Even the strongest relationships have their ups and downs, but what truly takes a couple to their breaking point? For many, the quickest answer is infidelity, but clinical psychologist Alexandra Solomon has a different perspective on the aftermath of cheating.
As she teaches in her Marriage 101 class at Northwestern University, many relationships can survive infidelity and, she says, can even become stronger after it happens.
When speaking with #OWNSHOW about this topic, Solomon explains what typically happens -- and what can happen -- after someone cheats in a relationship.
"Couples very often stay together after there's been infidelity," she says. "Some of those couples stay together and just kind of white-knuckle it and get through the relationship. But other couples come through and really end up saying that they feel stronger and more connected after the infidelity."
In truth, achieving this type of reinforced connection takes real effort by both parties. "The key is really committing themselves, often with the help of a couples therapist, to doing some pretty deep, important forgiveness work," Soloman says. "That forgiveness work starts with the person who cheated taking full ownership and responsibility for their behavior, and witnessing the impact of their behavior on their partner, and talking about what they're going to do differently going forward to protect the relationship."
This sets the stage for the person who has been hurt to accept the apology, which then opens the door to getting to the heart of the issue.
"When that forgiveness process has been deep and honest, then the couple can stand together, shoulder to shoulder, and look at what made their relationship vulnerable to infidelity in the first place," Solomon says.
To help protect your relationship from infidelity before it even starts, Solomon suggests "making sexual monogamy explicit." In order words, don't simply assume that your new relationship is monogamous and that you both share an understanding of what that means. She says that three key questions can help set the foundation for a healthy, monogamous relationship:
- What does monogamy look like for us?
- What are we going to do with the inevitable fact that we're going to feel attracted to other people throughout this relationship?
- How are we going to use our monogamy as a doorway into a lot of freedom and connection for sexual exploration rather than treating it like it's handcuffs?
"That really creates a boundary around the relationship that everyone feels good about adhering to rather than feeling victimized by," Solomon says.