When someone in a relationship cheats, some couples break up while others stay together. Of course, it’s a case-by-case basis — what works for one couple may not work for another. After all, once trust has been broken, it will be a lot of work to regain it once again. That said, there are certain things couples who get back together after infidelity have in common, according to relationship experts.
“As a therapist who works with couples every day, I have seen many couples repair their marriages after infidelity,” Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. (aka “Dr. Romance”), psychotherapist, and author of How to be Happy Partners: Working it out Together, tells Bustle. “Not only is it possible, but when children are involved, it’s often desirable. Infidelity can be just a problem to fix, not such a trauma. However, if the other partner continues to blame and vilify the one who made the mistake, then both will suffer for a long time, and so will their relationship, families, and/or children.” Dr. Tessina also says that it’s key to make a sincere change in behavior, and to address and correct the problems that led to the infidelity. “Rebuilding trust and forgivenessare important parts of the healing process, too,” she says.
That said, here’s what couples who have gotten back together after infidelity have in common, according to relationship experts.
- They Overcame Broken TrustIn addition to communication, trust is everything in a relationship, and when infidelity occurs, trust needs to be rebuilt. “Couples who survive infidelity learned to overcome broken trust, plus whatever issues were in the relationship that led to or helped excuse the infidelity,” Dr. Tessina says.Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, agrees. “Early on (the first 1-2 years), the reconciliation of trust is obviously a major issue — lots of checking in, asking questions, and being accountable — so much so that the outside observer may very well notice,” he tells Bustle.
- They Respect Each OtherIn addition to trust being lost when infidelity occurs, respect towards the cheating partner is initially lost, too, but can be regained. “The offending partner will attempt to rebuild respect for their partner in ways that are important to them, not just what they may think their partner needs,” Dr. Gary Brown, relationship expert in Los Angeles, CA, tells Bustle.
- They Give Each Other SpaceSpace and alone time is important in any relationship, but when infidelity occurs, it plays a role, too. “The offending partner embraces the fact that their violated partner may need to reject them for a while, as part of their understandable need to protect themselves from feeling too vulnerable with their partner,” Dr. Brown says. “This makes complete sense, as it goes back to the issue of reestablishing trust.”
- They’re OK With Some AwkwardnessWhenever relationship issues come up, there’s bound to be awkward moments, including in cases of infidelity. “There will be awkwardness — the flow of the relationship is not the same after reconciliation,” Dr. Klapow says. “The infidelity has a presence that will throw the relationship cadence off.” He adds that moments of awkward silence and tentativeness in communication that were not there before the infidelity may be present.
- They’re More PatientPatience is crucial when overcoming any relationship hurdle or struggle, and this is not the exception when cheating occurs. “The cheating partner understands that their violated partner is obviously not going to get over this any time soon,” Dr. Brown says. “They exercise exceptional patience with their partner and understand that it may be months, if not longer, for their partner to process all of this.”
- They Go To CounselingWhen your relationship needs an impartial third party to help you through infidelity, seeing a therapist together, as well as on your own, is a great tool. “Counseling helps the couple understand why the affair happened, and how to fix the problems,” Dr. Tessina says.
- They’ve Learned How To Forgive Each OtherThe phrase “forgive and forget” is commonplace, and while your partner cheating on you may be difficult to forget, forgiveness is an important part of reconciling. “Some couples tend to ‘keep score’ while others understand forgiveness is necessary for any relationship to thrive,” David Bennett, counselor and relationship expert with Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. “While infidelity is a big thing to forgive, couples that move past it are more likely to appreciate the power of forgiveness.”Jill Sherer Murray, award-winning writer, TEDx speaker, and founder of lifestyle brand LetGoForIt.com, who studies relationships and self-growth, too, believes forgiveness is essential. “Learning to forgive is important for many reasons, not the least of which is to prevent getting stuck or making infidelity the main narrative of their relationship,” she tells Bustle.
- They’ve Gotten More In Touch With Their FeelingsCouples who are healing after infidelity tend to get more in touch with their emotions. “To heal the relationship, couples usually learn to talk openly and honestly about feelings, sex, and intimacy,” Dr. Tessina says.Sherer Murray also says that infidelity provides an opportunity for self-growth. “The couple can re-examine and redefine what they want from love, and what they need from the other person in order to be happy and faithful,” she says. “They can also work toward cultivating the self-love they may or may not have — either as a result of the infidelity or a limited belief system.” She stresses that self-love is important, because people who don’t have it are at risk for looking for validation outside of themselves and even their relationships.
