Your spouse cheated on you. You might prefer to say they had “an affair” or engaged in “infidelity” or committed “adultery.” Regardless of word choice, you have been betrayed. Trust has been lost and many important choices must be made. Big questions must be asked…and answered. For example:
- Can trust be recovered?
- Do we both wish to try?
- How can I be certain it won’t happen again?
That last question can only be answered with the passage of time. Many of us may not even ask it. We choose to deal with the betrayal and do the hard work of healing and re-connecting.
Will it happen again? To even ask that question is to challenge the entire premise of the work you’re doing.
What does infidelity mean in the Internet Age?
It’s up to each individual couple to decide what “cheating” means in their relationship. Some couples are comfortable with flirting or certain intimate behaviors. These behaviors might be easy to forgive, but what if they become a habit and happen repeatedly in one form or another. Thanks to digital technology, some of these new behaviors must be factored in:
- Online flirting
- Sending “nudes”
- Emotional infidelity, a.k.a. “online relationships”
- Internet porn
Obviously, these are but a few examples and many variations exist. Put simply, it comes down to betraying trust—as defined by each couple. Whether the infidelity is a sexual activity with another person, visiting a strip club when you said you’d never do so, or having a “backup husband” online, the fallout is serious business.
5 Steps for the Partner Betrayed by Serial Infidelity
1. Don’t accept guilting or distraction
It is common for the habitual cheater to use some variation of the “you drove me to it” excuse. Nip that in the bud. You are the victim. Case closed. Also, don’t accept distractions or excuses. Another common reaction is for the betrayer to deflect the focus or minimize the seriousness of the betrayal.
2. Decide for yourself when or if you’re ready to forgive
Only you can decide when you’ve recovered from the shock and can move in another direction. The serial cheater may put pressure on you to move forward. Remember: They have no right to rush you and, through their betrayal, have surrendered the power to negotiate.
3. Create a support system
No one should be alone during this experience. Your trust has been shattered significantly. It’s crucial to be around those you can trust. Find compassionate ears and shoulders to cry on. You will need them often.
4. Don’t forget the rest of your life
As much as this crisis needs your attention, try not to allow it to command all your attention. You have many responsibilities. Also, you have social interests and personal hobbies. For the sake of your mental and physical health, it’s important not to let marital strife become all you think about.
5. Big question: Is it character or mistake?
Some people might agree that a one-time betrayal does not completely reflect who someone is. But what about when it’s ongoing and just keeps happening? This is the big, scary question you must address for yourself. We’re taught to believe in “happily ever after,” but not all relationships can be fixed. Committing to couples counseling is a proven path towards finding the answers you need.
What role can couples counseling play when dealing with serial infidelity?
After a betrayal, trust is lost and emotions are raw. The situation is volatile. In the case of serial infidelity, it may become nothing short of explosive. Attempting to discuss the specifics usually devolves into excuses, tears, and accusations. Clearly, any couple in this predicament needs guidance.
Seek help as soon as possible. Couples counseling can be your safe space. You commit to weekly sessions—plus homework—and begin the arduous process of answering the seemingly impossible question: “Now what?”