The revelation of an affair of the heart (where a partner fell in love and/or had a deep emotional involvement) or a sexual affair is devastating but it doesn’t have to end a committed relationship. In fact, it can be rebuilt and be stronger than before.
Don’t minimize the damage an affair of the heart can have because there wasn’t sexual involvement. Research has shown that when asked which would be more painful, the majority of women overwhelmingly responded that an affair of the heart would be more devastating. Men felt more threatened by sexual infidelity.
In order to get past the infidelity, you need to meet several non-negotiable conditions and take some important steps:
- Both partners must be committed to saving the relationship. And after an affair, that’s not a given. Be honest with yourself about whether you want to save the relationship. Only if the answer is yes for both of you, move on to evaluating and addressing the other conditions.
- The partner who cheated must feel authentic, healthy shame. The only way to move forward with the next steps is if the cheating partner feels truly ashamed in his or her heart and soul about the behavior. Authentic shame is a corrective emotion: it alerts us to the “dangers” of our behavior and keeps us from repeating bad behaviors. It is the feeling that comes when we acknowledge having wronged someone or having done wrong, and it is not just normal but also essential and makes us human. It comes with having a conscience.
- All communication with the “other” man or woman must end. This may seem like a given, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for the partner who has cheated to end the affair—completely. That means no e-mails, no phone calls, no texting, and no “friendly lunches” (that’s likely how the person who cheated got into this mess).
- The cheating partner must be willing to practice total transparency. If the partner who has been cheated on wants to listen in on the “breakup” phone call or read the Dear John or Dear Jane letter, he or she should be allowed to do so. And the cheating partner can’t just say that all communication has ended; he or she has to prove it. This includes freely offering his or her partner all Internet passwords, outing all those “work” cell phones, and opening up about all travel plans and other plans that don’t involve his or her partner. The partner who cheated can’t ask for trust. Now it’s time to “show, not tell.”
- The person who did the cheating must allow his or her partner to express anger freely—and not just once. Sure, partners in a garden-variety argument make things worse by dumping anger on each other. But this is different. The one who has been cheated on must get it all out.
These are just the initial stepping stones to rebuilding the foundation of a successful trusting open relationship with your significant other. The number one reason relationships don’t survive an affair is the loss of trust.
Stay tuned for Part Two: Rebuilding Trust After An Affair of The Heart or Sexual Affair.