- They’ve Revamped Their Sex LifeRebuilding their sex life is another aspect of post-cheating recovery that a couple has worked on. “A couple that has experienced infidelity will focus on getting their sex life back on track,” Dr. Tesssina says. “To do so, they’ve talked honestly and openly about what they both want and don’t want, and worked together to create a satisfying and healthy sex life.”
- They’re More Optimistic About Their RelationshipAs much as there may be ill feelings in a relationship after cheating occurs, renewed optimism about the relationship is a common trait among such couples, too. “Couples that stay together after infidelity are often optimistic about the relationship and their partner’s ability to change, become, and remain faithful,” Bennett says.Couples navigating their relationship again after cheating also continually have the opportunity to rediscover what brought them together in the first place, Sherer Murray says. “It could remind people who’ve taken each other for granted what they mean to each other, and inspired them to get back to the basics by making each other a priority.”
- They’ll Accept The New Versions Of Themselves And Their RelationshipAfter cheating happens, neither partner will remain the same. However, they have learned to accept the new version of their relationship, and the part each of them plays within it. “Couples who survive infidelity learn that they can never go back to who they were before,” Dr. Klapow says. “In fact, that part of the relationship has died and must be grieved. Literally, it’s about establishing a new relationship, but one that is haunted — even slightly — by the past. Couples that have survived infidelity will talk as if they have survived a trauma, and they have.”Dr. Tessina, too, believes it’s also a good chance for a couple to reconnect. “Instead of one or both partners looking outside of their relationship to find happiness and satisfaction, they’ll now learn to create it together,” she says.
- They Have More Open And Honest CommunicationRelationships are all about communication, and when a couple is faced with infidelity, communication becomes everything. After they’ve gone through necessary healing steps to overcome the infidelity, chances are, the couple’s communication will be stronger than ever. “If things have gone well, you will see much more honest communication — less reservation, more direct communication, and less waiting to express concerns,” Dr. Klapow says. “Couples whose relationship survives infidelity learn that open and honest communication is critical in any relationship, and is essential for their relationship to last.”A couple’s increase in communication may also encourage them to talk about more issues than they did in the past. “It may bring to the surface deeper issues that have gone unaddressed (e.g., stress, boredom, lack of intimacy, unresolved conflict, etc.), giving the couple an opportunity to better understand each other’s needs and to course-correct,” Sherer Murray says.
Dr. Tessina thinks that a couple’s more open and honest communication will help rebuild their relationship. “They’ve learned how to face problems rather than make excuses, and not blame each other,” she says.
- They Have A Renewed Commitment To One OtherPost-cheating, a couple will likely feel a renewed commitment toward one another, relationship experts say. “Both partners renew their commitment, if they had one to begin with, to make openness and trust their highest priority,” Dr. Brown says. “So, if one or the other feels that they relationship may be slipping at some point in the future, they are going to be talking about it, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.”Dr. Tessina agrees. “They’ve worked through the guilt and anger, and have repaired their feeling of connection,” she says. “They’ve learned how to be real working partners, rather than just a couple.”
Sherer Murray, too, feels that each partner is now more accountable. “It may inspire people to look inward, as individuals, and take an honest account of their mistakes — something they may not have done otherwise — and own them,” she says. “Then, they’ll continue to make any necessary changes, and set the relationship up for success for the long-haul.”
All in all, there are definitely commonalities among couples who get back together after infidelity. As catastrophic as cheating may be, all may not be lost when it comes to overcoming the infidelity. While some people don’t reunite, others do and experience many of the above, coming out stronger than they were before, both as individuals as well as collectively. Finding a therapist is also an effective resource to help you and your significant other rebuild your relationship after cheating has occurred. Of course, at the end of the day, only you and your partner can decide what’s best for each of you.
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Jill Sherer Murray is an award-winning writer and speaker who studies relationships and self-growth. She is also the founder of Let Go For It®, a lifestyle brand dedicated to helping individuals let go for a better life. Jill’s TEDx talk as well as her advice column, Big Wild Love: Let Go For It® were created in service to her loyal and growing fan base, who seek support in the act and the art of letting go for the love they desire and deserve. Follow Jill @letgoforit on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.