The discovery of infidelity – ranging from secret text messages, phone conversations, or Internet exchanges and physical or emotional relationships to long-term extra-marital relationships, can be an extremely devastating experience. Cheating on a partner and lying to cover it up naturally lead to distrust and suspicion in the betrayed partner.
A couple can, however, rebuild trust. The speed and degree of recovery are greatly affected by the actions of the partner who cheated. However, many cheaters do not understand the feelings their partners go through and have no idea what to do in order to rebuild trust. These steps will help people who cheated but who are serious about rebuilding trust and healing their relationships.
#1. Stop lying and strive for honesty. After betraying your partner’s trust, you will add insult to injury by continuing to lie, twist, hide, or deny. Take up the challenge of honesty at all levels. It is the only way to reclaim your own integrity.
*Start to think of yourself as someone that your partner should and can trust. Thinking of yourself this way is the first step toward making it happen. Then let them know that you want them to trust you again.
*Provide the complete story up front and do so voluntarily. A voluntary confession is a major step in beginning to restore trust. You may not have told the whole story/truth in the beginning, but it is very important to tell everything, even if you held back in the beginning. Your partner knows you and can sense when there is more. She may continue to ask questions or keep bringing the matter up because she is waiting for the rest of it, but feels she can’t come right out and ask; It is up to you to tell everything.
*Do not omit or hide certain aspects of the truth. This will not protect your partner. In fact, it is impossible to address guilt or solve problems without fully sharing the facts. Even though the truth may hurt your partner in the short run, your honesty will be necessary for long-term reconciliation. As mentioned before, your partner probably already knows you’re still holding back. There may be holes in your story that she is having difficulty in understanding and is waiting for you to tell her. It may hurt her, but you MUST tell the truth. If not, this will and most always blows up in the future, and that is much worse.
*Always tell the truth moving forward. Additional lying is likely to be detected and will prevent the reconciliation process from moving forward. Your partner may ask questions to verify truths that he or she actually already knows. He or she also may have learned to detect your dishonesty through body language, speech patterns, and other means. Finally, your own lying is likely to cause you and your partner to hold back in the relationship.
#2. End things openly and clearly with the person you cheated with. This person is a part of the problem, even if unwittingly. Their role can’t be ignored. If you don’t offer closure, there may never be any.
*Be brave. Admitting your guilt to the other person may be a small embarrassment—particularly if they did not know you were cheating—but in the long run, it may restore trust in your partner.
*Although you should keep in mind the feelings of the other person, don’t make the excuse that you don’t want to put the other person through the process of ending things, remember that your partner’s feelings should be even more important to you.
*Consider asking the other person to apologize as well (if the other person knew that you were cheating and was a willing participant). This is particularly important if that person will continue to be a factor in your lives.
*If you cheated with a coworker, remember that your day-to-day encounters with him or her may make it very hard for your partner to start to trust again. Get your life priorities straight and do what you need to do.
*Show the “break-up” message to your partner or let him or her listen as you tell the other person(s). If they never hear or see you tell the other person things are over (or that you had cheated to begin with), they may not believe you. Moreover, it may also help you communicate to your partner that he or she is more important—not other men or women. You cannot underestimate the value of this action.
#3. Cheating is 100% a choice. It comes from a place of entitlement. Own it as such.
*Rebuilding trust is about selflessly doing everything in your power to help your partner feel safe.
*Even if your partner is guilty of many mistakes of his or her own in your relationship, don’t blame your partner for your cheating. Instead of cheating, you could have dealt with the issues in other, honest ways. While discussing your partner’s mistakes, avoid the implication that your cheating or lying was because of these mistakes. It wasn’t.
*Don’t expect sympathy. Your partner may have been unhappy or frustrated with the relationship as well, but instead made a decision not to lie to you, cheat on you or betray you.
*Avoid tired, bogus excuses including “it just happened”, temptation, seduction by someone else, confusion, not realizing that it was happening, not meaning to do it, it was only an emotional and not physical relationship or falling prey to the influence of others. Unless you were coerced, YOU made your own choice, and your partner knows this.
*Avoid being defensive. Being defensive will just inflame the situation and prevent you from dealing with your mistake. This is not a time that “the best defense is a good offense.” This is the time to be regretful, remorseful, empathetic, compassionate, honest, and emotionally available.
