He cheated. Is it over?
We've all heard (or lived) some variation of this experience: The phone rings. It's my friend, Cynthia. Cynthia of "the perfect couple with the perfect marriage." She and her husband hold hands in public. They show up together at all the kids' soccer games. They're clearly in love. But now she's crying. A frantic tone scrambles her words. Her usual, cheery SuperMom voice is gone. She mentions Larry, her husband. Her hysteria makes me afraid he's been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Then I hear the words that send chills down everyone's spine: "He cheated on me."
This shockwave is followed by heavy sobbing. I fear she might collapse.
You may have lived some variation of this scene in your lifetime, either as the victim of betrayal, or as the betrayer. If so, you're a member of a very large club. We've heard about the pain of infidelity from friends, family members, and acquaintances. Our children's classrooms are riddled with broken marriages. Affairs are front-page news in women's magazines, celebrity pages and on TV dramas.
Your first experience of this trauma may have been with a lover in high school or college. Youthful dalliances are often chalked up to innocence or ignorance. When it happens in adult couples "who should know better," it is considered socially unacceptable and morally wrong. Yet it happens in many relationships. When a covert affair is discovered, regardless of who initiated the act, long-standing trust is shattered. Feelings of anguish and upheaval take over, and the impact deeply affects many people.
How is it that some couples survive this shattering discovery, and others fall headlong into the downward spiral toward divorce? Betrayal is humiliating to endure, and it threatens the entire family's stability — especially for the children, who suffer the most. How can you move past it?
As relationship counselors, we have studied — and lived — the impacts of infidelity and betrayal. We have experienced its suffering, and recognized that healing is possible ... when it's used as an opportunity for deep self-awakening and transformation. So can the complex feelings of despair and humiliation be ended? Can love be restored?
Can infidelity be healed? The answer is: Possibly.
The outcome is dependent on many factors, with the most important being the approach that each partner takes to the process of getting through, and over, the experience.
Healing From Betrayal
Every individual has his or her own moral code which defines and judges infidelity. Most of it is based on the religious and moral education we received in childhood. It can also be based on the person's previous experiences and their childhood wounds.
If one or both partners have moral beliefs that are fixed and resolute, there is little chance for restoring the relationship. And what often drives sexual transgressions are childhood wounds and patterns. It is difficult to heal when the act of infidelity (which is hurtful) is also judged as evil or irreconcilable. It takes courage to consider the possibility that a break in trust is actually a cry for a hidden need for help — often driven by subconscious patterns to be revealed. It is possible to use the opportunity as a time for each partner to examine and question their core needs, values, and commitments. This provides an opportunity to mend what has been torn open.
Trust takes a long time to build, and it is easily broken, so repairing it requires hard work and dedication. An affair carries the possibility of strengthening and deepening a marriage. It doesn't sound likely, but consider nature's examples: A bone that has healed is stronger than it was prior to the break. Scar tissue around an injury is tougher than the original. What if we could replicate the body's healing wisdom?
An affair is often the result of pressures that have been built up over time. Hidden or unexpressed disappointments and resentments act like a pressure cooker. If the heat isn't released slowly, it can explode. An affair can be a slow release — or a messy explosion. Keep reading ...
More infidelity advice from YourTango: