There’s no easy way to talk about cheating and no magic method to rebuild trust. Infidelity can leave a betrayed partner feeling more than just hurt. It can create the kind of uncertainty and anger that makes them wonder if the relationship is even worth saving.
The good news for couples who want a rebuild the relationship is that it’s still possible. The work involved won’t look the same for both partners. As the one whose actions broke the trust, the unfaithful partner will have to take responsibility for their behavior now and in the future.
The betrayed partner has a lot to consider too. Ultimately, the decision to repair a relationship will be left to them. Only they can decide how to feel about being cheated on. If they also want to heal within the relationship, then this guide is for you.
How to rebuild trust after cheating is a long and difficult process that requires work from both partners. However, there are healthy ways to do it. Couples counseling exists precisely for those who want to save their relationships. That includes recovering from an affair.
Whether you’re the betrayer or the hurt partner, this guide will break down everything you need to know about affair recovery. Let’s talk about repairing trust and rebuilding love, and tips on the best ways to do both.
If you’re the unfaithful partner, here’s what you can do
If you’re the cheating partner, you can’t make the decision to fix the relationship. But if your partner is committed to finding a way forward, there are things you’ll need to do. Remember that the discomfort you feel is likely amplified for the person on the receiving end.
The journey to rebuilding trust starts in how you handle conversations on infidelity and the sincerity you bring to them. As Dr. John Gottman explains: trust is an action rather than a belief. These tips will help you approach the rebuilding process in ways that lead toward a healthy relationship.
1. Take accountability
There’s no way around it, you have to take accountability for your actions. When spouses cheat, there’s often a temptation to blame their behavior on issues in the marriage, real or otherwise.
The problem here isn’t that you felt neglected, unappreciated, or unloved. Those can be real issues, even in a healthy relationship, but the actions you take as a result are still your own. Without taking responsibility, there’s no room to grow, change, or do better.
It can be one of the hardest steps, but it’s always the first one partners need to take.
2. Apologize with sincerity
By taking accountability, you can apologize to your partner with sincerity. Accountability shows an honest assessment of what you did. More importantly for your partner, it shows that you aren’t assigning blame to them.
Apologizing without invalidating your partner’s feelings and concerns pairs your words with actions. It creates the space needed to have the tough conversations in a safe, open, and healthy environment.
3. End the affair
These tips aren’t necessarily in order, most of them will overlap. Except for this one. Without ending the affair, there’s no way to regain trust. Cheating partners need to be proactive here so that the affair doesn’t cloud over the relationship they’re trying to save.
4. Focus on transparency
Your partner may ask you a lot of difficult questions during these conversations. The first three tips here will help both of you. Infidelity happens in secret by nature. It’s only possible when your partner is kept in the dark. Rebuilding trust means illuminating the shadows.
Focus on being transparent with them. If they ask something awkward, don’t fall into the trap of being defensive. Answer as clearly as possible, even if you think it will hurt. These answers won’t make anyone feel better, and that’s okay. They’re not meant to.
What they will do, however, is show honesty. Transparency means not presenting things in a way that gets the reaction you want. It means being vulnerable and truthful. Both traits are cornerstones of a trusting relationship.
For the betrayed partner, here are some tips
As the betrayed partner, there’s a lot to process when presented with infidelity. How you find out about an affair can compound the stress of dealing with it further. But if you want to save your relationship, it is possible, and you’re allowed to want that.
Many partners feel pressured to leave after learning about infidelity. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the opposite is also true. Many decide to stay and find a way forward. Ultimately, the decision is always yours to make.
As councilors and therapists, our job is to support your goals and help chart the healthiest way forward. Professional help should always be geared towards your needs. That’s why we offer affair and infidelity counseling.
Beyond that, here are some ways to help you when repairing your relationship and healing from an affair.
5. Don’t personalize your partner’s actions
Anger is a normal reaction to learning about an affair, but so is guilt. You may feel like you did or said things that drove your partner away. You may wonder if, had you changed something earlier, it might have stopped them from cheating.
The truth is that cheating can happen regardless of the state of a relationship. In the same way, unfaithful partners need to take accountability, you shouldn’t treat an affair as your fault. Even if you feel there are things you can work on, you can’t do that while shouldering a burden that isn’t yours.
Personalizing your partner’s actions isn’t healthy for either of you. It wrongly puts the blame on you and it doesn’t give your partner a chance to take responsibility. Crucially for your relationship: it can distort the issue you’re both committed to repairing.
6. Decide on a way forward
We mentioned above that trust can only be repaired if both parties want to save the relationship. This is true, but commitment looks different on either side of this dynamic. If you’re the one who was cheated on, the decision to invest in healing is yours to make.
This is more than deciding to stay in the relationship, though. It’s about knowing the kind of relationship you want to build for the future. That’s going to inform a lot of the ways you and your partner reconnect.
