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Rebuilding trust in a marriage takes hard work and courage. It takes hard work to get to the bottom of why it happened, and courage to face the truth.
How do you rebuild trust in a marriage after infidelity when you are hurting, despondent, and most likely, damn mad? The only way is to get real. Get real about what happened. And get real about why the trust was betrayed.
You may even have to get real about who you have in your life. You either get real, or you succumb to the pain and despair.
Will I Need Professional Counseling to Deal with the Infidelity?
To be frank, you will definitely need to see a professional counselor to properly deal with the consequences of marital infidelity.
Why? Well, everyone’s situation is different – different beliefs, different set of values, different perceptions. These are factors that help determine the eventual consequences of marital infidelity. A skilled professional counselor can help you in applying these factors in a manner that help to restore trust in your marriage.
The purpose of this article therefore is twofold – give you the framework to better deal with the hurt, and to make you more prepared for counseling.
No article, or even book can provide all the help you will need to rebuild trust in your marriage after marital infidelity. Only a skilled counselor can provide this level of help.
Marital infidelity is going to change the landscape of your marriage. You are going to need help in negotiating that landscape and in repairing it.
The Consequences of Not Dealing With Marital Infidelity Properly
Research has shown that infidelity can indeed have long term emotional damage if not dealt with properly. So, there should be no time for self-pity or delusions when dealing with marital infidelity. Your health may be at risk.
Here are some real consequences of not dealing with marital infidelity properly:
- Damage to the family unit, including children.
- Emotional and physical intimacy is adversely affected.
- Ongoing emotional victimhood trauma.
- Polarization in the relationship and increased distrust.
- Loneliness and anger among the partners, and maybe even children, if children are involved.
- An environment of guilt, resentment, and shame.
The best approach to rebuilding trust in a marriage after infidelity is simple – Get to the truth and be guided by it.
As difficult as this no doubt is, it is the only approach that will bring some form of emotional closure that dampens or even eliminate the pain.
Below we are going to go into what getting real and getting to the truth means.
If your marriage has been the victim of infidelity, and you still want your marriage, you cannot just pretend the hurt and damage away. You have to deal with why it happened and fix the why.
Your first step, whether you are the victim or perpetrator, is to get honest about trust – what it is to you, what it means to you, and did you really have trust in your marriage.
How To Rebuild Trust in A Marriage After Infidelity – Getting Honest About Trust
What is the nature of the trust you had in your marriage before the infidelity? Did you just believe it could never happen because your partner was so good to you? Or did you believe it could never happen because he or she is of impeccable character? On what basis did you have that trust?
You have to be very honest in answering that question because if you do not know the answer to that question, you are never going to be able to rebuild trust in your marriage. So be very honest about the trust you now believe you need to rebuild. Because maybe this time you need to build trust, not just rebuild what you had before.
The guide below will help you determine the nature of the trust in your marriage before that trust was breached.
Determine The Nature of Trust In Your Marriage
If you are going to have trust in your marriage after sexual infidelity, you better be prepared to ask the tough questions of the trust you think you had. Hard as this may seem, just know that we can all make the mistake of thinking trust was built on solid grounds when in fact it was not.
Sometimes we will conveniently believe what suits our agenda without due regards to the truth of our situation. Trust in a marriage, or an intimate relationship for that matter, is not the place to make this mistake.
Sometimes we just want to trust that person so much because yes, we want the relationship. And who wants a relationship without trust.
So we slide right into trust without thinking about it too much.
Starting with examining the nature of the trust that existed between you and your partner is as good a place to start in rebuilding trust, even if it was based on faulty assumptions.
So, let’s examine that trust, what it is, what it is not, and what it ought to be.
Trust is Not Belief
What is your trust based on? Is your trust rooted in belief, or is it rooted in actual experience? Do you have enough evidence that your spouse could be trusted the way you thought, or do you just believe they could or should be trusted given who you think he or she is?
