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After the Affair: Rebuilding Trust

Hannah Hopper, LPC

How do you rebuild trust after an affair takes place? Is it even possible? Is it right to stay in a relationship after there’s been an affair? There are so many questions in the wake of unfaithfulness, and not all of the answers will come at once. But one thing is for sure; if both partners decide to stay in the relationship, rebuilding trust and learning to love again is a very slow process. The partner who has had the affair must be willing to put their relationship first and show that they value the relationship through their actions. According to therapist Terry Gaspard in Learning to Love Again After An Affair, there are three core components to rebuilding trust. 

Phase 1: Atone

The person who has had the affair needs to express remorse and attempt to repair the relationship. According to Gaspard, “It is critical that the cheater understands their partner’s feelings and accepts responsibility without defensiveness. There can’t be any more secrets and the cheater must confess. While full disclosure is painful, it allows for transparency, verification, and vulnerability.” The person who has cheated needs to take full responsibility for their actions instead of trying to shift blame to their partner. When infidelity takes place, it’s important for the couple to look into their relationship to uncover what went wrong, but this needs to take place without finger-pointing. 

The person who has cheated needs to end the relationship as well as any areas that may leave them vulnerable to be tempted again. Whether this is leaving their old workplace to find a new job, changing their phone number, or quitting a gym membership, changes that will keep the relationship safe are paramount. Along with taking precautions, it’s important for the cheater to explore what led them to cheat in the first place. They need to understand their reasons for looking elsewhere to be fulfilled, all without blaming their partner. 

Phase 2: Attune 

Attunement is only able to happen when a couple has moved past atonement successfully. This means the couple has been able to take responsibility for what has happened, began to move towards forgiveness, and has held back from putting blame on the victim of the infidelity. In this phase, it’s crucial for the couple to begin working on conflict management and resolution. The couple needs to identify the hot button issues in their relationship that often lead to intense conflict, and how to manage these issues so that they aren’t swept under the rug. 

In this phase, the couple learns to attune to and care for each other’s needs and to notice when they should be reaching out to their partner for support. This phase should also be a big turning point for the couple as they make it public that they will be staying together and working to rebuild their relationship. The couple can bring in trusted friends and family members to add an extra support system, and make them aware that the couple is recommitting to one another. 

Phase 3: Attach 

The final stage is about taking a step of courage to make physical intimacy a part of the relationship again. This final step can be a slow process, and both parties should allow themselves time to heal before physical intimacy is reintroduced. A healthy intimate relationship is founded on a deep emotional connection, and sexual intimacy can serve as a protective shield against future distractions. But affair recovery and healing is complex and painful work, and it most often requires the help of a trained professional. If you’d like to rebuild trust in your relationship or grow closer with your partner, you may find it helpful to talk with one of our Chicago therapists at Symmetry Counseling. You can contact Symmetry Counseling today to schedule an appointment.

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