Infidelity can deal a near-fatal blow to a relationship, leaving it standing on its last legs. Even if a couple decides to move past this setback, rebuilding a relationship after cheating is a journey fraught with pitfalls. There is anger, hurt, a sense of betrayal, and stemming from it, a lot of awkwardness between partners working on reconciliation after infidelity.
No matter how you justify cheating to yourself while you’re in the thick of it, once an affair is exposed, your partner is invariably going to feel hurt, disrespected and let down. These emotions can drive a permanent wedge between partners, making recovering from infidelity near-impossible. Then there are those who try to put this nightmare behind them, and move forward, together.
Even for those couples, following through on the decision and bringing back intimacy and affection after infidelity is no walk in the park. What kind of roadblock do couples face when rebuilding a relationship after cheating and why? And more importantly, what can be done to navigate these as smoothly as possible? We bring you the answers in consultation with psychologist Nandita Rambhia (MSc, Psychology), who specializes in CBT, REBT and couples counseling.
Roadblocks In Rebuilding A Relationship After Cheating
Adrian and Samantha have been trying to navigate the maze of rebuilding a relationship after cheating for months now. On a regular Thursday evening, Samantha chanced upon Adrian’s elaborate sexts with a coworker and discovered her husband had been having an affair for the past year. All the while, she saw no signs of cheating in her husband’s behavior, which is why the discovery hit her like a bolt out of the blue.
After the initial spell of hurt, anger, crying and lashing out, Samantha saw that Adrian was truly remorseful of his actions and realized that she still loved him. So, the two decided to give their marriage another chance. However, the journey hasn’t been easy. Samantha still feels tempted to check on Adrian’s phone whenever she gets a chance, finds herself second-guessing the veracity of anything he tells her and has struggled to be intimate with him again.
“There is just this sense of awkwardness between us now. It has been almost six months since that fateful evening, and it feels like the ghost of the affair looms large on our relationship. Even in the most normal moments, somewhere at the back of my mind, I’m always very aware of the fact that this man cheated on me.
Related Reading: Effects Of An Extramarital Affair On The Partner
“Last Sunday, we were out for brunch, and he just leaned in to dab the corner of my mouth I had got mayo on, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he had done the same with the woman he was having an affair with. This happens a lot. We could be having a good time together like any other couple, and then, the most normal things can turn into a trigger. I don’t know if we can truly emerge from the shadows of this affair,” she says.
According to Nandita, this is not unusual. “Most couples grapple with a sense of awkwardness when rebuilding a relationship after cheating owing to a lot of mental blocks interfering with the emotional bond, mental connect and sexual intimacy.
“The degree to which these mental blocks impact the efforts of reconciliation after infidelity also depends on what stage of recovering from the affair a couple is in. Soon after an affair is exposed, the partner who has been cheated stops feeling anything for the other,” she explains.
The love that a partner may have for the other is replaced by other emotions when an affair is exposed. “Feelings of anger, betrayal, and lack of trust are so high at this point that it is difficult for a person to be empathetic toward their cheating partner. Usually, these strong emotions begin to settle over time. If a relationship was strong before the infidelity, a couple can begin the process of reconciliation,” says Nandita.
However, it’s not as if once the emotions begin to settle down, a couple can just brush off the after-effects of infidelity and go back to being the way they were. Even if two people decide to give each other another chance, bringing back intimacy and affection after infidelity can be challenging.
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“A couple has to navigate many hurdles along the way. For one, they experience guilt – while for one, it is the classic case of cheating guilt, for the other, it can be the guilt of not being enough. The partner who has been cheated on will invariably wonder whether they lacked something, which pushed their significant other to have an affair.
“Then, comes the challenge of being sexually intimate with one another. When a couple gets intimate again when working on reconciliation after infidelity, the thoughts that the cheating partner has been with another person are bound to crop up, making sexual intimacy difficult. That’s why sex should be brought back into the equation only after a couple has worked through the difficult emotions they’re hit with in the process of rebuilding a relationship after cheating,” says Nandita.
She also adds, “There will be phases, when the partner who has been cheated on would want to know all the details of the affair and ask questions to their unfaithful partner in a bid to understand the what, why, how of it all. Then, there will be phases when they would rather not know anything.”
How To Navigate The Awkwardness In Rebuilding A Relationship After Cheating
All in all, rebuilding a relationship after cheating can be a roller coaster ride, with its share of highs and lows. When you hit the lowest of the lows, it can seem like there is no hope of survival. However, how you navigate these challenges can make all the difference.
