The discovery of an affair may be one of the most traumatic events in your life. If your partner is the one who had the affair, you’re then forced to look at your life in an entirely different way. The way you look at your past is different. Your present may be so painful that it seems like a chore get out of bed in the morning. Your future may seem bleak, or you may struggle to see the future at all. If you are the partner that was unfaithful, you may struggle looking at yourself or your partner the same way. You may even question who you are because you never thought you could do this. Many couples decide to try to work through the pain and stay together. But how can you do that when trust has been destroyed?
The first real step in rebuilding trust after infidelity is deciding that you want to work on the relationship; even if this is not a permanent decision. In my practice, many couples come into counseling not sure if they want to stay together or not. Discernment counseling is appropriate for a couple trying to figure out if they want to repair their relationship. This is not usually the best time to work on trust. There has to be safety in rebuilding trust. When a couple decides to just “stick it out” when going through the hard part to rebuild, they can create safety.
In the depth of the pain, injured partners are looking for answers to questions they may not have the words to ask. They start with asking about the specifics. Who? Where? When?These are the logistical questions that seem endless. They are drowning and it feels like the answers to these questions are the only life preserver they can see. Most of these questions need to be answered to rebuild trust. Being completely open and honest (even when it is painful) is necessary to allow the injured partner to start to trust. New secrets or dishonesty will deepen the pain and pull a couple apart. If the offending spouse offers answers to questions before being asked, this can be received as the ultimate act of love. Keeping secrets in the effort to protect a partner breeds distrust.
An offending partner attempting to restore a relationship after infidelity has to be accountable for their past and current behavior. This may mean giving up privacy for the comfort of the injured partner. Some couples hire private investigators to prove the offending partner is currently faithful. Other couples share passwords and allow access to secret accounts. The injured partner may ask for access and information that may feel intrusive. Refusing this access may mean that trust cannot be rebuilt. The offending spouse may need to decide between privacy and restoration at some point in the recovery process.
A relationship that struggles with losing trust is not doomed. Many couples can and have recovered after the discovery of infidelity. Recovery requires the effort of both parties and a resolve that they will do what it takes to make it work. Once recovered, many relationships come out stronger than ever before. There is hope in healing, and things can get better.