Of all the challenges a relationship can face, infidelity is perhaps the hardest. But it doesn’t have to be the end.
Relationships will endure many obstacles and roadblocks. Infidelity is, by far, considered the cardinal sin. Not just in terms of religious beliefs, but to be unfaithful is to make a decision that can affect the entire family unit. Cheating is most often related to the physical act of intimacy. As culture and society norms have changed over time, cheating has become an offense that is more involved than sex.
We cheat in our minds before the brain ever makes the connection to other extremities. We take our most valuable asset, time, and invest it in other people. It could be someone you see at work, someone you have social interactions with, or a complete stranger. Cheating is not that skeleton in the closet anymore. With sites likes Ashley Madison and Tinder making options readily available, infidelity has perhaps become more common than not in relationships.
The betrayal caused by an unfaithful partner is crushing. It causes you to question everything—from your own self-worth to how transparent your partner has been all along. For many relationships, cheating is the ultimate deal-breaker. There’s no coming back from that because trust is gone. And once trust is lost, many people find themselves evaluating what they really have in that relationship.
Rebuilding trust after infidelity is a long process with a clear starting point. However, it’s impossible to know when trust has been fully restored. Some aren’t willing to make that commitment because they feel they no longer owe their partner the benefit of the doubt. I do think that there are some occasions where the damage done by infidelity can be repaired. Before deciding to go to therapy or even before you see a divorce attorney, you have to ask yourself how honest and altruistic are you willing to be?
Are you willing to forgive or ask to be forgiven?
First and foremost, you have to understand what it means to be forgive and to ask for forgiveness. “I’m sorry” and some groveling won’t smooth things over. Asking for forgiveness means holding yourself accountable for your actions. As the one who was unfaithful, you have to own your bad decisions and not dismiss the weight of your partner’s hurt. You have to own the lies that you told.
As the person who needs to forgive, decide if you’re able to forgive before you consider staying or leaving. There’s an expectation that people should forgive because it’s the right thing to do. Being a Christian, I believe we all deserve a clean slate. But that doesn’t mean someone can dictate the way and timing of your forgiveness. You also have to decide to not hold your partner in an emotional prison. This is hard to do; especially if the cheating was sexual in nature. Choosing to rebuild trust is an act of grace. To forgive is to learn the lesson and bury the past.
Are you willing to do the work?
The next aspect of rebuilding trust after cheating is that you both have to understand the work involved. The work that needs to be done after someone has cheated is broad and can vary. It might be surrendering passwords to accounts. It might be unlocking phones or doing check-ins. It might even be separating for a while. There is a large gap between the reveal of cheating and when you start doing the work. Whatever the stipulations are going to be, they need to have purpose. Both of you need to be comfortable with giving up control as long as it’s being done to preserve your relationship.
Are you willing to take responsibility?
Lastly, you both have to accept that you’re only responsible for your feelings. When I was cheated on, I took the defensive stance. I blamed her and made sure that she knew how hurt I was. The reality is that there were problems early on that I wasn’t willing to be vocal about. Our marriage was full of dysfunction. Instead of being honest and addressing it, I made the ending all about her cheating.
Sometimes we get into relationships that aren’t healthy because we normalize dysfunction. Whether it’s upbringing or ignorance, relationships as places of escape for some. Because of that, they can’t really be themselves. Any relationship that doesn’t foster freedom of expression is inevitably going to thrive on lies and deceit. As an individual, while you can’t be blamed for the dishonest actions of someone else, you have to be aware of valuing your feelings.
People aren’t perfect. And although, cheating is the result of patterned behavior, some people are genuinely remorseful. Cheaters can change. Evaluating where your relationship falls is tough when you’re hurt and angry. However, being hurt so deeply is often how we connect with a stronger sense of self and discernment.