Can a Relationship Survive Cheating?

Infidelity is a deeply painful experience that can shake the very foundation of a relationship. As an experienced couples counselor, I know that couples often find themselves at a crossroads, torn between ending the relationship or embarking on a challenging journey of affair recovery together. They often question, “Can a relationship survive cheating?” 

The answer is yes. There’s no easy way to move forward after an affair, and the path to healing is as demanding as it is uncertain. But it is possible for you to not only survive infidelity, but to rebuild your relationship to be stronger and more satisfying than ever before. Read on to learn how.

The Dilemma of Infidelity Recovery

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to healing from an affair. Some people immediately opt to end the relationship when they discover their partner has been cheating, while others are determined to work through the betrayal and save their relationships

Then, there are those who find themselves in a state of ambiguity, uncertain about whether their relationships can be saved. It’s crucial to confront a painful truth: That after infidelity, the first version of the relationship, ‘Relationship 1.0,’ will never be the same.

Grieving the loss of this version of the relationship is an essential first step in affair recovery. Even if one partner was content in ‘Relationship 1.0,’ the affair occurred for a reason, suggesting underlying issues that the couple must address. This grieving process sets the stage for ‘Relationship 2.0,’ where you can intentionally rebuild your partnership, integrating what worked from the past and transforming what didn’t. This can be an empowering process that allows you to shape the future of your connection, together.

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The Road to Recovery after Infidelity

Infidelity recovery is not for the faint of heart. The partner who was cheated on takes the lead, offering their emotional pain and receiving validation, asking questions (with the exception of explicit details of sexual encounters), and expressing the anguish their partner’s actions have caused (including the reality of ongoing betrayal trauma). 

Meanwhile, it’s the responsibility of the partner who cheated to hold space for this pain, acknowledge their role in inflicting it, and answer questions as thoroughly as possible. Both partners will experience triggers – emotional landmines that set off painful emotional reactions. The partner who was cheated on will grapple with their triggers, both anticipated and unexpected. They may find it difficult to stop thinking about the affair, or engage in sex with their partner after infidelity. They may suspect that the affair is still going on even if it has ended. 

Through counseling, the partner who was cheated on can learn to manage these triggers, while the cheating partner will discover how best to support them during these difficult moments. The process can be grueling for both individuals. The partner who cheated often grows frustrated, wondering why they can’t simply move forward, even after a million apologies. These frustrations are normal but must be managed, with both partners understanding that “sorry” isn’t good enough after infidelity and that recovery takes as long as it takes.

It’s also important to recognize that the stages of recovery are not always linear. Sometimes, it’s necessary to revisit the initial stage, addressing the emotions that resurface when the cheating partner explains the circumstances that led to the affair. Repairing trust and reaching for forgiveness are steps that will need to be repeated again and again. Understanding this will help you worry less about whether or not the affair recovery process is progressing as it “should” and lean into the work of healing. 

Co-Creating Relationship 2.0

After both partners have expressed their pain, answered questions, and the partner who cheated accepts accountability, it’s time to shift into the next stage. Here, the partner who cheated has the floor to discuss the context of their life and the relationship that led to their decision to cheat. This is not about blaming the other partner or the relationship, but rather gaining a deeper understanding of the relationship’s dynamics, which is crucial for building a healthier ‘Relationship 2.0.’

This new relationship will have new rules. In order to manage trust issues, you may need to share passwords, check in more frequently, or even share your location on your phone. Repairing trust and restoring a sense of emotional safety takes time and consistent, trustworthy actions. If you or your partner are getting frustrated with the process, getting help from a good couples counselor can help. 

Can a Relationship Survive Cheating? 

So, can a relationship survive infidelity? The answer is complex and deeply personal. It’s hard to know whether your relationship can survive infidelity until you’ve done the work of infidelity recovery. It’s not a decision, but an experiential process that will require effort, commitment, and a willingness to confront hard truths. 

While many relationships do not withstand the damage of infidelity, some couples not only survive but emerge stronger than before. It hinges on the partners involved, their capacity for forgiveness, their commitment to personal growth, and their determination to create a healthier, more resilient partnership. In my experience, if both partners are willing to invest the time, effort, and empathy required, they can survive infidelity together and find hope and healing on the other side. 

I wish you the best of luck on this difficult journey. And if you would like to do this valuable work with my support, I encourage you to schedule a free consultation


Dr. Rachel D., DMFT, LMFT

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