Can trust be built after you’ve been cheated on?
That’s probably the first question we ask ourselves when we find out that we’ve been cheated on.
First, because we can’t shut love on and off like a light switch. Feelings are still there. Despite the pain of betrayal, whether we want it to be present or not, there’s always a glimmer of hope.
Second, because we know that without trust there isn’t a chance in hell for a healthy relationship.
Toxicity, yes. They’ll be plenty of that.
But a healthy, loving and thriving relationship?
Sorry, not happening.
FOR SOME, BUILDING TRUST AFTER CHEATING IS A MOOT POINT
Some people believe that it’s a moot point to try to build trust after being cheated on.
Once a cheater always a cheater, they say.
I was one of those people.
Until a friend’s husband cheated on her.
He was a soldier and deployed to the Middle East when it happened. Immediately upon his return, my friend noticed that he wasn’t his usual happy self.
What he did weighed so heavily on him that he confessed the moment they got home.
My friend became devastated.
A couple of days later, she came to my office to talk to me about what happened.
I was in a complete state of shock.
Her plan was to pack her and their toddler’s things and leave. But she was ambivalent and needed to gain some clarity,
I’ve never believed in making decisions while under duress, so instead of encouraging her to go on with her plans, I asked her a whole bunch of questions.
You know, the type that makes your brain really examine a situation when all you want to do is lash out and get even.
She walked out of my office that day with her head held high and determination in her step.
CAN COUPLES BUILD TRUST AFTER CHEATING?
Yes, they can.
My friend and her husband did. As a matter of fact, they celebrated their 20th anniversary not too long ago. They’re happy and very much in love.
Their marriage was never again what it once was.
It got better.
The journey was a difficult one, but as both stated, “More than worth it.”
TIPS FOR BUILDING TRUST AFTER YOU’VE BEEN CHEATED ON
Disclaimer: Before I go on, it’s very important for me to state that I’m not advocating and will never advocate in favor of habitual cheaters.
If your partner cheats on you more than once, there’s a definite issue that needs to be addressed, be it in therapy (as in cases of sexual addiction, or personality disorders), or by walking away because you love yourself and know that you deserve better (as in cases where your partner doesn’t care about how their actions affect you).
That said, below are six tips for helping you and your partner to build trust after cheating.
1. I know that you so terribly want and feel that you need to, but DON’T LASH OUT.
While the pain and feelings of betrayal, anger, resentment, fear and loss are justified, try not to let them take over and go full-scale grudge.
Especially not in public, or on social media, etc.
It’s very early in the game to know what your next play is going to be, so rather than react in a way you may later regret, give yourself time and permission to process what you’ve just learned.
2. ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES
Anyone who tells you that you’ll bounce from cheating in no time flat is full of crap.
You’re going to need time to process the situation without constantly being pressured by your significant other (or anyone else), who may be justifiably scared to death that you’re bailing out and want some reassurance.
So, if you feel that you need time away or need your significant other to step back and away so that you can get your head together, tell him/her.
Communicate what you need to work through the initial shock clearly and without hesitation, and stick to your guns
This is not the time for the offending party to make it about them. It’s time for them to make it about you and respect the parameters you establish to be able to come to grips with the affair.
3. PUT DECISIONS REGARDING THE STATUS OF THE RELATIONSHIP ON HOLD (FOR NOW)
According to a Mayo Clinic Adult Health article on infidelity, the decision to stay or end a relationship shouldn’t be made right away.
This is because judgment is clouded when we’re smack in the middle and in the aftermath of a traumatic event. And let’s face it, finding out we’ve been cheated on is a traumatic event.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure that your feet are firmly planted on the ground and that there’s no pressure from anyone.
4. DO HAVE THE TALK WITH YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER
When you’ve worked through the initial shock, and feel that you can now listen to hear, talk to your significant other about what happened.
But be careful about what you discuss. You’re going to want to know EVERYTHING that you may not be emotionally or psychologically ready to hear or equipped to handle.
