Rebuilding trust after a betrayal is one of the greatest challenges a relationship can face. When we trust someone, we’re not afraid to share our hopes and our fears. It is trust that allows us to give and receive love. When trust is violated, we become self-conscious and hesitant for fear of another humiliation. But if the relationship is truly valuable and your love runs deep, trust can be re-established and relationships that survive disharmony often emerge stronger and more rewarding for the experience.
Cheating can unleash devastating consequences on a couple. Yet over half of married couples decide to weather the damage together rather than split up. Unfortunately, the healing process doesn’t happen overnight, and even the most committed couples can get caught up by hurt feelings, paralyzing guilt, and resentment.
There are a number of steps that can help in the process of rebuilding trust in a relationship:
It is important that when discovering infidelity, that the wronged party details their hurt and pain to their partner by articulating an unsparing and emotionally raw declaration. It is vital that the hurt person feels heard.
Just as importantly, the adulterous partner must be prepared to face the heartache that their infidelity has brought about. Many unfaithful individuals feel paralyzed with guilt; they see the affair as irreparable damage, and mistakenly urge their partners to put the pain behind them rather than take time to grieve. The offender must bear witness to the pain they’ve caused rather than defend or deflect the impact. This willingness to take responsibility is vital to the rebuilding of trust.
A Written Apology
After the adulterer has listened openly and understandingly to their partner’s declaration, they should write out a detailed, specific letter to prove they understand the sorrow they’ve caused. And a miserly “I’m sorry” won’t cut it. They have to prove they’ve heard and understood their partner on the deepest level, and that means citing very specific examples of how they’ve hurt them and then taking actions to prove they will not do so in the future.
Avoid Cheap Forgiveness
Sometimes the desire to salvage the relationship or the fear of losing a partner overwhelms the necessity to vent anger, and wronged partners forgive before they’ve had a chance to seethe. This has been called “cheap forgiveness”. This behaviour is found among people who are more afraid of being alone than staying with an unfaithful partner. Not only do cheap forgivers deny themselves a healthy grieving process, they set themselves up for future infidelities by not forcing their partners to understand their pain.
Even in relationships where only one person has strayed, often both partners bear the blame for an affair. The unfaithful person must own up to 100% of their guilt (because “no one forces you to cheat”) but the wronged party must also acknowledge their own role in fostering an unhappy union, however minuscule. The hurt person must see how they had a hand in facilitating the loneliness or isolation that compelled their companion to have an affair and take steps to ensure greater emotional intimacy in the future.
There are specific ways to earn and grant trust in order to allow the relationship to recover. The couple should establish non-negotiable rules at the beginning of the healing process. E.g. the wronged person can request that their partner always answer the cell phone, even if they can’t have a conversation.
Redefine Sexual Intimacy
One of the greatest hurdles in the healing process lies within the bedroom. Often, a couple feels like the other person is sitting in between them, like a ghost, and that strains intimate relations. It takes time to rebuild physical intimacy after one partner has slept with another person.
The onus rests on both parties to prove they are willing to put renewed energy in their relationship, which requires taking risks in a partnership that was formerly broken and alienating. Rebounding from an affair takes time. “The process is a rollercoaster. Progress can sometimes feel elliptical—one week you both make leaps and bounds, the next week feels like you’re back to square one. If you do push through, you can emerge with a stronger, better union.
Valmai Bubb- Family counsellor FAMSA PE