Here's How To Rebuild Trust After You Cheated On Your Partner, According To Experts
If you've ever cheated on a partner, or been cheated on, you know all about the cataclysmic effect that infidelity can have on trust in a relationship. Relationships don't always bounce back from cheating, but here's the good news: It doesn't have to be the automatic deal-breaker you might think it is. In fact, it is possible to come back from cheating, but it takes hard work and two willing parties. Knowing how to rebuild trust after you cheated is essential to getting your relationship back on a healthy, happy, and perhaps even stronger track than it was before.
Believe it or not, according to Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love, it really is possible to rebuild the relationship to a point where it's actually stronger than before the infidelity. "Despite common belief, couples can not only rebuild trust after infidelity, but make their relationship stronger than it’s ever been,” she tells Elite Daily. “Most of the infidelity that we see is that the person who cheated didn’t go out with the specific purpose of cheating. There are so many variables that come into play that you probably don’t need, but couples can leave their relationship vulnerable to cheating by assuming it won’t happen in their relationship, not defining cheating, downplaying threats, and not being diligent about boundaries and appropriate behaviors.”
It’s possible, but Chlipala stresses that this will take work — and patience. "Although it can vary for each couple, a good benchmark [for how long it will take to rebuild the trust] is 1-2 years,” she explains. “An important milestone to hit is the one-year anniversary of finding out about the infidelity. If used well, the time has allowed for some of the triggers and emotional reactions to lessen, giving the couple opportunities to learn from the infidelity and strengthen their relationship."
Believing that there is hope for the future of the relationship is just the first step to rebuilding the trust that was lost. Here's what the experts say is the actual work necessary to make that a reality.
1. Be sincerely sorry for your betrayal and the harm it caused.
This may seem obvious, but Dr. Talal H. Alsaleem, a licensed marriage and family therapist in infidelity recovery, stresses that you really need to be remorseful about the infidelity and the pain it caused your partner. “The unfaithful partner needs to acknowledge the emotional and physical impact of the affair on the betrayed partner and be able to provide a sincere apology for the damage they caused,” Dr. Alsaleem tells Elite Daily. “From the betrayed partner’s perspective, this shows that the unfaithful partner has the ability to reflect on the consequences of their actions, which can serve as a deterrent for any future desire to cheat.”
“Sincerity is key” in this situation, Dr. Carmen McGuinness, a board certified behavior analyst, psychologist, and relationship expert, tells Elite Daily. “If your partner truly believes you love him or her and are sorry, there is a chance [of rebuilding the trust],” she adds.
2. Be totally open and transparent.
Once you’ve broken someone's trust, the first step to regaining it is to be totally and completely transparent, says Chlipala. “The betrayed’s entire world and reality as he or she knew it has come crashing down. They question everything — their relationship, their partner, what was real, what wasn’t, etc. They can experience PTSD symptoms and feel as though they are going crazy and are easily triggered,” she explains. “The betrayer can ease the triggers and PTSD symptoms by increasing transparency.”
What does this level of transparency look like? “Passwords have to be shared, feelings have to be discussed,” Kevon Owen, a clinical psychotherapist and marriage counselor, tells Elite Daily. “If you're in a relationship that's rebuilding trust, it's time to open up full access. Live like a person with nothing to hide.”
3. Be committed to open and honest communication.
Rebuilding trust may require to you to totally change the way you communicate, because in order for the assurance that you'll never cheat again to grow, both people need to be open and honest about how they're feeling, says Chlipala — even when it might lead to a tense or awkward conversation. “One common characteristic of people who cheat is that they avoid conflict. If they didn’t speak up for their needs, they might have been resentful or felt unloved and unsatisfied in the relationship. This then may have made them more vulnerable to another person — such as thinking, ‘This person gets me. They understand what I need,’” Chlipala explains.
Nicole Richardson, licensed marriage and family therapist, agrees that the person who cheated has to be open to those difficult conversations, but that's part of the work needed to heal the relationship. “Often, the betrayer wants the conflict to be over as soon as possible. But the other partner needs more time to grieve and adjust. The partner who was unfaithful knew about what was going on longer than the other partner and took some power (or sense of power) from their partner, it is critical to be patient, be transparent, and be kind,” she tells Elite Daily.
Part of that, says Dr. Alsaleem, is answering any questions your partner has, no matter how hard that may be. “The unfaithful partner needs to be honest about the story of the affair and provide the necessary information needed to understand what happened, and why it happened,” Dr. Alsaleem says. “In order to rebuild trust, the betrayed partner needs to know what caused the affair. Identifying the root of the problem and resolving it will give the betrayed partner the necessary peace of mind needed to avoid worrying about relapse.”
4. Be willing to look at your own responsibility and why you cheated.
Along with being open, honest, and transparent, Chlipala says it's essential that the person who cheated really take ownership of what they did. That’s because not only does your partner need to know that you realize the betrayal, but it's how you get to the root of why you cheated so you are less likely to do it again. “The person who cheated might be tempted to say, ‘I told you I was sorry and I won’t do it again.’ It’s not enough,” Chipala explains. “One of the things that the betrayed struggles with is how he or she is to know that their partner won’t do it again. Words mean nothing, especially after the discovery of an affair. The betrayer needs to understand the variables that lead to cheating, so that they can demonstrate second-order change.”
5. Get any help you need or that your partner requests.
If this sounds overwhelming, Dr. McGuinness points out that you don't have to do it alone — nor should you if your partner has expressed a desire to include a professional third party, she says. “If your partner wants therapy, do it. If you cheated, you probably need therapy. Own it and you might just save your [relationship].”
Ultimately, the takeaway here is that recovering from infidelity is possible, but it won't happen on its own or overnight. The key, the experts stress, is patience, honesty, and accountability. If you're willing to be radically open and honest, are truly sorry, and both of you are willing to put in all the hard work it takes to rebuild your relationship, there really may be a happy ending to your love story after all. And that is worth fighting for.