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Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistJanuary 31, 2018
From the WebMD Archives

Despite common wisdom, someone who has cheated once will not necessarily cheat again. If you can accept this premise, then the next logical questions – especially if your partner has had an affair – are: “How can I know whether they are cheating again?” and “How can I ever trust my partner again?”

The answers to these questions can be found in how you and your partner relate to each other. When a partner is cheating, there are almost always signs in their relationship that something is not right. In looking back, you can probably see that in some significant way, your connection was not what you wanted it to be. Maybe there was a lot of loud arguing – or the silence between you was deafening. Or maybe the relationship wasn’t exactly bad… it was just a bit disconnected. Whatever the situation, you probably sensed that something was wrong. And what you passed off as a “slump” or maybe just being the way relationships are, was actually a sign of a deeper problem.

Whenever I work with couples after there has been infidelity, feelings of betrayal and mistrust are always central to the treatment. In their relationship, there has usually been, and continues to be, a failure of the partners to really “get” what’s going on in each other or to truly connect. And now the trust has been broken. The partner who didn’t stray not only must get past the hurt and betrayal, but they must learn when it is relatively safe to trust their partner again.

This trust can only return when you think that your partner is fully “there” with you. You must feel in your heart and believe in your mind that your partner is totally committed to your relationship. For this to happen, both partners have to make an effort. Your partner must take responsibility for their actions and be supportive as you express your hurt, anger, and whatever else is tearing you up inside. But then you must take in their earnest attempt to be open, reconnect, and support your healing. While your partner may need to restrain their desire to rush your recovery, you may need to consciously pay attention to their efforts (rather than discounting them out of hurt).

As you go through this process, you will probably struggle sometimes with questioning whether to trust your partner. When this happens, it can be very healing to have your partner validate this struggle. Rather than them just trying to disprove your fears of continued cheating, they must let you know that your feelings are understandable. If you don’t think your partner is cheating, but just can’t shake the fear, let your partner know this and ask for support and validation (you’re not only asking for assurance that they are not cheating but especially asking for validation that your fear is understandable).

These types of conversations can go a long way to assure you that your partner is not currently cheating – and that, as long as the two of you are open with each other, you don’t need to worry about cheating. When the fear does arise, your partner can help you ride it out by being supportive. So, with time and effort, you may be able to revive your trust in your partner and even improve your relationship.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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