The goal is to gain clarity so you can decide what to do, not solicit feedback that’ll throw you into a worse frenzied state than you’re already in.
Try to keep an open mind. While you’re not responsible for the decision your significant other made to cheat, what it was about your relationship that may have contributed to the affair is something worth exploring.
5. KNOW WHO YOU CAN AND CAN’T TALK TO ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE GOING THROUGH
Unfortunately, some people, especially in the family and close friend arena, are going to have a lot to say about the affair.
Especially, about what a low life the cheater is, and about how you need to pack your bags and keep it moving.
The problem with that is that they’re not the ones living through it, who have history with the person who cheated, or who created a family with them.
So, how can you get the support you need minus the judgmentalism and the stress/pressure that comes with it?
By choosing who you share with and how much you share, and by making it clear from the onset that you need support, not judgment.
If you feel that you’re not going to get that, establish boundaries around what you can and can’t share with certain people, and seek professional help to assist you in working through the betrayal.
I recommend the latter to all my clients whether they decide to stay or leave.
Sometimes we think we can handle certain things on our own only to later discover that we didn’t work through some areas as well as we thought.
6. MAKE A PLAN FOR RESTORING TRUST AND FINE TUNE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
This is where I get to “talk” to both parties. So, here goes…
To the one who cheated:
Understand that the onus of responsibility for the affair, and for gaining back your significant other’s trust is on you. Therefore, be patient. It’s not going to happen overnight.
Take full responsibility for your actions. Regardless of whether there was a disconnect in the relationship prior to stepping out, you had other options. Nonetheless, you chose to step out, so own it.
Sever all ties with the other woman/man. And I do mean all ties. Your significant other is going to need reassurance that the call you received during dinner wasn’t from the person you cheated on her/him with.
Be okay with giving up your privacy for a little while. That is, if you love your partner and want to work on regaining his/her trust.
Which ties in with…
Don’t get discombobulated if your significant other wants to check your phone calls, text messages, emails, Facebook page, and other social media and forms of contact for a while. More than a want, it’s a need they have to feel secure.
Validate your significant other’s feelings and concerns, and don’t ever minimize/make light of them. Ask her/him what they need from you to feel safe and secure in the relationship and believe in you again then actively work on it.
Work with your significant other to establish a plan for rebuilding trust that includes seeing a therapist, individually and as a couple. A neutral, qualified third party can help to identify areas that if left unaddressed, can place the relationship in jeopardy again.
LAST WORDS TO THE CHEATED PARTNER
If there’s genuine remorse, you pretty much have the upper hand, so use it wisely. If you decide the relationship is worth fighting for, make up your mind to forgive, trust again and work toward it. While fear is an emotional reaction. Trust is a conscious choice.
Speak openly and honestly. Tell your significant other whatever you need to tell them, good, bad or indifferent, as many times as you need to work through the initial shock and confusion.
Which leads me to my next point…
Absolutely no gunny sacking! Successful relationships are those where partners bring issues to the table to work them out as they happen, not after they’ve accumulated and there’s so much frustration that it all comes to light in one massive counterproductive explosion.
Building trust requires that communication be clear, concise, to the point and solution focused. Both partners should be expressing themselves, so be open to what the cheating partner has to say. Remember to listen to hear, not to defend.
While you may have been the one cheated on, there could be some adjustments you need to make.
Rein in the lashing out demon. As I stated earlier, lashing out is counterproductive and will only cause more problems.
If you choose to fight, let it be to create a win-win situation whether you decide to salvage the relationship or not.
Last, but not least, fine tune your expectations. The marriage or relationship you had before you found out you were cheated on is gone.
You’ll never get it back.
But just like my friend and her husband, you and your partner can build something that far surpasses what you had before the cheating.
SUPPORT FOR BETRAYED WIVES
While I was conducting research for this post, I came upon The Betrayed Wives Club, a support website for wives who’ve been cheated on.
The Betrayed Wives Club was started by Elle Grant as part of her post-betrayal healing journey. It offers amazing support and insight and is very much worth the visit.