As a couples therapist, one of the most common issues that couples bring to me is how to repair their relationship after an affair.
Having helped many clients over the years, I've seen how a pattern can easily develop after a person has cheated on their partner. I’m going to call our example couple, Alex and Sam
Alex has had an affair. Alex constantly apologises for the affair and promises NEVER to stray again
Sam is devastated, and constantly questions Alex to find out all the details: places, times, what was said and what happened. No matter how many questions Alex answers, Sam persists with more questions.
Alex, already wracked with guilt, finds it painful to keep answering Sam’s questions because it just causes even more guilt and self-criticism.
Along with this, Alex has learned a great lesson from this experience and is determined never to make the same mistake again. Yet, no matter how much Alex explains this to Sam, Sam, continues on wanting to know more and more details.
Alex is now thinking "I know I won’t do this again, so why can’t Sam believe me ?"
Sam is thinking, "I never thought Alex would do this – how can I know for sure it won’t happen again?"
They’ve reached a stalemate – they can’t move forward in their relationship
Does this sound familiar to you or perhaps about a couple you know?
Can a relationship go back to normal after cheating?
Why is it that Sam cannot move on, despite Alex’s repeated demonstrations of love and assurances?
If one person in a relationship has had an affair, no amount of reassurances that they won’t do it again is going to give the betrayed person the trust they need. The person who has cheated could state a million times that:
How can I trust them, after they've had an affair?
But the betrayed partner will never be able to fully trust these words.
In order to regain trust, the couple needs to clearly understand why the affair happened in the first place. People don’t have affairs if their relationship is strong and happy – they stray for a reason. It could be any number of reasons, and until they work out what was causing the problem, they will not be able to move forward.
You see, when a couple understands what was going wrong in their relationship, they can work out ways to fix that, and to make sure that problem doesn’t crop up again. The person who had the affair will feel stronger and more self-aware. The betrayed partner will know that the reason for the affair has been fixed - thus it's hardly likely to happen again
As a couple, they will have taken full control of the situation - they've worked on their relationship and gained a much deeper understanding.
Moving on after an affair
Often a couple will ask me to help them get their relationship back to where it once was.
My answer to that is always no!
That's because I help couples find an even better relationship. A relationship that’s based on deeper understanding, great communication and more secure than it's ever been.
Marléne Rose Shaw - therapist, coach and self-help author.
Over 25 years helping people have happier relationships.