Ten steps to forgive, apologize and rebuild trust after infidelity.
6. Setting Rules
"There are specific ways to earn and grant trust in order to allow the relationship to recover," Spring advises. She suggests that the couple establish ironclad, non-negotiable rules at the beginning of the healing process. "The wronged person can request that their partner always answer the cell phone, even if they can't have a conversation. If someone had an online relationship, the hurt person can demand that every time they walk in the room and their partner is on the computer, they can look over their shoulder and see what they're doing." Though these measures sound a bit like a schoolteacher with a ruler, Spring insists that this power imbalance eases the insecurity and mistrust that the hurt party feels, while also proving the offender's willingness to concede certain rights to privacy while their companion regains confidence in the relationship.
7. Redefine Sexual Intimacy
One of the greatest hurdles in the healing process lies between the sheets. "Often, a couple feels like the other person is sitting in between them, like a ghost, and that conception strains sex," Spring says. The phantom interloper can have dire consequences: the unfaithful person often feels pressured to please in bed, leading to distraction and low performance, which the hurt party, already injured and insecure, interprets as a lack of interest and physical attraction. "It's not about hanging from the chandeliers to regain passion," Spring warns. "It takes time to rebuild physical intimacy after one partner has slept with another person." Spring suggests that couples fostering sexual intimacy by creating an ongoing dialogue of fears and desires that eventually leads to physical vulnerability.
8. Ignore the Aphorisms
Though conventional wisdom has posited the phrase "Once a cheater, always a cheater," Spring balks at this advice. "That's a very dangerous assumption. So many adulterous people have come to me because they're ambivalent about what they've done, or because they want to know how to stop. Yes, there are people who will cheat again and again. But there are people who cheat once and never, ever do it again. They learn their lesson." Nevertheless, Spring warns against telltale red flags among adulterers. "If they're not willing to listen to their partner talk about the pain they've caused, it's probably not worth the effort of rebuilding trust."
9. Reality Check
In the aftermath of cheating, it's easy to feel as if your relationship is uniquely dysfunctional, yet the majority of long-term couples undergo at least one instance of infidelity. The stigma surrounding adultery keeps the issue on the DL, but take heart: many couples emerge from an affair feeling closer and more honest than before. Most relationships could benefit from some degree of trust-building and emotional closure, regardless of what spurs the development.
10. Letting Go
Remember the rigid stipulations that Spring suggested in Step #5? Those only work if the wronged person gradually loosens the tight leash as their pain fades and trust grows over time. The onus rests on both parties to prove they are willing to put renewed energy in their relationship, which requires taking risks in a partnership that was formerly fraught and alienating.
Above all, Spring emphasizes that rebounding from an affair takes time. "The process is a rollercoaster: I tell patients that it can take a year and a half, or longer, to feel okay again." Progress can sometimes feel elliptical—one week you both make leaps and bounds, the next week feels like you're back to square one. If you do push through, you can emerge with a stronger, better union.