How to forgive a cheater: 7 ways to heal a relationship

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Cheating has always been a sensitive matter and there is no simple answer to how one can or should even forgive a cheater. It’s as old as the concept of marriage and monogamy itself. Most people will largely agree that cheating involves having a sexual relationship with someone other than your partner. However, the boundaries of cheating are not as well defined as we think they are. For some people, having emotional intimacy outside of monogamy can also count as cheating but for others, this may not be the case. Cheating is considered a violation of the implied contract of exclusivity in a marriage or relationship, and hence, is deeply painful, especially for the one being cheated on.

But why do people even cheat? Is cheating the beginning of the end of a relationship? Should you forgive cheating in a relationship? How can you forgive someone for cheating? Let’s explore these questions in detail.

Why do people cheat? 4 reasons for your partner’s infidelity

A study conducted by the Archives of Sexual Behaviour suggests that 23% of men and 19% of women in heterosexual relationships have reportedly cheated on their partners. That’s approximately 1 in every 4 or 5 people! What’s the reason behind this astonishingly high statistic? As it turns out, there can be many.

1. Unmet needs

Every individual in a relationship has certain mental, emotional, and sexual needs. It’s important to know that these needs differ from person to person and relationship to relationship. Moreover, each person is aroused through different physical or interpersonal attributes that may go missing or change eventually over time, usually due to a lack of communication. A partner might prioritise work over sex or grow distant after the birth of a child. Sometimes even when you are giving your 100%, your partner might feel distant or emotionally disconnected and it may not be your fault. But the lack of attention, changes in desires, and lack of quality time spent together may be primary motivators for a person to stray and indulge in a romantic relationship outside of their current commitment.

2. Loneliness in a relationship

Feelings of loneliness may arise at some point in a relationship and it could be due to a million reasons. If this happens and a person is too scared or anxious to communicate these feelings, it might be easier for them to just find comfort and intimacy elsewhere rather than confront their own relationship.

3. Boredom and the need for experimentation 

The rise of social dating platforms and communication has given us a window into the world and the opportunities in it. New sexual partners are easily available and accessible to anyone looking for a new sexual experience at the mere click of a button. It’s not uncommon to come across other people who wish to experiment with the idea of sex. This is also not limited to just sex but could also lead to emotional cheating. Knowing that you can pursue someone else can seem tempting and even exciting, especially if you’ve been in a committed relationship for a long time. The thrill of the chase or doing something forbidden is unfortunately a very strong motivator for cheating in a relationship. 

4. Mismatch of sexual drive

Everyone has varying levels of sexual libido depending on their age and various other factors. Everyone has different sexual drives and may desire intercourse differently. While a relationship may start with incredible sexual chemistry, this might change, evolve or fade away over a period of time. If there is no communication on this topic, it just gets easier to ignore and focus on other things or people. People often cheat because they want sex more often.

4 signs that your partner may be cheating

Before getting into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about a few indications that your partner may be cheating. A cheating partner usually displays guilt and shame in one way or another. Here are some tell-tale signs of a cheating partner:

1. Changes in behavior

There may be some changes in behaviour such as special or increased attention to their appearance and clothing, which may indicate that they are trying to impress someone else. They may also become more secretive about their belongings and whereabouts, especially their social media messages.

2. Over or under compensating

They are either trying to overcompensate for the affair in the form of extravagant gifts and extra attention or do the complete opposite where they actively avoid spending time with their partner due to feelings of shame and guilt. Either case would be perceived as unusual or out of the ordinary.

3. Changes in schedule

They disappear indiscriminately now and then for no apparent reason and their schedule starts to change with them being absent for a long period of time, usually without any explanation.

4. Emotionally and physically distant

Your partner may also seem distinctly distant or shirk intimacy. The reason here could again be that cheaters feel guilty or it could also be just pure ignorance.

Woman looking at a man using his phone

Should you forgive a cheating partner? 3 things to consider

A lot of young people nowadays find themselves at the receiving end of an illicit affair. A lot of  people wonder where they went wrong and even resort to taking online quizzes to decide if they should forgive their partner. But before you make a decision, here are some points you could consider. 

1. Assess how you feel

Quite often, people tend to invalidate their feelings based on what they are expected to feel and end up burying their real emotions. Whether it is anger, betrayal, sadness, or anxiety, allow yourself to sit with these feelings. As tough as it may be, take your time to accept what has happened and think about where you want to go from here.

2. Understand what you want in a partner

Cheating can make you rethink everything, especially your perception of relationships and what you want in a partner. After assessing how you feel, take some time to decide and set boundaries and think about what you can or cannot forgive, things you would not tolerate, things you expect from your partner etc.

3. Think about how it affects your family

You may also consider how it affects your family, especially if you have young children or live with an extended family. As unfair as it sounds, many people may choose to make amends in a marriage just because they are equally invested in raising their kids. It is very understandable but it’s important to remember that forgiveness should not be seen just as a convenience and it may very well lead to more difficult issues in the future not only in your relationship with your partner but also with yourself. While it’s important to think of how it can affect your loved ones, also think about what’s best for you and your emotional and mental health.

How to forgive a cheater: 4 ways to build back trust in a relationship

No matter how much you may want to go back to things the way they were, forgiving a cheater is a lot of hard work, Any couple who has chosen to stay in a relationship after experiencing infidelity will tell you that building back trust can be a herculean task. It’s not easy. Cheating in a relationship changes the lens through which you see your partner and how they see you. No matter who has cheated, the healing process can take time, patience, and commitment.

