Understanding Infidelity and How You Can Begin to Heal
Cheating, infidelity, an affair… no matter what you call it, it is always a painful thing to experience and it’s more common than we might think. Maybe you have cheated yourself or been cheated on. Almost certainly you know someone who has been affected in some way by an affair. Cheating is also one of the main reasons couples come to therapy, which is why health psychologist Kristýna Maulenová explores this often taboo subject.
What is infidelity?
It’s not as simple as we may think. Cheating can range from having a person in your life that you do not want to tell your partner about to flirting with someone outside of your committed relationship; texting (or sexting) with someone; long and intimate talking; physical closeness including holding hands, kissing or sex; and/or watching porn without a partner’s knowledge. It can be physical, emotional or both. It can be a one-night affair or a long-term relationship. In fact, scientists who study cheating haven’t agreed on one single definition of it, so, unsurprisingly, even two partners in a relationship might hold different opinions about it.
In general, cheating means breaking a so-called contract or exclusivity between partners. According to one study, as many as 15 to 70% of people have cheated (across the broad scope of what was considered cheating) in marriages or dating relationships.
Why does cheating happen?
The reasons vary from couple to couple. Very often the cheating partners report problems in communication or understanding each other, not feeling loved or appreciated by the partner, feeling sexually incompatible or generally unsatisfied with the relationship. A partner may also cheat if he/she is struggling with internal challenges, such as insecurity or a need for affirmation. Cheating may also reflect a desire for variety or experimentation, while others cheat out of revenge, anger or jealousy.
For some, the partner’s affair seems to come out of blue; others, when looking back, may realise there were problems in the relationship they had not noticed or paid attention to before.
It happened… now what?
You cheated on your partner or your partner cheated on you. Whether it happened recently or some time ago, what’s most affected is the trust between you and your partner.
An affair shakes our perception of a relationship, so it’s only normal to feel a wide range of emotions, such as anger, sadness, betrayal, shame or grief. If you were cheated on, you might want to break up or get divorced and never see the cheating partner again, or you may be thinking of whether and how the relationship can be saved.
Should I stay or should I go?
This is one of the most difficult decisions, especially if you have children. For expats, who are far away from home or may now feel trapped in their relationship, the impact of infidelity is possibly even more painful.
Neither decision is easy and you might need to take time for yourself to digest and reflect on what has happened. It might help to talk about it with someone you trust, either with a friend or with a professional counsellor.
If you decide to stay…
If you and your partner agree to try keep the relationship going, here are a few things (among many) to keep in mind:
- Talk, talk and talk with your partner. It is going to be painful, but only open communication can help you to learn what led to the cheating.
- Try not to blame. This is very hard, no doubt about it. But even though only one partner was unfaithful, it probably happened because there was too much or too little going on in your (shared) relationship. You are in the same boat here – it can either sink or sail.
- Clarify the context of your relationship. Define what it means to you right now, what kinds of behaviour you can expect (or not). Go back to the basics, to the foundation, of your relationship.
- Draw a clear line, after a sufficient period of healing. Start a new phase of your relationship and try not to get back to this topic or to bring it up in future challenges.
- Consider relationship counselling, where a more neutral professional can support the process of healing.
Note: you may also find the first two tips below helpful.
And if you decide to leave…
Here are a few guidelines to take into account:
- Take your time and be kind to yourself. Infidelity is painful, so having ups and downs in the following weeks, months or even years is normal. Take this time for you, your healing and growth.
- Try to forgive. It might be tempting to seek revenge against, slander or threaten the person for cheating on you, but this will only lead to more pain to you above all.
- Surround yourself with people you trust and love. Leaving a relationship can be followed by feelings of loneliness, so keep in touch with your friends or family, sharing your thoughts and emotions, but also having fun together.
- Avoid contacting your ex-partner, or limit contact to a necessary minimum, shortly after the break-up – even on social media – to help you gain emotional distance and new perspective on your past relationship.
You are not alone
At Expat Nest we have worked with many people who have experienced (or committed) infidelity and feel helpless and hopeless abroad. There is support available to you.
Cheating is challenging for everyone involved. It shakes our perception of a relationship and generates many strong emotions. Yet surprisingly, it can lead to some positive outcomes as well, such as better communication, and increased assertiveness and self-care. Still, this might be hard to believe right now, and it usually takes some time to get to that point. Do reach out, in whatever way feels right to you, if you would like extra support during the healing process.
Do you believe a relationship can heal after an affair? Do leave a comment below!
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7 commentsWrite a comment
It cannot heal completely. It can get different quality. The hardest thing is not to decide whether stay or go, but to bear the consequences of such decision after years. Whilst, at the time you are making it, you have no idea how things are going to develop. If you are an optimist, you believe, things are going to be ok again. However, the loss of trust is often irreversible. It’s like broken vase. You can stick it together, but it will never be the same.
Thanks for your comment which I felt in my heart, so honest and true. I understand you.
Indeed there is a lot of pain which we carry with us wherever we go or not matter how much time it passes. However, there is still possibility to come to terms with this and the consequences of the decision by creating again a new meaningful life, in which you can be optimist, trust again and be open to the joy of love; joy is our birthright!
You may be thinking right now: ” Ok Vivian, it’s easier said than done’. Yes it is but it is possible; I have seen this in many of our clients who started counselling absolutely desperate and then with time, tools we provided them and hard effort on their behalf, they manage to have a loving partner again and enjoy life, even feeling grateful that they had broken up with the previous partner as this led them to their current one.
It is a difficult and painful process but possible and we choose whether you want to believe this option over another one.
Re the broken glass, here is a nice photo I came across which gives a great perspective:
Many thanks and so good to have you here.
Don’t trust anyone, it’s sad when your husband is having love affairs with your best friend, i noticed my husband is getting too much closer with my friend Rita,as i came back from vacation. my husband chats now in private,his calls are in secret and he changed his phone password, I was wondering what’s going wrong, on till my sister introduced me to who help me to hack my husband phone, without touching his phone, in less than 2 hours after his phone was finally hacked, his messages coming into my phone instantly.i was heartbroken to know that my best friend was the reason behind my marital trauma.
I’m really sorry to hear that you’ve been going through this and that you’re heartbroken. Indeed, this is a trauma, as you describe yourself, and it needs time to heal. The situation you describe is very difficult to talk about here. If you wish, we can have a free 15-minute call to talk about it further. In the meantime, I wish you strength and I hope that the situation resolves itself soon. Please remember that the way you feel right now won’t be forever and that it doesn’t have to be this way.
It’s great that you touched on how the reasons for cheating are usually different for each couple involved. My brother found out that his wife was cheating on him and he is deeply hurt. He needs to find a therapist and marriage counselor that can offer advice and comfort.
Thank you so much for sharing this story. Do encourage your brother to find the support he needs in this difficult time. We offer a free 15-minute intro chat – find the link here: https://www.expatnest.com/contact/