Surviving Infidelity

Woman struggling with the painful question, “Can I survive infidelity?”

Surviving infidelity requires that you make it though the emotional pain and rebuild trust.

The dagger of infidelity cuts deeply and scars in layers. It shreds your trust, hopes and dreams. It changes everything.

“Can I survive infidelity?” you may ask. If you are on the receiving end of your partner’s unfaithfulness, you probably feel as if you have been dealt a death blow. In one careless moment he or she has wiped out your marriage and ruined your life...forever.

If you are the unfaithful partner, you may be feeling an equal gravity, but for different reasons. “Can I survive infidelity?” may be a question more akin to “What have I done? And how do I get back what may be lost forever?”

Infidelity, without question, comes with heavy consequences. It can hit your life with the unexpected force of a tornado, and render equally disastrous effects.

A tornado doesn’t survey its target area before wiping it out. It doesn’t seek out victims based on income, home size or marital bliss. And, while infidelity certainly isn’t a random act of nature, it is equally non-partisan in its demographics.

Think infidelity is limited to unhappy marriages? Convinced you can see it coming for some and assume safety from it for others? You may be surprised to know that, while some marriages may be primed for cheating, infidelity happens even in the best of marriages. And it happens for many reasons, not the least of which are opportunity and context.

Feeling gut-punched by an unexpected devastation can literally take your breath away. And because breathing is essential to life, it is natural to wonder, “Can I survive infidelity?” as you struggle for every breath.

The question isn’t so much about physical survival as it is about emotional survival.

Cheating can ravage both partners with feelings for which they are unprepared. Anger, rage, hurt, disappointment, fear, guilt, shame, embarrassment, jealousy, mistrust, denial, blame -- they can come in by the busload and set up camp in your life. And yes, as with any form of stress, they can lead to physical effects, as well.

While your first reaction may be “we’re over,” it is not a given that your relationship has to die. “Can I survive infidelity?” isn’t a solicitation for a prognosis, it’s a reflection that beckons a choice.

There are certainly relationships that need to end. Abusive environments and serial cheating are both examples of circumstances that are beyond the scope of this discussion.

First and foremost -- impossible as it may seem in the early stages of learning about an infidelity -- do not make any major decisions about the relationship while it is in crisis mode. Reason cannot function while stewing in a cauldron of rage and pain.

No matter what the final decision is going to be, you will need all your wits about you. And, in fairness to both of you and to any children you may have, you will need to reach a phase where you can communicate clearly.

It is natural to be obsessed with the details of the affair in the beginning. But if your marriage -- and your emotional survival -- stands a chance, you will both have to commit to an insightful exploration of your relationship.

People cheat for many reasons. Good people cheat on good marriages, and for reasons they may not even understand. Some have fallen out of love and have lost their sense of deep connection to their partners. Some may use cheating as a justification to end the relationship.

More often than not, cheating is a catalyst for conversation. A person who has been attempting to communicate something difficult and feels unheard or disregarded may turn elsewhere for validation. And the rest becomes a painful history.

The need to be heard and the ability to truly listen are so vital to intimacy and relational success that ignoring their importance can be the seed of a relationship’s downfall.

Repairing and healing your marriage after infidelity requires a full commitment from both partners. It starts with a choice to save, restore and revitalize what has been damaged, but which doesn’t have to be lost.

Just as with communities that rebuild from the rubble left after a natural disaster, saving a marriage damaged by infidelity is a choice to see what is both salvageable and worth saving.

Repairing your marriage requires tremendous patience, as well as ongoing discussions of ways to remedy the marriage. While you are both working on a common goal, your roles may seem to be polar opposites. The roles you will need to do away with, however, are those of victim and villain. The road will be bumpy, so expect the awkwardness and discomfort as you rebuild.

If you are the partner who strayed, you will have to be a safe place for your partner to voice her/his anger and hurt. It will not be enough to simply apologize for “all the hurt” and expect that to be enough.

You will need to apologize daily, then weekly, then monthly. You will need to listen with a courageous heart, knowing that you may rarely like what you hear. You will also have to be humble and transparent in an effort to regain trust by earning it.

It won’t be comfortable handing over your passwords and text messages to your offended spouse. You may feel punished and belittled for having to account for every little move. But hold onto the the idea that you are re-earning the trust of a beloved whose trust you have shattered. And keep in mind that your partner will be spending her/his days wondering, “Do I have reason not to trust my spouse today?”

"Can I survive infidelity?” The answer is an unequivocal, hard-earned “yes.” If you realize that you have something worth saving, and both of you are willing to do the work, you can get through this. You can even come through with a stronger marriage than you had before.

Three steps will be essential to the process:

  1. Rebuilding trust. This requires the expression of true remorse on one side and forgiveness on the other.
  2. Building honesty and transparency into the relationship and committing to talk about all the difficult stuff.
  3. Patience.

With the help of a professional who specializes in infidelity issues, you can get through this. One partner will have to provide a safe place for the broken-hearted spouse to land. And the other will have to give the unfaithful partner a chance.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people make it through their divorce journey and create a happy post-divorce life. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

Looking for more information about the repercussions of cheating? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.

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