Repairing Your Relationship After Infidelity
The following blog is about a relationship behavior that many of us fear, connect/relate to, or have personally engaged in within our own romantic relationship. This is the controversial relationship area of cheating; this is something we have all heard of and unfortunately is a behavior that has existed since the dawn of conscious thought and certainly since the inception of monogamy and marriage.
There are different perceptions regarding what constitutes cheating/infidelity. For some, it’s the physical act of intercourse, some define it as anything involving physical intimacy, and for others, it’s emotionally connecting to someone outside of the relationship. These definitions of what constitutes cheating are valid and encapsulate cheating behaviors.
As a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in relationships and the science of love, I define cheating as anything that we would not do if our partner was with us and aware of our behaviors and choices. Basically, cheating is ANY breach of the relationship contract/code of ethics or anything that provokes feelings of discomfort in our partner due to behaviors that fall outside the co-created parameters of the union. This can be flirting, giving out our number to someone at the bar, sexting, intimate conversations or incessantly looking people up on social media and liking provocative pictures of them.
Regardless of the way someone acts out, cheating is one of the most devastating experiences we can experience and can lead to a variety of consequences for both partners. However, if infidelity does occur, it does not have to be doom and gloom for the relationship. There is still hope and research has shown that breaking trust by cheating is not necessarily the biggest predictor of breakups or divorce.
If this is something that you have experienced in your relationship, there are ways to repair it after this particular breach of trust. When I work with couples who are recovering after infidelity and betrayal, I take them through the Gottman Method’s stages of Atone Attune and Attach. According to Dr. Gottman, “both partners must follow certain crucial steps to get past mistrust and resentment after betrayal”.
Remember, when someone engages in infidelity trust is broken, and we can no longer continue in the relationship as it was; relationship #1 is over and relationship #2 begins. These phases have some overlap, for even in the last phase of repair we are still engaging in helpful aspects of phase 1 and phase 2.
This is a necessary component of the recovery process after infidelity. The phase of atonement involves exploring and processing the hurt partner’s hurt and trauma. The hurt partner asks questions while the betraying partner responds non-defensively and with empathy while committing to practice full transparency in the relationship.
The betrayer MUST express deep remorse, even in the face of skepticism, and promises to never commit this behavior ever again. In this phase, the hurt partner is entitled to ask as many questions as he/she wants (with the exception of physical or sexual aspects of the affair). Those unhelpful questions have proven to be traumatizing and unproductive in the healing process. In this phase, we do not yet examine why the affair happened due to the risk of the hurt partner-facing blame.
The atonement phase can be short or long depending on the couple. When the hurt partner no longer has any more questions, we are ready to move to the 2nd phase, attune. However, the betraying partner continues to be transparent in whatever ways the hurt partner requires and is demonstrating ways in which he or she is trustworthy.
This phase involves rebuilding the relationship from the ground up and can take several months. In this phase, we are relearning how to exist and navigate the new version of our relationship. This means learning how to end conflict avoidance through the use of conflict management skills and communication techniques.
Through these conflict management tools, we learn how to speak and listen in ways that are useful and productive, breaking the cycle of attack-defend that is common amongst couples. Here, we learn how to recognize signs of when conflict and communication are going awry and how to get back on track.
Additionally, during this phase we now explore why the affair happened, not to justify or rationalize the betraying partner’s choices, but to offer an understanding of what set the stage for these behaviors. In order to avoid history from repeating itself, we must understand what played a part in an affair taking place. This requires examining several aspects of the relationship including what may not have been working and making necessary replacements in a couple’s interactional sequence.
Of course, if a couple is determined to stay together, the ability to attune and connect must reach the bedroom. Dr. Gottman states that “without the presence of sexual intimacy that is pleasurable to both, the relationship cannot begin again”. This may feel difficult for the hurt partner who might still be harboring resentment, anger, and fear.
The foundation for sexual intimacy is trust and connection, which will assist in avoiding potential romantic violations. The main component of sexual intimacy is friendship and emotionally intimate conversations.
An experienced therapist may be required to assist with initially navigating these conversations. A therapist can spotlight helpful methods of communicating about this area of vulnerability that may feel scary to the hurt partner. In this phase, we are also recognizing positive interactions and successes while ritualizing new ways of connecting to each other. Previous ways of connecting may no longer be viable and may be linked to the affair or breach of trust.
Recovering from an affair can be difficult and complex however it can absolutely be done and has been done by many couples!
Affair recovery involves expressing and navigating hurt feelings, establishing new ways of connecting, discovering new methods of communicating and managing conflict, and going about the relationship in very different ways from before. If both partners are willing and able to commit and invest in developing new relationship dynamics while refusing to give up, recovery and healing are attainable.
If you want support with repairing your relationship after infidelity or want to work on improving your communication, intimacy, and relationship goals, contact us for your complimentary consultation at 954-391-5305. You deserve this, so let us help.
Jackie Schwartz, LMFT specializes in working with individuals and couples who want to live happier lives and have more fulfilling relationships. She provides counseling in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs, Florida. She also offers online counseling through our secure telehealth platform for those who live in the state of Florida. We look forward to working with you!