The Most Common Reasons Relationships Can't Withstand Infidelity

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You feel secure and happy in your relationship—for a while. And then, you notice that gnawing feeling in your stomach that comes from beginning to suspect that your partner is cheating. There are subtle signs, but you let them ride, not wanting to believe that anything is going on. Your sex life turns into a slow drip, your partner seems very private about their cell phone use, their work “obligations” increase and you can feel the distance between the two of you growing. You chalk it up to a rough patch.

Soon, you find the evidence. Maybe you're looking for it, maybe you stumble upon it. Either way it confirms that something is going on—with someone else. You confront your partner and find out the details. Then you face the inevitable, impossible question: Do I stay or do I go? You always imagined you would leave if someone cheated, but you find that your love for your partner draws you back. So, you decide to stay. And as you both try to heal your relationship, you begin to recognize the challenges of surmounting infidelity that you didn't anticipate. In the aftermath of betrayal, here are five common reasons people find themselves unable to recover.

1. You saw or heard things you can't unsee or un-hear.

Sometimes, betrayed partners think knowing details of their lover's infidelity will help you deal with it. But no matter what the details are—whether they were in love or just having sex, whether they met a dozen times or six—the more you know, the harder it is to let go. You find yourself expending an excess of mental and emotional energy trying to refocus these intrusive thoughts or sheepishly reminding yourself that it it's over, it's over, and you can move on. Ultimately, betrayed partners often resent that they are living under this cloud of sadness.

As an alternative:

Instead of insisting on knowing every sordid detail, ask yourself if you can trust your partner again without knowing the details. It might be better for your relationship in the long run.

2. You struggle to open yourself up sexually after having been betrayed.

After being profoundly hurt, it is extremely difficult to be sexually vulnerable with the person who hurt you. Intimacy requires trust, and that has been broken. If you try to force yourself to make love, you may be preoccupied with thoughts of your partner in flagrante with someone else and feel insecure. You wonder if your partner is thinking about someone else. In these scenarios, sex doesn’t bring the two of you together, but instead, makes you feel more alone.

As an alternative:

Don't force yourself to be intimate immediately—or at any point, really. If you both truly want to give your relationship a chance to recover, you both have to be patient. Be gentle with yourself. That is the only thing you owe anyone at this point.

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3. You find your trust has been irreparably damaged.

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You try to believe the cheating is over, but you realize you didn't recognize the signs before, and you struggle to trust yourself or your partner. You feel naive and foolish, so you check up on your partner, even though you hate doing it. You never wanted to be that person. When you uncover the slightest inconsistency, you confront your partner, but you're unable to believe them. The anxiety, and the sense that you have to be hyper-vigilant or you'll miss the signs, is exhausting and makes you question whether or not the relationship can be fixed.

As an alternative:

Take a page out of Miranda and Steve's book. In Sex and the City, after Steve cheats, he and Miranda go to therapy, and their relationship is deeply strained for quite some time. Eventually, they have to take a leap—or not. They spend some time alone, and each have to decide individually if they can let go of the past and start afresh—choosing to trust each other. Without trust, love cannot exist. Proceed accordingly.

4. You are unable to rebuild your confidence in the relationship.

You've gone from feeling secure and comfortable with yourself emotionally and physically to feeling insecure and self-doubting. Although everyone tells you that it wasn’t about you—that “it was about your partner and their issues”—you can’t help but feel that this has everything to do with you. The betrayal has made you question if you are attractive enough, sexy enough, and just generally good enough. This hits people with a history of abandonment or betrayal especially hard.

As an alternative:

Ask yourself if healing this relationship is worth the additional work it will take on your self-confidence. It's easy to resent your partner for denigrating your sense of self. Can you move forward without holding onto that resentment? If not, you might need to reconsider the way forward.

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5. It's happened before.

You've found out about betrayals in the past and you thought the worst was behind you. Now, you're finding out that the trust you gave willingly, again and again, has been replayed with more lies and secrets. All the promises, the steps toward intimacy, the loving moments feel like a farce. This new betrayal feels like a confirmation that your partner really won't change.

As an alternative:

It's difficult to think of a scenario in which giving a serial cheater another chance to redeem themselves seems like a wise risk to take. If you've been cheated on before, consider why you would stay. Do you have children together? If so, ask yourself what's really best for them. Will you be able to create a safe, loving environment for them if you are in a relationship without trust? Is there a chance they would be better off with two happily divorced parents than unhappily married ones? Talk to couples' and children's therapists and make an informed choice.

When you're dealing with the painful aftermath of betrayal, partners are often embarrassed about wanting to give the relationship another chance. But the only person whose opinions of your relationship matter are you and your partner. There is no right answer about what to do in this situation. No one can tell you what is best. Ultimately, you have to be your own advocate and decide what works for you.

Want more insight on whether your relationship is healthy and the reasons it might not be? Check out these seven signs you’ve found the one and learn how to rewire your brain to have a more secure attachment style.

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