Can a Couple Recover from Infidelity?January 11, 2012 • By Linda Nusbaum, MA., MFT, Relationships and Marriage Topic Expert Contributor
I was counseling a couple recently and as the session was coming to a close I was asked point blank, “How many couples come to see you with infidelity?” I had to stop for a moment and think, “About 30% of the couples I treat work with infidelity issues,” I answered.
Then I thought: That’s what I see, but I bet most couples probably don’t even make it as far as the counseling room. Where cheating is involved, many couples likely break up after the affair is revealed.
I am thinking of tales from history — people I used to know before becoming a counselor, and just stories of friends and acquaintances who have had a cheating mate. Most quit. Most say adios. Most don’t even think about ending the relationship they just throw the cheating mate out. Just stop the pain of the betrayal and quit.
I might do the same, I don’t know. I don’t make any judgments about how people react because all of us are different and come with all kinds of experiences that influence how we might respond.
Some people could never recover from this kind of break. Others who come in for counseling find ways to deal with it. It’s hard, but it’s possible to wade through the issues that led up to the betrayal in the first place, because that’s what’s needed.
No one starts a serious relationship they care about planning to cheat. Having a relationship outside the marriage happens when two people are not connected in a deep way anymore.
The cheating, or betrayal, didn’t just happen; it started way before there was even a thought of acting. It’s during those times when a couple is probably taking each other for granted, and they are just not conscious of how each other is feeling. That’s when distance can set in.
It’s not uncommon for couples to be blindsided by their partner’s betrayal. But after looking at what preceded the cheating, people get understanding of how they might have been inattentive to their mate.
Now that’s not an excuse for finding another outside the relationship, but it helps to understand what led up to it.
For couples to rebuild and heal, though, there has to be some heavy lifting. It takes a lot for a couple to come into a counseling room after a severe break like this. The story of how the infidelity came to light get’s told again and the person who did the cheating feels humiliated and guilty. It takes courage to tell a complete stranger about a shameful act.
Sometimes spouses will read a phone text, or call a suspected phone number. Others will confront the person who had an affair with their mate. There is sometimes so much anger that it just gets sprayed in all directions. Sometimes it’s easier to dislike the other woman or man than to get mad at the person you love. You may feel intense hate toward your partner for what they did to you, but you still love them.
Maybe there is great remorse from your mate and you feel hopeful, but that feeling of being lied to and betrayed starts creeping in and you start seeing your partner with another and then you start wondering if he or she really loves you at all because if they did then HOW COULD THEY BE WITH ANOTHER!
The feelings are so complex. It’s really hard to know whether a couple can make it through the pain. Can the wounded one forgive? Can the pained one learn to trust again without getting a phone call or text twenty times a day? Can the one who cheated stop from feeling like the worst person on earth for hurting the one person who loves them? Can both learn a new way to communicate their feelings honestly even when those feelings are sad and mad ones?
For couples to move forward there has to be awareness — awareness of where each person was before the breach. There has to be healing and maybe amends so the wounded one can feel better. There has to be the beginning of true connection and understanding.
It takes a shift; it takes falling off a cliff again without a guarantee. It takes faith, and hope, and sometimes, sometimes it works.
© Copyright 2012 by Linda Nusbaum, MA, MFT, therapist in Long Beach, California. All Rights Reserved.
Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org. The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. The view and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.
StephJanuary 11th, 2012 at 4:22 PM
I could not do it. I just could not ever forgive him if he cheated on me. It is bad enough to think about all of the crap that they look at online that we do not know about or choose to look th other way. But to think that he had ever truly physically cheated on me? I do not think that I could get past that most horrible sort of betrayal. I think that this would always be in the back of my mind, that he was always going to be looking for the next partner and that he was going to do it to me again. Who could live happily with that kind of doubt and mistrust always in the back of your mind?
tiaraJanuary 12th, 2012 at 12:30 AM
infidelity is not an easy thing to get over.it is totally understandable.but if you do not try you will never find out-whether your love is stronger or your hatred towards the act of infidelity.
Yvette AshburnJanuary 12th, 2012 at 12:43 AM
“Can the one who cheated stop from feeling like the worst person on earth for hurting the one person who loves them?” I sure hope not. I’d want him to feel that pain each and every day for the rest of his life, because that’s how I would be feeling on the receiving end.
R.G.A.January 12th, 2012 at 1:16 AM
You think you couldn’t forgive until you come face to face with infidelity. My husband cheated on me after nine years of marriage with his assistant. How about that for a cliché? I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to throw in the towel and cast aside our whole marriage for what he swore was one drunken moment at a conference. I didn’t.
