It may be tough to believe that some couples not only get back together, but actually have a
successful relationship after cheating. However, relationship experts say that broken trust and hurt feelings can be worked through, without having to go your separate ways.
So, what do the
couples who get back together after infidelity have in common, in order to make it work? According to Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of , it all starts with their mindset. She tells Bustle these couples view How To Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together infidelity as a problem to fix, instead of something that tears them apart.
Whether they can
stay together after cheating also relies heavily on the changes they're both willing to make, going forward. If one partner continues to blame and vilify the other for making a mistake, Tessina says, then they'll only continue to suffer. Instead, they focus on rebuilding trust and forgiveness, as part of the healing process. And that almost always means going to therapy, establishing new rules, improving communication, etc.
There's no denying it's tough. And it's true that many times, breaking up really is the best and healthiest option. But if you want to hear more about
successful relationships after cheating, read on below for stories from people who have been there, as well as thoughts from relationship experts about what else these couples have in common.
They Overcome Broken Trust
Trust is everything in a relationship, which is why these couples start rebuilding it from the ground up. As
Dr. Josh Klapow, PhD, a clinical psychologist says, the process usually takes one to two years, and requires a lot of work.
"There's lots of checking in, asking questions, and being accountable," he tells Bustle. "So much so that the outside observer may very well notice."
In other words, if the couple is doing it right, even their friends and family will clearly see how connected they are, how often they communicate, and how they take teach other's needs into consideration.
Dr. Gary Brown, a relationship expert, successful couples focus a lot of energy on rebuilding respect, as well, since all of that is lost the moment cheating occurs.
He tells Bustle the person who cheated will need to check in with their partner to see what it is, specifically, that they need to do in order to fix what was broken. Does their partner want to go to therapy? Spend more time together? Check in after work?
Whatever it is, they agree to do it, and
keep doing it until respect has been re-established.
They Give Each Other Space
Typically, "the offending partner embraces the fact that their violated partner may need to reject them for a while, as part of their understandable need to protect themselves from feeling too vulnerable,” Brown says.
This is what James, 29, did when he found out his girlfriend was cheating on him with a coworker. "They'd been having an affair for three months before I found out," he tells Bustle. "She confessed to everything but at the time I was so devastated and thought that I couldn’t look past what she did, much less forgive her for it."
He chose to move out of the apartment they were renting together, in order to get some space.
They're OK With Awkwardness
After cheating, "there will be awkwardness, because the flow of the relationship is not the same," Klapow says. “The infidelity has a presence that will throw the relationship cadence off.” But couples who get back together don't let it tear them apart forever, but instead recognize it as part of the process.
Because there are so many layers to cheating, and a lot of hurt feelings involved, many couples quickly realize they aren't going to be able to figure it out on their own. So they go to therapy, which Tessina says, "helps the couple understand
why the affair happened, and how to fix the problems."
For Stacey, 38, whose husband cheated on her with a coworker, it made all the difference. "We attribute couples counseling to significantly helping us save our marriage because it gave us the tools we needed when time was of the essence and it opened the doors towards more active communication," she tells Bustle.
Patience is crucial when overcoming any relationship hurdle or struggle, and this is never more true than
when cheating occurs.
“The cheating partner understands that their violated partner is obviously not going to get over this any time soon,” Brown says. So they exercise
exceptional patience and understand that it may be months, if not longer, before their partner fully processes what happened.
They Practice Forgiveness
Cheating isn't something they necessarily can — or need to — forget, but fostering a sense of forgiveness, at the very least, is essential for couples who move on.
This is in stark contrast to couples who hold onto anger, or who "keep score" after something bad happens,
David Bennett, a counselor and relationship expert with Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle, which keeps them stuck in a toxic place.
It's the couples who practice forgiveness, he says, that have a
better shot at staying together.
They Get In Touch With Their Feelings
Couples who are
healing after cheating tend to get in touch with their emotions, which includes learning to talk more openly and honestly about feelings, sex, and intimacy, Tessina says. And it really does make all the difference.
"One rule we adopted," Stacey says, "was to make time to talk about our feelings and relationship every single day no matter how busy we were — even if it meant just five minutes before bed. This was part of an exercise we learned about rebuilding our connection and intimacy by making time to connect every day."
She and her husband also took in advice from other experts, mostly by reading self-help books. "We were able to come out on the other side through much counseling, persistence, and research."
They Revamp Their Sex Life
Believe it or not, there are so many
reasons why people cheat that have nothing to do with sex. And yet, turning to someone else for physical intimacy obviously takes a toll on a couple's sex life, leaving one or both feeling disconnected.
For a couple to be happy once they get back together, they'll need to work on
getting their sex life back on track. To do so, they tend to talk honestly and openly about what they both want and don’t want, Tessina says, and make a point to check in regularly to see if all is well in this department.
Even though there will be negative feelings in a relationship after cheating occurs, "couples that stay together after infidelity are often optimistic about the relationship and their partner’s ability to change, become, and remain faithful,” Bennett says.
As James says, "We still loved each other and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together so we made the commitment to work on our relationship every single day. We make time, sacrifice personal comforts here and there, communicate more, and establish a compromise at the end of arguments."
They Accept The New Versions Of Themselves And Their Relationship
It's impossible to go back to "the way things were" once someone has cheated. "In fact, that part of the relationship has died and must be grieved," Klapow says.
Instead, it's all about "establishing a new relationship," while remembering what changed it. "Couples that have survived infidelity will talk as if they have survived a trauma," he says, "because they have.”
These folks take what happened and let it inspire them to start from scratch with new forms of communication, trust, and understanding.
They Have Open And Honest Communication
Chances are, these couples probably weren't the best at communicating in the first place. But the ones who survive infidelity, Klapow says, realize it's a critical and essential skill to develop.
Though she recognizes not everyon can
go to couples therapy, Stacey says it's where she and her husband learned how to better communicate, which is why they were ultimately able to stay together.
Again, relationship self-help books can be a good choice for those who can't go to a therapist, as can simply committing to listening to, and hearing each other, more often.
They Re-Commit To Each Other
After putting in all this effort, it's not uncommon for a couple to feel a
renewed sense of commitment to each other — and to the relationship. It means "if one or the other feels that the relationship may be slipping," Brown says, they immediately make changes to get it back on track.
There's also a sense that they've worked through their guilt and anger, or at least are well on their way to doing so, and that they turn to each other, instead of others, for happiness. As Tessina says, "They’ve learned how to be
real partners, rather than just a couple.”
For James, all the hard work meant he and his girlfriend moved back in together, and have even recently gotten engaged. "It was a painful experience," he says, "but overall it has made what we have a whole lot stronger in the process."
Experts: Dr. Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist Dr. Josh Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist Dr. Gary Brown, relationship expert David Bennett, counselor and relationship expert