Some couples are able to have successful relationships after cheating – and some are not. So what are the deciding factors?

Generally, the couples who are not successful after an affair communicate in non-productive ways. They blame and shame each other. They get defensive. Or they apologize before they even really understand what has hurt their partner. Sometimes, they also try to get over it too quickly, and end up burying the pain and stew in resentment. 

We’ll show you the 9 ways you can instead rebuild trust and create a different, but successful relationship again.

The Building Blocks of Reconciliation

Having successful relationships after cheating requires a number of things – but particularly patience. Both partners also need to have a very high willingness to step out of their own stories for stretches of time, and step into the other’s shoes.

The following 9 building blocks are what make couples have the most successful relationship after cheating. This list also contains tools how to rebuild a relationship after cheating:

1. Show Patience

For healing to happen there needs to be patience on both sides. The person who had the affair needs to show the humility and poise to fully listen to their partner’s hurt. This might take a long time.

And – the person who was cheated on eventually needs to hear what motivated the affair, and listen to their partner’s feelings around that as well.

2. Consider Your Value Attachments

Couples who value the importance of long-term attachment over fidelity often fare better after an affair.

In other words – if the cheated partner feels like being in a family and having long-term connections is important to them, they may overlook affairs or be willing to do the work to heal from them. Also, people who have children are more likely to stay together. At least until their children are grown.

3. Take Turns Communicating

Successful relationships after an affair rely on communication

When communicating their feelings, most people want to jump in and tell their side of the story right away.

However, it’s much more effective to take turns. Fully listen, empathize, and understand your partner before you try to be understood as well. If you attempt to get your side of the story in while they are still telling theirs, they will feel like you aren’t really hearing them. When they don’t feel seen and understood, they may tell you the same thing over and over again – until you really listen.

While often the cheated partner needs to have the first say, this dynamic doesn’t always work. It’s possible the cheater has built up so much resentment over time, they have no space to hear about their partner’s hurt and anger. In that case, the cheater may need to go first. It’s not about what is right or wrong here – it is about what is possible.

4. Follow Your Feelings – Not the Facts

When someone is cheated on, they have a strong desire to interrogate their partner. They generally dive right in after the affair’s discovery, to find out exactly what happened.

Interrogating and responding to the interrogation rarely leads to successful relationships after cheating. While there may be a time to talk about the logistics of the cheating, it’s generally much more helpful to focus on the feelings first.

If your partner starts to interrogate you, you can tell them: “I will tell you what happened in whatever detail we decide is best. But I really want to hear your feelings first.”

5. Practice Empathy

Once the cheated partner starts to open up about their feelings around the affair, it is important to show sincere empathy. Put your own feelings and defenses aside, and try and really put yourself in their shoes.

For example, don’t just say how sorry or ashamed you are (or defend yourself if you are not sorry). Simply imagine what it might be like to be your partner – and deep down connect to their hurt.

There can be all sorts of emotional responses outside of anger and hurt to being cheated on. For some people, an affair makes them feel rejected. Others feel disrespected. Many find themselves feeling unsafe, while others are experiencing a sense of abandonment. Listen to what your partner is saying about their responses. You can make guesses about how they feel. But if your partner corrects you, listen to them and try to get to the bottom of their feelings.

Couples who are most successful at relationship repair are able to have empathy both ways. Not only do they show compassion for the cheated partner, they also make space to understand the one who had the affair. 

6. Take it Less Personally

Successful relationships after cheating rely on individuation

If you have been cheated on it is, surprisingly, likely not about you. Your partner was likely missing some important part of themselves in the relationship and tried to reconnect with that part.

Couples who survive affairs generally take the affair less personally. They both see it was not a lack in their partnership. They recognize the fact that no two people meet each other’s needs all the time. And that sometimes, people try to meet needs that were missing in a dishonest way because they are afraid of losing their relationship.

7. Believe in Self-Realization & Individuation

We get lots of social messaging every day about the importance of compromise in a relationship. Another approach however is to see each partner as more of an individual whose job it is to be true to themselves.

If both people in the relationship – and especially the person who was cheated on – recognize the importance of being true to themselves, they may see the affair as just that. Instead of taking the affair personally, they conclude that their partner was missing something important. They want their partner to be fully self-realized – which is strong building block for successful relationships after cheating.

8. Understand that Life is Not Black and White

Some people have a very strong sense of right and wrong. They see the world in black and white. Those subscribing to this world view are far more likely to condemn their partner for having an affair and leave the relationship.

If you however try to see the world as complex and less cut and dried, you can have more empathy and understanding for the affair. You will probably be able to move past it faster, and retain your relationship.

Rebuild your relationship after cheating

9. Shift Your Approach to Relationship Agreements

It’s helpful to view an affair as an indication that something has not been working in the relationship.

Consider looking at what needs to change, and be open-minded enough to evaluate different relationship structures that may work better for you. It’s possible ethical non-monogamy or an open relationship might be a better fit.

How a Relationship Coach Can Help

It’s a good idea to see a professional relationship coach to reclaim a successful relationship after cheating has occurred. If you think you can work with the above building blocks to overcome the affair, a coach can give you additional tools around communication, guilt, and shame.

Once you have done your repair work, consider taking your relationship a step further. Take an immersive workshop where you’ll learn the building blocks of emotional health in a relationship. For example, the Somatica Core Training is an in-depth training with a safe container in which to practice intimacy and connection.

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Celeste Hirschman
Celeste Hirschman is the co-founder of the Somatica® Institute. She trains coaches in the Somatica® Method of Sex and Relationship Coaching, and has her own private practice in San Francisco, where she works with clients to have profoundly pleasurable and fulfilling lives. She has co-authored multiple academic articles published in peer-reviewed journals and three books: Cockfidence, Making Love Real,and Coming Together. Celeste has her MA in Human Sexuality Studies from San Francisco State University (SFSU) and her BA in Women’s Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). She has taken the Hakomi Pro-Skills Training, as well as multiple trainings in sexuality and relationships. Celeste also has a Certification in Sexological Bodywork from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS).