorce. At the end of the day, you are the only person who knows if your marriage can survive infidelity.
If you decide to stay with your partner, be optimistic. Not all relationships can be saved after infidelity, but in What Makes Love Last? Dr. Gottman forecasts hope for couples determined to heal and willing to follow certain steps.
Shawn and Vanessa: Learning to Trust Wisely
In his late thirties, Shawn contacted me after undergoing six months of individual and couples therapy with his wife, Vanessa, who betrayed him by having an affair with a co-worker. Even though Vanessa initially denied committing adultery, she finally admitted it when Shawn brought copies of emails with graphic details of her sexual activities with her lover to their therapy sessions.
In Here’s What Pushes Someone to Leave a Cheating Spouse, therapist Amber Madison says that people tend to categorize cheating in two ways: either as a horrible mistake their partner won’t repeat or as a habit they’ll have to put up with if they decide to stay in the relationship. She advises people to determine whether cheating was a mistake or part of a pattern and to assess the quality of the relationship outside of infidelity.
In Shawn’s case, he believed that Vanessa’s unfaithful and disloyal behavior, while extremely hurtful, did not mean that their eight-year marriage had to end. He still cherished her and was willing to extend trust because he believed she would not make the same mistake again. Most importantly, he let go of his anger and resentment and was ready to forgive her.
What Your Partner Must Do
During couples therapy sessions, Shawn was also able to be vulnerable and tell Vanessa that there were certain things she needed to do in order for him to stay married to her and begin the process of healing.