If you are looking to rebuild your relationship after someone has strayed, there are a few strategies that can help with the process. We asked Iona Monk, a registered clinical counsellor, couples therapist and founder of Vancouver Couples Counselling, for some expert insight into what couples can do to work through and move past infidelity.
1. Understand that a break in trust doesn't necessarily mean it's over
When someone cheats, it creates a huge breach of trust in the relationship. The partner who has been cheated on can feel a sense of betrayal so strong it can make moving past infidelity seem insurmountable. But repairing your relationship is possible. "I've seen it happen many times. Not just survive, but thrive," Monk says.
However, she also notes that the likelihood a couple will be able to make it work depends on several factors, such as how well the couple communicates, the length of the affair and the depth of emotion involved. Both parties need to have a strong desire for the relationship to survive, and be committed to therapy if necessary.
2. Talk about what happened
It's extremely important to keep the lines of communication open following infidelity. The partner who has been cheated on usually has a lot of questions and wants to know the details of the affair. Although hearing about it can be extremely painful, that person needs to know all of the details, or at least the motivation behind the infidelity, in order to fully process what has happened, Monk explains.
"It is necessary for the partner who cheated to be cooperative, patient and understanding during this process, even if they are feeling frustrated with the repetition and explanations," she says. Getting everything out in the open is the only way to move forward. "It is imperative that there are no more secrets and no more lies. As long as no information is held back, there is a chance to move past infidelity," says the therapist.
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3. Work on rebuilding trust
One of the most difficult parts of recovering from a partner's unfaithfulness is restoring trust once it has been lost. Even after a couple has made the commitment to work through infidelity, there is often lingering concern about whether the person who strayed will do so again.
Monk advises that couples seek counselling, which can help the process of rebuilding the trust that has been so badly breached. Otherwise, start small. "At home, you can start by giving your partner small tasks in order to rebuild trust," she suggests. "Tell them what you need. Be clear and specific. Focus on the future."
4. Decide if the relationship can be saved
In order to salvage the relationship, the couple has to have the courage to acknowledge their issues and talk about them openly and honestly, Monk says. But there are several red flags that may make it difficult or even impossible for a couple to reconcile.
"If the offending partner won't take responsibility for the affair and own it, that's a red flag," she explains. "Also, if that person refuses to talk to their partner about the affair to the extent that is needed, that's not a good sign." Factor in these issues when deciding whether or not you want to work toward repairing your relationship.
5. Know that infidelity can be a relationship wake-up call
Cheating usually doesn't occur out of nowhere, so it's important to look at the incident within the holistic context of the relationship, Monk explains. "Chances are the infidelity happened as a result of your relationship being unsatisfying in some way," she says. Working through infidelity is a good opportunity to improve your relationship and strengthen the areas that weren't working.
Rebuilding your relationship after an affair is possible. The key is to work as a team and keep talking. "Don't just talk about the affair, talk also to your partner about how to improve your relationship and the emotional connection between the two of you," Monk says. A commitment to keeping the lines of communication open will help you grow as a couple.
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