Trust is not belief. It is easy to make the mistake of equating belief with trust. This sets us up to be disappointed when someone behaves quite differently from what we expect. We must learn to differentiate between trust and belief in our relationship if we are to avoid repeated heartaches.
Let us look at the following scenario to differentiate between trust and belief.
Trust Must Be Based On What Is Known
Your friend tells you he is not feeling well and asks for your doctor’s telephone number. He then leaves without telling you where he is headed. You could reasonably believe based on the fact he asked for the doctor’s number that he went to see the doctor.
However, knowing nothing else, you should not trust that he went to see the doctor. He did not tell you he was going; you can just assume that is what he wanted to do. Maybe he intended to see who he could see the earliest, his doctor, or yours. Or maybe, he doesn’t care much for his health as you think he does and only wants to have a number just in case things get worse.
Trust should be built on knowing something related to what or who we trust and not assumptions. Many couples date for years and never ask each other how they feel about very basic life values. They just assume that they share some of the basic values and base their trust on that.
So, what was your trust based on? The fact that you think your spouse was of good character and high morals given what you know about them? Well, people of good character and high morals have fault lines that lead them to betray their values, not to mention betraying others.
Later on, we will look at how we build trust on a more solid foundation than just belief or assumptions.
What Does Trust In Your Marriage Mean To You?
How do you know for sure you have the trust in your marriage that you really want? When it comes down to it, trust is first and foremost about comfort. That may sound a bit simplistic, but what we are looking for from trust is comfort. We don’t want to be second-guessing, we don’t want to be having anxiety in our relationship. We want to be comfortable being in that relationship, being ourselves and being with whom we are with. Trust is primarily about comfort.
Identify Areas of Discomfort Between You and Your Partner
So, in all the facets of life that you need to operate with your partner – sexual fidelity, emotional fidelity, the finances, dealing with family issues, dealing with personal and professional issues – in all of these domains, how comfortable were you?
Because if you are able to identify any domain in the relationship where there is discomfort with your partner, you have also identified exactly what you need to address in rebuilding that trust.
Make special note of each area of discomfort. These are the areas you are going to have to pay special attention to.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that none of this has anything to do with sexual infidelity or cheating.
In a study of 495 people, the majority heterousexual, it was found that there were “..eight key reasons that people said they cheated: anger, self-esteem, lack of love, low commitment, need for variety, neglect, sexual desire, and situation or circumstance.”
Now none of these should be seen as acceptable excuses, but these are areas that obviously held discomfort at least for the perpetrators, which resulted in something like sexual infidelity.
Examine all of these areas and be honest about your level of comfort and your spouse’s level of comfort in dealing with each other in all of these.
For you to have sufficient trust in your marriage that allows you and your partner to turn up fully, you must be comfortable with each other in the areas that matter most.
Make a note of the areas where comfort did not exist at an acceptable level. Whatever area you come up with, you will need to deal with if you are going to rebuild trust in your marriage.
How To Tell If Trust In Your Marriage Was A Problem Before The Infidelity
When a marriage experiences sexual infidelity, the most likely reaction is shock, and yes, anger. If you are going to move on and repair your marriage, you have to learn to identify the clues that point to a lack of trust. Then you can get to fixing and rebuilding trust in all the areas you identified above.
Below are some indicators that may very well be evidence of a deficiency of trust in your relationship and may even be impediments to building trust.
Factors That May Be an Impediment to Building Trust
- Do you or your spouse have difficulty admitting when you are wrong? If being right is more important to you than being honest then it is difficult to have trust in that environment.
- Do you and your spouse feel confident in talking with each other about personal or family issues? Do you both demonstrate that you can listen without rushing to judgment or even displaying untimely consternation? An intimate relationship needs the space and patience for this level of interaction. If that space is absent, one may be tempted to look for it elsewhere.
- Do you and your spouse make an effort to display empathy to each other or do you both seem disconnected emotionally just when you should not be? You never know when your spouse may be looking to you for just understanding. Pay close attention so you do not miss these times. If you constantly come across as uninterested, the needs of your spouse do not just die. They will get satisfied in some other manner.
