Working through this transition is definitely a painful process that will take a lot of emotional energy on both of your parts.
Trust, the foundation of the relationship you had is over. Done. Complete.
The question is, are both of you (because of your bond, your history, your family, etc) are both of you willing to do the work to rebuild trust from scratch?
I work with couples in overcoming infidelity in 3 stages.
It is really important to not do stage 2 or stage 3 before stage 1 is thoroughly done with.
Stage 1: The “victim” needs to experience their partner really getting the depths of despair that is triggered. A real legitimate attachment wound was created from this and the pain of that needs to be seen and held by their partner. This may entail both the “victim” and “cheater” having to learn how to empathically listen on a different level than they are used to in their previous relationship. In this stage, the “victim” will need to have their questions answered. It would probably be useful to have the help of a therapist to determine on what level of detail should be shared. Sometimes too much detail is actually re-traumatizing for the victim and even though they want to know it, it is not helpful. In this stage, the “cheater” needs to commit and live out 100% honesty (remember, honesty and trust are being re-created from the ground up).
Stage 2: The “victim” creates space for the “perpetrator” to be seen and empathized with. Often, acting out through infidelity is very destructive for the relationship. They are also ways of covering over loneliness or pain of the perpetrator. In Stage 2 (and only after Stage 1 is totally 100% done), it is important to find out what was going on in the world of the “cheater”. This, by no mean justifies the actions of the “cheater”. But this stage does create room in the relationship where both people’s emotional states and needs can be seen and held by their partner.
Stage 3: The “victim” and the “cheater” together, as a team come together to see how the infidelity functioned for the relationship. Was it a cry for help? Was it a way of drawing attention to a desire for more connection and intimacy? Was it an indirect way of communicating that needs in the relationship were not being held emotionally?
Any of the conversations in Stage 2 and Stage 3 would not be able to be held by the “victim” who has yet to thoroughly go through Stage 1.
These stages take time and patience. The “cheater” needs to know that Stage 1 takes as long as it needs to take. And that rules of behavior (and checking behavior) that previously might have been considered over-intrusive, might actually be necessary building blocks for re-establishing trust.
If you or somebody you know is in a couple that is impacted by infidelity, please make sure they get support.
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