After Infidelity: Ground Rules for Healing Your Relationship

Healing from infidelity is not a pain-free process. That’s the nature of healing. You need to first uncover the wound – all of the wound – so you can assess the damage and take necessary action. And even then, the necessary action may cause pain.

For an analogy, think about medical doctors, who are taught right from the start that to do long-term good their actions may initially cause distress, pain, and even illness in their clients. Consider oncologists (cancer doctors). These physicians often choose to treat their patients with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and other procedures and medications that cause all sorts of distress and discomfort. In fact, many cancer survivors will tell you that the treatment felt worse than the disease. Yet oncologists and their patients go along because they know they are working toward the greater good of long-term healing and recovery.

In many respects, healing from infidelity is the same. Cheaters, betrayed partners, and relationships all experience deep stress and pain as they heal. Even if the process of healing is approached with the best of intentions, with all parties determined to not cause more pain, there will be pain. So if you’ve cheated and you and your partner want to stay together, you may want to brace yourselves because you’re in for a bumpy ride.

In his book Out of the Doghouse, Dr. Rob Weiss suggests that you and your partner implement the following ground rules as you work to overcome the damage wrought by infidelity.

  1. Put your relationship into a safe harbor for at least six months. This means that you should agree to not make any major decisions about the future of your relationship (like divorce) while you are working through the painful process of rebuilding trust and intimacy. At the end of the six-month safe harbor, you can, if you so choose, either extend the safe harbor for another three to six months or choose to move forward from a place of truth and honesty (or a continued lack of truth and honesty).
  2. During the process of healing, you and your partner should put your need for emotional support on friends, supportive family members, therapists, and people met in support groups rather than on each other. You are both going through a tough time and you both need emotional support, but neither of you is in a position to provide it to or receive it from the other. The current lack of trust in your relationship prevents or at least greatly diminishes the feelings of mutual support you had.
  3. Take a time out from sex – even if right now feels like the best sex the two of you have ever had, and even if a hiatus from sex upsets your partner. The reason for this is simple. Your relationship lacks trust right now, and there is no reason anyone should have sex with a person they don’t fully trust. So even if sex feels like temporary relationship glue, you need to understand and accept that it’s going to take more than good sex to heal your intimate bond.

No, these suggested guidelines will not prevent you and your partner from feeling pain and emotional discomfort as you work to heal your relationship. What they will do is create a cushion, softening the landing if either of your spirals downward. So even though these guidelines for relationship safety won’t prevent pain, they can certainly diminish the impact.

To learn more about infidelity and how to heal broken relationships, check out the free webinars and drop-in groups on SexandRelationshipHealing.com, pick up a copy of Dr. Rob Weiss’s book Out of the Doghouse, and consider a workshop for couples impacted by infidelity.