#4. Answer questions. It is extremely difficult for a betrayed partner to know that there is another man/woman in the world who may know more personal details about their marriage than they do.
*Your partner is going to want lots of details and ask questions about things you may not want to answer, over and over and over again. Too bad. Your partner is going to cross reference your prior stories and ask you to confirm if “this” or “that” was a lie. If you held anything back, beware, because it will come back to bite you!
*She/he is struggling with the truth about all those little things that did not add up while you were lying and cheating, and if you allowed them to believe that they were imagining things, picked fights, turned your guilt on them, this is another injury that they will need to heal from. Therefore, asking multiple questions helps the betrayed partner get up to speed, thus obtaining necessary information to deal with feelings of being in the dark while their partner was trying to hide things from them. Many partners deal with these feelings during unable to sleep. Their mind is whirling and trying to put your story together.
*Keep in mind that questions about the other man/woman (“Was she pretty/sexy/smart, exciting), may actually represent insecurities caused by the cheating. Although you should not lie about what you liked in the person you cheated with, use these moments as opportunities to reinforce why you like your partner.
#5. Be patient as your partner rebuilds trust. Suspicion and distrust are natural reactions when a person has been cheated on and lied to—after all, the evidence supports a belief that you aren’t trustworthy. Trust can be rebuilt, but it does not come quickly, even for kind-hearted people.
*Confess, apologize, and vow to remain honest in the future, but do not expect that doing so is enough for everything to return to normal.
*Anticipate that your partner will be on a roller coaster of emotions. Mood changes, sleep and appetite disruption, health declines, and sudden tears, anger or withdrawal are natural. They may be alright today but devastated again tomorrow. Be patient as they go through the process. It is a process and it takes time.
*Do not dictate the length of time it should take your partner to be “over it”, and don’t ask them for a time frame either. Instead, do all that you can and check in with them periodically to find out where they are.
*Your relationship with your partner during this time is not necessarily an indicator of how it will be from now on. Your partner’s suspicion and distrust can eventually dissipate over time.
#6. Be around. Your partner needs an opportunity to work through things with you. At minimum, you need to be emotionally available. However, physical presence can help further, as it will also counteract your partner’s feelings that you don’t value him or her.
*Be there to listen, even though it is you that caused the pain. Otherwise, your partner will have lost one of the most important people in their lives that they turn to for support: you.
*Be there to answer questions so that your partner does not have a feeling of hopelessness, to fill in the details correctly rather than let them fill them in incorrectly, and to prevent suspicions that often develop when cheaters are absent.
*Be patient. Although it may be difficult repeatedly answering questions and dealing with him/her being suspicious, doing so in the short run will prevent explosions down the road.
*Understand that, for a while, when you spend time with other people, your partner may become suspicious. Again, do not dismiss this sort of distrust as paranoia. Instead, work to combat it with openness.
*If you can’t be with your partner physically, keep your phone on whenever possible so that they have access to you. They may not even need to call or message you, but knowing where you are and that you are available may help them see you in a more positive way. Send text messages of love and that you are thinking of him/her throughout the day.
*Proactively ask your partner if he or she is eating, sleeping, etc., and whether he or she is doing okay. This may seem basic, but if your spouse is in a traumatic state, he or she may not be functioning normally and may be too distraught to convey or even meet personal needs. It is, in part, your responsibility to try to predict and account for these needs.
*Be available at an appropriate distance even if your partner needs some time alone.
*If your partner tries to end the relationship, be very clear that you do not want that, and offer to make any additional changes to support your words with action. Although you may have to respect a break of some kind, if you do not make it clear (respectfully) that you don’t want to lose them, they will think that you don’t care. This is a message you want to be loud and clear, particularly after cheating.
#7. Strive to make your partner feel like #1 again. When you cheated, you gave someone else attention and value that normally you would reserve for your own partner. As a result, this may make your partner feel that you don’t value them, or that they lack things you sought in the person you cheated with. It can also make your partner believe that other people don’t realize that you value them. It is up to you to counteract these feelings and convince them that you will not betray them again.
*Ask yourself whether you are failing to appreciate your partner. It could be that the things you looked for outside the relationship were actually available all along inside the relationship—and that you just failed to realize that or make it happen.
*Make a list of things that are special about your partner. Seek to appreciate them in your own mind and heart. Tell and show appreciation, too. Compliments can help a bruised ego and wounded heart. But better still, give clear, action-based assurance that your partner is valuable to you.