- Do you and your spouse see each other as being fair to other people? If you come across as being unfair to others, betraying the trust or confidence of others, you are casting doubt as to whether you can be trusted.
The above are a few key indicators to tell you how anyone could become detached from the relationship to the extent that it leads to infidelity. While this is in no way an excuse, if we are honest and want to fix the problem, we will want to see clearly what is happening in the relationship.
Confronting The Truth of Infidelity In Marriage
Sexual Infidelity in marriage is such an egregious breach of trust that it is likely to leave both partners in a state of denial. The perpetrator may want to find excuses for his or her actions. The victim may even want to blame themself. Doing any of these is starting on the wrong foot if you want to restore trust in your marriage.
Sexual infidelity must be seen for what it is – a serious breach of trust. This breach of trust must be confronted squarely with no doubt about what needs to take place. As mentioned before, rebuilding trust in a marriage after infidelity takes courage. Both partners are going to have to be courageous if the trust is to be rebuilt completely.
Getting to and accepting the truth of what takes place is the first important step.
So let us look at some of what it may be tempting to see the sexual infidelity as that may pull us away from the truth we need to face.
“It Was Just Sex” – It Is Never Just Sex
Ever heard the phrase, “It was just about the sex.” Sure you must have. It is an excuse used by perpetrators of sexual infidelity, not necessarily to justify it, but to not make it seem such a threat to the relationship. That is a huge mistake – it is, if nothing else, a huge threat to the relationship going forward.
Do not make the mistake of seeing sexual infidelity in your marriage as anything but a threat.
“I Don’t Know What Happened” – They Know
Of course, they know what happened. They had sex with someone with whom they were not supposed to be having sex. This is one of the worst forms of self-delusions as it indicates an acceptance of a lack of self-control. Well, what is likely to happen the next time?
Do not make this kind of excuse, nor tolerate this kind of excuse in your marriage.
“It Meant Nothing To Me” – It Meant Something
Saying sex meant nothing is a putting down of the other person involved in the affair. Maybe that may serve to do for an excuse, but trying to belittle the experience to serve selfish ends is not the way to approach restoring trust in a relationship with integrity. One’s integrity will matter in this process of restoring trust. One should not do anything to damage it any further.
“It Was a Moment of Weakness” – It’s Never a Moment
This moment of weakness had to be created over time. When did the creation of this moment of weakness begin? What were the building blocks for this moment of weakness? Yes, it probably was a moment of weakness, but weakness just does not overcome strength in a moment. It takes more than just a moment.
“We Just Went Too Far” – It Was More Than Far
Here again, it is tempting to just accept this as plausible, as some “Oh shucks, we shouldn’t have gone there” incident. The problem is, indulging in sex with anyone is never just a spur-of-the-moment activity with no other thought behind it. What was it that drove the desire to have “just went too far”? Because whatever it is, may still just be there or at the very least, return one day. Then what?
The above are some of the delusions couples dealing with sexual infidelity in their marriage may have. These delusions, while in some cases are quite understandable, need to be resisted. Knowing what they are likely to be before they are introduced in a very tense, vexing, and trying situation such as dealing with marital infidelity, equip us to handle them properly.
To successfully rebuild trust in a marriage after infidelity requires a completely wholesome approach anchored in courage and truth. Try staying away from delusions and untruths.
Rebuilding Trust In a Marriage After Infidelity – Setting The Tone for The Rebuild
As mentioned above, courage and truth is necessary to rebuild trust that has been breached. Maybe, you now realize you didn’t have the level of trust you thought you had. Or, maybe you really had it and it has been damaged by infidelity. It really doesn’t matter at this point. What matters is you now have an accurate understanding of what you are dealing with.
And most importantly, what you need to fix that could undermine the nurturing of trust in your marriage.
This is important in order to set the right tone for the rebuilding.
Here are some rules for setting the right tone so that trust can be rebuilt in your marriage:
- Sexual infidelity must never be justified, whether you are the perpetrator or victim. Cheating is always the result of an inappropriate decision no matter the circumstances or reasons. Agree up front on that before moving further.
