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Can Relationships Work After Cheating?




Regardless of how inconceivable it might seem to cheat or to be cheated on, the harsh reality is that it unfortunately happens all the time. Sometimes, the truth never comes out, and the person who did the deed spends years saddled with a guilty conscience. Other times, it does come to light and wreaks absolute havoc on what may have seemed like a good relationship. If you're in the midst of figuring out how to handle infidelity, then you've probably asked yourself, Can relationships work after cheating?


The honest truth is that it really does depend on so many different variables. While many may disagree, I personally think that a lot of people are capable of cheating. It's more a matter of what circumstances have to be present for a specific individual to succumb to the temptation.


Some people may say they never dream of cheating, but fast forward six years where they feel stuck in a relationship with a person who is much different than the person they fell in love with, and their ever-present resolve to stay faithful may start to dwindle. That's certainly not to justify cheating in any way, as I do also believe that cheating is inherently selfish. Still, sometimes, cheating can come out of nowhere. And if it does, can a relationship make it through?


This might be controversial, but I don’t believe that there are any inherently good reasons to stay with a partner who cheated. Marriage, kids, just bought a house together? Doesn’t matter. When deciding whether to stay with a cheater, "you should look for absences of remorse, empathy, effort needed to repair the damage, or even an apology that feels sufficient," As a lack of remorse, empathy, or an apology "are all reason enough to part ways."


Personally, I have serious reservations about the integrity—in any context—of someone who cheats on a partner. It’s a big red flag that covers their entire personality.


Of course, the trick question is, "How do I know if the relationship is worth saving?" I find that most of my clients already know the answer before they come to my office. But we invest a lot in our relationships, and it's normal to want guidance on a decision as big as breaking up or staying with someone. Here's the catch: I'm not so direct—my job is to steer the conversation and help the couple decide whatever is best for them. But you're not my client, so here's my advice:


My first tip is to stop thinking about cheating in a black-and-white way and instead think of it as points on a spectrum, with flirting on one end and a full-blown, top-secret affair on the other.


Then, ask your partner these questions: Why did you cheat? How did you decide to tell me or keep it secret? Would you make a different choice going forward? Why or how? What has changed?

Although it might feel like a punch in the gut, try to understand exactly why and how the cheating happened. From there you can decide if it seems like it was a good person making a bad choice or a lost person likely to make a string of bad choices.


Then, ask your partner these questions: Why did you cheat? How did you decide to tell me or keep it secret? Would you make a different choice going forward? Why or how? What has changed?


Although it might feel like a punch in the gut, try to understand exactly why and how the cheating happened. From there you can decide if it seems like it was a good person making a bad choice or a lost person likely to make a string of bad choices. Truly understanding what happened is also the only way to build back trust—which you're going to need if you decide to stay.


Truly understanding what happened is also the only way to build back trust—which you're going to need if you decide to stay.

Next, you have to ask yourself if this is something you can move past. That doesn't mean you have to forgive your partner or stop being angry. But it does mean you can't start treating him or her like crap as payback, because that's cutting off your nose to spite your face. It's not comfortable to be in a relationship where you're fighting all the time, regardless of whose "fault" it is.


Moving forward also means taking a hard look at your relationship and, instead of blaming your partner, being willing to work on aspects that aren't so great. For some couples, cheating actually brings to the surface issues in the relationship that had been swept under the rug. So it's possible to build a stronger and better relationship after someone has cheated. Yup, I said it.


If, after talking to your partner and being super honest with yourself, you decide to stay together, the next hurdle is telling any friends and family who know about the cheating. (If you didn't tell anyone, great—but you might want to see a therapist to sort out any lingering feelings so they don't set you off later.) This is where shame often kicks in—because we're told that strong people don't put up with cheating, it can be embarrassing to tell loved ones that you're sticking with it. But you know what, find strength in the fact that you're able to trust your own judgment and able to make a decision that is right for you. There is no shame in that.


Your friends and family might be protective of you when you broach the subject—and that's normal. The best thing you can do is be up front: Tell them you've decided to give the relationship another chance and communicate what sort of support you need. Ask them to listen with a nonjudgmental ear and focus on being there for you rather than tearing down your partner. Remember: Their reaction comes from a place of love (they don't want to see you hurt), so address their concerns in a nondefensive way by assuring them you've put a lot of thought into your decision, and now you need them to be there for you.


Relationships are complicated, and the best relationship decisions are ones that account for those complexities. The truly empowered decision to make—in any situation—is not the "should" but the one that actually feels right.

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2020 by Talan Channon Light