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Does Cheating Permanently Destroy a Relationship?

by Freddie Silver

Infidelity has been described as the ultimate betrayal. The pain generated can be overwhelming for the cheated-on partner who might feel as if the world has turned upside down. Some relationships cannot withstand the devastating effects of cheating, but others are able to survive. Rebuilding trust takes time and effort, but some couples are able to weather the storm and report a strengthening of their love and commitment to each other.

Understanding the Effects of Betrayal

It's important for both partners to acknowledge the impact of infidelity on the person who was cheated on. The sense of betrayal usually shakes the foundation of that partner's self-esteem. It often results in cheated-on partners doubting their attractiveness and losing faith in general. Once trust has been broken, they might begin to doubt everyone and everything around them. Some relationships may never heal because the emotional trauma is too great to overcome.

Accepting Responsibility

If both partners accept responsibility for the affair, there is greater likelihood the relationship can be salvaged, suggests psychologist Joshua Coleman in the article "Surviving Betrayal" for the Greater Good Science Center's website. He explains that cheated-on partners who are able to accept some responsibility for what may have led to the affair feel as if they have more control of the situation, making it easier to rebuild self-esteem and trust. For example, if a partner lost interest in sex or became distracted by career demands and withdrew emotionally from the relationship, the other partner's feelings of rejection and hurt might have led to seeking out someone new to fill the void. It can be empowering for the cheated-on partner to feel some responsibility for the affair instead of being a completely vulnerable, powerless victim. But it's essential that the guilty partner not assign blame and demonstrate willingness to accept any new rules or limits the other partner might impose. Recognize that the partner who was cheated on is justified in feelings of suspicion and the cheater's defensiveness is not warranted.

Assurances and Apologies

It's essential for the cheater to give assurances that the affair is definitely over. There is no possibility of healing a relationship when one of the partners holds onto doubts that the affair is still continuing. If the cheater sincerely apologizes, seems genuinely contrite and willingly answers all questions about the affair, the pain of betrayal can eventually heal. Apologizing frequently, promising to never repeat the betrayal and waiting patiently for forgiveness also can help.

Benefits of Professional Help

Seek professional counseling. The detrimental effects of lost trust and lowered self-esteem may require professional assistance to successfully overcome. Cheated-on partners are often haunted by imagined pictures of the cheater with another person. Professional counseling can help erase those upsetting images. It's important to keep in mind that even if the relationship cannot be saved, the partner who was cheated on can benefit from counseling that restores faith in the world and prepares for future healthy relationships.

Time and Patience

There are no quick fixes when trying to heal from betrayal. While it is possible to rebuild the relationship and make it better and stronger than it was, it takes time and patience. In her article "For the Betrayer: 8 Things You Must Know and Do to Rebuild Trust After an Affair" in "The Huffington Post," psychologist Sheri Meyers suggests the cheater must not expect to rebuild trust quickly. The victimized partner will require proof of the cheater's new commitment to the relationship and this can only be demonstrated over time. Expect some backsliding -- most relationships do not progress in a linear fashion. The partner who was cheated on might suddenly bring up the affair weeks or months after the cheater felt it was completely left behind. It's important for the cheater to show empathy and remain supportive. If both partners want to preserve the relationship, it can be done.

About the Author

Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.

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