7. Be kind to yourself
Personalizing your partner’s affair can also be a form of self-punishment. The truth is that, when your trust is broken, it does affect you internally. We don’t just trust our partners in a relationship, we trust them with our most guarded selves.
Intimacy, vulnerability, and shared experiences are some of the best aspects of new relationships and lifelong marriages. Broken trust can shake those foundations and warp how we see ourselves. In these moments, we always encourage being kind to yourself.
You may feel pressure to recover quickly or be in denial about any shock you’re experiencing. The healthiest thing you can do is allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. It goes a long way when the time comes to express it with your partner.
Being kind to yourself can offer clarity. More than anything, it helps you conserve the energy you’ll need for the journey towards reconnecting.
8. Focus on what forgiveness means to you
So what does it mean to express your feelings to an unfaithful partner? Well, just as we have healthy ways to communicate with each other, there are destructive ways we should avoid too.
Reconnecting requires something from both parties. Your partner’s goal should be earning your forgiveness, and you can help them by identifying what that means to you. Focusing on the healing you need is also a good way to keep these conversations from becoming arguments.
Try using “I” statements to express your feelings. For example: “I can’t move on from this until I can trust that I won’t have to be in this position again.” It’s a good way to focus on rebuilding trust without the accusations that can derail the process.
What both partners can do to save their relationship/marriage after infidelity
Saving a relationship is a joint effort. This means both partners need the right support to move forward together. As the betrayed partner, counseling can help you heal, whether you stay or leave the relationship.
Couples counseling focuses on the steps that partners need to collaborate on to build trust. Healing from an affair can be an emotionally volatile time. It can bring out our deepest insecurities.
Couples that work on healing together can lower the emotional stakes without avoiding the core issue. Done right, it can rebuild your relationship stronger than before and bring you both closer again.
9. Don’t play the blame game
Both the betrayed and cheating partner should avoid making accusations at each other. This doesn’t mean that a harmful action didn’t take place, or that harm wasn’t felt. It just means that everyone only holds what’s within their control while sharing the work of saving the relationship.
When we play the blame game, we rarely focus on actions or feelings. The goal tends to be conveying our feelings by making the other person feel them instead. But hurtful words don’t heal.
Avoiding blame doesn’t mean avoiding what was done. Instead, it keeps both partners from getting defensive, which ultimately distracts them from healing. If both partners are proactive about how to move forward, honest, and accountable, then there’s no need for accusations.
Everyone’s already on the same page and facing the same direction. Couples that can do that are already on their way to saving the relationship.
10. Find ways to connect and reconnect
Healing from an affair isn’t easy, but it doesn’t need to consume your relationship. Part of rebuilding trust means doing the things that bring you closer together. Spending time with each other outside of heavy conversations is a good thing.
It gives you both room to breathe and recharge your batteries. It helps you focus on what you still love about each other, and the things that brought you together in the first place. As for rebuilding trust, it gives partners a way to put these tips into practice.
Dr. John Gottman focuses on actions rather than words because trust is more than believing your partner. Trust has to be proven in ways that feel concrete. When reconnecting, you can grow closer just by being sincere and taking time to care for each other.
Can trust be built again after cheating?
There are two answers to this question. The short answer: yes. The long answer: it depends. The theme of this guide is helping couples who want to save their relationship. There’s no one way to react to being cheated on, only healthy and unhealthy ways to move forward.
We said earlier that only the betrayed partner can decide if they want the relationship to be saved. Healing and reconciliation need to prioritize the offended party, whether that’s in love, life, or legal affairs. However, the unfaithful partner has to decide they want to work on rebuilding trust too.
In that scenario, a relationship can be saved and partners can move forward more healthily.
Can I still trust a cheating partner?
Answering this question is rarely simple, but you can if that’s what you want to work towards. The idea that trust is an action and not a belief goes both ways, though. It’s not that you can’t decide you trust your partner again because that’s something internal and personal.
It’s more important to assess if your partner has shown that they’re trustworthy. This is where actions matter most. A verbal commitment is good, but trust means being vulnerable again. If you believe your partner can be trusted again, then trust will come as they continue to prove that.
How couples counseling can help
Betrayal isn’t easy to process. Learning to trust is exactly that 一 learning. It’s a slow and challenging process, but it is possible. Professional help can guide you on the best ways to do it, and give you the tools to heal.
Counseling will focus on helping you as a couple but also as individuals. Trust can be rebuilt, but maintaining it is the task of every partner in a relationship. Couples counseling equips partners with the tools to repair trust in the present, and rebuild the relationship in healthy ways going forward.
When infidelity happens in a relationship, partners can have different ways to deal with it. We offer professional help to couples or individuals dealing with infidelity and affairs. Drop us a message or book a schedule and let’s talk.