After Infidelity: 

How the Cheating Spouse Can Recover Trust

by Sally R. Connolly, LMFT and John E. Turner, LMFT

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After Gil’s affair, Susan felt like she was always checking up on him. Each time she did, he resented it more. Both felt like they were in a “no win” situation because Susan did not feel like she could trust him after the betrayal and Gil felt suffocated and violated by her constant need to check on him.

Julie had an affair with a colleague at school. Their affair lasted for 6 months but ended when Tom found some text messages on her phone. Julie could not transfer schools in the middle of the year … and she really liked her current location but she saw her “friend” several times a week. Tom and Julie both wondered how they could reestablish trust after infidelity.

Often there are problems in a marriage before an affair begins; however, in order for trust to rebuild after infidelity, it is important to address the betrayal before spending a great deal of time on the marital problems.

There are several reasons for this, the most important being that, after infidelity, the “hurting” partner will not be in any shape to hear about their own mistakes until they can believe that their spouse has heard them and understands how painful this “solution” was to them and to the relationship. This is sort of like the idea that, if you injure your body, you have to stop the bleeding before you can treat the wound. 

After Infidelity, End Contact

After infidelity, in order to establish trust, and any contact with the other person, has to end. This may be easier said than done as many affairs involve emotional connection and ending the affair brings about a process of grieving.

When the affair has come from a work situation … or somewhere that contact cannot be completely cut off, it is best to find ways to make the break as clean as possible and immediately inform the spouse if contact does occur.

After infidelity, the spouse who has had the affair must also find ways to apologize sincerely for the affair without linking it to the problems in the marriage. An affair is not a good solution for marital problems so the apology has to be clean and simple.

The Betrayer Must Take Leadership In Building Trust

After infidelity, it is best for the cheating spouse to find ways to allow his or her partner to check up and verify that he is where he said he will be … or she is not having contact with her lover.

This may include things like giving out the password to an email account, handing over your cell phone every night so that he can scroll through the numbers and texts, engaging someone to be a “lookout buddy”. This would be a co-worker or friend who has regular contact with the spouse and may know the affaire’.
Any time that the hurt spouse worries about on-going contact, she can talk with this trusted friend to assure that her spouse is being faithful. After the cheating spouse takes charge of ”verifying” her fidelity, it can change the inquisitor/prisoner pattern so that the hurt spouse can let go of some of the checking.

Conversations about the affair should be held to a minimum amount of time during a couple’s week and the cheating spouse should try to answer the questions openly and honestly. It is also good if the person who had the affair can check in with their partner on occasion to find out if there remain any other questions.

As trust begins to develop and, within the first few weeks after disclosure, work on the marriage can proceed and each person will have the chance to speak and be heard about their needs, desires, complaints, hopes and wishes for the marriage. Full recovery cannot be expected for a period of one to two years. It is only then that both will be able to say … “We are okay” … so settle in and know that this process takes time.

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