When partners cheat, who deserves second chances? Tough question!

The biggest issue with cheating is arguably not the sexual liaison itself but the betrayal of trust. While some people can get past the betrayal and salvage what’s left of their relationship, others might find it impossible. Especially once you’ve discovered the extent of dishonestly and deception involved.

When Ines of Married At First Sight was exposed for having cheated on her “husband”, the relationship was instantly over. Both partners packed their bags and headed their separate ways. But for Jessika who clearly hit on two people with her “husband” still in the same room, the relationship was somehow able to move forward.

What’s needed to salvage the relationship

When a relationship breaks down due to a cheating partner, usually, this type of repair needs the involvement of an expert like a marital counselor or a relationship expert. Relationship  Expert and Matchmaker at Ideal Introductions, Linda Prescott says, “Although an expert is no guarantee that the relationship will be fixed, having a professional in the room will allow for proper conversations to be had. It will provide a proper avenue for both parties to not only repair the breach of trust but also defuse the anger and heal the wounds.” However, ultimately, rescuing the relationship will still depend on other factors like how much history the couple has had together, and if they have children together. These are the things that often drive couples to try and salvage the relationship.

Stumbling blocks

One of the greatest hurdles to working through this sort of situation is the hurt, anger and resentment felt by the betrayed partner. These feelings, whatever their roots, need to be openly acknowledged and constructively expressed. Another large hurdle is the inability to trust the betrayer, who has typically connived, lied, manipulated, covered up and otherwise deceived and made a fool of his or her partner. Because commitment is all about trust: making a promise, a pledge, a choice to say yes to this person and no to any others, and then consistently keeping that promise.

Why breaking trust is breaking everything

Love alone is not enough. This might sound cliche but trust really is the glue that holds a relationship together.  Once that pledge to commitment is broken, all bets are off. Broken trust is one of the most difficult elements in a relationship to revive. Breaking trust leads to a series of breakdowns: Emotional intimacy > sexual intimacy > resentment > hostility > toxicity > death of the relationship.

Is an affair a sign that the relationship has underlying issues?

Absolutely. Lack of or poor communication, loss of intimacy, hurt feelings, festering resentment or embitterment frequently lead to acting out in the form of cheating behavior. In this sense, an affair can be a wake up call to both parties that they have neglected to maintain the health and integrity of their relationship. Cheating may also be seen as an indirect way of signalling  their chronic dissatisfaction, anger or frustration with the partner’s behaviour, attitude or quality of the relationship.

However, what cheating is not, is an excuse for not keeping one’s integrity and commitment made to the partner.

What needs to be done to fix the crack

Now that the affair has exposed that the relationship has been far from perfect, both the offending partner and the one who suffered as a result of the cheating needs to tackle these elements:

  • Addressing the indiscretion: You can’t fix the problem by pretending the cheating did not happen. You will need to call it out and to talk about the betrayal if you want to move forward.
  • Talk about the communication: Clearly there has been a communication breakdown. Evaluate and then improve on the communication style between you and your partner.
  • Build the trust: This is perhaps the biggest challenge but if the relationship were to be saved, trust-repairing is non-negotiable. The philanderer must also know now that trust now has become a privilege, not a right. Trust must be earned, gradually re-established by offenders consistently following through faithfully on whatever they say they are going to do–or not do.
  • Find the courage to trust again: Should you choose to fix the relationship, you will have to find it in yourself to trust again. Humans make mistakes and are imperfect beings. But remember, we can also learn from our mistakes and avoid repeating them.

Do all cheaters get a second chance?

If the philandering partner has cheated no more than once, the chances of working things through might be higher. But what about repeat offenders? Once can be considered a slip up. “Twice or more is a pattern,” says Linda.

Why should the serial cheater be forgiven or provided a third, fourth or fifth chance? Of course, this is for the person who was betrayed to decide. Some see their own commitment to the relationship and love for the offending partner as reasons for either overlooking such bad behavior or for giving them repeated chances to change. This can become a kind of co-dependency, unintentionally enabling and perpetuating the problem.

But the key is that commitment is a two way street. Both parties must be equally committed to the relationship and to monogamy, if that is what is promised and expected. Commitment is a choice one reaffirms each and every day; not to cheat. Not necessarily because one doesn’t want to but because one chooses to honor one’s commitment and because one cares about and values the relationship with the partner.

Does forgiving a cheating partner say something about ourselves?

This is not about blaming the victim. Self-blame is the main reason betrayed partners remain in such relationships. Remember, offenders are responsible for their evil deeds. But as humans, we are complex. So what does taking a cheating partner back say about who we really are, and more importantly, how we really feel about ourselves?

Are we not worthy of love, respect and commitment? Must one always settle for crumbs? How much are we really willing to put up with and forgive just so that we can avoid being alone? Feeling abandoned? Getting back in the dreaded “dating game”? Or keep the family together for the sake of finances or the children? These are the tough questions so-called victims of infidelity must be willing to honestly ask themselves before they finally decide whether or not to give serial (or even first-time) cheaters yet another opportunity.

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Main photo credit: YouTube/Married At First Sight channel.