January 29, 2018
Trust once broken, is one of the most difficult dynamics to restore in a relationship. And without trust, there can be no vulnerability. Without vulnerability there can be no emotional intimacy and no physical intimacy. When defensive walls go up, communication breaks down and distance sets in. Hurt and resentment grows, and the relationship space becomes bitter, hostile and toxic. In such a toxic environment, the relationship withers away and dies.
Should you want to, how do you forgive a partner who has cheated on you? How do you trust a partner who has cheated on you? Is it possible to allow yourself to be vulnerable again?
While forgiving a one time offender maybe possible, what if he is a serial offender – then what do you do?
The answer lies in whether your partner is willing to demonstrate trustworthiness. And whether you are able to trust your own intrinsic sense of self-worth – i.e. not allowing the behaviour of your partner to define who you are as a person.
If you can trust your own inner resilience, and if your partner genuinely regrets his conduct and sustainably displays trustworthiness, it is quite possible to forgive and to write a new chapter for the relationship. However, there is a process to be followed if one is to truly forgive.
Retreat And Reflect
Step back from the relationship and take a lot of ‘alone’ time. Ask your partner for time-out for a few days, and reflect deeply into what might be the reasons for the cheating. Were there long standing issues in the marriage which were unaddressed and ignored by both, such as poor communication, loss of intimacy, hurt feelings, festering resentment etc.? Has the marriage been an unhappy one even without the cheating? What is your partner getting from this other relationship which he was not getting with you? Is there a change possible in the equation between the two of you which makes the relationship mutually fulfilling? If your reflection detects issues in your marriage that needed addressing anyways, then it is much more easier to forgive your partner as you now understand that he was unhappy and therefore sought perceived happiness elsewhere. In fact, if there were pre-existing problems in the relationship, the cheating often serves as a wake up call to look into what has been neglected for so long.
Cheating is often an indirect communication behaviour, signalling chronic dissatisfaction in the relationship, anger or frustration with the partner’s attitude and behaviour, and a general discontentment with the quality of the relationship. If these long standing issues are raised and addressed after the betrayal, then the communication could greatly improve, and the relationship could in fact be strengthened in the long run.
On the other hand, your reflection might reveal that the relationship is not worth getting back to as your partner is a serial offender and has repeatedly cheated on you. You might realise that you have been allowing this behaviour because of your own feelings of inadequacy, and therefore you might need self-empowerment lessons from a professional counsellor. Yet, you could still forgive your partner without reconciling with him. Very often forgiveness is mistaken for reconciliation. Forgiveness is a change of heart that frees the forgiver from toxic feelings of anger, hurt, resentment and bitterness that are keeping one’s psychic energies locked up. Forgiveness is releasing yourself from the impact of the conduct of the other, by understanding that your partner is a warped personality who cannot do any better as of now. While you let go of the anger and unforgiveness towards your partner, you must also forgive yourself for allowing the emotional abuse for so long. You must then embark on a self-preserving, self-nurturing and self-empowering inner journey that disallows toxic and unhealthy relationships in your life.
Talk And Trust
After retreating and reflecting, its time to work towards an emotional closure. This would entail talking to your partner and discuss the rebuilding of trust that has been eroded. This means his willingness to answer all your questions (even those that make him uncomfortable) about the cheating, discussing the reasons in detail, expression of his humble and heartfelt regret, acknowledgement of your feelings about the same, his verbal acceptance of the trust deficit and reassurance of trustworthiness on his part, his asking for forgiveness for the erosion of trust and hurt caused, and a willingness to do all that it might take to patiently rebuild the trust again.
All this would be best facilitated by a professional counsellor who can help defuse the anger, help both constructively talk through everything and heal wounds, thus moving towards an emotional closure. Talk and trust would mean willingness on the part of the one who has cheated, to allow full access to smartphones and laptops, to keep in touch through the day with reassuring texts, and to not feel offended when asked about one’s whereabouts, but in fact to voluntarily share everything about one’s day and one’s life. To help the betrayed one get past the hurt, the offender must willingly, consistently and unequivocally deliver whatever is asked of him. It is only then that one can move from a place of hurt to a place of forgiveness and find the courage to trust again.
Protect And Preserve
If your cheating partner is a repeat offender you might be dealing with a mental disorder like bipolar disorder or sexual addiction that requires treatment by a psychiatrist along with intensive psychotherapy. The prognosis of the treatment varies, and you may or may not be able to deal with being wounded repeatedly. If that is the case, you may decide to compassionately forgive your partner because ‘he knows not what he does’, but also compassionately protect and preserve your own emotional health and step out of the relationship. If your partner suffers from pathological narcissism and antisocial traits he might totally lack empathy, care or consideration for you. Such cases are often resistant to treatment and prognosis is therefore poor. Narcissists are repeat offenders and make poor candidates for a committed monogamous relationship. Therefore, at such times one need not wait till ‘death do you apart’. It is a pro-life act for you to step out of a relationship where your safety and sanity are at stake. While you could forgive the pathological narcissist as being ‘sick’, you need not risk your own psychological and physical survival by being around such a person. Life asks that you protect and preserve your own well being.
Commitment is a two way street. It is a conscious choice that is reaffirmed everyday. When both honour this commitment, they are in fact honouring the relationship, and declaring that no one and nothing is worth jeopardising it.
Therefore, if there is cheating in a relationship, first and foremost trust must be re-established. This is a very delicate process that requires a professional counsellor’s facilitation, with genuine effort, time, sustained motivation and total commitment on the part of both.