Nandita says, “Whether or not a couple can survive the setback of infidelity also depends on the health of the relationship before the infidelity. If the relationship was strong, it can be rekindled, provided both partners are willing to put in the herculean effort it takes. If the relationship was riddled with issues, then reconciliation after infidelity becomes harder.”
Having taken stock of your relationship, if you and your partner feel that there is hope for you to survive the setback of infidelity, Nandita recommends the following steps to navigate the awkwardness and the mental block along the way:
1. Accept that your relationship has been dealt a severe blow
The first step toward surviving an affair and shaking off the negativity and apprehensions that come in its wake is to accept that your relationship has been dealt a severe blow. This isn’t something you can be in denial about or brush under the carpet.
“It is hard to get past the fact that your partner has been sexually intimate with another person while still being in a committed relationship with you or that they may have whispered the same sweet nothings to them as they did to you.
“It surely isn’t a pleasant feeling. But even more crushing than this unpleasantness is the hurt of betrayal and broken trust. Those are the feelings that truly loom large and take precedence after an affair is exposed. If you want to rebuild the relationship, acceptance of what has happened is the only way forward,” says Nandita.
Related Reading: How To Get Over Cheating – 15 Sensible Ways To Close The Chapter
2. Keep communication channels open
Honest and open communication is the backbone of your efforts of rebuilding a relationship after infidelity. Both partners have to get over their inhibitions and learn to voice their thoughts, share their emotions with each other. Only then can there be the hope of fostering intimacy and affection after infidelity.
For instance, if the partner who has been cheated on feels they’re falling out of love after infidelity, it’s advisable to share those thoughts with the partner rather than bottle them up. Realize and accept that it’s normal, and with time and effort, you can overcome this feeling and build a new connection within an existing equation with your partner.
“Talk to each other and get to the bottom of the what and why of the whole thing, if that’s what it takes for you to get past the inhibitions and awkwardness when reconnecting after an affair,” recommends Nandita.
3. Focus on rebuilding trust
The cheating partner must not lose sight of the fact that the onus of rebuilding trust in the relationship is on them. “The partner who has cheated on the other must behave appropriately and mindfully take small actions that can contribute to rebuilding trust. For instance, don’t disappear without telling your partner or withhold information. In short, behave in a manner that your partner would want you to and put their mind at ease.
“In most cases, the partner who has been cheated on will have the urge to cross-check small details or browse through the other’s personal devices. However, if the erring partner takes the necessary steps to rebuild trust, the cross-checking will go away after some time,” says Nandita.
4. Treat it as a fresh start
What happens after an affair is discovered? Irrespective of whether the couple decides to stay together or part ways, the relationship they shared before the act of infidelity goes through the shredder. The decision to stay together is akin to making a fresh start.
“When rebuilding a relationship after cheating, treat it as a new romantic connection. The old equation that you shared will be obliterated by the breach of faith, there are no two ways about it, and your relationship now will be a lot different from what it used to be. Whether it’s for the better or worse depends on both partners.
“So, start things slow, like you would when you begin dating someone new, and build it up over time. You cannot expect to go back to the way things were 3 months after the affair discovery. In fact, there is a good chance you may never go back to the way things were. And that’s okay. Perhaps, this time, you can build a more holistic connection,” says Nandita.
Related Reading: 12 Signs He Regrets Cheating And Wants To Make Amends
5. Define boundaries and adhere to them
Another crucial element of reconciliation after infidelity is having well-defined boundaries in place to weed out any insecurities, apprehensions and trust issues. “This time around, sit with your partner to define relationship boundaries, and more importantly, adhere to them, no matter what.
“If either partner – especially the cheating partner – violates these boundaries, it makes the other insecure, bringing up the same trust issues,” says Nandita.
Navigating the awkwardness, anger, guilt and so many other emotions that infidelity brings in its wake can be extremely hard if you’re on your own. You and your partner may not have the right tools or clarity of mind to manage the situation skillfully when emotions are running so high. In these circumstances, seeking help from a skilled counselor or roping in a neutral third party who can give you perspective on your situation can be extremely beneficial.
Going into couple’s therapy has helped a lot of people in their journey of reconciliation after infidelity. If you too find yourself engulfed by messy emotions after cheating on your partner or being cheated upon, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist near you. You can even find one from the comfort of your home on Bonobology’s panel.