You can forgive, but don’t forget to consider these key things.

If you’re reading this article, you’ve likely experienced infidelity.

As a relationship coach who specializes in supporting people through major relationship challenges, I’ve worked with many couples who have struggled with infidelity. When my clients open up about the shame, anger, humiliation, and pain, it’s often the first time they’ve spoken about the incident candidly.

So they know they’re not alone, I share that 54% of Americans in monogamous relationships have experienced cheating.

Most people will tell you to leave a cheating partner no matter what. However, this one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t apply to everyone. In fact, marriage and family therapists noted a lot of couples have successfully navigated cheating and emerged with stronger and more resilient bonds. Forgiveness is possible, but rebuilding will be a long and complicated journey to get there. Here are five common reconciliation mistakes to avoid after cheating.

Not Saying the Unspeakable Things Out Loud 

After finding out, relationships can be a landmine of accusations and arguments. Diving into the questions of the who, why, and when in masochistic detail, we can forgot to consider your partner’s motivations:

  • What needs were being fulfilled?
  • Why did they cross the line and why did they feel like they couldn’t talk to me?
  • What possibilities were they hoping to find that didn’t exist in the relationship?
  • Can they be honest enough to reveal what version of themselves they were chasing?
  • What was happening to the relationship prior to the infidelity?
  • Now that this has happened, how do they see the future together?

Studies show constructive communication is a key factor in promoting satisfaction in relationships. This is especially true in relationships struggling with betrayal. When I coach clients, I advise them to go all in with full transparency and have the hard conversations.

If your partner is displaying characteristics such as evasion, blame, lies, projection, and dishonesty, their invulnerability signals they have a lot of self-introspection to do before you can talk about reconciliation.

These unspoken thoughts will be uncomfortable to say out loud, but if you don’t go into the details, your relationship won’t stand a chance. Knowing the full truth is essential so you can choose the relationship consciously without any lies. If not, the relationship will erode, giving way to numbness, rage, jealousy, insecurity, contempt, passive-aggressiveness, and at its worst, a repeated pattern of infidelity.

Forgetting to Grieve What Used To Be 

Cheating summons the death of your old relationship. Between the desolation and anger, you must mourn what’s gone so you can create something new. Grief will carry you out of the pain and into a new phase of your life. Otherwise, your future will be weighed down by the baggage of your old relationship, making it difficult to hold space for anything else.

It’s necessary to feel the sadness of the loss of your romantic life, self-image, partner, and how other people may perceive you. Drop into the bone marrow of your sorrow and when it becomes overwhelming, lean onto your therapist, self-care routine, and your community. By taking the time to develop self-love, it’ll anchor you. Let this process take as long as it needs to, there is no particular time limit to meet.

The grief can be excruciating to feel, but it’s necessary to move on. Otherwise, the trauma may stay stuck in your body and manifest in unhealthy behaviors. By grieving what you used to have, you can regulate and release your emotions healthily to heal.

Judging Infidelity Through Harmful Stereotypes 

Even though I’ve been cheated on, I don’t believe in the saying, “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” Through my work, I’ve witnessed individuals who were able to move beyond mistakes and build unshakable relationships. After some time apart, my ex-boyfriend and I are now on good terms and both in happy relationships.

Labeling someone as a forever cheater is a reductive and oversimplified trope that denies someone a fair chance to evolve. It’s psychically limiting to judge a person by a past action. People can change and learn. During this time, I recommend unpacking any of your cognitive distortions, AKA black-and-white thinking, that don’t offer dimensionality to a situation. Watch out for overgeneralizing, personalization, and fortune-telling.

Labeling someone as a forever cheater is a reductive and oversimplified trope that denies someone a fair chance to evolve.

To take it a step further with reconciliation, I also recommend discussing your commitment to rebuild the relationship with trusted loved ones. Address misconceptions about staying with them (you are not stupid, naive, or pathetic to make this decision) and your need for non-judgmental support.

Community support matters so you feel held with the people you care about the most. However, watch out for judgments filtered by cognitive biases. Despite your best attempts, external negativity can make reconciliation harder. Demonstrating solidarity with your partner against harsh judgment is a way to show your partner that you have their back which helps rebuild trust.

Not Sharing the Same Meaning of Forgiveness

Seeking reconciliation means extending forgiveness—for both parties. This can take years and happen in multiple back-and-forth stages, but it’s needed to release the hurt. People may take back their cheating partners but then continue to punish them through pointed remarks, surveillance, and continual consequences.

This kind of behavior can be understandable in the immediate aftermath. But after the dust has settled? Punishment becomes unacceptable and can be akin to torture. While acknowledging your emotions is a top priority, directing your hurt toward your partner can perpetuate a never-ending cycle of anguish.

Reconciliation is a mutual journey where the cheating partner has to actively repair safety and trust, and in return, you recognize their sincere efforts. I advise couples to explore both individual and couples therapy for full emotional processing.

Forgiveness isn’t forgetting and pretending it never happened. Forgiveness is not condoning their behavior. Forgiveness is about embracing the both/and of a situation, meaning you can let go of the pain to move on while honoring the pain that you’ve experienced. Your partner will be there to help you manage the trauma but within appropriate limits. By creating space for both, your story will feel more complete.

I think often about one of my favorite poems by Brenda Twohy:

“When I say I forgive you, know this 

I did not bury the hatchet. 

I have the hatchet in my hands. 

I am building myself a new house.” 

 

If you choose to stay because that’s best for you, the effort needs to be applauded because you’re retaining a sense of agency from the infidelity. You’re acknowledging the past and deploying the learned knowledge to construct a new version of your life together. This transformative kind of forgiveness can be a powerful step at the end of your journey.

Lacking Imagination for the New Chapter 

When you first fell in love, your relationship glowed with possibilities. Anything could happen, and you could be anyone together. After infidelity, the relationship feels like it no longer has the same sparkle. My clients note there’s so much guilt, finger-pointing, lies, and suffering that the relationship can seem like a shadow of its former self.

Your love story won’t be the same. However, post-infidelity life can feel worthwhile again by rekindling the bond with a sense of imagination. This kind of meaning-making is essential because it means you believe the relationship can be set free from its past, radically different, and more honest.

Questions to Ask Each Other

  • What are the new agreements you can promise?
  • How can you feel safe?
  • What will it take to rely on each other again?
  • What does it look like to trust completely?
  • Can you be there for each other in your darkest, most shameful moments?

As you do this, it’s perfectly normal to feel angry about the amount of work it takes. It’s OK to miss how things used to be and feel agony when you look into their eyes. Be compassionate to yourself as you manage the guilt, triggers, worthlessness, flashbacks, broken trust, and shame. Take all those nuanced feelings along for the ride, and eventually, your relationship will expand enough to allow for passion and gratitude.

What This Means For You

Experiencing betrayal through infidelity is one of the most difficult challenges one can face. Staying with an unfaithful partner can be gut-wrenching yet it holds the potential for immense growth if both are committed to making it to the other side.

Infidelity can serve as a revealing catalyst to illuminate your relationship. Putting in the effort involves facing your vulnerabilities, reassessing values, rebuilding trust, uncovering concealed desires, and carefully crafting new boundaries.

As you honestly reexamine your expectations, you will be able to form an authentic and dedicated relationship. The work won’t always be easy, but you’ll know if reconciliation is right for you.