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Moving forward from infidelity in a relationship can pose many challenges for a couple, including the new task of repairing the broken bond between partners. It is possible to overcome and work through events of infidelity, as long as both partners are willing to put in the effort to re-construct the union after betrayal.
To start, the partners must open a dialogue. Being able to communicate about the affair is essential for the partner that endured the pain of hearing their loved one was with someone else. For that betrayed partner, they must be given the space to express their feelings of anger, shame, resentment, and sadness, which must be listened to and validated by the unfaithful partner. In this phase, the unfaithful partner must except full responsibility for their wrongful actions.
After the ability to discuss the feelings surrounding the events, the betrayed partner will have looming questions. These questions may surround the basics of who, what, when, where, and why. During this conversation the unfaithful partner has to commit to being transparent about the affair, however, it can be hurtful to hear some of the graphic details from the events of infidelity. Here is a list of appropriate questions to ask the unfaithful partner:
1) “Is this the first time you have been unfaithful in our relationship?” Has an affair happened in previous stages of the relationship?
2) “Are you done seeing and talking to this person?” Is the unfaithful partner still in communication with the individual? Do they have plans to put an end to the affair? Repair of the relationship cannot begin until the affair is unequivocally over.
3) “Where did you meet this person?” Was this through a dating site? At work? At a bar or club?
4) “When did you see or talk to this person?” Was it while the betrayed partner was out of town? Was it while they were sleeping?
5) “How long did you see or talk to them?” Was this an affair that lasted days? Months? Years?
6) “Where did you say you were at the time when you saw or talked to them?” At the time of the affair, did they say they were working late? Did they say they were going to a friend’s house? It should be known to the betrayed partner what lies covered up the meetings for the affair.
7) “What were your reasons for participating in this affair?” How did the unfaithful partner validate this affair to themselves?
8) “How do I know that this person will not contact you again?” Will the unfaithful partner block this individual’s phone number, if they can? If it is a work setting where the affair occurred, are they doing their best to limit interaction with the individual?
9) “What boundaries do you have in place for yourself so that this does not happen again with someone else?” Will the partner who was unfaithful commit to staying away from places that elicited these types of interactions (i.e.-bar or club, online dating sites, etc.)?
10) “Why did you continue the affair after I found out?” This question may not apply to every couple, but could apply if the affair continued after the betrayed partner became aware of the events.
These conversations should include an open, honest dialogue to allow the unfaithful partner to divulge all secrets involved in the betrayal. Couples therapy can provide a supportive space to process the feelings that arise immediately after infidelity, and help with navigating through these difficult questions. A therapist can also guide partners through the next phases of the relationship repair, including attunement and strengthening the broken bond. Moving forward from betrayal is possible, if both partners are willing to put in the work.