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.
Trust is an important and essential part of any relationship, but when your partner does harmful and hurtful things to you (lie, cheat, have an affair, deceive), that trust is broken.
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. Here are my top eight ways to repair your relationship after someone cheats.
In order 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, let’s continue.
If you want to save a relationship after an affair, both partners have to be willing to invest time and emotional work on the relationship. Are you both open to soul searching, listening, and healing? Then, you and your partner, as a team, need to choose a specific time period (maybe six weeks or six months) during which both of you commit to working on the relationship.
To move on from the betrayal, your partner must give you a heartfelt and serious apology for their actions. 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. If your partner continues to betray you, your chances of rebuilding trust decrease significantly!
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? In order for trust to be rebuilt, both partners must understand the other partner’s perspective. You don’t have to agree with their reasons or motivations or agree with what you hear, but understanding goes both ways.
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. You can be a part of the solution or work to change the relationship, but you are not the cause of the betrayal.
Both partners must express their anger or frustration in healthy ways. Studies show that journaling or writing a letter to your partner can be a helpful way to cope with excessive anger. Don’t show the letter to your partner; throw it in the garbage. Talking to friends and family about what happened and why is also useful.
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. Couples need to list each other’s positive qualities, and both partners need to discuss the good that brought them together.
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. A therapist’s perspective and help can be very beneficial.
For more relationship advice, read our therapists' ultimate guide on how to save a relationship here.