If you have ever been cheated on, you know the pain and heartache that comes from betrayal. The hurt can last a long time, maybe even years. So why should you stay? Your friends and family will tell you “once a cheater, always a cheater.” But is that always the case?
These days, 65% of couples stay together after an affair. That’s almost two thirds of all couples who discover some form of infidelity. And many of those relationships not only survive, but do better after the shock of an affair. If both partners are willing to work on a new vision of a new relationship going forward, sometimes an affair can be a wakeup call.
There are exceptions, of course. Some affairs are what I call “can openers.” They are a way for one person to get out of a relationship. If that is the case in your relationship, you can’t put something back together that has been irreparably broken. But if both of you can work toward the following three goals, it is possible to create a new type of partnership moving forward.
- Some relationships are stronger than ever after an affair. Whatever issues were in your relationship prior to your partner cheating are now out in the open. If you are both willing to work on those things, you might even be a better couple than before. By “work” I mean moving toward empathy, not necessarily forgiveness. With empathy, there is a tendency to resolve conflict faster and with more success. Find empathy for each other for any prior injuries that occurred before the affair and use the infidelity as an opportunity to create a new relationship — a new monogamy — going forward.
- Now you can tell the truth. The nature of infidelity is dishonesty, and most people lie because they think it will protect their partner, that the truth will be too painful. But in actuality, telling the truth is frightening. However, without total honesty, the foundation of your relationship will erode over time and communication will decline, distance will form and couples who aren’t held together by a mortgage, children or a decade of history will find they have little or no reason to stay together. Creating an honest open connection forms a new bond, and a new beginning.
- Because affairs affect one of every 2.7 couples, you are not alone. Find a support system. First, get a good couples therapist who has experience in working with infidelity. And then find some friends, even online, who can help you, create a strong group of people around you who will be there when you need them, so you always have someone to talk to. With therapy and a good support group, you can both gain the insight, and the self awareness that will give you the capacity to change your relationship. The relationships that work after an affair are the ones that begin with a new understanding of what went wrong, and a new commitment to your future together.
Some couples who see recognize that there are these three reasons to stay together; learning to find empathy, creating an honest relationship and building a support network, may even find that the affair was the best thing that could have happened to them. But if you are not there yet, find a good therapist who can help you, and don’t decide now if you are staying or going. You don’t have to decide yet.
Dr Tammy Nelson is a sex and relationship expert and the author of The New Monogamy; Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity and Getting the Sex You Want; Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together. She has been a featured expert in The NY Times, Washington Post, The Sun, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, MSNBC, Shape, Men’s Health, Woman’s Day, Women’s Health, Self, and a source in Time Magazine. She writes for HuffingtonPost, YourTango, Psychotherapy Networker as well as her own popular blog www.drtammynelson.com/blog/. She is an internationally acclaimed speaker and trains other experts on global relational change. She can be found at www.drtammynelson.com
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