Is there married life after infidelity? You may be surprised to hear this, but yes, there is. (Sometimes.)
People like to say it’s a trust issue — and they’re right. But that’s not the whole story. And besides, trust isn’t as clear-cut an issue as it seems. Whose trust is involved? And what do we need to trust in?
Typically, a partner doesn’t cheat when things are going well. Oh, I bet I’m going to get a lot of letters on this one. But before you fire off an angry email, let me be clear. I’m not suggesting that the innocent party should share blame in the infidelity, but rather that when someone cheats on us we begin to doubt ourselves — our desirability, our competence, our instincts. Before any repair work begins, we need to learn to believe in ourselves again.
Trusting our instincts
There are usually signs of infidelity (more on this in an upcoming column). Many of us ignore them because we don’t want to know the worst. Oh, denial is a sweet seduction; it lures you in with promises of blissful ignorance and then, bam, reality kicks you in the teeth. Blinders are useful when you’re running a race, but marriage is a marathon; the blinders need to come off. If we want to repair what’s broken, we need to begin to believe in our ability to intuit when something is wrong and our ability to fix what’s broken.
Trusting the guilty party
Here’s where things start to get really dicey, right? I mean, how could you ever have faith in someone who’s been unfaithful? Here’s how: You wrap your mind around these two essential truths:
1. Your spouse didn’t cheat because he didn’t love you. He cheated because he didn’t love himself. We love someone with whom we love ourselves — the person who reflects back to us the person we know we truly are. So, when someone cheats it’s usually because they no longer like who they are in the relationship. Lacking the courage (or will or ability — more on this later) to change the dynamics of the relationship, they go searching for someone who will make them feel better about themselves. It’s a band-aid.
2. Your partner cheated because she lacked the essential skills required to fix what was broken in the relationship. You don’t see a lot of marriage courses on the menu at the community college. And that’s a shame because many of us don’t know how to communicate, compromise, negotiate, reframe, restructure cognitions — all tools that are highly useful when a marriage goes off course. With help, though, these tools can be acquired and a relationship can be fundamentally changed.
So, when I hear a client say, “I can’t stay in this relationship,” my response is always the same: This relationship will no longer exist. With some hard work on the part of both parties, you will be in possession of a brand-spanking new relationship with a radically changed partner.
Note: Are there exceptions to this rule? Yes. Some people cheat as a cheap way to exit a relationship they never wanted to be in. In which case, thank them.
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