- There can only be one responsible party for any cheating – the perpetrator. Putting the blame for cheating where it does not lie is guaranteeing that the situation will never be addressed properly. Agree on that also.
- If you are the victim of cheating in a relationship, do not see it as diminishing to you, nor see it as diminishing to who cheated on you. What has diminished is the trust in your relationship.
- Do not be too quick to distance yourself from your pain if you are cheated on. Within that pain could be very important lessons for you to learn.
- If you are the perpetrator, do not delay in expressing regret and apologising. Your spouse may not be ready to hear it, but it will be unforgivable if you come across as not wanting to.
Rebuilding Trust In a Marriage After Infidelity – Action Steps
So you now know the following:
- The nature of the trust you had in your marriage before the infidelity;
- What trust means to you, what is important in your relationship as far as trust is concerned, not just sexual fidelity, but other very important areas where you need to have trust;
- If trust was really a problem before the infidelity and what could have contributed to it becoming a problem;
- You have no delusions about sexual infidelity in a marriage;
- You are aware of some critical rules to apply in setting the right tone for trust to be rebuilt.
Given all the above, you are now ready along with your partner to take direct action steps to rebuild trust in your marriage.
Taking the following action steps will take time. However, if you are both sincere in your efforts, these steps will go a long way in helping you to re-establish trust in your marriage.
1. Establish Full Responsibility for The Infidelity
There should be no doubt from the outset that the issue is sexual infidelity and its effect on trust in the marriage.
To that end it, without blame, it should be obvious who is responsible for the breach of trust – the perpetrator.
Agree that is the issue: Sexual infidelity. It doesn’t have to be spelt out who is responsible. Once there is agreement that the issue is nothing but sexual infidelity, it will be obvious without having to cast blame.
There should be no disagreement here. If sincere agreement cannot be had on this, then no discussion about rebuilding trust needs to take place as that discussion is likely to go nowhere.
2. Establish the Appropriate Conversational Tone
Once you get beyond the initial hurt and anger, the conversational tone has to be geared towards creating that space in which you and your partner feel that there is a path forward, that there can be resolution, that a comfort zone can be created from which the trust can be rebuilt.
Therefore, start off by deliberately not being personal or even overly accusatory.
A good place for the victim to start for example is, ‘I have never been hurt as much as this has hurt me, but I still believe in us, I want to still believe in you.’
And a good place for the perpetrator to start would be, ‘I am really grateful that we are still together, I have learned much from your generous attitude. With all my messing up, I am very lucky to have you here and I will never forget that or take it for granted, no matter how this ends.’
What is important about the above approaches is that they both focus on the promise of the relationship, and not so much the infidelity, while recognising the pain resulting from it.
3. Take Charge of The Trust-Building Process
The victim of the infidelity, as hard as it may be, must take charge of the trust-building process. Yes, it will involve both partners, but it is the victim who now has the greater of the emotional pain that needs to heal. If the trust-building process is not directed at healing pain, then nothing much will change and resentment will result.
4. Outline The Issues That Must Be Addressed
By now it should be known the issues where trust is required going forward. In some cases the issues may have no direct impact on trust but important to the nurturing of trust. For example, is respect an issue in the marriage? If it is, then that has to be resolved because sometimes a lack of respect can lead to a lack of regard. What about honesty? Is honesty an issue? If so, this has to be resolved. Take each issue from what were identified above and agree to work on them one by one.
5. Establish Rules for Transparency
There should be no tolerance for any partner not having full knowledge of the affairs and the whereabouts of the other partner. This is not to create a suspicious environment but an environment where doubt dwindles and transparency replaces it.
6. Actively Display Commitment to The Marriage
Both partners should find ways to actively display their commitment to the marriage. This is especially true of the person responsible for the infidelity. Anniversaries and birthdays are great opportunities for this. Doing small favors for each other is another great way. Showing more gratitude and appreciation for each other is still another way to do this.
