For lots of people, cheating in a relationship is one of the biggest acts of betrayal against their partner. Many couples have a hard time moving past this breach of trust, making it one of the most difficult situations to bounce back from. In many cases, infidelity is a clear signal that the relationship is over. And yet–– that cannot be said for every instance.
Although it may seem impossible for some, there are many couples who manage to stay together after cheating. With lots of time, patience, and effort, these couples manage to find a way to work through the trust issues and the emotional pain to rekindle the flames of their once-healthy relationship.
So how do they do it? According to licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Racine Henry, PhD, LMFT, the key is time and open-communication.
“You can’t go along to get along or pretend to be happy once cheating comes to the light,” Henry explained to Bustle. “If both people are able to be patient with each other, be honest about what was missing and what they are capable of providing for their partner, and are willing to put the work in to truly have the relationship they want, cheating [does] not be a deal breaker.”
Many experts agree that this commitment to transparency and honesty is an absolute must for rebuilding a healthy relationship after cheating. Since the trust has been broken, it’s important for both partners to establish a common ground and work to make one another feel safe and respected.
Especially for the person who was cheated on, recognizing that the recovery process will take time is crucial.
“Betrayal is the most damaging part of an affair,” licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow explained to SELF. “The person who was cheated on usually struggles to know what is real anymore. Their ability to discern what is real gets damaged.”
Although both partners may want to return to the relationship prior to the infidelity, the reality of the matter is that there is no way to go back without addressing the betrayal. Josh Klapow, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and Host of The Web Radio Show, noted the importance of recognizing the reality that the relationship will never be the same as it was before the incident.
“There needs to be an acceptance on both sides that the relationship will never be like it was, that the cheating will always be a scar on the past, and that the only way to stay together is to grieve the loss of what was and redefine the new relationship,” he said to Bustle.
Healing and moving forward may require professional help. In fact, most couples who successfully heal after infidelity in a relationship will take the time to go to counseling.
“Willingness to go to couples therapy as soon as possible is a must,” Klapow said. “And it needs to be mutual. Trying to just work it out without professional help is not likely to work.”
Not only should there be a common commitment to redefine the relationship, but also a mutual willingness to get to know one another again. Although it may seem weird, some experts advise ‘re-introducing’ one another.
“After cheating, you have to create a new bond and a new relationship,” said Henry. “One way to do that is to learn your partner all over again. Go on dates, ask questions, treat this person like you just met and you want to know them better.”
Although many people may be eager to start over again, it is crucial to still revisit the source of the infidelity in the first place. Without addressing what underlying issues caused the initial cheating, there is little room for growth in the relationship.
“A major thing with couples is always to have them realize that there are two people there, and each person has to own their stuff, because blame is a big deal,” Sherry Amatenstein, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist, tells SELF.
“I work on having people own their stuff. If they’re willing to get out all their repressed stuff and learn how to communicate better, that certainly can be a help.”