As a therapist I have many clients seek counseling after their partner has cheated on them. Whether it’s an emotional affair or a physical one, it hurts all the same. And, often people have to work through the loss of what they thought their relationship was and go through the classic stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Acceptance for some involves moving on solo and for others it means repairing the relationship damaged by the affair.
Look for Patterns!
Although everyone ultimately is well served listening to reason and intuition, I can offer a few guidelines that may help someone determine whether their relationship is worth trying to salvage. Often the heart leads us back to familiar and unhealthy places and takes quite a while to catch up with reason and intuition. I would have to say that for the majority of relationships involving infidelity, there are red flags along the way. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help determine whether to stay or go. As you consider your partner’s behavior pertaining to the infidelity, ask yourself how your partner has reacted in other situations where he or she did things that were clearly “not okay”. You can then start to see if a pattern has emerged. It’s not a good sign if there are red flags being thrown up in response to an affair, but even worse if these reactions are seen as a pattern in other situations over time.
Is there a pattern of lying or other infidelities? If this is an isolated event, that is positive in terms of the relationship being salvaged. But, if your partner has a history of cheating on you (or others that you know about) or has a pattern of getting caught in many or frequent “lies”, this is a red flag. If you find yourself anxious a lot and worried about your partner’s honesty, this is sometimes brought on by good reason and your intuition is trying to alert you to something.
Does your partner take responsibility for his/her actions or blame you, other people or circumstances? If your partner isn’t accountable for the affair and finds excuses, it’s not a good indication the behavior will be corrected. If he/she takes responsibility and doesn’t try to justify or wiggle out of it, this is a good sign. It’s helpful to explore whether your partner has a history of taking responsibility for actions or finding ways to explain them away so he/she isn’t accountable,
Does he or she express remorse over what they did or are they more sorry they got caught? If your partner gets upset when you “bring it up”, says you don’t need to talk about it cause “we’ve been over it” and doesn’t express much remorse, this is not a good relationship dynamic. Ideally, your partner should be willing to continue listening to how you were and are effected by the infidelity and be sympathetic to your pain. Often people continue to “bring it up” for long periods of time because they still haven’t felt heard. If someone listens and cares, the person hurt will usually heal more quickly. Of course, there are some people who continue to churn up the past for what seems an excessive amount of time, but in this case I’m speaking generally that a person harmed will need time to adequately process their feelings and be heard and cared for while they do it.
If you don’t see red flags based on the above questions, there is a chance your partner acted unwisely, it was an isolated event and very poor judgment was used. Often, this type of affair involves extended periods of time apart, alcohol or emotional distance between a couple. But, before your heart tells you it’s okay to go back to the relationship, I strongly suggest you explore the above questions and look for patterns in the relationship indicating the relationship might not be a healthy one. Listen to your intuition as it often tries to alert us to danger.
Sylvia Flanagan, MFT is a San Diego therapist with a private practice in Mission Valley. For more information about San Diego Counseling, feel free to call or email her.
Office hours are Monday through Thursday 9:00 to 6:00.