When you commence your journey together down the path of monogamy, you may never dream that one day you might find yourself standing alone, searching for the partner who has strayed. While monogamy works beautifully for some and is navigated without undue effort by others, it remains an extremely problematic challenge for many. If you are in a monogamous relationship and encounter the issue of infidelity, it can be bewildering and enormously painful, threatening your expectations for the future and even your memories. The common question that my clients have when faced with this matter is: Can I ever trust him (her) again? The answer is YES!
Dr. Stephanie’s Phases for Reconstructing Trust:
*Confront Painful Emotions!
It is imperative that you both acknowledge your own and each other’s feelings, and express them openly. It is also imperative to remember that emotions, no matter how passionate they may be, are always based on assumptions, which are never facts. More times than not, assumptions prove to be unrealistic and fictitious. Therefore, focus on the facts!
Undoubtedly, when one partner wanders from the path, there is a serious emotional impact on both individuals. The one remaining on the connected route may feel a tremendous loss of identity, sense of specialness, and purpose. They might feel unworthy, sexually inadequate, and inhabit a disturbing inner landscape of abandonment. Many also suffer from depression, along with intense anger that causes them to fraudulently strike out at others—not only the offending partner. Children, especially, can be left with lasting wounds.
The drifting partner can suffer from feelings such as punishing guilt, anxiety and anger towards their partner or even themselves, as well as isolation, desperation, and self-disgust. They might also be confused and have questions such as Do I love my partner? Should I stay or should I leave? Is my behavior—are my feelings—normal?
*Explore Beliefs about Sex and Love!
I encourage my clients to contemplate what their core beliefs are regarding sex and love—not what society, religion, or childhood illusions say they should be, but what they truthfully are. Do these beliefs serve the relationship? Are they realistic? Challenge your impractical views. Some examples are:
We should tell each other everything and spend every second together.
My partner should know all my sexual desires and how to please me, without me communicating them.
Sex and love should always be passionate.
My partner should desire sex as much and as often as I do.
My partner is to blame for my negative feelings toward myself.
*Confront Doubts and Fears!
Doubts and fears about moving forward with or without your relationship must be addressed honestly with one another. Can I trust my partner again? Is the injury so horrible that it can never be mended? Can my partner transform his or her behavior? Does my partner want to remain because of me, or for the family unit? I am terrified of being alone; could I make it on my own?
Although it is valuable to express these doubts and fears, I invite you not to make your decisions based on them. They can cause a mask of bitterness. Remove this mask and look at the entire journey of your path together, not just the area where your partner wandered off.
*Recovering and Rebuilding!
Each partner must have a willingness to learn from the infidelity and accept his or her responsibility for it. The only prospect to move forward and rebuild trust is to stop pointing fingers at one another and accept your share of accountability. Individually explore your personal journeys on the planet. Recognize the connections between your past, personal pain and conflicts, and your current relationship trials.
Many individuals left alone on the path have experienced abandonment or abuse in their early years. They can be possessive, demanding, and jealous in their romantic relationships. This can actually push their partners off the path. Many are incapable of valuing themselves or setting realistic expectations for themselves. This may set up idealistic expectations regarding their partners.
The wandering partner may have a history of being demanding, selfish, manipulative or refusing to be accountable for their behavior. They may not be willing to face the fact that they have deeply wounded a special one in their life. They often create excuses for their behaviors: all men/women cheat; my mother/father cheated so I learned it from them; it meant nothing. Some of these excuses (particularly about family history) are valuable information to help you understand one another, but in the end, you must take complete responsibility for your actions in order to continue on a healthy path with your partner.
*Forgiveness and Restoring Trust!
It is a fact that trust is earned, not given. It is also a fact that to trust you must be willing to reopen yourself to vulnerability, to the possibility of further wounds. It is worth noting that anyone can hurt you—not only your partner who cheated. A new partner might hurt you the same way or differently. Love is never perfect. It is crucial that both partners be willing to evolve and accept the other’s changes. The process of forgiveness can take a lifetime. Eventually, the daily pain and suffering will lessen; however, it may never completely disappear. Be content with this. Each of you should state honestly what you need and want from the relationship and one another. Re-evaluate where you are and where you both are going.
As you journey, compassion for yourself and your partner will be your greatest comrade. The truth is love is not pure; it is complex and muddled, and just because one of you has strayed does not mean you cannot find your way back.
Be willing to stand collectively at the fork in the road and choose. Should we take the path of trust together, or should we take the path of trust alone? Either direction is evolution as long as it is selected out of love and compassion not only for yourself but for your partner.