Learning that a partner has been cheating is devastating. The security of your relationship is suddenly shattered. You can feel everything you relied on about your partner has profoundly become a thing of the past.
If you’re the hurt partner you may feel overwhelmed, perhaps asking yourself:
–How did this happen? I thought we were fine. Or,
–Okay, maybe we were having some rough patches — less time for ourselves with busy careers and kids’ needs, less connection, but, still. . .
— And, often, the most challenging: Why??
For the partner who went outside the marriage or relationship, there is often both intense shame and a desire to move on as quickly as possible. No matter how hard you try, your partner’s extreme emotions do not subside.
In this post, I’m going to reassure you that couples can work to recover trust and close connection following the acknowledgment of cheating. I’ll also share with you how a proven, well-researched approach to healing has the potential to guide you back to a secure relationship.
First, Some Facts About Cheating
Research tells us that about 70 percent of couples choose to continue the relationship after cheating is discovered. While divorce is two times more likely following disclosure of infidelity, the research indicates the majority of couples want to work things out.
Unfortunately, cheating is not a rare occurrence. We know that 25 percent of men and 15 percent of women engage in affairs that involve intercourse. And, when emotional and other intimacies with an outside person occur, these numbers increase by 20 percent.
What Constitutes Cheating?
The ease of reaching out on the internet has brought up the need for many couples to more clearly define what is meant by “cheating.”
A partner may see texting with others or corresponding with someone outside the marriage or relationship as “harmless,” particularly if there’s been no in-person contact. His or her partner or spouse may strongly feel otherwise.
The best definition we’ve found of cheating is: Cheating is whatever your partner feels is unacceptable.
When one partner puts time, effort and energy into contact with another person, the impact on the other partner or spouse can feel threatening to the relationship and hurtful — no matter what form the cheating took. The partner may feel he or she is not important enough or inadequate and that what started as casual contact could evolve into something even greater.
The Challenge of Healing After Cheating
When an affair is discovered, the emotions of the hurt partner are complex. He or she feels this intense pain because their partner felt a need to look elsewhere for connection and/or intimacy.
Compounding the pain are the deception and hiding of the outside relationship that occurred during the affair. The hurt partner can feel, “Not only did you cheat, you also lied repeatedly.” The hidden and deceptive nature of cheating can be as damaging to trust as the intimacy that took place.
The couple now is challenged to restore trust and confidence in the relationship, but amidst the initial shock and dismay after cheating is revealed.
Understanding the Emotional Roller Coaster of Cheating
Indeed, the emotional turbulence that typically follows discovery of cheating is, in itself, a tremendous challenge for the couple to navigate. The injured partner is flooded with anger and sadness, and the injuring partner feels any attempt to soothe or reassure is never sufficient.
And, here’s why emotions are so heightened: When you met and fell in love with each other, you formed an strong, compelling bond or attachment. You were powerfully drawn both physically and emotionally to your partner. You became the most important people on the planet to each other!
We know from years of research that humans are hard-wired to connect with a special someone. Our brains are — and this is verified by brain scans — highly activated when we are in the loving presence of our spouse or partner.
Chemical reactions heighten our attraction and connection to our partner. You can recall how much you were drawn to each other, and how being apart in those early days could be so difficult.
If you have children together, you are powerfully connected through those experiences as well.
Therefore, it is no wonder that the discovery of cheating causes so much emotional distress. Suddenly, there is anger. anxiety and emotional intensity on the part of the hurt partner. Couples are often surprised by the intensity of these feelings . . . and how long they can continue.
Surviving the Emotional Intensity
As part of successful healing, each partner learns to fully and constructively express their emotions.
For the injured partner, he or she is not only angry and hurt, there may be intense anxiety about whether the cheating is still occurring. Trust has been broken, and this partner struggles to contain his or her fears for the future of the marriage or relationship.
For the partner who went outside the relationship, the challenge is to not avoid listening to their partner’s concerns or to diminish the hurt their partner is feeling. The deeper emotions of the injuring partner can center around shame and guilt for harming the relationship and the hurt that has been inflicted.
Too, the offending partner doesn’t know what to say to ease their spouse’s pain. “I’ve apologized so many times, but my partner is still so angry.” “I don’t know what else to do.” “I don’t know how we can move forward when my partner’s emotions are so intense.”
“We’re Stuck! Nothing Is Making this Better.”
It’s not unusual for the wound of infidelity to take over many aspects of the marriage. Small arguments become easily escalated because beneath daily interactions is a profound disconnection.
For example, one partner’s failure to remember to take out the trash is suddenly an expression of lack of caring for the hurt partner’s needs or of the disconnected status of the entire relationship.
A phone call or text that is not answered promptly now causes the hurt partner to become both angry and anxious.
At times, intimacy is often unwelcome by the hurt partner.
Often the couple is unable to reach resolution and healing because attempts to discuss the cheating often result in intense emotions by the hurt partner and avoidance by the partner who went outside the relationship. They are seeking to reconnect; however, they are both frustrated — and often feeling overwhelmed — because so little progress is taking place.
How Counseling Helps Couples Heal From Cheating
After so much expression of anger and pain at the discovery of cheating, the tendency for many couples can be to “let it go.” In other words, because couples feel so stuck, they may begin to avoid further attempts at discussion.
Unfortunately, the unresolved trauma to the emotional connection and trust is not healed. The injury to the security of the relationship is still likely to resurface.
In the words of Dr. Susan Johnson, the leading creator of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), “The only way out of these attachment injuries is to confront them and heal them together.” EFT is one of the most-researched and most-successful couples-therapy methods.
To heal the pain of an affair, the couple needs to go beyond forgiveness and re-establish the ability of the injured partner to trust again.
The “good news” is that a skilled therapist (trained in EFT or the other leading method, Gottman Method Couples Therapy) can gently guide you toward resolution. We have a proven road map to not only address the pain of cheating but also to strengthen your relationship.
These powerful, tested couples-therapy methods offer you not only the possibility of recovery, but also the potential for renewing your bond and to learn to maintain a closer, secure connection into the future.
Taking the First Step
As experienced couples therapists, we know how difficult it can be to come to counseling following disclosure of an affair.
The most common fear we hear is that the therapists will “take sides” with one of the partners. Fortunately, the care and thoroughness of the development of these two powerful couples-therapy approaches actually eliminates such a position for the counselor.
Rather, we help you understand the role of secure connection in your marriage or relationship. You’ll learn how to communicate differently — and much more effectively! — and how to more deeply and thoroughly tap into each other’s emotional needs. To learn more about Emotionally Focused Therapy and our approach, click here.
To help you with making your decision, we offer a free 30-minute consultation so you can meet your therapist, ask questions and learn about the counseling process. We want you to be as comfortable as possible as we begin this important journey together. Click here to sign up for a consultation or a session.
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