They Cheated and Now They Want a Second Chance?
- Research suggests that more than 46 percent of people in a monogamous relationship have cheated on their partner.
- Even if cheating has been discovered, some strategies can help repair the relationship—sometimes for the better.
- In some cases, the damage is irreparable. Know the signs you should look for.
Infidelity is one of the most painful betrayals in relationships, and this breach of trust often results in a breakup.
Research on extramarital affairs and cheating usually yields results that are estimations since people are rarely excited to talk about infidelity. A survey published in 2020 indicated that 14.63 percent of married people cheated on their partner. That number was higher, 16.48 percent, in 2018. More recent polls suggested more than 46 percent of people in monogamous relationships have stepped out of their relationship at some point.
While cheating is undoubtedly harmful and often leads to the end of a relationship in some scenarios, is this inevitable? Is there ever a time when giving an unfaithful partner a second chance can lead to a healthier, happier relationship?
The end might not be nigh
A second chance is a viable choice, according to Aura De Los Santos, a Dominican Republic-based clinical psychologist who often works with couples.
"Cheating is one of the most common causes for couples to break up, but not all couples always end their relationship because of it," she said. "When infidelity happens, couples can take the opportunity to reevaluate themselves and their relationship."
When a partner cheats, it's often a sign that something is off in the relationship, she explained. Maybe there's a lack of communication or both parties are missing a feeling of connection and intimacy. This doesn't excuse the hurtful act of cheating, but it can provide an opportunity for both partners to reflect on what has gone wrong in the relationship, to be honest about what isn't working, and to collaborate and figure out how to make things better.
"Infidelity can almost act as a wake-up call, highlighting the areas where the bond needs mending and encouraging both individuals to work harder at their relationship," said Laura Wasser, a relationship expert, divorce lawyer and the chief of divorce evolution at Divorce.com. "Sometimes people make mistakes, and sometimes these mistakes can be springboards to growth and self-awareness, making the relationship even stronger than before."
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How to rebuild after infidelity
If cheating was a one-time incident and both parties are willing to invest time and effort into understanding why it happened, then it may be possible to repair the relationship, according to Wasser.
"The most pressing concern after deciding to stay in a relationship post-infidelity is rebuilding the trust that was shattered," she said. "Mending this broken trust is akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle, with patience and dedication being your best allies. It's about being consistently honest, transparent and making a conscious effort to heal the wounds together."
To repair a relationship after unfaithfulness, it's important for both partners to ask questions, share their feelings and respond to the other person's questions without defensiveness or hostility, De Los Santos explained.
"Address any issues that may have been lingering under the surface, and work together to ensure both partners' needs are being met going forward," she said.
It's also important to do things to foster connection and intimacy while you rebuild. This could include:
- Planning date nights
- Taking time away from technology to spend together
- Potentially engaging in physical forms of intimacy if both partners are comfortable and willing
If you're still struggling to communicate, seek help from a couple's therapist to learn how to resolve conflict in a healthy, productive way.
"Once you've begun to heal these wounds, it's important not to repeatedly bring up the past each time conflict arises," De Los Santos said. "To truly move on and move forward, you simply can't live in the past."
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When to call it quits
Of course, there are situations when trust cannot be mended and infidelity is, without doubt, a strong signal it may be time to move on from a relationship.
"If the partner who cheated downplays their actions, invalidates the other person's feelings and refuses to take responsibility for the hurt they've caused, there's likely no way to heal from the betrayal," De Los Santos said. "If they defend their actions as necessary or try to place blame on the other partner without holding themselves accountable, more hurt is likely to follow."
She added that if a cheating partner promises never to do it again but then subsequently breaks that promise, being repeatedly unfaithful, it's unlikely the relationship could ever return to a healthy place where both partners feel they can trust each other.
"In those cases—where the cheating is a repeated pattern or when it comes with other forms of abuse and disrespect—it might be time to draw the line," Wasser said. "Sometimes, it is better to walk away and prioritize your well-being and peace of mind."