I coach a lot of clients who have had affairs, both men and and women. I truly believe that there are no coincidences in life and the Universe brought these people to me to heal my own pain from an affair that ended my own marriage.
Oddly enough, none of the clients I’ve worked with were wanting help with rebuilding the trust in their relationships. Because the simple fact was, the trust was gone. And neither party felt that they could ever get it back.
Instead what they wanted was a way to forgive themselves for what they had done. They wanted someone to listen and show them compassion for the reasons they had strayed, the reasons they used to justify being unfaithful, and the feelings they now had about themselves.
And the friends and clients who were dealing with the betrayal, hurt and devastation over their partner cheating were just looking for answers. All of them wanted to save their marriages or relationships. All of them truly loved their partners. They wanted to find a way to move past the cheating. Past the lies, Past the feelings of distrust and constant anxiety they now felt every time their partner left the house.
But none of them could. Not one.
There are certainly so many things we can do to rebuild trust in our relationships. It’s been done before. I’ve seen people survive it. But both people have to really and truly want it.
I have a friend whose husband cheated on her over 20 years ago. They had recently gotten married and it happened in the first year of their marriage. I think when you’re in the beginning of a new marriage, you aren’t so quick to throw in the towel. She decided to forgive him and move forward without looking back. She felt that he just made a mistake. That he didn’t have any real feelings for the woman and it was not a reflection of anything wrong with their marriage.
He was genuinely sorry and regretful. He did anything she asked to feel safe again in the marriage. He let her know where he was going. He checked in with her constantly. He cut off all ties with the other woman. And he went out of his way to show her how much he truly did love her and that he was committed to her.
But it look time. That marriage suffered in the beginning because betrayal breeds resentment. Finally after years and years of no other “incidents” and the passing of time, the fear, pain and anxiety began to fade on her part. Until she finally found herself in a place of feeling safe with him again. And in her case,they both felt that his cheating strengthened their relationship rather than destroyed it.
Unfortunately, this is not the norm.
Most of the men and women I talk to worked incredibly hard to keep their relationships together but ultimately said similar things about the process:
“She is completely paranoid every time I’m on the phone, texting someone or meeting a friend for drinks. She thinks every girl I’m friends with is now someone I’m screwing around with.”
“He’s angry at me all the time. He says he forgives me and then when we get into an argument about anything he calls me a whore and says horrible things about me. Even when we have sex, he’ll taunt me and say things like, ‘did you do this with HIM?’”
One women I worked with for over five months tried everything to hold her marriage together after her husband had an affair. She lived in constant anxiety and fear that he was still seeing the same woman, yet walked on eggshells around him and did everything she could to “win him back” including not asking him questions when he would disappear, not probing him with questions she still had about the affair even though she needed answers, and telling him that she was willing to listen to him if he wanted to talk about his feelings about the other woman in an effort to ‘still be his best friend’.
Not only was the trust between them never rebuilt, but he lost respect for her because she didn’t get angry with him. She didn’t stand up for herself or express her pain. But mainly because despite what he had done to her, she was so understanding and supportive.
His own guilt over hurting her coupled with her compassion was enough to make him walk away from the marriage, feeling he wasn’t deserving of her or her forgiveness.
This same man expressed to me his own fears about ending up with the other woman because he felt, “How can I trust her if she cheated on her husband with me? How do I know she’s not going to do the same to me?”
Not an easy or uncomplicated answer. Because truly when we have broken someone’s trust, it’s almost impossible to get back. We can stay in a relationship because we made the commitment. We can stay because we have children together and we don’t want to break up the family. We can stay even if we have no formal commitment to each other because we think we just can’t live without the other person in our lives.
But the truth is, I don’t think we ever rebuild anything. We simply renovate it so we can still live there.
Like a house that is destroyed by a hurricane or a fire, we can rebuild it again. But the original solid foundation has been dismantled. It’s no longer solid. And anything we build on top of it is going to be a little shaky, not fit together quite the way the original house did and much different than what existed before.
Can it be better? Maybe. But it will never, ever be the same.