Cheating usually spells death for a relationship. The act shakes one of the most important aspects of a loving relationship: trust. While infidelity is not the main reason for divorce, it is one of the most common, because for many people cheating is an unforgivable mistake that gets no second chance. Even when couples try to repair their marriage after a betrayal, they face a tough road. Finding out about an affair is emotionally devastating for the betrayed person. Overcoming such a breach means restoring trust between someone who no longer seems trustworthy and another person who does not want to trust that person again. Not surprisingly, in a survey of 441 people who had been unfaithful to their partner, fewer than 16 percent said their relationships survived the infidelity
But while rebuilding a marriage after an infidelity isn’t easy, it’s certainly not impossible. Couples who are willing to try may be able to repair their relationship with patience and diligent, hard work. It requires honesty and humility, maturity and consistency, love and time. It also helps to understand what common reconciliation mistakes to avoid along the way, as digging a deeper hole doesn’t help anyone. Here are some common reconciliation mistakes to avoid and why they cause problems for those trying to mend a relationship, from not asking yourself the hard questions to trying to recover too quickly .
1. First of all try to stay together
This can be difficult to read. But it’s important to think about it. Not all couples recover from cheating. And often the ability to recover depends on the nature of the infidelity itself. Stepping on your spouse could be a crime of opportunity done in a moment of poor judgment. Or it could also be a sign that the marriage was built on poor foundations.
Cheating, notes Dr. Gail Saltz, psychiatrist and host of the “How Can I Help?” podcast, can reflect not only a desire for sex, but a desire to end a relationship. “Sometimes, knowingly or unknowingly, the person who cheated did it to end a relationship,” she says. “Sometimes that person wanted to leave anyway and that’s their step to the door.”
So before a reconciliation can take place, the one who cheated must think long and hard about their actions and what they really mean. Although difficult to understand, it is a crucial step.
2. Go alone (or seek help too late)
After a spouse cheats, any marital conversation can seem like walking through a minefield. Because of the tense emotional landscape and potential for explosions, an objective third party can play a crucial role in guiding couples onto safer ground.
“Having an outside therapist who understands these kinds of dynamics can be really helpful in mediating and pointing out where the problems are, what needs to happen, and where you have blind spots,” says Saltz.
Saltz adds that unfortunately, couples can only turn to therapists as a last-ditch effort to salvage their marriage. But at this point, the resentment has most likely undermined the chances of a reconciliation.
“When there’s already so much contempt or deceit or contempt for one another, it’s really hard to come back from that,” she says. “So earlier is better.”
3. Staying under the same roof after infidelity is discovered
The first night the affair becomes public is tense. Sweating together in close quarters is a common mistake, according to Lisa Concepcion, a life coach who specializes in divorce and infidelity issues.
“Emotions run high and rightly so,” she says. “People don’t think right because they’re in fight or flight mode.”
For marital health, Concepcion says it’s important to put some distance between people in the marriage.
“The best thing to do is find a friend or a hotel to stay at for a cool-down so both parties have the freedom to gather their thoughts and gauge their feelings without outside influence,” she says.
4. Tell friends and family about it right away
While the hours and days after the infidelity disclosure can be lonely and confusing, Concepcion says both spouses must resist the urge to turn to their social media for support until they figure out how to move forward with the relationship.
“It’s important that you first assess where you stand with everything,” she says. “Maybe you have a hard line about infidelity, haven’t been happy, and want a divorce. Or maybe you want to try to repair the relationship. It is best to come together and be on the same page on the next steps before sharing personal matters with family.”
5. Share every detail about the cheating with your partner
Too much disclosure of the affair can be fatal to the relationship, warns sexologist and sex educator Susanah Weiss. It’s important to be frank, but it’s important to keep the motivation behind the confession in mind.
“It’s important to ask yourself whether this desire stems from a desire to help your partner recover from the incident or from a desire to alleviate your own guilt,” she says.
The most important thing, she says, is to focus on the cheater’s feelings and motivations, not the cheating itself.
“Hearing everything about the other person or gender can unnecessarily increase feelings of jealousy,” says Weiss.
And just as the scammer shouldn’t share too much, the person who has been scammed needs to identify what details are important to them in order to understand them. You deserve an honest account of what happened and why it happened. You probably don’t need – or want – to hear a detailed play-by-play guide on how it happened.
6. Lack of Full Disclosure
While it can be a mistake to indiscriminately dump all the details of an affair on your spouse, withholding information can be just as bad. The challenge for couples trying to reconcile after cheating is finding the right balance of information.
Naomi Yano, a couples therapist who specializes in infidelity recovery, says couples she works with often get caught in communication loops that prevent their relationship from recovering. Common elements are what she calls “trickle truth,” where the cheater tries to protect their partner by selectively revealing the truth about their affair.
“They usually mean well when they don’t share details because they think it will hurt their already injured partner,” she says. “It actually has the opposite effect. Every time the injured partner learns again that something has been hidden, they go back to square one and rebuild trust.”
7. Trying to recover too quickly
Marriage coach and relationship expert Lesli Doares says couples who rush the reconciliation process won’t get the results they want. Marriage recovery after infidelity is slow, difficult work. But, she says, it has to be done, for the good of both parties.
“There’s often a rush to get through it and get things back to normal,” she says. “But normality was part of the problem.”
Doares notes that leaving the marriage is a sign of problems elsewhere in the relationship.
“Infidelity only makes whatever the problems were worse, it doesn’t make them go away,” she says. “Healing is a slow process and often an uneven one. It’s like peeling onions – often there are several layers for both partners.
The bottom line is that reconciliation after infidelity is not possible unless both parties commit to doing the work needed to rebuild trust and repair the relationship. But unless every person is committed to this goal, they will only put things right on the surface. The underlying problems remain.
“They seem to be trying to make things right, but one of them really doesn’t want to,” Saltz says. “And then it probably won’t happen.”
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This article was originally published on May 9, 2022
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