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Surviving Infidelity

Last updated on September 21st, 2023 at 02:37 pm

How to repair a relationship or marriage after infidelity.

Infidelity is devastating to a relationship and makes a relationship emotionally unsafe for the person who has been cheated upon. When sexual infidelity is discovered or revealed in a relationship, it causes extreme emotional pain to the betrayed partner. This pain does not go away easily or quickly. Here is a roadmap to surviving infidelity.

It is worth noting that emotional infidelity can feel as devastating as physical infidelity. Without addressing cheating effectively, the relationship will not be able to be repaired. The relationship or marriage may not survive infidelity.

Often the betrayed partner will want a blow by blow accounting of what happened and why it happened. They may want to hear about every detail, as well as the timeline. They may demand an explanation over and over. This is an attempt to understand why this happened and to find some sense of safety.

The person who has been cheated on will need not only to believe that infidelity will never happen again but also, will need to know their partner feels extreme pain and remorse for their actions. While different individuals may deal with that pain differently, the pain caused must be recognized, acknowledged, and addressed thoroughly by the betraying partner.

The person who has been cheated on may need to emotionally punish the betrayer because trust has been broken, and they do not know what else to do. They will be experiencing a multitude of feelings that will likely include shame, anger, grief, confusion, and more.

The betrayer may not be able to handle the betrayed partner’s feelings or demands to understand. Consequently, the betrayer may get defensive. Defensiveness is a significant block to the rebuilding of trust and the resolution of the betrayal.

The meaning of our relationships

We form attachment bonds (our primary love relationships) with the hope (whether conscious or unconscious) of fulfilling emotional needs – often needs that have been not fully met previously or have been unmet. There are often wounds around these needs. For example, we may have felt our father never paid much attention to us, and we feel unloved by him, or our mother didn’t stick up for us, and we feel devalued by her. These wounds are not intellectual, but deep psychosomatic fissures in our selves.

The ghosts of these wounds show up in our relationships. A person who did not feel important to a parent may pick a partner who continually makes them re-experience that feeling of not being important. It is at the intersection of the past and the present wounds that the individual and couple will have work to do. The couple will have to learn to support and nourish each other emotionally to heal these wounds,. They will have to reach past their own limitations, triggers, and fears and learn to do something that they currently do not know how to do.

Ultimately most relationships have the potential to heal their emotional wounds. It is with this understanding that we will consider how to surviving infidelity and how to repair the damage caused by infidelity.

Why did the infidelity occur?

Eventually, the reason for the infidelity will need to be examined. Without understanding the underlying dynamics that contributed to the cheating, the betrayed partner will not be able to trust that things will be different and that this will not happen again. Rightly so, because without change, the dynamics that contributed to the infidelity are still in place.

Sometimes infidelity is due to a sexual addiction issue. Addictions indicate a problem with relating not only to others but to one’s self. Addictions, including sexual addictions, often occur because that person needs a way to escape their underlying feelings. These often include feelings of shame. If the infidelity is due to a sexual addiction issue, that person must get help.

To learn more about sexual addiction, Sex Addicts Anonymous may help. You can also find a therapist who specializes in sexual addiction.

Many times, infidelity signifies a problem in the relationship. Affairs often occur when one partner doesn’t feel close or feels disconnected from his or her partner. The partner may not be aware of this. The couple may be in a rut or habitual pattern of relations. They may have stopped sharing the more vulnerable parts of themselves or stopped sharing emotionally in a heartfelt way. One or both partners may not even have realized they have disconnected.

The attraction to the third person can be seen as a wakeup call for the relationship. But the choice to act on that attraction is where betrayal comes in. The attraction may not be a choice, but the action is.

Sometimes the infidelity occurs because that person was under stress and did not want to turn to or know how to turn to their partner and be vulnerable. They may not have developed that skill set, and instead, look outside of their relationship. This indicates an area of development that will be necessary for that party.

Sometimes their ego was stroked by someone else, which felt good, and they took advantage of that opportunity. This again indicates underlying developmental and characterological issues for that person.

What does a relationship need?

We need to know our partners are there for us and that they care. According to Sue Johnson, founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples, we need to know that our partners are accessible, responsive, and engaged. She uses the acronym A.R.E.

  • Accessible means that we are open to and can reach each other. If you need to talk about something, your partner is available for you.
  • Responsive means that we can rely on our partner to be there emotionally regardless of the situation. You respond and are supportive. You comfort each other.
  • Engagement means that the two of you are involved with each other. You behave in ways that draw your partner to you. Just because you do things together doesn’t mean you are engaged emotionally.

These qualities will have to be developed in the relationship to both repair and survive infidelity.

How to repair after an affair or infidelity for the person who cheated

  1. Have you completely disengaged all contact from the person with whom you cheated? This is a necessary and vital step.
  2. Do you feel heartfelt pain for the pain you have caused your partner?
  3. Can you speak to your sorrow over causing someone you love pain?
  4. Can you promise you will not do this again? How can you ensure this?

Issues that occur when attempting a repair

  1. If you are not able to express your remorse and sorrow, or if you insist that you have already done it – you are missing the boat. What feelings are stopping you from stepping into your own pain and remorse until your partner feels your regret? This will have to be opened up and explored for you to successfully repair the infidelity.
  2. Sometimes the infidel will offer a material gift instead of providing the emotional response needed. This is a clear sign that this person does not know how to address their feelings around the cheating.

You’ve followed the steps under how to repair after infidelity. Now what?

  1. Is your partner able to take in and accept your expression of remorse and pain as authentic?
  2. If not, what do they need from you to take in your remorse and sadness over the pain you caused?
  3. Are you willing to be there and find your remorse and sadness for the pain you caused over and over until they can move on?
  4. Do they trust that you will not cheat again?

To ensure you will not cheat again follow these steps

  1. Uncover what caused you to have the infidelity. Often there were relational problems previous to this. Sometimes there were personal dynamics that were not relational. Do you understand the dynamic that was occurring that caused you to stray? This must be figured out. For example, in one marriage, the husband deeply resented his wife due to the dynamics between them. He used this as an excuse to cheat.
  2. Is there space to talk about what had not been working?  Whether this is a personal dynamic or a dynamic originating from the couple, each individual needs to understand what happened, and the couple needs work to change the dynamics in their relationship.
  3. Make a commitment to yourself to reconnect with your partner, or get help if you are tempted to cheat again.

What to do after an affair or infidelity for the person who was betrayed

  1. Has your partner expressed heartfelt pain, sorrow, and remorse for the pain they have caused you?
  2. Has s/he been able to do this over and over as needed by you?
  3. Has s/he been able to tell you the details you need to hear?
  4. Do you believe your partner’s expression of remorse?
  5. Have the two of you been able to look at the underlying dynamics that caused this, both personal and relational?
  6. Do you wish to trust again?
  7. Are you willing to eventually forgive?

A new relationship

Infidelity is like a tsunami upending your relationship. The process of working through what had occurred, apologizing, owning up to what happened, and rebuilding trust is enormous. It is a process and is not quick or easy.

This process of rebuilding your connection will cause each of you to change. Do not shy away from it. Embrace it as painful but necessary steps to creating a new relationship.

Ultimately, there is the possibility of having a stronger and much more connected relationship after this process.


You might be interested in this post on how to save your marriage.

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