Why Some Couples Can Recover After Cheating and Others Can't (2023)

“Some people want to know everything about the affair,” Derhally says. “They want to know where it happened, how many times. Some people don't want to know as much information. What's scary about affairs is there's a lot of unknowns. Then you kind of move the process of being able to vent your feelings to your partner and the process of your partner being able to receive that forgiveness.”

Trust has to be rebuilt.

“Betrayal is the most damaging part of an affair,” Klow says. “The person who was cheated on usually struggles to know what is real anymore. Their ability discern what is real gets damaged.”

To try to repair this, Derhally says the person who cheated needs to be completely honest, even if it will seemingly hurt their spouse more, since continuing to hide the truth can cause even more damage.

That includes letting the partner who was cheated on see emails and cell phones, which Coleman calls “random ‘drug tests.’” “It seems like the cheater is now on probation, and that is not ideal, but the betrayed partner needs to rebuild trust and faith,” he says. “Knowing they can check on their partner's phone or computer is a bit reassuring.”

Handing over email and social media passwords can be another sign of trustworthiness. “Giving passwords, things like that, it's a gift that someone who's betrayed you gives that says, ‘You can have 100 percent trust in me and you can look through my things and you can do what you need to do,’” Derhally says. “There's many people I've worked with who are very willing to give their passwords and things like that to their spouse.”

Of course, technology can make it possible for cheaters to continue behaving badly without leaving a record by deleting apps from their phones or communicating with affair partners through things like Snapchat. “What I've started seeing now, unfortunately, is that there's ways to still hide things,” Derhally tells SELF. “Not to scare people, but that is a challenge.”

Underlying issues must be addressed.

It’s also important for the couple to evaluate the relationship’s issues beyond the cheating. “A troubled relationship is not an excuse for cheating, but if improvements can be made in broader areas—communication, time together, sex, etc.—it can be reassuring to both that cheating is less likely to occur,” Coleman says.

“A major thing with couples is always to have them realize that there are two people there, and each person has to own their stuff, because blame is a big deal,” Sherry Amatenstein, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist, tells SELF. She also says that it’s important to take advantage of whatever communication skills couples always have, even if they’re not perfect. “I work on having people own their stuff. If they're willing to get out all their repressed stuff and learn how to communicate better, that certainly can be a help.”

The cheater also needs to not only take full responsibility for the betrayal, but to show patience and understanding that healing from their actions is a long process, Cilona says.

Together, start over again.

Finally, the couple has to essentially recreate their relationship and learn how to deal with heartbreak. “The couple needs to let go of the parts of their [partnership] which were not working, and then move towards creating a new dynamic in the relationship,” Klow says. “Couples can emerge from an affair with a better sense of who they each are and what they want from their relationship.”

Amatenstein agrees. “It's not going to be the same, but that doesn't mean that it can't be strong in some ways stronger than it was originally,” she tells SELF. “But you can forge something through it.”

Experts say it’s possible for couples to go on to have a happy relationship after infidelity, provided they’re willing to put in the work. “The couple can survive and grow after an affair,” says Coleman. “They have to—otherwise the relationship will never be gratifying.”

But couples who do decide to separate after an affair can still benefit from therapy, especially if they have children. “I always say that couples therapy is not about, ‘Oh wow, the marriage is saved. Because that's not always gonna be the best outcome,” Amatenstein says. “If each person learns from it and can move on and be in each others lives when they have kids, that’s absolutely a success.”

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