Written by Writer’s Corps member Amanda Phillips
If I walked around downtown in any city and polled 100 people on the street about the most essential ingredients of a healthy relationship, I’m willing to bet that the word “trust” would come up.
But what happens when trust is broken? That can happen in all sorts of minor ways, but can a relationship thrive again after something as trust-altering as infidelity?
I sat down with a friend of mine, Rose Richardson, to find out. Rose is a Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in Charlotte, North Carolina who has helped countless couples deal with the aftermath of an affair and – that infidelity isn’t always what we think.
Why Cheating Happens
According to Rose, the most overwhelming cause of infidelity isn’t lack of attraction – it’s lack of emotional connection. “I’ll have clients walk in whose partners have cheated on them, asking initial questions like, ‘Did that happen because I’m too ugly?’ – and while changing attraction can be a factor, most of the time the cause isn’t physical or even circumstantial – it’s deeper than that.”
This is where Rose enters in as a therapist and explains that work to heal within a relationship that has been touched by infidelity can be massive, but it is not impossible.
For the partner who had the affair, there is work to do regarding lack of connection or communication – “most of the time, they’ve had some need that hasn’t been met by their partner, and when we dig deeper, that’s usually because they haven’t felt secure enough or known how to express that need. For the other partner, it’s a matter of attachment and security.
Four Things Experts Wish Everyone Knew About Infidelity:
- Forgiveness doesn’t have to be instant. A lot of people want a magic and instant fix, but rebuilding trust takes a lot of work. This can be frustrating for the partner who cheated, but forgiveness that is authentic is much more important than forgiveness that is quick, which can cause even more problems down the road.
- Rebuilding trust is about the intentions of both partners – are both parties open to working through what happened, or is one going to hold a grudge? For true and authentic healing, this process has to be a two-way street. This takes different amounts of patience and grace from person to person and couple to couple, and that’s perfectly fine.
- The damage is not always easy to fix, and results aren’t always perfect – we all have things we struggle to let go of, and some things violate individual moral codes. It takes time to figure that out sometimes, and rather than deciding that working past infidelity is impossible, joining with a therapist can give just the right amount of guidance to make sure both partners feel heard and are motivated to deal with what happened.
- Communication skills seem simple, but they’re not –active listening is crucial. Active listening is a form of communication where one partner listens, considers and responds to what the other actually says, rather than coming in with responses at the ready. It’s up to one partner to express “I feel X when you Y, because…” and the other partner’s job is to listen and not jump to a conclusion or into defensiveness. It requires a lot of grace, and there’s no shame in needing help or an objective person to help you learn how to be better at it.
After talking with Rose, I do stand firmly in the camp that it’s possible to heal and trust after infidelity. Difficult? Absolutely. Worth the work? Even more so, if both parties are open. It can seem too hard at the start of the process, as most things do, which is where support from a therapist is crucial.
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Everyone has a right to heal at their own pace – and after infidelity, this may ultimately involve a breakup if a healthy relationship cannot be maintained in the aftermath. However, overcoming it is also an option; even though it involves a lot of work, a lot of willingness from both parties to do the work, and a lot of patience with the bumps in the road that will inevitably be part of the process, it is absolutely a possibility.