Cheating is one of the worst kinds of betrayal. If you or your spouse has cheated, or you have cheated on your spouse, you may be wondering, “Where do we go from here?” The answer is, “Not necessarily to divorce court.”
As a divorce lawyer and someone who frequently counsels couples about how to make their marriages stronger, I can tell you with certainty that infidelity does not have to spell the end for couples who are willing to put in the time and work. What I will warn you of is that saving a marriage is an uphill climb, with no guarantee that it will ultimately survive.
If infidelity rocked your relationship, here are six steps you can take toward rebuilding trust between you.
1. Fess up. That means coming clean about the details of your affair. Do this all at once instead of letting your spouse find out uncomfortable details in small increments. Doling out sensitive information piecemeal will have a one step forward and two steps back effect, causing your partner to continually relive the pain of discovering that you have betrayed them. Better to disclose all of the details at once so your spouse can process what he or she is learning and begin the healing process.
2. End it. If you have been cheating with someone else either physically or emotionally, stop all contact with that person at once, including all social media connections. To repair your marriage, you need to be 100 percent invested in the process. If you are continuing to divide your attention between your spouse and another person, you will not have the focus you need. Either commit to being with your spouse or leave.
3. Be transparent. If you are the one who has cheated, be prepared to field questions from your spouse. After getting over the initial shock of learning you have been unfaithful, your husband or wife may want to know the details such as how you met the person or people you cheated with, how long you were cheating, and what the nature of your interactions was. Understandably, your spouse will likely find it difficult to trust you again immediately, if ever. If you are genuinely interested in rebuilding that trust, it is not unheard of for a jilted spouse to request access to your email, texts, and social media accounts. Give it to them. Your partner needs to see you are devoted to them and only them.
4. Come clean. Literally. If you and your spouse were sexually active during an affair, each of you should get tested for STDs at once. Remember, even if your battery of tests come up clean, some STDs can show up months later, including HIV. If in the meantime you plan on engaging in sexual relations with your spouse, practice safe sex.
5. Apologize. It is easy to say you are sorry. The key, however, is to mean it. And that may take time. If you are the one who has been cheating, you may have reasons to believe you were justified doing so. If you do, you are likely feeling hurt, too. But it is important to remember that regardless, you still had a choice whether or not to betray your spouse. When you are ready to ask for forgiveness, consider that he or she may not be in a place now, or ever, to give it. Only when you are prepared to apologize without expecting anything in return will your apology be authentic. Wait for that time, so your spouse knows you mean what you say.
6. Never forget. If you decide to give your marriage another try, you likely have been to hell and back just to get to that point. A second chance may be the only one you get, so it is now up to you to make it count. Work on your marriage daily, never forgetting how easy it was to lose sight of how much you mean to one another. Be attentive. Keep your priorities straight. Make time for each other every single day. Some things are worth fighting for, most important of which is your marriage.