You’re vulnerable with your romantic partner in ways that few people in your life ever see. You share intimate secrets and dare to trust them.
If you discover that this person has been having an affair, it can feel like a gut-wrenching betrayal.
Many people end the relationship immediately when they discover their partner has been cheating on them. But for those who choose to keep the cheaters in their life, can you ever trust them again? According to psychologists, the answer depends on several factors.
Why they cheated
Jay Kent-Ferraro, Ph.D and author of Surprised by Love: One Couple’s Journey from Infidelity to True Love, says a good indicator of understanding the next step in a fractured relationship is what caused a person to cheat in the first place.
Some reasons for infidelity are pathological, says Kent-Ferraro. The cheater might be narcissistic, addicted to sex, or sociopathic. Other motivations for cheating might be vindictive, as in passive aggression, revenge, or purposeful sabotage because there are other reasons to end the relationship.
Sometimes, the reasons why someone cheated aren’t as malevolent. There might be misjudged but fleeting moments, like when someone is having a midlife crisis or gave in to sexual attraction in an otherwise happy relationship. Perhaps a person cheated because he or she was suffering from personal mental health problems and using the boost of attention from someone new instead of addressing them.
If the cause of infidelity is related to the relationship’s problems, chances are the relationship is doomed. Yet if the reason someone cheated had to do with personal problems, addressing that person’s issues may mean you can eventually rebuild trust.
After the affair
Taking time for the victim of infidelity to process his or her feelings is important. After that, if the people in the relationship want to try again, how the cheater acts during the aftermath is a good indicator of relationship success. Diana Kirschner, Ph.D, is a psychologist and relationship expert who says there are several telltale signs the couple still has hope.
One is that the person truly regrets the affair and takes responsibility for it, she says. Next, the partner immediately cuts off all contact with the person with whom he or she cheated. Then, the cheater is truly honest about you about problems with himself or herself, problems with the relationship, and what you both need going forward.
Robert Weiss, author of several books on infidelity and sexual addiction, says rigorous honesty is the only way to restore trust after an affair. Until the victim feels comfortable again, the person who cheated needs to constantly be open.