Relationship after cheating

Infidelity is unfortunately a common issue faced by countless couples in a relationship.

But since no person or relationship is exactly the same, cheating is a nuanced issue.

Sure, it might be easy to just call all cheaters garbage and wash your hands of anyone who dares be unfaithful to you. It might even be the right call.

But how do you know if your relationship is actually worth fighting for after an affair? The public declaration of love between Dominic West and his wife Catherine FitzGerald in the wake of those pics of Dominic with Lily James has us wondering: can a couple who’s gone through infidelity ever truly be happy again?

Counselling Directory member Dr Daniela Hecht tells us that, while discovering a partner’s infidelity is ‘probably one of the most painful experiences you go through in a relationship’, there are questions you should ask yourself before you throw in the towel.

She says: ‘Before you call it quits, it might be helpful to look a bit further into your shared past and your relationship thus far.

‘Have you noticed anything different lately? Has either one of you changed, becoming less involved in each other’s lives?

‘Has there been pressure on one or both of you, and how has your communication been? Has your relationship suffered in any way?

‘How did you feel towards your partner before you found out and now? How do they feel towards you?

‘What has been their reasoning for cheating? What did it mean for them – was it a fling, only physical, or something meaningful?

‘And finally, would you like to make it work again and, does your partner?

‘Of course it makes sense that you feel betrayed, angry, devastated and hurt, but trying to answer those questions might help you to make a decision that doesn’t feel impulsive or reactive. On top of that, it may help you to look further into your relationship if you decide to work it out and explore how you would like to be as a couple in the future.’

Briony Leo, PHD, head coach at relationship coaching and self-care app Relish, tells us: ‘Some things to consider might be whether this is a pattern of behavior (ie. have they been hiding things from you and not forthcoming about other things), whether they have broken off contact with the person or are continuing to have them in their lives (even if they are no longer involved, this may represent a lack of respect or awareness of your concerns), and whether you can imagine a future with them (as perhaps a relationship that was not fulfilling or happy may not quite be worth fighting for and repairing).

‘It is useful to also to reflect on whether the “pros” outweigh the “cons” in the relationship – whether you may be able to move past this, or whether you get a sense that this is something that is going to define your relationship and impact you significantly in years to come.

‘It can be useful to have couples therapy or coaching after an event like this to help both people to process what has happened and what this means for them.’

Meanwhile, Jessica Leoni, sex and relationship expert at the affairs dating site IllicitEncounters, says that sometimes your gut instinct is the right one.

She tells us: ‘I am a big fan of using gut instinct to determine your future choices when you discover your partner has cheated.

‘Dominic West’s wife Catherine Fitzgerald will have been devastated when she saw the pictures of him getting intimate with Lily James in Rome.

‘But even before hearing his explanation for what happened, she will have known in her heart what she wanted to do and whether the relationship was worth salvaging.’

It’s worth assessing whether the relationship was already dead, with cheating just the final nail in the coffin.

‘We all know when a relationship has run its course and we are both going through the motions and are a little bored of each other,’ says Jessica. ‘That is the usual scenario when some errant behaviour happens.

‘The signs when a relationship is dead are equally obvious. Frankly, you don’t really care if they are cheating. They have done you a favour in bringing things to a head and initiating a split by their betrayal.

‘The clearest sign that a relationship has died is if you stop having sex. The majority of splits start with a cessation of physical intimacy. This impacts all aspects of your lives together.

‘Couples who don’t have sex don’t tend to talk either. They become like strangers passing in the night and stay together for the sake of convenience.’

Instinct aside, Dr Daniela highlights some red flags to keep in mind when deciding whether to give your partner another chance, telling us: ‘There are warning signs that giving your relationship another go is not a good idea.
‘Your partner might not be remorseful or worse gaslight you into believing it was your fault.’

‘They may not be truthful or forthcoming once you find out or worse, this isn’t the first time they cheated.’

Rebuilding trust will be hugely important, but you have to work out if this is someone who deserves to be trusted.

Jessica says: ‘You should be ever-alert to changes in behaviour when deciding whether or not to trust your partner again.

‘You will know their regular routine and, if they divert from that markedly, the chances are they are up to no good.

‘The biggest red flag should be your gut feeling and how you view the future with the cheat no longer in your life. If that fills you with horror and you genuinely feel that their cheating was a one-off or a mistake, then, yes, give them another chance.’

The way a cheater reacts to being found out can reveal a lot.

‘You need to listen to your partner and gauge whether they are genuinely contrite,’ says Jessica. ‘You also need to look at their past behaviour and make a considered judgement on whether you can really trust them going forward.’

‘Another big flag to me,’ she continues: ‘Is if the infidelity is early on in the relationship and whether it is sustained cheating with the same person or just a one-off – a drunken fling at a stag or hen do for example. I would be much more forgiving of a one-off than a more intimate affair.

‘The bottom line is this: if your partner cheats in the first year you are together, get the hell out, because it is indicative of a pattern that will be repeated, however hard you try to stop it.’

As for green flags – aka the opposite of red flags – Jessica says the major things to look for are transparency and ‘genuine contrition’, adding: ‘Do you believe them when they say they are sorry? Do you really think they won’t cheat again?

‘Have they shown evidence that they have broken off their affair with their lover? If you really feel they can turn over a new leaf, then give them another chance.

‘Finding love is tricky and it can be tough to walk out on someone you really love – as Catherine FitzGerald is showing.’

It’s all very well and good deciding to give your partner another chance, but rebuilding trust is easier said than done.

Dr Daniela says that broken trust is difficult to repair, but not impossible.

She says: ‘If you are the partner who has been betrayed it might help you to feel that your partner is truly remorseful and regrets their actions.

‘Although you may not want to hear it, it may help to try and understand why your partner has cheated in the first place. Depending on what the reason is it might become easier to regain trust.

‘It may also help you to tell your partner how you feel, what it meant for you to find out that they cheated and what it felt like. If you need space to process then ask for it. If your partner wants to be with you then tell them what you need to allow you to trust them again.

‘Trying to repair a relationship after a betrayal is hard, so both of you need to be committed to wanting to make it work and should agree on why you want to make it work, together. Hear each other and help each other heal, find your way back to each other and commit yourselves to your relationship.

‘Once you agree to give your partner another chance you will have to find a way to forgive, for both of you and move on towards a healthy, nurturing and fulfilling relationship.’

After infidelity, a relationship cannot just continue with nothing changing. Cheating should be a wake-up call – either to realise the relationship isn’t working and leave, or to make some changes.

Jessica says you can give your relationship its best chance of succeeding post-affair ‘by not behaving as you were before,’ adding: ‘There was a very good reason why there was cheating: one of you wasn’t happy. So change things. Make more time for each other.

‘Allocate some time together when you can make love without interruption and do all the things that made you fall in love with each other in the first place.’

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