One of the most heart-breaking experiences someone can go through is to find that a partner has been cheating in the relationship. The emotional consequences can range from immediate rage and despair to a depression lasting for several years. Impossible though it may sound, even after such an experience, it is possible to pick up the pieces of one’s life and even forgive the erring partner.
Allow yourself to get upset
Take your time to fully mourn the loss of trust that you have experienced in your love life. Every serious relationship involves huge amounts of investment in terms of time, effort and emotions and when you find that you have been cheated upon, it can seem to take away the ground beneath your feet. The primary emotions are that of anger, despair, abandonment and helplessness. Cry if you feel like and get as miserable as possible. The grieving process is important if you are to move on the next stage of healing and eventually forgiving your partner.
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Think before you speak
In the aftermath of the affair, you and your partner are bound to have a discussion over what happened and why. By all means ask questions but ensure that they relate to why the affair happened. Instead of coming up with a question like “was he/she better than me in bed” – which can never have any ‘right’ answer – ask what your partner felt was going on in your relationship to warrant an affair. Also avoid lashing out at your partner and their lover; while your partner is admitting to the cheating and saying sorry, it may seem tempting to hurl an insult or make a sarcastic remark but in hindsight you will be relieved that you did not lose your temper and say things that you would have regretted later. At the same time, don’t give in to self-blame. Always keep in mind that though there may have been things troubling your relationship, you did not cause the affair to happen. Difficult though these steps may seem at the time, all these are important if you wish to move ahead to forgiving your partner.
Put in some distance
If you have borne the brunt of the infidelity, it is only natural for you to feel pain, anger and resentment. You may even fantasize about making your partner jealous by hanging out with someone else or confronting the other man/woman. Individuals have been known to get drunk and make late night calls to a cheating former partner. In order to eliminate any chances of such foolish behavior and handle the situation in a mature way, bring in some distance between you and your partner, at least for a while. If it is practical or if your partner has turned out to be a serial cheater, go in for separate living arrangements. Don’t part with phrases like “We can still be friends” or “You can always count on me” which will hold out the possibility of reconciliation at the very outset. Rather explain to him/her that perhaps later when you are ready, you both can get back in touch but not now. However if this seems too extreme a step or if your partner has cheated on you for the first time, put in some space between you both, even as you share a household. The idea is to give you some emotional and physical space to think over what happened and take a well-considered decision about the future.
Decide what you want
Use the cooling-off time to consider the future of your relationship. Do you wish to forgive your partner and move on to a life without him/her or do you wish to forgive in order to give your relationship a second chance. Before you decide any course, think calmly and carefully about your motives for doing so. Is it because you still love your partner and honestly wish to set right whatever may have gone wrong that you wish to forgive him/her or is your aversion to a clean breakup motivated by a misplaced sense of hurt pride and deflated ego? If you are married, do you wish to forgive a cheating spouse merely in order to avoid the financial and emotional impact of a divorce? If your spouse has been cheating on you, you have solid grounds for divorce and even the law may be on his side. However, if estranged couples are able to recommit themselves, broken relationships can still be repaired, even those damaged by infidelity. The only people who can determine whether a broken union can be saved are the partners themselves and this can start only when they are honest about their feelings and motives.
Think about what went wrong
Once you decided to forgive your partner and give your relationship another chance, think about what went wrong which led your partner to cheat on you. Did you both fight over finances, sex or in-laws? Was it neglect for his feelings and interests? Or perhaps there was an insistence on her becoming someone she didn't want to be? Indeed it may even be possible that you still loved her but were unable to express your emotions in a way that your partner expected from you. Marital therapists and relationship experts believe that long before the actual act of adultery or walking out on a partner, the fault lines begin to appear in the relationship which are only too often ignored or go unrecognized. They usually start as one spouse begins to devalue the other and their lives together. It is a subtle thing at first, often occurring without either partner being aware of the cracks. But as time passes, one individual begins to feel trapped in a relationship with someone he or she no longer respects. If things have come to such a pass that your partner has been drawn into an affair, it is time to seriously introspect about underlying issues and what you both can do to make things right.
Take steps in the right direction
Even if you are the partner whose trust has been abused, it is equally necessary to move towards rebuilding trust if you wish to give your relationship another chance. No two people are perfect and every relationship has its weak spots. If it was a physical disconnect with your partner that drove him/her to an affair, see how you can renew the spark of romantic interest in each other. If on the other hand it was the result of increasingly differing priorities, examine what are the common rallying points in your relationship and put them first. This could be an obvious one like providing a stable home for your kids or one that is based upon shared lifestyle, interest and values. This is a conversation that the two of you should have had much before which may have then prevented your partner from seeking comfort elsewhere. But better late than never.
Above all, stop replaying the infidelity scenario if you really want to stay together. Bringing up the past repeatedly even as you and your partner are trying to make things work will adversely affect your health and your relationship. On the other hand, forgiveness will unburden you. Instead of “trying to forget,” forgive and remember to reveal honest upsets when they arise. Accept the past but move beyond it and build on the positive things that you and your partner have now.
Make a clean break
On the other hand if you would like to forgive your cheating partner in order to be able to move on, your best chances lie in making a clean break. Start with getting rid of all the visible signs of the failed relationship. Put away photos, letters, personal stuff and anything that belongs to your former partner or reminds you of them. You may not, as yet, have the emotional strength to send back your engagement ring or throw away your ex’s perfume but ensure that they are out of your sight. Put everything in boxes and either have them delivered to your ex’s place or keep them in the attic/basement to do so when you are ready. If nothing else, the act of cleaning up can at least keep you occupied for a while and perhaps even bring about a sense of closure.
At the same time, make it clear to your partner that though you have forgiven him/her for what he/she did to you, that part of your life is over and done with - that you don’t want to receive text messages, phone calls or emails from him/her. If any contact is entirely essential, let it be through a lawyer or a trusted friend.
Take professional help
If you cannot seem to forgive your partner for his/her infidelity or get rid of hateful thoughts about your ex even after a while post-breakup, it would be a good idea to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor will be able to help you cope with feelings of hurt, anger and betrayal that you may have been unable to do on your own.
More than the actual act of infidelity, it is the all-pervasive atmosphere of deception which is most distressing for a partner who has been betrayed. The first step out of this mess is a return to honesty followed by a mutual commitment to put things together. This is because if two people are determined not to let infidelity push them apart, then it can only bring them closer.