7. Seek To Be A Better Person
The offender should seek to be better than the person who went out and got sexually involved outside of the marriage. That means, he or she must demonstrate that they understand how much they let down themselves, and how much what they did was not who they really are.
They must also demonstrate that they fully understand the effects on the quality of life in the marriage.
This will take a lot of introspection and work but it is of the utmost importance in conveying a change in attitude, and even values.
The victim also should seek to be a better person given his or her ideal. Whether it is by way of acquiring new coping skills, or just having a more wholesome perspective, these are a few positives that could emerge from the situation. Embrace them.
8. Embrace a Spirit of Forgiveness and Empathy
Holding on to resentments or guilt will not help the trust building process. The victim should slowly embrace a spirit of forgiveness. Slowly, because any rush to forgive may not be genuinely felt and the resentment will likely remain.
The perpetrator on the other hand should seek to embrace a spirit of empathy for the hurt partner, because from time to time, resentment is likely to be displayed. An empathetic approach by the perpetrator will at least soothe the resentment.
9. Ask The Question Couples Fear To Ask Most
There is one question that every couple involved in long-term relationship, married or otherwise, should ask of each other – “What would it take for you to cheat on me?“
Of course most people will respond with consternation of even being asked that question and quickly reply – “I would never cheat on you!”
This question is not one to define anyone as a cheater or of questionable character. It is one to get each person to thinking of any, and all situations that could possibly lead to them cheating in the relationship.
Go through all the situations that you can think of that would make one cheat and apply it to each person. Now see how any of these situations could possibly lead to cheating. Be honest.
Go through what you must do to prevent the situation if there is even a slight possibility in your mind that it could lead to cheating and the consequences of that cheating
This whole exercise is a powerful one that increases resolve to stay faithful in your marriage or relationship.
10. Things Will Not Be The Same – Accept It
Any relationship that has experienced sexual infidelity is bound to change somehow. Both partners will learn new things about themselves and about each other. Some of these may be unpleasant, some may be pleasant. Accept that for what it is. Easier said than done, but if you are deliberate about it, you can do it. Here are some useful approaches:
- Do not allow the infidelity or cheating to define you. This applies whether you are the perpetrator or victim. Be defined by your efforts to rebuild trust in your marriage.
- Do not use the infidelity or cheating to define your partner. This applies whether you are the victim or perpetrator. Who someone is, is not necessarily what they have done, or have done to them.
- Embrace and appreciate the effort put in to rebuild trust in the relationship. Be proud of each other.
- Compliment the efforts of each other as you both work to rebuild the trust in your marriage.
As you move forward it will be tempting to want to revisit the hurt. Do not fight the temptation, but do so knowing it is normal and jus let it go quietly without resentment, self-pity or any negative emotion.
If you both do the work, commit to each other to use the infidelity to get to a better place in your marriage, things will change, and they will change for the better.
Look forward every day to having a better marriage than you had before, in spite of the infidelity challenge.
11. Deciding on Professional Counseling
Even with the most honest and earnest of intentions, there are going to be areas of trust in the marriage that needs professional work.
Do ongoing evaluations of the progress being made on each area of discussion. Note the areas where there is insufficient agreement or acceptance. These are the areas you are going to need help with from your counsellor.
At this point you are much better prepared to choose and see the counselor that is best suited to help you with the unresolved trust issues.
Marriage can be a wonderful environment for the expression of our deepest and most wonderful emotions to each other. Without a feeling of comfort and security, it is difficult for couples to give of their very best to each other in a marital environment. Sexual infidelity can be very destructive to this environment.
However, the damage that sexual infidelity does to trust in a marriage can be repaired with the right approach and mindset. In fact, marriages that have experienced sexual infidelity could grow even stronger after the infidelity given the right approach. And while no one wishes that any marriage experiences infidelity, it is also reassuring to know that couples, dedicated to making their marriage work, and making it last, do find ways to rescue it from sexual infidelity.
We hope that if your marriage has been one that has experienced sexual infidelity you will find this article of great help in restoring it to even greater than it was.