So she dug your key into the side of your pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive — oh wait, did you not cheat on Carrie Underwood?
Regardless of whom you hurt by being unfaithful and how he or she reacted, there’s no question that infidelity can really shake up any romantic relationship. Research has found that about one in five Americans in monogamous relationships say they’ve cheated at least once.
But infidelity doesn’t always mean the end of a relationship. For the unfaithful as well as the betrayed partner, here are 8 ways to cope and rebuild a healthy partnership after cheating:
1. Don’t automatically assume the relationship is doomed.
Once your partner finds out that you’ve been involved with someone else (or once you fess up), it might seem like the easiest thing to do is run. But relationship experts say leaving a damaged partnership can sometimes be a cop out — a way to avoid taking responsibility or recognizing your own faults. Instead, assume that staying together is equally possible, if you’re willing to put in the hard work required. In fact, sex and relationship researcher Dr. Kristen Mark told Bustle, "If a couple can get through an infidelity and restore the trust in the relationship ... they can come out the other side a stronger couple."
2. Acknowledge that you’ve created a problem.
It might seem simple, but if you don’t come to terms with the fact that you messed up, and therefore messed up the relationship, the healing process won’t go anywhere. Instead, whenever you're apologizing for something hurtful, recognize that you made a mistake that caused your partner pain. Even if the affair was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to problems in your relationship — problems for which you blame your partner — you’ve got to take responsibility for your personal transgressions.
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3. Figure out what drove you to cheat.
Maybe it happened after the office holiday party, where you suddenly noticed that the guy who shares a cubicle with you looks a lot better when he isn’t hunched over a spreadsheet. Even so, infidelity is rarely the result of a momentary lapse in judgment or attraction to someone else. Instead, writes psychologist Dr. Peggy Drexler, it’s important to get to the real root of the issue. Did you feel lonely in your current relationship? Did you feel a consistent lack of sexual gratification from your partner (an especially common reason women cheat)? Whatever the problem, try to figure it out so you can understand why you made your mistakes and don’t end up repeating them.
4. Cut off communication with the other man or woman.
It goes without saying that the first step to repairing a relationship after infidelity is ending the affair, but that means more than no longer having sex with the other person. As the Mayo Clinic points out, truly recommitting to your relationship means ceasing all interaction with the person you cheated on your partner with. It’s not going to be easy, especially if you’ve developed feelings for that other person or were used to seeing him/her on a regular basis. Still, you need to be able to promise your partner that the affair is over for good and that you’re totally committed to moving forward in the current relationship.
5. Limit the times when you talk about the infidelity.
Once the unfaithfulness comes to light, it’s easy for both partners to end up talking about it constantly — why it occurred, exact details of where and when it happened, etc. But psychologist Dr. Coleman suggests that you two should instead give yourselves about 15 minutes every day to discuss the betrayal, and then move on. (The betrayed partner can decide when he/she is ready to talk less, or stop talking, about the infidelity.) That’s because positive distraction — whether that’s seeing a movie or going out to dinner together — can be really important for the future of the relationship and for the happiness of both partners.
6. Give your partner time to heal.
In an ideal world, the unfaithful partner could just say, “I’m sorry” and win back the other partner’s affection. But in the real world, writes Dr. Coleman, it can take at least a year for the betrayed partner to feel that he/she is able to trust you again. If the betrayed partner wants to talk about the infidelity (within the limits that you’ve already established — see above), give him/her the opportunity. Shutting him/her down or implying that he/she should be “over it” already will only make the situation worse.
7. Be honest with yourself and with your partner.
After weeks, months, or even years of dishonesty, relationship experts say that one of the most important steps to repairing the relationship is being completely open and honest. If your partner has a question about the affair, answer it to the best of your ability. After all, it would be pretty awful if you kept certain details hidden, only to have them surface later on. The most important thing to remember is to "always [be] looking through your partner's eyes" says Dr. Janis Abrahms Spring, author of After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful. That might mean letting your partner know if you receive an email from the person you were involved with, and if you decide to respond.
8. Seek professional help.
Not every duo will decide to engage in couples therapy, and that’s okay. But keep in mind that a licensed therapist can help the two of you figure out how to move past the affair by thinking about the factors that motivated one person to be unfaithful. The therapist can also help you come up with specific ways to restore trust and maintain a stable partnership.
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