Recovering from Infidelity in Your Relationship

My Partner Had an Affair. Now What?

Experiencing the betrayal of infidelity is one of the most difficult challenges someone can experience. It completely upends a relationship and turns the world upside down for the person who is cheated on. For some, infidelity is a non-negotiable boundary, and they will consequently end a relationship permanently if cheated on. For others, they will give the relationship an opportunity to recover and give their partner an opportunity to learn and change. The decision to stay or go is very personal and dependent on a variety of factors. The following is written for those who are trying to put their relationship and themselves back together in the wake of being cheated on.

What is infidelity?

Broadly speaking, infidelity is seeking romantic emotional intimacy or sexual and physical intimacy with someone outside your relationship. By nature, it’s hidden from the unsuspecting partner and can manifest itself face to face or through texting, phone apps, emails, or social media. Some people believe that if they’ve never had a physical relationship then it’s not considered cheating but emotional infidelity is often more difficult to recover from than sexual infidelity. The nuances of emotional cheating are difficult to describe but there is always some form of attraction being cultivated outside the bounds of friendship which result in a betrayal of trust and commitment.

What to look for in your partner after infidelity

Infidelity is never about the affair itself and this understanding is imperative if you want your relationship to recover. Infidelity is simply the manifestation or result of a deeper problem in the relationship. Finding another person attractive is normal but turning to that person to feel good or investing energy to know them more means you’ve stepped into dangerous waters. Invariably, emotional or physical infidelity highlights an unresolved problem or deficit in a relationship.

Recognizing strong attraction towards another person can initially serve as good information if it’s admitted and focus is then turned back towards the relationship and self to consider what needs to be addressed and repaired. The real problem comes when the new attraction is fed and energy is put into the person outside the relationship instead of concentrating on restoring the fractures within the existing one. If your partner emotionally or physically cheats on you and can’t address the reasons that led to the infidelity, that’s a bad sign. The affair always points to something missing or wanted.

It’s crucial your partner be able to communicate to you what he or she isn’t getting and what they’ve been needing which led them to be susceptible to the lure of another. Are they not feeling respected? Not feeling loved? Need more quality time? Not feeling appreciated? Want more physical intimacy? A deepening of the friendship which supports the relationship? The reasons could be many, but, if your partner can’t point to the cause then chances are they’ll either continue to invest in the same new person or another one in the future will catch their attention.

If your partner tries to dismiss the infidelity as a “mistake” or “weakness” without having insight into what led them there, then it’s likely they’ll go there again. It’s a discouraging sign if they want to make a non-specific apology and suggest you should quickly move past the affair. If they’re able to communicate to you what needs haven’t been met, take responsibility for not communicating those needs, and take responsibility for trying to get those needs met outside the relationship then that’s a good start to recovery. Additionally, if a partner has been communicating unmet needs and chose to step outside the relationship to have them met, this means they aren’t facing a potentially difficult decision about whether the relationship is suitable for them and instead chose to avoid that tough decision by getting their needs met elsewhere.

What to expect from yourself

The person betrayed is going to go through a cyclical pattern that may last a long time. The partner who was unfaithful can recognize the reasons, communicate their needs, make an apology, and move forward rather easily, but the partner who was cheated on has to sit with the aftermath with much more difficulty. Insecurity and lack of trust often give rise to anxiety, worry, suspicion, anger, and sadness. What is important here is not to act out those feelings by criticizing, blaming, or withdrawing but by communicating those feelings as they arise.

This is difficult because it’s another form of vulnerability which is the last thing someone who has been cheated on wants to do. But if your partner holds space for those feelings and is patient that’s a good sign. If your partner tells you to “get past it” or “there’s nothing else to say” because it has all been said, that’s a sign they don’t feel obligated to sit with the consequences of their actions and aren’t willing to help you recover from an injury they inflicted.

It takes a long time to move past the injuries of betrayal. It takes having many conversations about the same thing and it requires your partner have the patience and understanding that trust will return very slowly. Recovery from betrayal is similar to grief in that small windows of relief will arise followed by difficulty again and then longer periods of relief and waves of pain coming back from seemingly benign triggers. So, have patience with yourself and the process and make sure your partner has patience with them as well.

Recovering from infidelity is difficult but it can be done. It requires both partners working together, learning what led to the injury, and learning how to communicate more effectively and openly. It requires the partner who stepped outside the relationship to dig deeply into why they crossed that line, take responsibility, have a willingness and ability to hold space for their partner, and requires patience in knowing it’s going to take a while for trust to return to the relationship. For the betrayed partner it requires eventual forgiveness and a willingness to make themselves vulnerable again. Hard stuff for sure and for the few couples who do recover they learn a lot and grow from the injury individually and in relationship.

As a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist I offer couples counseling as a tool to help you work through problems in your relationship. If you are interested in scheduling a therapy session, contact me at or book an appointment online.

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