When you find out your partner cheated on you, it puts a blurring filter over the entire relationship, muddying up a formerly crisp picture and making everything look worse. You might feel blinded by rage, consumed with sorrow, and left questioning the whole entire relationship. You wonder if your partnership is even worth saving, and even if you do have the strength to move forward someday, should you? Should you forgive a cheater and task yourself with the time-consuming, trust-building, and quite frankly painful process doing so likely requires of you? How do you know if the bond you have—or, rather, the bond you had—is truly worth fighting for?
If you’re reflecting and trying to pick between two options of should you forgive a cheater or should you just cut your losses, there’s intel you can use to help: Below, relationship pros share six key traits of partnerships that signify there’s likely good stuff worth fighting for, even after someone cheated.
Should you forgive a cheater? Pros say when relationships include the following 6 traits, you might want to consider it.
1. You’ve always been honest with each other
“Always” may feel like a stretch right now, particularly if you’ve been blindsided by the news of your partner stepping out of the confines of your relationship agreement. Trust will need to need to be rebuilt—there’s no doubt about that. But if this event really feels uncharacteristic given your shared history, keep that in mind.
“If you have a history of honesty, and you feel you’ve been able to trust one another in the past, one indiscretion doesn’t change that,” says relationship therapist Tammy Nelson, PhD. “Someone’s character or personality doesn’t change so dramatically overnight. If you feel like this is a one-time fling, and you know they are still the same person you [committed to], give them a chance.”
2. Your relationship was healthy prior to the cheating—and you remember that
“Someone who can remember the connection and the good times before the incident might be able to tap back into that and bring it into the healing of the infidelity,” says licensed marriage therapist Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT.
It’s possible that things have been difficult for the last couple of months, or even years. Perhaps your arguments have been escalating, or the passion and intimacy have dwindled. Even if there’s a clear and present rough patch in the partnership, what matters is that your entire relationship hasn’t been a rough patch defined solely by bumpiness. Moreover, if you both can look back with clarity and recognize when things were good, there’s hope.
3. You’re both committed to each other and your shared family
Obviously this won’t apply for everyone, and it shouldn’t be your entire reason for sticking around. Nonetheless, if you have an entire family unit to consider—and that family is important to both of you—it’s certainly worth a pause. “Think more about your parenting responsibilities and less about your monogamy agreement, at least for now,” Dr. Nelson says. “Work on your relationship because you’re good parents together.”
But of course, she enforces if you’re not good parents together, don’t make the kids responsible for saving a marriage. Successful coparenting still can happen without partnered parents.
4. You’re both naturally forgiving
In any relationship, you tend to see a person’s best and worst side, right? It’s why even if you love someone with the intensity of 10,000 suns, they can really, really drive you crazy sometimes. But if you have a history of not holding grudges and apologizing the right way, there’s a chance you’ll be able to bounce back from something of this magnitude.
“No matter how long it takes, if the partner who has been cheated on can forgive, it helps the couple be able to move forward and through an infidelity,” says Thompson.
5. You’re both able to see the bigger picture
If you’re willing to think about the whole of your relationship and the solid foundation you’ve built it upon being stronger than the weight of this transgression, that’s a good sign you’ll be able to move forward.
“Going through infidelity is extremely painful and throws a grenade into most relationships,” says Thompson. “However, when both people can recommit to the relationship and work on making it stronger, it has a much higher level of success. When a couple is able to see the bigger picture—the past, present, and future—they are able to realign and get back on track.”
6. You still love each other
It sounds super-obvious, but if both partners still love each other and want to give this a fair shot, that’s an important and meaningful place to start. While Thompson admits it’s typical for the injured party to have a “Well if they loved me, they wouldn’t have cheated” mentality, she says it’s key to also remember that people can love their partners and still cheat.
So if you recognize that you both love each other and want to start over, consider it a welcome opportunity to try couples therapy to work on improving lines of communication and respecting each other. “Let this be the one-time thing that leads to a new conversation and better communication.” says Dr. Nelson. “Don’t waste this moment.”
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