Recovery After Cheating


Recovery After Cheating –  Building Trust After Recovering From a Cheating Partner

Recovery after cheating is not going to be easy— but it IS possible. Discover our guide to rebuild trust in a relationship after an affair. Tips and advice from experts to help you recover and accept new love opportunities.

When someone says they’ve been cheated on, it’s easy to react with empathetic outrage.  Imagine a reality TV-style confrontation. Infidelity is not a new concept. As long as relationships have existed, someone has been transgressing whatever “rules” had been set up for them. Heartbreak-rage-move is a formula that has fed every kind of pop culture for centuries, from the Bible to movie melodramas. Lifelong monogamy is still a cultural ideal.

It’s easy to assume that infidelity would spell an automatic end to a partnership, but it’s not that simple. That’s a good thing. More significant social equality between men and women and the rise of relationship and sex experts like Esther Perel. The diminishing stigma around going to therapy have all made it easier for couples to think beyond a binary “stay together or break up” choice in the wake of intimate betrayal.

But that doesn’t mean it’s gotten easier to move forward when one partner cheats on another. If there is one thing experts agree on when it comes to dealing with infidelity, it’s about recovery after cheating and rebuilding a healthy relationship is hard work.

Recovery After Cheating - Busted Cheaters

The Long Road to Recovery from an Affair

“It is a long road to recovery when one partner cheats.” Licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, the owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago, tells SELF. “Couples do and can stay together after an affair, but it takes a lot of work to repair broken trust.” Klow says most couples don’t recover after cheating but “those that do can emerge stronger from having gone through the process of recovering from the affair.”

It takes time, however. Klow says it takes at least a year, but it’s usually up to two years for a couple to heal.

Manhattan-based licensed clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona, Psy.D., tells SELF that, due to the sensitive nature of the topic, it’s hard to know for sure how many couples stay together after infidelity. “Despite the ambiguous statistics, it seems reasonable to speculate that more couples are staying together after infidelity than not,” he says.

There are a few factors that make a couple more likely to try to work it out. Psychologist Paul Coleman, Psy.D., author of Finding Peace When Your Heart Is In Pieces, tells SELF—namely, whether they have binding commitments to one another like children or a house. “If a couple date or just started living together, there is less of a need to go through the work of rebuilding trust,” he says.

The cheating has to stop.

Experts say there are a lot of things that need to happen for a couple to move on. The first, and most important, is for the cheating to stop. “The person who cheated cannot see the person they cheated with again,” says Klow.

Washington, D.C.-based Lena Derhally, M.S., L.PC., and certified Imago therapist, agrees. “I think it’s a waste of time if you’re working through an affair and the person is still seeing the other person because there’s no trust there,” she tells SELF.

Total honesty is essential.

After it’s clear that the affair is over, Derhally guides her clients through a process in which the victim of infidelity can ask as many questions as they want about what happened. It can take multiple sessions and depends on complete honesty.

“Some people want to know everything about the affair,” Derhally says. “They want to know where it happened, how many times. Some people don’t want to know as much information. What’s scary about affairs is there’s a lot of unknowns. Then the process moves on to being able to vent your feelings to your partner and the process of your partner being able to receive that forgiveness.”

Rebuild Trust

“Betrayal is the most damaging part of an affair,” Klow says. “The person who was cheated on usually struggles to know what is real anymore. Their ability discern what is real gets damaged.”

To try to repair this, Derhally says the person who cheated needs to be completely honest. Even if it seemingly hurts their spouse more since continuing to hide the truth can cause even more damage.

That includes letting the victim of unfaithful partner see emails and cell phones, which Coleman calls “random ‘drug test.” “It seems like the cheater is now on probation, and that is not ideal, but the betrayed partner needs to rebuild trust and faith,” he says. “Knowing they can check on their partner’s phone or computer is a bit reassuring.”

Handing over email and social media passwords can be another sign of trustworthiness. “Giving passwords, things like that, it’s a gift that someone that betrays you gives that says, ‘You can have 100 percent trust in me, and you can look through my things, and you can do what you need to do,’” Derhally says. “There are many people I’ve worked with who are very willing to give their passwords and things like that to their spouse.”

Of course, technology can make it possible for cheaters to continue straying away from home without leaving a record by deleting apps from their phones or communicating with affair partners through things like Snapchat. “What I’ve started seeing now, unfortunately, is that there are ways to hide things still,” Derhally tells SELF. “Not to scare people, but that is a challenge.”

Address Underlying issues

It’s also crucial for the couple to evaluate the relationship’s problems beyond the cheating. “A troubled relationship is not an excuse for cheating. If you can improve communication, time together, sex, etc.—it can be reassuring to both that cheating is less likely to occur,” Coleman says.

“A major thing with couples is always to have them realize that there are two people there, and each person has to own their stuff because blame is a big deal.” Sherry Amatenstein, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist, tells SELF. She says it’s important to take advantage of whatever communication skills couples have, even if they’re not perfect. “I work on having people own their stuff. If they’re willing to get out all their repressed stuff and learn how to communicate better, that certainly can be a help.”

The cheater needs to take full responsibility for the betrayal and show patience and understanding that healing from their actions is a long process, Cilona says.

Together, start over again.

Finally, the couple has to rebuild their relationship “The couple needs to let go of the parts of their [partnership] which were not working, and then move towards creating a new dynamic in the relationship,” Klow says. “Couples can emerge from an affair with a better sense of who they are and what they want from their relationship.”

Amatenstein agrees. “It’s not going to be the same, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be strong in some ways stronger than it was originally,” she tells SELF. “But you can forge something through it.”

Experts say it’s possible for couples to go on to have a happy relationship after infidelity. Provided they’re willing to put in the work. “The couple can survive and grow after an affair,” says Coleman. “They have to—otherwise the relationship will never be gratifying.”

But couples who decide to separate after an affair can still benefit from therapy, especially if they have children. “I always say that couples therapy is not about, ‘Oh wow, the marriage is saved. Because that’s not always gonna be the best outcome,” Amatenstein says. “If each person learns from it and can move on and be in each other’s lives when they have kids, that’s absolutely a success.”

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3 Responses


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  2. Anonymous says:

    I definitely think that a marriage can be salv*ged after an affair. However I myself am trying really hard to heal, but my gut feeling says that there is more than hes admitting too. He i know was pretty brutally honest from the beginning , but he knows how i feel about him having sex with another, he promises that it was just text and two phone calls, idk, but i have almost 27 years of marriage invested, but I don’t know if what I am feeling is normal?

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m in the same situation but married for 18 years, my hubby said it was only a few times. I too feel there had to be more than a few times and I don’t feel he’s being 100% truthful. I think what we are feeling is normal. We now sleep in separate beds and I’ve already had a meeting with a divorce lawyer, I cannot see myself ever getting past this. I know I can never trust him again, especially now that I frequently travel for my job. This gives the cheater way too much time to do it all over again. I do believe the “once a cheater, always a cheater” saying and I really can’t live with this man or share my life with him for much longer.

    I just don’t understand why people cheat….If you are unhappy then just go, leave and move on with your life. Cheaters SUCK!!!

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