We’re together but I’ll never trust him again. I love him, but I’ll never trust him.
Marty J. CallahanJanuary 12th, 2012 at 1:29 AM
@RGA: Sorry to hear about that. I experienced a similar situation with my wife and a neighbor who got together at a party in his house. I had the added humiliation of all my neighbors knowing what had happened before I did because I’d went home early with a migraine. My pride didn’t let me ignore her actions. I gave her a month to find somewhere to live and get out.
What was I to do, reconcile then move house just because I felt I couldn’t step outside my door without them whispering about us? I wasn’t willing to do that either. This was my home before she ever came on the scene.
She left anyway and went to live with him a week later. I suspect it had been going on well before the party. Good riddance I say.
GibsonJanuary 12th, 2012 at 5:38 PM
@RGA I admire your effort but how can you live with someone that you don’t trust? Aren’t you afraid he will do the same thing to you all over again?
GavinManheimJanuary 31st, 2012 at 9:46 PM
Let me sum up infidelity in a way that makes it sound minor: you are mad at him because he put his penis into another woman’s vagina.That’s it. It happens, and it’s not a big deal. When I hear a girl getting mad over cheating I have to bite my tongue to avoid telling them to grow up. Be with them or don’t. Just quit whining.
G.SawyerJanuary 31st, 2012 at 10:35 PM
I think spouses that call random numbers, read the text messages or emails of their partners, or other violations of privacy are more at fault than the cheater. Playing detective like that is rude, obnoxious, and shows that you don’t trust your partner at all. My ex accused me of cheating on her because of messages I sent back and forth to another woman. A woman who has been my friend for fifteen years and remained my friend long after that tease left.
Thomas OlsenFebruary 11th, 2012 at 2:35 AM
I don’t blame them for needing to find the reason why the cheating happened. If one partner has been passive, stonewalling, or just losing interest of course there is going to be infidelity. Would you stay with a friend who repeatedly ignored you or would you leave and find new ones?
Jo ClarkeJune 13th, 2012 at 10:35 AM
IMO, there is an agreement when vows are taken, that there is an expectation of safety and exclusivity. That means that there should BE no private calls, texts, messages, communication with another person that could not be discussed. If there is privacy, it is agreed upon. In all things there must be AGREEMENT. In most ceremonies, “the two shall become one flesh,” and anything that they can AGREE upon becomes okay to do. It is NOT HARMFUL if there is agreement and of course, honesty.
Also, it doesn’t take UNHAPPINESS from both partners, but usually the cheater has been the one to pull away.. it makes sense, because obviously the betrayed didn’t go looking.
And it really is never as simple as a man entering the ‘other woman’s’ vagina. There are all sorts of ways a cheater (no sex difference here) turns their back on the relationship. There are all sorts of ways to rationalize actions and emotions.
The most hurtful part of it all is the feeling that we exposed our inner self and vulnerability to someone we thought would be trustworthy and honest, and they simply were not. We admired and respected that they would be trustworthy and honest, and they were not.
So they do not actually deserve for the betrayer to ever see them as trustworthy or honest, ever again, because they have mortally wounded those traits in the relationship. Now, the only choice the wayward can give at all, is status quo, untrustworthiness and dishonesty, which in and of itself has already destroyed the relationship.
A new one is possible, but it will then be forever flawed. We have to figure out if we can accept that flaw, or give up another piece of our hopes and dreams and move on.
A.E.August 9th, 2012 at 12:52 PM
My boyfriend cheated almost 2 yrs from now. But I didn’t find out about it until last yr. and the only reason y he told me is because the girl went looking him saying he is the father to his baby. That was 1 month after i moved in with him.The pain never died down. I still cry about it because I was ready to marry him and have his babies. I don’t know how I can do that now. Sometimes I even wonder why I even came back if I feel I can’t even trust him. I asked what did I do to deserve this. I asked what was it that I lacked to give. But he swears up and down it was only two times with her and he doesnt understand how she got pregnant when we wore protection and checked it. That I didn’t do anything and he was just weak. Now I mostly cry for our future. I can’t bare to think having his children when there is one out there as proof that he cheated on me. I can’t still can’t believe he did it. I thought we were perfect for each other. I always told him to talk to me about anything. It’s better to say it now and get hurt than wait a long time and feel like you can’t trust this person. Because secrets hurt
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