*Show them that you love them. Your actions may have caused them to question your love for them. Dedication to this goal is particularly important Immediately following the incident.
*Show and tell other people that your partner is important to you. This will not only help you show your partner that you value them, but also help your partner overcome any feelings of humiliation. It may help you feel better about yourself, too.
#8. Be open. The more openness you demonstrate, the less urgency your partner will feel to check in on your activities.
*When you are by yourself, your partner may wonder whether you are where you say you are. Ease their insecurities by letting know what you’re doing and checking in with messages or quick phone calls when you aren’t at home.
*Invite your partner places you usually go alone (the gym, out with friends, etc.). Even if they don’t take the invitation, the offer will show them that you have nothing to hide.
*Keep in mind that your phone, email, voicemail, and even things like bills may feel like sources of secrets and lies to your partner. If you choose to provide voluntary access to these things, your partner may trust you quicker and easier than before. (If you can’t do that, then it’s fair to question what you are hiding.) Although your partner may never choose to check these things, the simple fact that you made them available could be a huge step in regaining their trust.
*Some of these steps may feel like a violation of your privacy. Remember that serious relationships should involve this kind of openness to begin with. Besides, insisting on your right to hide things will just strengthen the distrust you bred in your partner when you cheated.
*Don’t attempt to spend time with others in secret. It may hurt your partner to know that someone else is worthy of the secret time, and worse, it will promote the sense that you can’t be trusted.
#9. Avoid adding salt to the wounds.
*Remember that just because your partner does not bring up the cheating, it doesn’t mean that it’s not on their mind constantly. They may not mention it because of the humiliation and embarrassment they feel, for what you did to him/her, or for fear that you may get angry.
*Avoid adding additional stress to the relationship, particularly in the weeks just after the cheating comes to light.
*Avoid putting your friends or ex’s before your partner, spending time with friends or co-workers of the sex you are attracted to, commenting on the attractiveness of other people, or forming new relationships in the weeks after a betrayal. These may add salt to the wounds.
*Choose your battles wisely. Keep in mind that now is not necessarily the time to pick fights over certain topics, particularly those related to privacy and possessiveness. You have shaken their feelings of security and trust in the relationship and in the world, and it is openness and understanding that will gain this back, not combativeness and arguments.
*9. Don’t give your partner the opportunity to think “If you could stay up and do all the things with the person you cheated on me with then you can do the same with me.”
#.10. Take the opportunity to refresh your relationship.
*Be grateful. Your spouse is putting in the effort to remain with you and to repair your relationship after your betrayal. No matter how angry, emotional, petty, or unpredictable they may get, they have shown a great love for you and, in many cases, a great strength of character in choosing to rebuild his/her trust for you again. Give your partner respect and gratitude for this decision.
*Your partner may now view you somewhat as a stranger. You may even feel like a stranger to yourself as you reflect on your choices to engage in behaviors that you are not proud of, and your deception and secrecy to hide them. Make the choice to live as the person that you want to be.
*It may help to think about starting over, as if it were a new relationship. For example, find new places or activities to share. For some couples, renewal of marriage vows may be a symbolic reset to their relationship. This approach may help you and your partner address the betrayal (and other issues as well); many couples also report that their relationships are subsequently happier and more fulfilling, but this will not happen overnight.
*Make sure that he or she and everyone around you (i.e., family, friends, coworkers, children) can see that your partner means the world to you and is (once again) first in your life. Speak highly of your partner in a genuine way, being careful to protect their reputation when you speak to others.
*Tell them often that you love them and say it with meaning, from the heart, and while looking them in the eyes. Saying “I love you SO much” will have more meaning. But do not smother them; they are still hurting and trying to heal. Give them space, time to heal, time to reflect, time to put your stories together. Your spouse may not say those words back to you, but remember that they are trying to heal. Saying “I love you” back may make them feel like they are vulnerable. They feel betrayed and are trying to put up defense mechanisms to protect themselves. YOU cheated. It is your responsibility to take the “walls of defense” down; no matter how long it takes.
*Appreciate the second chance—both initially and periodically over the next few years. Remembering what happened from time to time not only will solidify the hard work you did with your partner to recover but will also help you avoid making a bad choice again in the future.
*Don’t cheat again. Third chances are much rarer than second chances.