Of all of the subjects that I discuss with couples in my Couples Expert office practice, issues surrounding infidelity are is one of the most common and among the most complex. Specifically, coaching couples who are coming back from infidelity is very intense and fraught with extremes of emotion.
There’s a common misconception that once someone cheats the relationship is over and there’s no coming back from that. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. I help couples deal with relationship injuries every day and they can come back better and stronger than before the affair occurred.
This is such a delicate and fragile emotional situation and there’s a great deal of work to be done by both parties. Both partners have to be completely committed to the idea of repairing and rebuilding the relationship in order for counseling to be successful. It takes an extraordinary amount of love and forgiveness to make this journey back in time to find out what was going wrong in the relationship that made it susceptible to the affair. All of the extenuating circumstances such as how and with whom notwithstanding.
There was a breach of trust, and there is an injured party who has to absolutely believe that they want a future with their partner in spite of the pain they’ve endured through the process of learning about the affair and the injury that the relationship has sustained. They’ve got to be able to own their own part of the responsibility for what happened, even if they were not the one who cheated. They can share some of the responsibility for what went wrong in the relationship that led to the affair. That’s a tough one because the injured party often takes the victim role and has a difficult time with seeing how they had any share in what happened.
On the part of the person who strayed there must be a great deal of soul searching as well. Coming back from infidelity is only possible when the partner who cheated whether it was a sexual or emotional affair, shows complete remorse and can give a true apology to their partner. They must feel the horror and shame of hurting their loved one and be completely sorry for the damage they have done to the relationship. It’s only when blame and judgement are removed from the dialogue that the couple can then begin to move forward in building their relationship again.
Notice I didn’t say to “go back to the way things were before the affair.” I stress that we don’t ever want to go back. We only want to move forward in creating a strong and beautiful love story that will be solid and impervious to this type of damage in the future. Going back means to a place where you’re susceptible to having an affair and we sure don’t want to do that!
So what we do to facilitate coming back from infidelity is to take the broken relationship, the unmet needs and the lack of connection and start fresh. We mend the pieces of the broken relationship; learn how to meet each other’s attachment needs. We learn how to connect to our partners in a deep and vulnerable emotional way and we grow that connection until it’s stronger than it was before, and able to withstand all of life’s challenges. We work on creating a bond that is stronger than it’s ever been and a loving connection that cannot be broken as long as both partners are in it for the long haul.