Has your partner been unfaithful? Do you suspect infidelity? Have you cheated on your spouse? Infidelity is the number one theme presented to me as a major concern in relationships. Now this isn't statistically binding or generalizable, but what remains true is that trust and fidelity are key variables in building a strong relationship. And learning to live with the knowledge that your partner has violated your trust is no easy hurtle to get over.
For years statistics have supported societies reluctance to pursue marriage especially when warned that nearly 50% of marriages fail. Fortunately, these numbers can be misleading as oftentimes those rates are described in comparison to the number of marriages and the number of divorces that occur independently in any given year. According to Scott M. Stanley of the University of Denver, "the assumption has been (by those who have not studied it carefully) that the 50 percent number came from someone noticing that, in the U.S., we have about 2.4 million marriages a year and 1.2 million divorces a year. Hence, 50 percent of married couples divorce." Infidelity and a number of other variables provide grounds for divorce, but how do you avoid becoming apart of the statistic entirely and strengthen your marriage, when the or worse happens?
In processing how to reestablish trust the question is asked of me what can I do to get over this or how can I move forward from this. Oftentimes, the victim (for lack of a better word) feels that the offender (it sounds punitive I know) does not understand or empathize with how he/she feels. Furthermore, that the offender feels that the victim does not understood the gravity associated with challenged the pursuit of forgiveness for everyone involved. The offender does not want to feel imprisoned in their offense and the victim wants to be sure that it will never happen again. As the counselor, at times, there appears to be a rush to get over it and definitely a sense of urgency to forget the past and move forward. Although the intention to reach this destination is clear, proper respect to the process must be recognized. So your significant other cheated, now what?!?!
I'm Scared. Even though emotions such as anger, sadness, etc. are common it is my belief that the biggest setback to growth from this experience is fear. It's the lightening strikes twice concern! There is genuine concern that the offense may occur again, that the offender lacks a sensor to manage present or future threats to the relationship, or worry that the damage is not repairable. To tackle this dilemma take it as an opportunity to talk about what happened to try to get to the root of the problem. Each spouse should remain calm and ready to talk openly, keeping in mind that no matter the number of questions posed there may never be a response to pacify curiosity. Ask yourself what is it that I fear? And if that fear was removed would I push forward?
Admit/Accept what has happened. This is not done to forget the offense or excuse it, but to no longer operate in disbelief. Offender - Acknowledge, "I am not pleased with my behavior." My spouse and my household deserve better!" It is here that couples deal with doubts. Unsettled feelings will continue to haunt your thoughts, but can be relieved with warm support, continued brief discussions concerning those feelings, and reassurance of commitment.
Forgive the offense. This may require A LOT of self talk to remind yourself of the common goal. Check and recheck your suspicions. If you intend to forgive, operating as the "in home" police or warden will only make your partner reluctant to commit despite truth in what the relationship needs. During this time... trust lovingly. When engaging in new relationships we love blindly right? We overlook character flaws... Excuse relational quirks to keep the peace. The REAL work involved with being in a relationship has now arrived and it is LABOR INTENSIVE! The offender should remain Flexible, Accountable, Consistent and Trustworthy (FACT). It is cruel to have an uninvited guest into your relationship, therefore, be a good steward of your home. Handling this with resistance or additional offenses will be only be counter productive.
Be consistent. This "situation" has forced the creation of a new person that your partner doesn't know and must get to know. Your spouse can hear what you're saying, but can they trust what you are doing? Your relationship will be tested again! Be where you say you are going. Follow up. Check in. Be patient. It takes time to reestablish trust. Work on creating a system together that supports the needs of the RELATIONSHIP.
Ultimately, healing after infidelity can be a long, arduous process. It's essential to regain trust in your relationship in order to move forward effectively. But is it possible? Heck yeah!! I've helped so many couples get past an affair. Perhaps I'll quantify those stats at a later time, however, I'll say this... couples have to work together towards healing their relationship. Learn to work with the negatives in your relationship; they make for a better picture!
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