It is one of the most common questions I’ve come across, “My partner has cheated on me, how should I move forward? Should I stay or should I go?” Well, unfortunately there is no simple answer to this often complex quandary. So that we can understand cheating better, let’s briefly explore its causes, complications and remedies.
To begin with, let me be clear in saying that infidelity usually happens for a reason. The person cheating may need an out for the relationship and what better way than to literally move on. The cheater may also simply be one of those pathological cheaters; he/she may not even be aware of their reasons but it just seems to happen in every relationship. In long-term relationships, one of the most common reasons is that the intimate and loving connection between partners has been neglected and as a result a disconnect is created. This usually leads to one or more partners feeling emotionally and physically isolated, neglected, unhappy and craving love and affection. A new love interest is the perfect method to fulfil those needs. The only problem is it usually involves a lot of lying, deception and guilt, but more importantly doesn’t address the real problem at hand, i.e. the relationship is in trouble and needs some honest communication and TLC! And although this is a horrible way to come to this realisation, for many couples that do still love each other, infidelity is a confronting but powerful wake up call.
It’s a tough decision to make, but you will either choose to stay and work through the affair or leave depending on your values and beliefs around your relationship. And if it all seems too overwhelming, reach out to an expert therapist who can facilitate the healing process.
For anyone considering staying in a relationship after infidelity it is crucial that both partners acknowledge and understand what went wrong through talking, talking and more talking. Renegotiate (or negotiate for the first time!) the rules and boundaries of the relationship, clear up miscommunications, mend past hurts, plan date nights, and factor in physical connection into your daily lives (hugs, holding hands, kisses etc.). If you’re finding sexual intimacy challenging, express your feelings to your partner and be clear on how slow or fast you want things to move.
But what about perhaps the biggest factor affecting your relationship? Trust. Partners often struggle with trusting again. But trust can be rebuilt. I tell my clients that although it will take time for the wound to heal, it will heal…on two conditions. Firstly, the cheater must be prepared to be patient and actively work towards recreating and maintaining the trusting and loving bond with his or her partner. This may take a few months or even a few years. But, secondly the partner must be committed to not only moving past the cheating behaviour but also working on the relationship. If you are consumed with feelings of bitterness, hatred and spite towards your partner, then you may need to consider whether you are better off going your separate ways.
So no matter how bad it may seem, take some time to reflect on your situation so that you can gain some understanding and insight into what caused it in the first place, your role, your partner’s role and how not to let it happen again.