Cheating is something which can take us absolutely by surprise and have us dizzy with the onslaught of questions, pain, anger and disbelief.
Once we get over the shock typically that is when we begin to feel the mixed bag of emotions that can range from absolute rage to total misery as we feel the heaviness of the now unavoidable shift in the relationship. I have read for countless men and women who have been blindsided by a cheating partner and the question always boils down to “what next”.
Though there is no one-size-fits-all solution I encourage a 5 question analysis to determine whether or not saving a relationship is feasible and what do do after should you decide it is.
The five questions you want to start with are as follows:
1. Have they cheated before?
Its important to first establish whether or not this is part of a pattern or if its an isolated incident.
2. Why did they do it?
Its far easier to accept that they were unhappy and had a one-time affair than it is to forgive something that was ongoing or has occurred frequently in your time together.
3. How was your relationship when it happened?
Let’s be honest, there is no real “excuse” to cheating but the fact is when people are unhappy things happen. If you knew that the relationship was enduring a period of challenge and decline its easier to understand why they would step outside the relationship. If, however, you felt that the relationship was unbelievably happy and without any warning you discovered they were having an affair you are going to have a difficult time rebuilding. If you didn’t notice the signs when it happened the first time, chances are you will not notice them again.
4. What do you think they will do in the future?
If they cheated because they were unhappy do you feel that they will continue to remedy their unhappiness in the same way? Do you feel they would be willing to work with you and a third party coach or counselor to work on communication?
5. Do they regret their actions?
This is a big one and it can often times be one of the more difficult things to assess. Anyone can say they feel badly for what they do and wish they could go back. Its up to you to really pay attention to what they say and what they do. Do they act as though they regret their actions or are they just saying it?
The next step is to give yourself some time to assess and process. If you live together its imperative that one of you finds an alternative place to stay so that you can each have some time to feel and think without having to be run into the face of the person who has caused you great pain and ultimately, changed the course of your relationship forever. This is a necessary step so that you have some space to just be in this moment as there is no avoiding it and only more damage if you attempt to.
Next you want to meet up and have a discussion. This isn’t the time to let emotion to take hold, fall into their arms and say you just want to forget the entire thing ever happened. This is a time for you two to each discuss whether this relationship is capable of being saved and if you both are going to work towards that end. This is where you have carte blanch to ask any and all questions so that you can have the answers you need. Based on the results of this meeting you both should have a good idea on whether its time to walk away and move on or if you should begin to rebuild.
The rebuilding phase is the trickiest. The relationship that you had is over-its gone and trying to go back to that is sure to end in disappointment. The thing to keep in mind is that you are basically having to start from square one but this time as opposed to the rose colored glasses you will know that they are capable of hurting you greatly.
The first thing that must be understood when it comes to rebuilding is that you must be fully ready and capable of letting go of what happened. The surest way to see rebuilding fail is by carrying over the baggage of what transpired. If you feel incapable of doing this its time to assess whether you need more time before you can think about rebuilding or if perhaps its not something you will be able to get over.
If you continue to try to rebuild its important to move slow and begin to merely date one another again. Work on fostering positive memories and in cases of long term relationships or marriages a counselor or coach may be able to help you with creating an actionable plan that is designed for you two exclusively.
The good news is that building a new relationship can be exciting and fun. Yes, you may argue over the cheating at first, some of this is quite normal. But eventually you will begin to replace that with the understanding that you two love one another and desire to be in each others lives so much so that not even cheating can tear you two down.
If it helps create some boundaries that help you to rebuild trust and security. The key here, however, is to make sure you are creating boundaries which protect both of you. Suddenly making them hand over all passwords to their phone, email and checking them is not necessarily the answer. Nor can there be a rule wherein the offending party can no longer enjoy any level of autonomy. Ultimately the boundaries must protect you both and maintain integrity for each of you.
Though its something so many of us have dealt with, dealing with a cheating partner is never easy and nor do all solutions work for all situations. Its important to honor your feelings and the relationship by taking your time as you work through the many complicated emotions which arise out of a situation that involves cheating. Coming in for a session to understanding what happened, why and whether you can rebuild can help provide you with a foundation for forward progression whether it be a solo or combined adventure.