I’ve just discovered my partner is cheating. What do I do?

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.

Will you be my Valentine? Showing love and appreciation all year round

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It’s Valentine’s Day again, the one day of the year specifically dedicated to lovers. And in the true tradition of Valentine’s Day, restaurants are booked out, florists are run off their feet and chocolate retailers are emptying their shelves.

Valentine’s day is a time when lovers make the effort, take the time and invest the energy and money to celebrate their relationship(s). And this is wonderful. But as a sex and relationships specialist, I can’t help wonder if Valentine’s Day is the only time in a whole year that lovers show their love, appreciation and gratitude towards their partner. I work with countless couples who for many various and complicated reasons are struggling in their romantic relationship. And what I’ve noticed is that all too often the relationship has been neglected; expressions of love disappear, there is no longer time to connect, disappointment, resentment and anger build. Slowly but surely the relationship is put at risk.

Clearly, working with couples in understanding their difficulties and resolving them is the first step to healing a hurting relationship. But I’ve also discovered that an essential part of the process includes teaching my clients to get into the habit of expressing gratitude, love and appreciation for their relationship, for their partner and in general for their lives. What I mean is to incorporate communication of their love and celebration of the positives into their daily lives…sort of like celebrating Valentine’s Day every day! You could even try this approach for a month. We could call it the “Valentine’s Month Challenge.

Now, if you’re struggling to think of enough ways you could possibly show love towards your partner everyday for 28 days, don’t worry, help is at hand. A great place to start is by understanding your partner’s “love language”, as explained by Dr. Gary Chapman in his book The 5 Love Languages. In essence, there are five fundamental ways of expressing love that we understand, connect with and respond positively to. Most us have a primary love language and a secondary love language but we might also respond equally to all five love languages. Here they are. Take some time to reflect on which languages both you your partner understand and respond to.

Quality Time- Receiving a partner’s attention means I feel loved and valued.
Receiving Gifts- When I receive a gift I know I am truly loved.
Acts of service- When my partner does something for me, I know they really care.
Words of Affirmation- Hearing “I love you” means a lot to me. I need to partner to verbally communicate their love and appreciation for me.
Physical Touch- When my partner touches me in the right ways and at the right times, I know that I am loved.

Why not try asking your partner which love language they prefer? You could even write each other a list of your preferred love expressions. This way there is no space for confusion or misinterpretation. You can entitle your list: “I feel loved and valued when…”

By expressing love, appreciation and gratitude towards your partner on a regular basis you are constantly reminding them (and yourself!) of how important they are to you. You strengthen your loving bond and perpetuate a cycle of mutual love exchanging, in-turn creating more good, warm, fuzzy, loving feelings. And instead of taking advantage of one day a year to express how you feel to the one you love, you’ll be turning your daily grind into a love fest.

Reference: Chapman, G. D. (2010). The five love languages: How to express heartfelt commitment to your mate. Chicago: Northfield Pub.