Here are some other things you can do if you’re trying to mend a broken relationship:

1. Understand your partner’s position

Before anything, try to understand your partner’s stance after cheating – is he asking for forgiveness? Is he being indifferent? Is he blaming you? If he is not ready to make amends from the start, sadly, it is not worth fighting about and is just something you might have to accept and move on from. However, if he is ready to work on the relationship, make sure that you are both equally committed. Reciprocation of feelings and effort is necessary for building back the relationship’s foundation and working towards a great relationship.

2. Consider taking a break before making a decision

The overwhelming range of emotions one might feel in such a situation can be difficult to process and makes it tough to make any decisions. Hence taking a break, not just from the whole situation but also just to spend some time with yourself and reflect might be helpful to gain some clarity. It will also allow you to process the situation in a more healthy manner. Whether it is moving out or getting away for a couple of days/weeks, whatever you need, take this time to focus on your mental health and gain clarity.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communication is the base of any healthy relationship, whether it is a romantic relationship or any other relationship in your life. Speak openly about the root cause of the affair. Is your partner not giving you enough attention? Are your sexual needs unmet? What is it that you need to do to heal your relationship? Both partners need to answer these questions independently and then focus on understanding the other’s point of view.

4. Consult a family or couple therapist

Sometimes no matter how much you both are working on it, you might still find it difficult to get through. It could be due to ineffective communication, the inability to understand each other’s point of view or other factors. It might be a good idea to consider seeing a couple or family therapist who can help you through your healing process and in moving forward.
If you don’t know where to start and are not ready to see a therapist, consider trying online resources such as Wysa, a mental health app that has a specific tool pack for managing relationships, dealing with a breakup, and many other relevant self-care tools which can help you through this process.

Moving forward: Advice for maintaining healthy relationships

Work on your relationship with yourself

Moving forward can involve a lot of things outside of working things out with your partner. Experiencing infidelity could very well cause your self-esteem to take a hit and you might even start questioning your self-worth. Hence it is important to take the time to work on yourself and start paying attention to your mental health to work through any negative emotions that may have arisen. A healthy relationship with yourself can help in rebuilding trust with not just your partner but also yourself.

Focus on effective communication

Communication is the key to all great relationships. There are no exceptions. In order to build a strong and healthy relationship, be open with your partner and speak your mind. Be clear about what your expectations are in the relationship and be willing to hear theirs. This is easier said than done of course, but important nevertheless. It is always easier to avoid a difficult conversation but this can have negative consequences in the long run. Consider talking to a relationship therapist, whether individually or together to work on effectively communicating with each other.

Wysa has some exercises in the “relationship” tool pack which can help you in resolving conflicts and having difficult conversations, amongst other challenges.

A couple talking

Frequently asked questions

1. Why do people cheat in relationships?

There is no single reason why people cheat. The simple truth is that people are different and ever-evolving. With time, people’s needs, thoughts, perceptions, and desires change over time. In fact, we all keep changing every single day in small ways. But usually, lack of communication, unmet sexual desires, lack of physical intimacy or just the thrill of being with someone new can be powerful motivators for cheating.

2. Is it okay to forgive someone who cheated on you?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It is not easy to forgive a cheating partner, but the decision has to come from you. In order to do so, you must have open communication with your partner or spouse regarding the reasons for infidelity and if both are willing to commit to making the relationship work in the future. Be open and honest about what your needs are and be vocal about the time and effort you will take to see things through.

3. How can you repair your relationship after cheating?

If you have cheated in a relationship, be willing to face the wrath. You have to let your partner vent out their feelings and express their anger. Cheating is an act of betrayal and can change the foundation of the entire relationship. You have to give them time to heal.

If you’re the victim of cheating in a relationship, take your time to process and feel. Communicate and express your feelings openly. Take some time off to be alone and reflect on your life if needed. Taking a break from your cheating spouse or partner can also help to regain trust and build an emotional connection.

4. How do you deal with being cheated on?

Dealing with infidelity can be incredibly difficult. If you’ve been cheated on, consider the following tips to cope with cheating:

  • Try not to blame yourself: No matter what the circumstances of the cheating incident, don’t blame yourself. Infidelity is a decision. People have a whole host of reasons for behaving the way they do and they must be held responsible for their actions. If your partner has been unfaithful, that says a lot about their own relationship and character.
  • Accept and acknowledge what you’re feeling: Once the infidelity is out in the open, there are many things to consider. Cheating can be a traumatic experience and has the potential to break-up a relationship, uproot a family and completely disrupt your life and anyone else involved. Accept and acknowledge your emotions, whether it’s feeling angry, hurt or just sad. Avoid keeping things cooped up and pretending that everything is or will be fine.
  • Surround yourself with people you love: You need your support system more than ever now. Lean on your close family and circle of friends to heal. Express your anguish, state your fears and vent your emotions and try to move on.
  • Avoid making decisions immediately: Whether you want to stay in the relationship or part ways, don’t feel pressured to make decisions right away. Take stock of your feelings before deciding whether the relationship is worth saving.
  • Prioritise yourself: Whether you choose to stay in the relationship or break it off, remember to do what works for you. You’re not obliged to put your partner and their needs above yours. Process your feelings and lay down your plan for the future, without guilt or remorse. Take the steps you need to feel better.

Photo by Alex Green

Photo by Budgeron Bach

Photo by Keira Burton 

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