Rebuilding trust after infidelity isn’t an easy process, but it is doable.
Many people think it’s impossible to trust someone who cheated, and if this is their final decision, it must be respected. However, even though infidelity is a deal-breaker for many couples, it’s also possible to regain trust after cheating and nurture the relationship back to a happy and trusting place.
Once again, just because it’s possible, doesn’t make affair recovery a simple process. Recovering from this breach of trust and restoring a healthy relationship, could be one of the most difficult hurdles you face as a couple.
While there are many aspects to the recovery process, learning how to rebuild trust in the relationship is a key aspect to success — as, without it, you will never be able to fully heal from your partner’s actions.
Trust is one of the pillars of a successful, healthy relationship, as it provides the foundation from which the couple can thrive.
Research shows that rebuilding trust is one of the fundamental aspects of recovering from infidelity. That being said, recovering from infidelity and learning how to trust your partner again is no easy task.
“Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to trust someone again after they have cheated on you,” says Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick, a licensed psychotherapist. “Not all relationships can repair after infidelity, but there are many that do.”
“It’s important to keep in mind that cheating can come in a variety of different forms and that the impact of infidelity varies for each individual,” she adds. “Cheating also happens for a plethora of different reasons; thus, infidelity is not as clear-cut as society tries to make it.”
According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Sex Research, there are different reasons why people cheat in long-term relationships. While we’re quick to brand someone as a cheater and move on, it’s important to consider why they strayed in the first place. Sometimes a partner is unfaithful because they’ve “fallen out of love” or they’re looking for a way to end the relationship. Other times, people cheat because they crave validation, sexual variety, or because their needs aren’t being met.
When you’re the betrayed partner, these reasonings can do little to ease the pain of infidelity. However, if you’re embarking on the journey of forgiveness, it’s important to consider your partner’s feelings and try to see their perspective (even though it’s tough!)
If you have been cheated on, it’s almost impossible to escape without trust issues, as it suddenly seems very plausible that this could happen again.
While it’s helpful to try and understand the reasonings behind the infidelity, it’s equally important for the unfaithful partner to take full responsibility for their actions. No excuses.
From here, the couple has a chance to embark on a journey of healing together, without any “ifs” or “buts”.
“The intentional efforts that are put into rebuilding trust are what is most important to this process,” says Dr. Fedrick. “If both people are committed to repairing the relationship and rebuilding trust, it’s possible to trust someone again and regain a happy and fulfilling relationship.”
Since this is such an undertaking, couples should consider seeking professional help, so that they can have a shot at fully restoring trust in their relationship.
“Sometimes that means couples counseling, other times one or both partners need some individual counseling to be able to process the individual emotions first so that when they are in couples counseling, they can share from a more productive place,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.
“The key is to remember there is no one-size-fits-all healing approach here. It can all feel very overwhelming to dive into with your partner. Still, one thing that tends to anchor partners in committing to do this work together, is knowing that you can come out on the other side of this healing with a much stronger relationship than what you had before the betrayal happened.”
While it may be possible, how do you regain trust after cheating?
Well, if you were looking for a quick fix, you won’t find one here. Restoring trust is a long road, as you have to allow all your underlying issues to come to the surface, to achieve the clean slate you’re looking for.
“The key thing when rebuilding trust in a relationship after one partner cheats is for the partner who broke trust to acknowledge and take ownership of their behaviors and the impact of these behaviors on their partner,” says Dr. Fedrick.
“It’s also imperative for them to identify ways to rectify this situation, including ensuring that their words and actions align and that they are consistent in demonstrating trustworthiness.”
According to Dr. John Gottman, founder of the Gottman Method, rebuilding trust is more about actions than a belief. If you’ve betrayed your partner, you have to show them that you deserve to be trusted again. In simple terms, when it comes to trust, actions speak louder than words.
A key aspect of this process is centered on open, honest, and vulnerable discussions between partners about the ways they intend to repair the relationship. Due to the emotional pain and emotion that accompanies infidelity, it can be a big ask to approach these conversations in a healthy way. Since this is such an undertaking, couples should consider seeking professional help to facilitate these conversations.
“Finally, it’s crucial for the couple to be patient with the healing and restoration process, and to allow time and space for repairing their relationship and rebuilding trust,” says Dr. Fedrick.
Rebuilding trust won’t happen overnight, and while couples counseling can help, achieving a healthier, happier relationship is something that will be worth the wait.
After you’ve resolved to work on the relationship after an affair, it’s time to kickstart a recovery process that is suited both to you and your significant other.
