How to Fix a Relationship After Cheating

A relationship therapist shares her top tips on how to save your relationship after infidelity
on January 17, 2024
Read time: 10 mins

Trust is an important and essential part of any relationship, and when your partner does harmful and hurtful things to you — lie, cheat, have an affair, deceive — that trust is broken. But infidelity doesn’t always mean the relationship is doomed, and it is possible to fix a relationship after cheating. 

While it may take a lot of time, if you want to save your relationship, it’s important to embark on a healthy healing process. This applies to both the betrayed partner and the cheating partner because if someone cheats, it’s like going back to the beginning in terms of trust. So, how do you fix a relationship after cheating? Is it even possible? 

In my landmark study funded by the National Institutes of Health, which has followed more than 300 couples for over 30 years, I asked the happiest couples to name their most important relationship expectation. 

A whopping 92% of the men and 96% of the women answered: "You should feel that your partner would never hurt or deceive you." In other words, there has to be trust. So what should you do when one of you breaks that trust?

If both you and your partner want to take the necessary steps to heal from an affair — or learn how to save a relationship after lying in general — it can be done, but it takes a lot of work. 

Key Takeaways
  • Relationships can recover from cheating, but there is no quick fix. Both partners have to be willing to take the necessary steps to heal from the affair to move on and form a healthy relationship.
  • The question of staying with someone, or taking someone back, after they’ve been unfaithful can only be answered by the person themselves. The decision should be based on whether you can see a future together beyond the infidelity and should be impacted by other people’s decisions.
  • Repairing a relationship after infidelity takes time and requires a lot of work. It starts with rebuilding trust, investing time, and perhaps seeking help from a professional therapist to put you on the right path.

Can relationships recover from cheating?

Yes, a relationship can recover from cheating, under certain conditions. 

The most obvious thing that’s required is that both of you have to be willing to move on and work together as a team to save the relationship in the first place. If you have cheated, or been cheated on, the first step is deciding whether or not you want to work on the relationship or if you want to walk away. 

Mending a relationship after infidelity takes work, and often people seek professional help if they feel this healing process will be worth it in the long run.  

If both you and your partner want to take the necessary steps to heal from an affair — or learn how to save a relationship after lying in general — it can be done, but it will take time. At the start, it’s very difficult to see past the infidelity, as you’ve labeled your partner as a cheater… a label that tends to stick. 

However, if you’re willing to leave this in the past, and you’re ready to forgive your partner — it can work. 

Should you stay with someone who cheated on you?

This is a question that only you can answer. 

If your partner has cheated on you, it takes a long time to heal from the pain of that infidelity. It’s important to take a step back and assess the situation. While some people dive into the psychology of why people cheat, others look at their relationship as a whole, and what led things to this point. 

If your partner is begging for your forgiveness, it’s up to you whether you choose to believe in them, and if you think the relationship is worth saving. Since it’s difficult to find that outside perspective, it can also be helpful to seek relationship advice. For example, you can pursue individual or couples therapy, or you can turn to a family member or someone you trust. However, the final decision lies with you. 

You can either give it another go or give yourself the time to heal before pursuing a new relationship altogether. 

If you’re the unfaithful one, once you have come clean, you have to put the ball in your partner’s court. Think about how your partner feels, and try to give them the space they need to heal. 

How to repair a relationship after cheating

1. Commit to rebuilding trust

To save your relationship after cheating, the first thing you need to do is to work to rebuild or regain the trust in your partner. Trust can be rebuilt, but it takes a lot of work and commitment on both partners’ parts. You cannot rebuild trust in your relationship or partner alone.

The most important thing to remember is that this issue will not resolve itself in a few weeks or months, the rebuilding of trust takes a very long time. Also, you may be able to forgive your partner, but you will never forget what happened. Can you live with that? If you can, you can start the healing process from here. 

After something as serious as infidelity, trust issues will naturally haunt your relationship, as you have to rebuild a relationship with an unfaithful partner. If you’re the one who’s been unfaithful, earning back your partner’s trust can be a long road — but it’s the only way to make a relationship work. 

