You've made a terrible mistake.
You got caught up in a flirtation that led to an affair. It felt so good at the time and it all happened so quickly. You felt attractive, sexy, and alive for maybe the first time in years. You didn't stop to consider the consequences of what you were doing, and if you did, you were quick to justify your actions to yourself. "I deserve this," you may have thought. Or maybe you just convinced yourself that your partner would never find out, so why not have a little fun?
But here you are. Whether you intended it or not, your partner has discovered your infidelity. Now that the affair is over, you have the stone cold realization that you may have damaged or even destroyed the most precious gift you've ever been given -- your primary partner's trust and love. You don't want your primary relationship to end. You never wanted to hurt your partner. You still love them. But can it ever be the same between you again?
The answer to that is there's good news and bad news.
The good news is trust can be rebuilt and the relationship can be better than ever. The bad news is that it takes work and doesn't come quickly.
What is trust, anyway? Fundamentally, trust is the belief that "I am safe. You are safe. The world of us is safe." When cheating happens, that belief is shaken to the core.
Rebuilding Trust Takes Time and Patience
If you've been unfaithful and you've decided "I want to come home," it's important to realize that you're not going to be able to put the affair away in a vault and lock it up. Regaining trust means you must show that you clearly understand what your partner has felt and experienced, and prove to them (over and over) that you are truly sorry, and willing to change and work on earning back their trust, no matter what it takes. Your partner needs a lot of proof that you're serious, reliable, and safe to love before they're going to trust you again. Rebuilding trust means rebuilding your credibility.
It is both a rite of passage and a healing journey that takes patience, courage, inner strength and time for both the betrayed and the betrayer to heal, regain balance, and learn anew the dance of trust.
Your main job during this process is to be dependable, consistent, responsive and comforting.
Here Are Eight Essential Guidelines from my Book Chatting or Cheating to Help you do that:
• Call when you say you will call. Be home when you say you'll be home. Make yourself and your schedule an open book.
• Give your partner the time and space to vent their feelings. This includes crying about what you have done, asking you lots and lots of questions, hurling a great deal of judgment, even raging at you, all the while you stand strong, stay faithful, keep apologizing, and reaching out with compassion and understanding.
• Find out what your partner needs. Do what you can do to change the situation and make it better.
• Accept that sometimes it going to feel like you are moving two steps forward and three steps back. One day it seems like there's hope for tomorrow, and the next day, you're sleeping on the couch again. Have a plan in place that will help you to stay calm and centered while you navigate through the inevitable bumps, obstacles, landmines and setbacks that will happen. Rather than being shocked and overreacting, be prepared to take positive action.
• Take full responsibility for your actions and choices. This means taking a deep, hard look at why you cheated and how you can make sure you never cheat again.
• Be sure that all promises you make are promises you keep. Your words, actions and deeds must come from total and unwavering integrity. Simply put, what you say you're going to do, you DO. No lies. No excuses. No exceptions.
• Practice the three A's: Affection, Attention and Appreciation daily. Show your partner how much you love and appreciate them in big and small ways every day.
• When you or the relationship feels like it's stuck and struggling, remember to stop and ask yourself the following question: "How would love respond?" If something sets you or your partner off, or it feels like a cold iceberg has drifted between you or the conversation suddenly shifts from reunion to break up, be sure to do this: Lean in, look your partner in the eye, take deep, long breaths and say these words.... "I love you. You are the one I want. We matter. I am so sorry for the pain I caused you and us. It feels scary right now, but we'll get through this."
Repeat as necessary.
As a relationship therapist for over 20 years, I know from professional experience that the sooner you come to grips with the fact that the road back from distrust to trust takes perseverance, patience, commitment and time, the more likely you are to be successful at healing your relationship.
Cheating Doesn't Have to Lead to Divorce or Breakup.
You can build a more honest, healthier and happier relationship on the other side of this mess. It takes two people committed to staying in, staying strong and working on it together. Keep holding onto the bigger vision that you'll both get through this, no matter how shaky it seems at the moment.
Take it one day at a time, one week at a time, and follow the eight guidelines. Before you know it, your relationship will grow closer, more loving, solid and strong.
Sheri Meyers, Psy.D is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Los Angeles, CA, and author of Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love, and Affair-Proof Your Relationship. To get a free chapter of Chatting or Cheating, please go to: chattingorcheating.com
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