Infidelity, the betrayal of trust in a committed relationship, can have a profound impact on the individuals involved and the relationship as a whole. Infidelity can be defined as engaging in extramarital relations or sex, which typically can include financial betrayal, emotional and/or intimate betrayal, cyber sex, and in some cases misuse of pornography. These acts lead to the relationship boundaries being violated either emotionally or sexually and interrupt and damage the trust and bond between the couple.
Rebuilding trust after infidelity is a challenging yet essential process for couples seeking to heal and restore their bond as trust is foundational to a healthy and authentic relationship. When trust is broken, it can interrupt the harmony of a relationship and unsettle the foundation that had previously been built.
Understanding the Effects of Infidelity on a Relationship
Infidelity causes emotional trauma and trust issues for the betrayed partner. The pain and betrayal experienced can result in feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, and difficulty in trusting again. On the other hand, the perpetrating partner may be overwhelmed with guilt, shame, and remorse. Common challenges faced by couples include communication breakdown, loss of intimacy, and a sense of disconnect. Those couples who have experienced infidelity have been found to be 4 times more likely to experience divorce than couples without this time of rupture in their trust.
Interestingly, men and women may experience betrayal and infidelity differently. Where men more commonly become angry and even show signs of aggression, women commonly show signs of sadness, and gravitate towards social support. Although the reaction may be different, the impact and effects can be the same. If these ruptures are not corrected and responded too, it can lead to a lack of trust, and intimacy, while increasing anxiety, and marital instability.
The Role of Couples Therapy in Rebuilding Trust
Couples therapy supports couples navigating the aftermath of infidelity. Therapists create a safe space for partners to express emotions, voice concerns, and communicate needs. They guide the healing process, facilitate effective communication, and equip couples with tools to rebuild trust.
Seeking help after an affair can be challenging, but finding the right therapist can make the process more comfortable and rewarding. Opting for a therapist trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) doubles the chances of achieving positive outcomes compared to other modalities. EFT focuses on understanding and clarifying the situation, without shame, guilt, or blame, as the therapist collaborates with the couple.
The therapist seeks to support the betrayed by making sense of what has happened, understanding the cycle in the relationship and work to de-escalate the emotion, to bring you and your partner together to address the infidelity, and ultimately rebuild the trust, safety and security in the relationship.
They will also support the betrayer to prevent shame and guilt, to work on self-forgiveness, to bring the trust back into the relationship by helping your spouse heal, and to create closer connection with their spouse.
Processing and Expressing Emotions
Couples therapy encourages open communication of feelings and emotions. The betrayed partner needs validation and understanding for their pain and emotions. The betrayer should be given space to express genuine remorse, empathy, and understanding. Through guided discussions, couples can explore their emotions, address unresolved issues, and work towards healing.
Reconstructing Trust and Transparency
After an affair, many couples question. ‘Can we do this?’ ‘Can we make it through?’. In order to move through these thoughts and questions, it is important that there is transparency between the partners. Once the affair has been brought to light, there may be many questions that are burning. It’s okay to ask the questions, so long as the answers don’t cause more agony or distress.
Open and honest communication is crucial in rebuilding trust after betrayal. Transparency in the conversation enables the betrayed partner to start trusting again and initiates the journey of forgiveness and recovery. Rebuilding the damaged trust begins with transparent dialogue. You may feel like you don’t know your partner anymore, or that they are different. By opening up transparent conversation, we can rebuild trust and connection by exploring our partner’s inner world.
Addressing Underlying Issues and Root Causes
Whenever there is infidelity or betrayal in a relationship, there is typically a reason for this act; not an excuse by any means, but a reason. By exploring individual and relationship issues, couples can gain insight into patterns, triggers, and unmet needs, leading to personal growth and positive changes within the relationship. By working through and addressing these underlying ruptures that may be present in a relationship, it can strengthen the bond and give meaning to the act of betrayal.
Healing and Forgiveness
Healing after infidelity involves rebuilding emotional connection and intimacy. The therapeutic process enables couples to gain understanding of past relationship ruptures and find meaning in the acts that occurred. This process provides a structured environment to foster understanding, empathy, and forgiveness. Forgiveness, as a personal journey, demands time, patience, understanding, and commitment; it cannot be forced.
Communication and Conflict Resolution Skills
Enhancing communication skills is vital for effective dialogue between partners. Open and honest communication should actively follow up with empathy and respect. Constructive conflict resolution strategies enable couples to address disagreements and conflicts in a healthy and productive manner, reducing the likelihood of future relationship challenges.
Through an attachment lens, therapy can support couples in increasing the effectiveness of their communication patterns and help resolve past communication barriers. Through resolution and support of previous issues, couples not only communicate more effectively, but can resolve underlying conflict more effectively.
Self-Care and Individual Growth
Both partners must prioritise self-care during the healing process. Individual therapy can provide a space for personal healing, self-reflection, and growth. Supporting each others self-improvement journeys fosters an environment of understanding and compassion, strengthening the foundation of the relationship. It is important that you validate and acknowledge your feelings, and really acknowledge when you are feeling (understand and know what emotion is coming up).
Sustaining Trust and Rebuilding the Relationship
Rebuilding trust requires ongoing effort, commitment, and patience from both partners. Regular evaluation and adjustment of relationship dynamics are necessary to ensure continued growth and progress. By addressing challenges head-on, couples may rebuild a stronger, more resilient relationship based on trust, love, and mutual respect.
Rebuilding trust after infidelity is a complex and delicate process, but with the help of an EFT therapist, healing and growth are possible. Seeking professional support can provide guidance, tools, and strategies to navigate the challenges and rebuild the foundation of trust.
Anselmus Agung Pramudito, & Wenty Marina Minza. (2021). The Dynamics of Rebuilding Trust and Trustworthiness in Marital Relationship Post Infidelity Disclosure. Jurnal Psikologi, 48(2), 16–30. https://doi.org/10.22146/jpsi.60974
Cornish, M. A., Hanks, M. A., and Gubash Black, S. M. (2020). Self-forgiving processes in therapy for romantic relationship infidelity: An evidence-based case study. Psychotherapy, 57(3), 352–365. https://doi.org/10.1037/pst0000292
Mitchell, E. A., Wittenborn, A. K., Timm, T. M., & Blow, A. J. (2021). Examining the Role of the Attachment Bond in the Process of Recovering from an Affair. American Journal of Family Therapy, 49(3), 221–236. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926187.2020.1791763