2. Invest time in your relationship

If you want to save a relationship after an affair, both partners have to be willing to invest time and emotional work in the romantic relationship. 

Are you both open to soul-searching, listening, and healing? Then, you and your partner, as a team, need to choose a specific period (maybe six weeks or six months) during which both of you commit to working on the relationship.

During this time, try to work on rebuilding your emotional intimacy by engaging in open and honest communication. Even though this quality time is intrinsic to your relationship’s survival, remember that it will take time for things to feel the same way again — so if your date nights aren’t quite what they were before, be patient. 

3. Apologize sincerely

To move on from the betrayal, your partner must give you a heartfelt and serious apology for their actions.

It can’t be flippant, or feel forced. You need to believe that your partner has made a mistake, and is willing to work on earning your forgiveness. 

 Whether you accept your partner’s apology may depend on whether this is a one-time behavior or whether this is a consistent pattern in your relationship. It goes without saying that if your partner continues to betray you, your chances of rebuilding trust decrease significantly!

4. Understand each other’s perspective

Do you have a sense of why your partner did the betrayal (lied/cheated/had an affair)? Does your partner understand how you feel and how this affected your relationship? For trust to be rebuilt, both partners must understand the other partner’s perspective and tackle the underlying issues head-on. 

You don’t have to agree with their reasons or motivations or agree with what you hear, but understanding goes both ways. In many cases, they might say they did it for a reason that you don’t understand. It’s easy to read into things and project the blame onto yourself, but this is not a strategy for success. 

While you may never understand their motives fully, it’s important to try and see where they are coming from (even if it’s tough), so that you can deal with the issues surrounding these choices. 

5. Resist self-blame

It is sometimes easy for the person who was betrayed to blame themselves. 

Your self-esteem and self-worth are not dependent on your partner’s behaviors and actions. Their infidelity is not your fault and never will be your fault. If your partner tries to point fingers or suggests that you were in any way a cause for their actions — this could be a sign that the relationship is not worth saving. 

You are not responsible for your significant other’s actions. You can be a part of the solution or work to change the relationship, but you are not the cause of the betrayal. No one deserves to be cheated on. Never forget that. 

6. Express anger constructively

Both partners must express their anger or frustration in healthy ways. While it can feel cathartic to scream, shout, and sob when you discover infidelity — this will not help with the letting go process in the long run. (Blasting them on social media is also never a good idea!) 

Studies show that journaling or writing a letter to your partner can be a helpful way to cope with excessive anger. Get it all out on a piece of paper, and then throw it away. Or, if you prefer to speak to someone, you can find solace in a friend or through couples counseling. 

7. Affirm positive qualities

Thinking beyond your grief and anger to what was positive will gradually help you to see the light at the end of the tunnel when trying to save your relationship after a betrayal. 

Why are you with this person in the first place? Both partners need to list each other’s positive qualities, and both partners need to discuss the good that brought them together. In these moments, it’s important not just to romanticize the early days of dating, but to look deeply into your partner’s character and find the qualities that make you want to stay. 

8. Seek assistance from a counselor or therapist

This situation can be difficult for anyone, regardless of how strong you are. 

When a relationship gets into a consistent pattern of hurt and anger, it can be tough to break the pattern. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to face this alone, as a therapist’s perspective and help can be very beneficial.

Finding the right marriage counselor for you can help you get back on track, as they will provide you with strategies to get you back on track for a healthy relationship. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does infidelity pain ever go away?

    While it may not feel like it in the moment, time heals everything, and you won’t feel like this forever. The pain of infidelity is gut-wrenchingly painful and can feel like the world is ending. Don’t expect to just ‘get over it’ or heal overnight, take the time for personal reflection, healing, and growth — and your scars will heal one day.
  • How do you stop loving someone who cheated on you?

    If you’ve decided that you can’t heal from infidelity, it’s okay to walk away. However, just because you’ve left the relationship behind — does not mean you magically stop loving someone! There are so many healing strategies out there, but you should never be ashamed of still loving someone who hurt you. With time, one day this love will blossom again in a new relationship, with someone who would never be unfaithful to you.
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