For most people in a relationship, finding out that your partner has cheated seems like the worst thing that could possibly happen. But often the hardest part isn’t the revelation itself, it is working out what to do next.
While lots of us like to think we would leave without a second thought, the reality of life and being invested in your partner - marriage, children, a shared home and future plans - means it isn’t always so black and white.
So what happens if you decide to stay together? How do you get through the first few months and set the best foundations for your relationship in the future?
1. Don’t try to talk until you’ve calmed down.
In the immediate aftermath of your discovery, you are of course going to be angry. And while you shouldn’t hold back in sharing this anger with your partner, you should also be cautious about saying things in the heat of the moment that you cannot unsay, or you may live to regret when you’re not seeing red.
Sex and relationship expert Tracey Cox, tells HuffPost UK: “Delay the discussion until you’ve both calmed down. Talking while you’re furious accomplishes little more than saying hurtful things you may regret later. And work out exactly what you want to say beforehand.”
2. Give yourself some space.
When your trust in your partner is shattered, and everything you thought you had seems to have dissolved around you, it can be tempting to overcompensate by spending all your time together and not letting them out of your sight.
But in order to get some perspective on your relationship together, it is important to give yourself some space to think things through.
Sarah Ryan, a relationships expert and director of her own matchmaking agency, says: “If you really want to find a way to make your relationship work you’ll have to give yourself some space to work out what you truly want, what it is that you’re feeling and healing all the hurts that come with cheating - ensure to really practise the art of letting go to save yourself holding onto animosity.”
And Vasia Toxavidi, a psychotherapist and counsellor with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, agrees: “Some controlling may take place by the partner who has been cheated on due to loss of trust, but it is important for that person to focus and take care of themselves.”
3. Ask yourself if you are capable of total forgiveness.
During this time when you are giving yourself space, the most important question you should be asking yourself is whether you are capable of totally forgiving your partner - this is the only way this is going to work (holding a grudge doesn’t help anyone).
Cox says: “Some relationship crimes hurt us more than others because of our backgrounds and family history. Cheating is harder to forgive for someone who has a history of partners who’ve been unfaithful or whose parents had a painful split. Forgiveness is the first step, learning to trust again is the next.
“How will you know if they’ve done it again? Did you see the signs the last time? Has something significant changed to ensure they won’t do it again?”
And Ryan agrees: “Without fully forgiving your partner after they have been unfaithful then you run the risk of harbouring negative energy and feelings which will come out in the wash when resistance or minor conflicts naturally occur within a relationship.”
4. Start by working on a basic friendship.
Expecting your relationship to go back to how it was before is probably naive, so instead of jumping back into your old roles straight away, try having a basic friendship that focuses on trust and respect.
Ryan says: “You need to rediscover an understanding of each other as friends first and foremost before you can move forward romantically, at the end of the day thats how every relationship develops because you date and become romantically involved with your best friend.
“Really understanding when and how you may have stopped being friends can help you interpret when respect may have left your relationship.”
5. Accept that you will both need to take some responsibility.
For someone who has been cheated on, taking responsibility for what has happened will probably feel like an insult to your innocence. But refusing to recognise that you will both need to work through this equally in order for things to get better, is only making your own life more difficult in the long term.
Toxavidi says: “It can be tempting to blame and put the partner down for what they did, having been cheated on, particularly around friends, but this will only create a vicious cycle of hate and conflict so don’t!”
Ryan says: “It’s essential to work together as a team in communicating fluidly and frequently about what lead to one or both parties being unfaithful, getting to the core of what may have fallen by the wayside in a relationship is essential for your moving forward, you both have to take some degree of responsibility.”
6. Don’t be afraid to lay down ground rules.
While you do need to take equal responsibility for making things better, the person who has been cheated on shouldn’t deny themselves the chance to put boundaries in place to help that will help build trust again.
You might want to consider what specifically about their behaviour has caused you such pain. For example, was it emotional or physical cheating? Did it go on for months or just a one night stand?
Cox says: “Spell out what you will and won’t accept,” and she says that although ultimatums are generally frowned on in relationships, sometimes we are justified in saying ‘if this happens again’ I will leave you.
“If it was a one strike and you’re out situation, then get out. If you’re happy giving another chance, sit down and chat with them to find out why they didn’t succeed,” she says.
7. Keep (consciously) making time to have proper conversations.
Once the initial feelings of anger and frustration have subsided, and you slip back into your old routine, it can be easy to lose sight of rebuilding the relationship and not just letting it stagnate.
Toxavidi says: “I recommend that the couple puts aside some time in the week to talk about what has happened. As trust has to be built up after such an event, the person that has been cheated on needs to know more about what happened. If the person who committed the affair avoids that, there will be a conflict there. Having that agreed time in the week to talk over it as adults will be very beneficial.”