For some couples who have experienced cheating, it can feel like their relationship is o-v-e-r. And in many situations, that does end up being the case. But for the couples who stay together after cheating, it's all thanks to their ability to actively look for ways to work around trust issues, heal hurt feelings, and then do whatever else is necessary to reestablish a healthy relationship.
It's not always easy, but when these elements all come together, it is possible to move past cheating and stay together — especially if both partners are willing to be honest. "You can't go along to get along or pretend to be happy once cheating comes to the light," licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Racine Henry, PhD, LMFT tells Bustle. Staying together means being open, honest, and slowly rebuilding trust.
And, of course, having that mutual awareness that it will all take time. "If both people are able to be patient with each other, be honest about what was missing and what they are capable of providing for their partner, and are willing to put the work in to truly have the relationship they want, cheating [does] not be a deal breaker," Henry says. Here, a few things all couples who stay together after cheating have in common, according to experts.
They're Usually Down For Couples Therapy
While it might not seem like therapy is necessary, most couples who successfully heal after cheating take the time to seek professional help. "Willingness to go to couples therapy as soon as possible is a must," Klapow says. "And it needs to be mutual. Trying to just work it out without professional help is not likely to work."
For couples who can't afford therapy or don't have time, they can still reach out to friends and family for support, or do some soul searching on their own. But if couples therapy is a possibility, it certainly can speed the process along.
They Talk About How They've Both Contributed To the Problems
While nobody needs to take the blame — and it's certainly no one's "fault" for being cheated on — healthy couples are able to talk about what they both bring to the table, and how little problems may have added up to bigger ones.
And this is a healthy way for couples to operate, cheating or not. "Healthy couples have a mutual understanding that they both contribute to the problems and the solutions in the relationship," Klapow says. It's this mindset that allows them to talk through any and all problems, and work on things together.
The Cheater Is Aware That Trust Will Take Time
The person who did the cheating may want their partner to "get over it" and immediately trust them again. But that's just not how it works. It's the couples who give each other time to heal that end up staying together.
There needs to be a "willingness on the part of the individual who cheated to allow the person who was cheated on to set the timeline for recovery," Klapow says. "This is not, and cannot be about 'getting over it and moving forward' quickly." But instead about giving each other time, establishing new rules for the relationship, and slowly rebuilding trust.
They're Committed To Communicating
One way to rebuild trust is to talk about everything, which is why couples who make it work are all about prioritizing communication. "Couples that stay together after an affair must have a commitment to keep talking to work through the aftermath of cheating," certified counselor Jonathan Bennett tells Bustle. "If either partner shuts down and refuses to talk, the relationship will never last."
They Both Want To Make It Work
If one partner isn't sure about fixing the relationship, it's not likely it'll get healthier any time soon. And that's why couples who want to stick together after cheating really have to commit to making it work.
"Many couples stick together because they value marriage and long-term relationships," Bennett says. That, and they often love each other so much that — despite going through such a tremendous trauma — they still want to find a way to make it work. And when you combine these factors together, it will be possible to stay together.
They're OK With Things Feeling Uncertain
Again, it's not possible to magically get back on solid ground immediately following a breakup. And couples who can weather tricky situations know this. "They accept uncertainty," Bennet says. "Regaining trust in a relationship, or being able to trust again after cheating has happened, requires time to heal, but also the ability to embrace uncertainty. Even if they can’t see a way forward in the relationship, couples that stay together after an affair will, at the very least, attempt the healing process, trusting that they can overcome the problems."
They're Willing To Make Changes
Couples who see an affair through to the other side are often willing to make changes to their relationship, in an effort to find better and healthier ways of being a couple. "This is not to say that the cheater is not responsible for their mistake; however, that doesn't mean that both parties cannot do things differently going forward," relationship counselor Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Bustle. "People who take responsibility for their own behaviors and actions are the ones who end up with satisfying relationships in the long run."
This might mean making each other a priority again, going on dates, improving communication — basically, whatever it takes to create a solid relationship.
They Establish Transparency
Since trust has been broken, transparency will become one of the most important ways for both partners to feel safe and respected. "Transparency is critical," licensed psychologist Dr. Laura Louis, a owner of Gifted Counseling, LLC, tells Bustle. "Those with nothing to hide, hide nothing."
There may have to be a period where the cheater is overly open about where they're going and who they're talking to, until the person who was cheated on can feel relaxed again. Each couple establishes their own rules — maybe they take their passwords off their phones, or agree to come home earlier at night. Whatever works best for them.
They're Willing To Get To Know Each Other Again
Going off the idea that the relationship needs to be rebuilt, these couples also take the time to get to know each other in new ways. "After cheating, you have to create a new bond and a new relationship," says Henry. "One way to do that is to learn your partner all over again. Go on dates, ask questions, treat this person like you just met and you want to know them better." It may seem weird, but it's one way to create a fresh new start. And it can really help.
They're Willing To Be Introspective
While it may not be fun, in order to heal from an affair — and prevent one from happening again — both partners should be willing to consider why one happened in the first place. "In order to survive, introspection and communication must occur about each person and the nature of the interaction in the relationship," Jan Harrell, PhD, author of Love Now: Untangling Relationships, tells Bustle. "If this is deep enough, the relationship can go on to thrive, becoming better than it was before."
It may take some time to heal as a couple after cheating, but it is possible to do so — if it's something both you and your partner want. Of course, it's also completely fine to break up, if you don't think the relationship is worth it. But if it is, and you'd like to try, establishing these habits can make moving past this issue a whole lot easier.