How to Repair Your Relationship After Cheating: Forgiveness is Key
By: Lilly Johnsen
If you’ve discovered your partner cheated on you, you may be asking yourself what to do now. Infidelity is one of the most difficult and distressing issues that couples might face. After the discovery of an affair, you most likely will experience feelings such as jealousy, shame, rage, depression, fear, and loneliness. The biggest question after a couple faces infidelity is what they will do next. Will they break up or try to work through it? Couples with higher levels of commitment and satisfaction often try to work through the situation because they have invested a lot of time and effort into the relationship. Although very difficult, committed partnerships can survive the trauma of infidelity and even experience personal growth from the situation. If you find yourself in this situation, there are ways to try to repair the relationship and get past the feelings of anger and resentment. When deciding to work through the aftermath of an affair, forgiveness is the key part of healing.
Decision-Based Forgiveness and Emotional-Based Forgiveness
Forgiveness is crucial to helping partners with the emotional whirlwind that comes with cheating, and it can be the pathway to mending the relationship and rebuilding trust. There are two types of forgiveness you have to undergo in order to move forward with the relationship: decision-based forgiveness and emotional-based forgiveness. Decision-based forgiveness is the cognitive decision to let go of judgement and hostility. Decision-based forgiveness focuses on the actual commitment to forgive, and you can make this choice while still experiencing hurt. Decisional forgiveness comes first and can lead to emotional forgiveness. It is making the commitment to forgive, which is the beginning of an inner process of healing. Emotional forgiveness, on the other hand, is about reducing negative emotions, such as anger, resentment, and bitterness towards your partner. Emotional forgiveness is critical to gaining peace and moving on with the relationship. Forgiveness can be very difficult for someone who was cheated on, but if you want to rebuild the relationship, you must start here.
Steps to Forgiveness:
The three main parts of forgiveness are dealing with the impact, searching for meaning, and recovery or moving forward. It may be hard for you to know where to start. These steps help outline a conversation that you and your partner should have to work towards decisional and eventually emotional forgiveness.
Dealing with the Impact
Step 1 – Deciding if you want to forgive. Deciding that you want to forgive is the first step in working through the situation. This does not mean you forgive what has happened, only that you are willing to move forwards and work towards actual forgiveness. It is possible, and very likely, that you still have emotional pain but want to continue the relationship. The first step is acknowledging you want to forgive your partner and move through the next steps.
Step 2 – Cheater should speak about their offense. The partner involved in the affair should explain what happened, without leaving out other secrets that may be uncovered later. If all the information is out on the table, it allows you both to rebuild the relationship on honest and direct communication. Encourage them to be open during this time. Even though it might hurt, it will be best in the long run.
Step 3 – Offender explains their actions. If your partner cheated on you, they must explain what led them to it, such as other relationship problems. Your partner should not use these explanations as an excuse, but to help you understand why it happened – and reduce the chance that it will happen again.
Searching for Meaning
Step 4 – Give your emotional reactions. After being cheated on, you will feel emotions such as anger, betrayal, and hurt. Processing emotions that were created by infidelity is critical to the process of recovering from it. The first step in processing emotions is to work through them on your own, which will allow you to explore how you truly feel and help in the recovery process. You may want to try writing down what you want to say to your partner. This will help you organize your thoughts and emotions and have a more productive conversation. In order to process these emotions, you must share them with your partner as well. Try not to be too emotionally reactive during this point in the conversation. Individuals who are less emotionally reactive and more able to communicate their feelings clearly are more likely to move forward with the forgiveness process.
Step 5 – Empathizing with your pain. Ideally, your partner should provide empathy for the hurt they have caused you. When two people are struggling to work through something, it can be difficult for them to see the other’s point of view. Therefore, it is important to give your emotional reactions, so they can get a better understanding of the pain you’re going through. If your partner shows remorse and empathy for you and your feelings, you will be more likely to forgive them. Empathy can be an indirect pathway to both decisional and emotional forgiveness. Although you can’t control how your partner reacts, you can ask them to respond to your feelings and apologize for their behavior.
Recovery or Moving Forward
Step 6 – Develop a plan to stop or prevent future behavior. An organized plan can help reduce your anxieties. Your partner should completely cut off from the third partner. This can help give you a sense of peace and security. It would be unwise (and unhealthy) to continue contact with that person, even if it is a friend. You may also want permission to check up on your partner when they are not around after they have cheated, due to the lack of trust. However, be cautious about frequently checking up. Constantly worrying about where your partner is may become obsessive and overbearing. If you want to check up on your partner, you should establish a plan with them. For example, plan where and when you call each other before bed or, if you live together, on business trips.
Step 7 – Let your partner forgive themselves. Self-forgiveness is an important step in the whole forgiveness process for the involved party. When someone cheats on their loved one, they often face deep regrets and shame for their behaviors. They can deal with the negative emotions and views they have about themselves by accepting responsibility for their actions, expressing remorse, reducing self-shame, and recommitting to their values. This will lead to a renewal of self-respect, self-compassion, and self-acceptance. Let your partner go through the process of forgiving themselves.
Step 8 – A formal request for forgiveness. After going through all of these steps, your partner should make a formal request for forgiveness. Human touch can be powerful during this time because it promotes connectedness. Take the hand of your partner or hug them when having this conversation. During this time, you and your partner should discuss how you want to move forward. If you decide to forgive, you must not use the offense as a weapon in future fights.
It is not easy getting over infidelity, but the place to start is forgiveness. If you begin with the decision to forgive and let go of hostility, you can eventually reach a place of emotional forgiveness. Forgiveness is a powerful thing. A decision to forgive can help you deal with the feelings of stress, revenge, and hatred your partner has caused you. Being able to move on from the infidelity can lead to emotional relief and clarity – as well as higher relationship and life satisfaction. Forgiveness creates an increased understanding of each other. It promotes a feeling of a greater sense of closeness, intimacy, and freedom to be oneself. Couples who have achieved forgiveness show more investment in their marriages, greater closeness, a more equal balance of power, and higher levels of marital adjustment compared with couples who haven’t reached forgiveness. However, forgiveness is just the beginning of the long recovery process from infidelity. It will help you build your relationship from the ground up, but you both must continue to work on increased intimacy, communication, trust, and relationship satisfaction. Relationships can be very difficult at times, but if you decide to work together through infidelity and other issues, your relationship can be restored and even strengthened.
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