UPDATED - OCTOBER 2022
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Blueprint to reconciling after infidelity
Exploring the three paths forward
When a spouse breaks their marriage vows, there are two possible outcomes. If you decide to save your marriage, it’s important to know what you’re signing up for. Surviving infidelity is a complex process. In addition to moving past the pain of cheating, you must also consider the problems you had before the affair began.
Reconciling a marriage is a difficult journey. I want to share my honest experience with helping couples survive infidelity to help you make the right decision.
Deciding Whether to Reconcile
Reconciling a marriage takes enormous effort from both the offender (cheater) and the victim (the spouse who was cheated on). The first step to surviving infidelity is to decide if it’s worth it.
Here are five questions to consider as you contemplate marriage restoration.
1. Is your marriage physically safe?
This one is a dealbreaker 100% of the time. If your spouse is abusive towards you or anyone else in the household, it’s time to get out. That goes for both the offender and the victim of infidelity.
2. Has the offender ended the affair?
Your marriage only has a chance to heal if the infidelity is over. If the offending spouse expresses remorse and takes responsibility, there is hope. In a 2014 study conducted by The University of Washington, researchers found honesty led to lower divorce rates. Couples divorced only 43% of the time when the offender came clean, compared to 80% when infidelity remained a secret. Taking responsibility is a huge step towards making things work.
Also, is this the first time the offender has cheated? A serial cheater is a much different story than a one-time affair. If there's previous physical and emotional cheating, chances you can heal broken trust diminish. Reconciling is more likely if it's the first time the offender has strayed.
3. How did you feel before the affair?
Every marriage has its conflicts. If you felt unsupported throughout the relationship, it may not be worth the trouble of surviving betrayal. But if you recall enough high points together, you have a good chance of saving the marriage.
4. Do you have kids?
This one depends on how to provide the best quality of life for the kids. Divorce is traumatic for children. It can have unintended consequences on their mental and emotional well-being.
But, things are different if you believe your children would be physically and emotionally safer away from your spouse. In this case, don’t feel pressured to stay together for the kids.
5. Do you both want to fix things?
This question takes time to answer, so it’s best not to rush it. After discovering that an affair, the victim feels overwhelming anger and pain. Thus, it’s helpful to take some space when infidelity first comes to light to best answer this question.
Blueprint to reconciling after infidelity
It's a question that has been asked for centuries - is reconciliation after infidelity possible? Can a couple move on from an affair and build a stronger relationship than ever? Or is the damage too significant, and does the relationship inevitably come to an end? There are no easy answers, but here we will explore the blueprint to reconciling after cheating.
If you're here and reading this, you're likely the cheater or the cheated upon. This is a no-blame zone, so I hope you'll stay and learn. I don't condone affairs, and I know from my work that infidelity is a coping mechanism; it's easier and more fun than whatever happens at home. Affairs aren't always indications that the cheater is unhappy at home. One thing is for sure - affairs are devastating to a relationship and can end in divorce or breakup.
Some couples do manage to reconcile after infidelity and come out stronger than ever before. This is often thanks to a lot of hard work to drastically improve communication to get to forgiveness. If both partners are willing to put in the effort, it is possible to rebuild trust and create a stronger foundation for Relationship 2.0. This post will consider common marriage reconciliation mistakes and how to avoid them.
However, the reconciliation process is not always possible or advisable. In some cases, the damage is too significant to overcome. If your union wasn't strong before the affair started, the foundation might be too unstable to withstand the weight of the repair process. It can be challenging to forgive. If there is no longer any trust or respect left in the relationship, it may be best to end things rather than try to patch things up.
Another space couples find themselves in is uncertainty about whether one or both partners want to repair. Or, perhaps Partner A wants to repair, and Partner B is "leaning out," meaning they aren't sure what they want to do or are thinking about leaving. One or both partner is not ready to move in either direction, and the relationship is in limbo; a relationship in this state can cause high conflict between the partners.
The Three Paths Forward
It's important to take action and move in a direction for both partners post-affair discovery. Time is not a friend to partners who go on not addressing the question - what do we do now? The sooner partners start communicating about what comes next, the greater the chances of keeping the conflict as calm as possible, whatever path is taken.
Mistake! Couples who enter into couples counseling before deciding which path are at greater risk of repair failure than couples who explore the three paths of the blueprint to reconciliation after infidelity.
Let's explore them.
Path 1: Keep things status quo
Some couples decide not to do anything about the state of the relationship for various reasons: minor children, financial ties, health issues, health insurance, etc. Couples who take Path 1 don't address the big question - why did this happen? Sure, they may talk about it and even fight. However, every affair is rooted in a relational issue between the committed partners, which is not fully explored.
While affairs are never ok, couples on this path don't have a high success rate of taking the painful rupture of an affair and evolving it into an opportunity to learn and grow together. Instead, this relationship sweeps it under the carpet, puts it away, or uses it as a weapon for other issues. Couples who take this path tend to value familiarity over fulfillment.
Path 2: Divorce or Breakup
Some couples know that an affair, whether short or long, is the straw that breaks the camel's back, and its discovery propels them down the path of divorce or breakup. Couples in this state risk high conflict and volatility and often communicate in an inauthentic way; words and behaviors reflect retaliation and anger versus deeper feelings and needs.
Not every divorce is volatile, and many couples regret taking action toward separation before processing their thoughts and feelings about the affair, the partner, and what they wanted and needed for their life. But, unfortunately, regret can be a bitter pill to swallow.
Some couples realize that the relationship isn't healthy and decide to end it. However, divorce could be the best outcome if the couple's foundation isn't healthy or even toxic.
Path 3: Reconciliation after infidelity
The third path is often seen as a weakness or a flaw; nothing could be farther from the truth. An affair reflects a relational issue between the partners, and the cheater chooses this destructive coping mechanism. Partners who cheat report it's easier to live in a fantasy land with an affair partner than to deal with whatever happens in the home.
Affairs come in all different shapes and sizes:
Inappropriate electronic interactions with a person outside of the relationship
An emotional connection with another person outside the scope of a typical friendship
A physical connection with or without emotions.
A combination of all of the above
The couple starts by discussing the affair - what was it? What was the cheater's path from commitment to their partner to the affair? What was the relational experience between the committed partners at the time of the affair?
Mistake! The blame game will KILL COMMUNICATION! Both partners must commit to speaking their truth and not focus on the other partner! If you can't do it on your own, get help!
Couples who create a structure around their communication and the repair can forgive, a process that significantly benefits the person who has been hurt. It is often misunderstood to mean the forgiver is condoning the behavior of the cheater and the ripple effect it causes—quite the contrary. Forgiveness allows the hurt partner to accept what has happened and let go of the feeling of betrayal. Someone who forgives is at peace within their own space.
If you struggle to decide what to do, I encourage you to seek counseling. A professional can help you and your partner explore your options and make the best decision for your relationship. If you're considering Path 3, reconciling after cheating, there is important information for you to know so you set your repair up for success.
Couples counseling guides the process.
Relationship advice from friends, family, and independent research is helpful. However, professional guidance is crucial. If you are committed to surviving infidelity, the sooner you get into couples counseling, the better.
Couples counseling uses several research-based approaches. Over time, your counselor helps steer the relationship back to a foundation of trust and love. If you’re curious about what this might look like, you can read more about the Gottman Method of Reviving Trust After an Affair. This is a tool that I like to use during affair recovery sessions.
Take the next step.
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