Infidelity and relationships

Published in Blog by Tavistock Relationships on July 13th 2023

Finding out that your partner is cheating, or has cheated, on you can be devastating. Feelings of nausea, shock and disbelief are very common, as are those of anger and frustration (How could you?) as well as self-loathing, anxiety and depression (If only I were more attractive, it wouldn’t have happened. If only I’d done things differently.).

Your partner’s infidelity can make you start to question everything you thought you knew. You find yourself having difficulty concentrating. You struggle to hold a normal conversation. And you become pre-occupied with thinking and re-thinking every little detail about the infidelity, or the affair – even (or particularly) the details you don't have.

How you choose to proceed will largely depend on the nature of the infidelity and, of course, how both you and your partner feel after the truth has come to light.

For some people, infidelity means the immediate termination of the relationship. While others might try to work on the relationship to see if they can overcome the betrayal and grow closer and stronger. How you choose to proceed will largely depend on the nature of the infidelity and, of course, how both you and your partner feel after the truth has come to light.

Having a greater understanding of the reasons why people cheat can be useful though in helping you decide how to proceed. 

Often being unfaithful, or having an affair, can be a symptom of a relationship problem. Couples grow apart, find that they disagree on too many things, or too frequently. Some people feel under-appreciated by their partner, and some turn to people outside their relationship due to not receiving enough emotional support or physical affection. People can become bored by the relationship and seek novelty and excitement outside of it. Or find that a longed for emotional connection is satisfied with someone other than our partner.

Asking yourself whether your relationship can survive

Whatever the reasons behind the infidelity, one of the first questions you may be asking yourself is whether your relationship can survive it.

Key to consider here, of course, is whether both parties want to work on the relationship or if it's better to break up. If you are the one who has been cheated on, and you want your relationship to recover from the infidelity, it’s important to ask yourself whether you are trying to recover the relationship for the right reasons. For example, infidelity can often feel like a rejection, and you may simply be trying to prove that you're worthy of the time and attention your partner gave someone else.

That said, when both partners are committed to repairing and rebuilding the relationship, many relationships can survive.

That said, when both partners are committed to repairing and rebuilding the relationship, many relationships can survive. And some relationships, where infidelity has been an issue, may even become stronger and experience a deeper level of intimacy. 

Whether or not your relationship will ultimately survive or not though, most people who are cheated on find themselves obsessing over it, playing every possible scenario over and over in their minds. They may find themselves wanting to find out every last detail of how and where the affair or infidelity was conducted, even though the knowledge of these details may simply end up causing them added torment.

Continuing with the relationship

If you continue with your relationship, despite the infidelity, you may find yourself constantly worrying about what your partner is doing while they are out, who they are texting on their phone, or worry that any change in the usual routine may be a sign that your partner is being unfaithful again. These feelings are entirely natural of course. A relationship is a promise of being faithful, and when that's broken, issues around trust and security may come to the fore.

Any rebuilding process may also be tricky for the person who has been unfaithful, as they will be aware that their partner no longer trusts them. They may find it difficult to deal with sudden insecurities and mistrusting behaviour from their partner, which can become overwhelming or even feel smothering.

Recovering from the infidelity

For both parties, recovering from infidelity is difficult and will take considerable work. For some couples, however, the discovery of the infidelity allows them a freedom – after all, the worst has been uncovered – to talk more freely than before about their feelings and needs and hopes. For some couples the process can rekindle sexual desire. It can also be extremely painful for the person who has been cheated on to acknowledge that while their partner may have significant feeling of regret and remorse about the pain they have caused, this may not amount to feelings of guilt about having acted in the way they did. For them, the affair may have felt, and still feel, in some way necessary.

Ultimately, infidelity amounts to a betrayal, and is something which can be extremely difficult to process and to come to terms with. It may be that you decide you need to spend more time together working through issues, talking openly about what led to the infidelity and practising different ways to build trust between each other again. While this is something which you may want to do alone, it may be worthwhile considering whether working with a therapist can help you find a better way of reaching your goal, whether that is to stay together or to part.

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