Esther Perel, couples’ therapist and author of The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, believes cheating can, on occasion, be a positive and life-changing experience. She has seen, first-hand, how the fear of loss can make couples take much-needed action: “The galvanising of the fear of losing everything that we have built sometimes brings us back, face-to-face, with a level of intensity that we haven't experienced in a long time.”
Perel explains that, in the aftermath of an affair, some people experience a “reconnecting of an erotic intimacy with each other that had gone flat”, along with a level of depth, honesty and openness in their conversations that they haven't had in years. “It's a reevaluation of what happened,” she says. “How did we become so estranged from each other? How did we lose our connection? How did we become so numb to each other?”
Julia Keys and Jacqui Coles, authors of the new infidelity self-help book The MANscript, stress how threatening cheating can be to the stability of a relationship – but feel that addressing the want to cheat could be a moment of clarity for a couple, as long as it’s handled the right way. “Obviously, their first choice should not be to cheat but rather to discuss their thoughts and feelings about their relationship, especially the reasons for their possible unhappiness and discontentment,” Keys tells SL. “If you opt to cheat first, you miss out on the opportunity for you and your partner to discuss any problems that, once rectified, could remove that desire to cheat.”
When cheating does cause a relationship to break down, Keys – a psychotherapist whose ex-husband was unfaithful – believes this can also result in important and positive change. “A breakup can be devastating to a person’s self-esteem, but it’s also a chance to develop an even stronger sense of your own identity and enrich your life with the things that matter to you the most,” she tells us. “With the right thoughts and actions, you can move forward, empowered by knowing what you do and don’t want from your next relationship.”
Keys adds that, understandably, trust is likely to be an issue going forward for those who’ve been cheated on. First and foremost, it’s important to avoid moving on too quickly, as you’ll need time to heal from the emotional fallout. This also means steering clear of doing anything too drastic – from a rebound fling to the dreaded breakup haircut – when you’re feeling emotionally vulnerable.
“You need to concentrate on building your emotional strength,” she says. “It’s understandable that you’d want to protect your feelings going forward – it’s not a bad thing and will help you make the right decisions.”
While it can be hard to overcome a fear of unfaithfulness when you do eventually move into a new relationship, The MANscript authors advise that it helps to remember that there are people you can trust and have trust in you – just continue to remind yourself of those people to give yourself more confidence.
And as for those who do decide to stay together after infidelity, read on below for Keys and Coles top tips…
FOR THE PARTNER WHO WAS CHEATED ON:
Accept that your emotions are going to be all over the place… Expect outbursts of anger and tears, probably at unexpected and inconvenient times. But don’t keep it to yourself – you need to explain to your partner how you’re feeling and ask them to help you deal with these emotions. If this partnership is going to get back on track, there needs to be a strong sense of teamwork. And if that means being with you through the tears, so be it.
Work on the things that are really good in your relationship… Remember the reasons why you love each other and all the things you’ve done together. Don’t be tempted to continually berate and shame your partner. Give yourselves the space and opportunity to both heal and move forward together. Never forget, love is an action, not just a word.
FOR THE CHEATING PARTNER:
Remove the affair partner from your life completely… You can’t move on and start a healthy relationship with your partner if the person you cheated with is still in your life. Either you’re hiding that person from your partner, which is never a good way to build a trusting bond, or, if your partner is aware of and knows the person, it will only cause resentment to build up on their part. For a fresh start, you must erase that person from your life forever.
Be 100% transparent… That means doing everything you can to prove to your partner that you can be trusted. If that requires you repeatedly showing texts, emails and Facebook messages to your partner, then that’s what has to be done. You need to win back their trust.
Allow and understand your partner’s mood swings… Which may come out of the blue and without any prior warning. This is no doubt because they’re consumed with the hurt of the affair. Let them feel what they’re feeling – it’s the best way to heal. And if that happens to be anger? Then that’s just what you’ll have to deal with.
The MANscript by Julie Keys and Jacqui Coles is out now Amazon.co.uk
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