While it’s not a straightforward route from infidelity to recovery, we’ve outlined some steps that you can take (whether you’re the betrayed partner or not) to get you started on the right track.
Identify and take ownership of the behaviors that resulted in breaking trust. Swallow your pride be prepared to take full responsibility, and try and refrain from making any excuses.
Show awareness and accountability in how your actions impacted your partner. Try and understand how your actions made your partner feel, and try and put yourself in their shoes.
Engage in transparent communication about the situation, what led to it, and what will be done differently moving forward.
Don’t get defensive or irritated when your partner asks follow-up questions or asks for clarification on the situation or your behaviors. These questions are an important part of the process and ensure that additional details don’t emerge later on, that will hinder your progress all over again.
Actions speak louder than words. Ensure that moving forward, your actions consistently align with your words. Opting for transparency can help your partner overcome their insecurities, and try to calm their fears before they even have the chance to emerge.
Don’t be pushy with your partner’s healing process. Allow both yourself and your partner time and space to work through the feelings associated with this situation without trying to force repair to take place.
Be patient with your partner when they are feeling triggered or insecure during the healing process. Rebuilding trust takes time, and remember that healing isn’t linear.
Recognize that rebuilding trust doesn’t require a violation of your boundaries. While transparency is optimum, you should still be allowed to retain your privacy, and shouldn’t feel compelled to make yourself feel uncomfortable to prove yourself to your partner.
Don’t forget about physical intimacy. It may feel like the elephant in the room, but partners need to find a way to connect both emotionally and physically during the healing process. Don’t pressure your partner, but try to have an open discussion about where you stand in terms of your physical connection.
Seek help from a mental health professional to assist you in working through this situation if needed, as well as to address potential reasons for the infidelity. Couples therapy can be incredibly beneficial when navigating these difficult conversations, and give you the space to express your feelings in a safe environment.
Validate your feelings and recognize that you have the right to your emotions. Regardless of what led to this situation, it’s appropriate to feel hurt when you’ve been cheated on, and never be told that you’re overreacting.
Engage in transparent conversation about how this situation impacted you, as well as how it’s influencing your views and feelings about your partner and your future together.
Take some space away from your partner to get your thoughts in order. This will help you to fully understand your emotions, and get a clear head to think through your next steps.
Lean on your trusted family and friends during this time. If you’re thinking about forgiving your partner, it can feel like the wrong move to tell your friends about their infidelity. Remember that you need support during this time, and ultimately, your loved ones will respect your decision.
Work hard not to berate, shame, or belittle your partner throughout the process of healing, as this will lead to further rupture in your relationship. You’re allowed to express your feelings, but it’s important to remain aware of how you’re doing so.
Understand that there is no timeline for your healing and the repair process — there’s no need to rush this process or force forgiveness by a certain time.
Be aware of engaging in controlling behaviors, as this will not be conducive to healing a relationship and will not help you rebuild trust any quicker. While your insecurities might push you to act in a certain way, remember that toxic behaviors are not useful during this period.
Recognize that your partner is not required to violate their boundaries, including providing you with passwords, etc. to rebuild trust. If you’ve decided to move on from their mistake, you have to be able to take them at their word. Opt for transparency rather than these more extreme measures.
Take time to process this situation and determine if it is in your best interest to move forward with this relationship. There’s no right or wrong decision — this choice must be made based on what is best for your mental health and well-being.
Seek help from a mental health professional to assist you in working through this situation if needed, as well as to address how to best move forward in or out of this relationship.
Like with so many things in relationships, there are no set timelines. Everyone heals differently, and there is no ‘goal’ timeframe for rebuilding trust.
“There is no timeline on how long it will take to trust a partner again after they’ve been unfaithful,” says Dr. Fedrick.
“The repair process is unique for everyone, as well as for each couple. Attempting to put a timeline on this healing process ultimately proves to be more damaging than beneficial because it puts unnecessary pressure and expectations on a very unique and subjective experience.”
Rather than focusing on how long it will take to trust your partner again, it’s more productive to focus on giving yourself time and patience to grieve the betrayal.
“If this process seems to be taking longer than you or your partner can tolerate, it’s worth discussing how to move forward with this relationship and if there is potential that repair isn’t possible,” she adds.
“Allowing as much time and space needed for this process is the only way to work towards an effective rebuilding of trust.”
While there are effective strategies for rebuilding trust, it’s also okay to admit that you’re not able to move forward as a couple. This is not to be viewed as a failure or as a weakness, but as a choice that puts your health and well-being first.