So You Cheated. Now What?

So You Cheated. Now What?

So You Cheated. Now What?

Discovering that your partner has cheated on you is one of the most painful experiences anyone can have. It’s a form of relational trauma that leaves you hurting and mistrustful, long after the affair has ended. Healing from this form of betrayal is a difficult process that takes many months or even years. But the partner who cheated has their own healing to do, and that very real need is often overlooked in conversations about infidelity. 

If you’ve cheated on someone you love and care about, you may be questioning everything you thought you knew about yourself. People who’ve cheated often arrive in couples counseling or affair recovery counseling feeling confused about how they got here and conflicted about the future they want. It’s common to feel a complex mix of regret, shame, guilt, and ambivalence after cheating. Addressing those feelings and understanding your experience is the road to repair, both for you and for your relationship. 

That’s why I created this article. If you were the partner who cheated, I hope it helps you find space for your own healing and growth so that you can move forward from this experience stronger than before. It will also help you understand the betrayal trauma that your partner experienced so that you can address it together. And if you are the partner who was cheated on, this podcast will help you understand your partner’s experience, and why they may not be responding to you in the way that you need them to right now. 

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So You Cheated. Now What?

If you’ve had an affair, and you’re trying to pick up the pieces of your broken relationship, and your partner’s broken heart, it can be hard to find space for yourself. You may feel bad about even needing that space, rather than devoting one hundred percent of your focus to patching things up with your wounded partner. 

But addressing your own experience is a vital stage of recovering from infidelity. If you don’t take the time to process your own complex feelings and understand why the affair happened, it’s more likely to happen again, and your relationship is less likely to recover. 

Why Do I Cheat?

One of the most common myths about cheating is that it happens because there is something wrong with your relationship, with you, or with your partner. But cheating is often nothing more than a mistake. It’s as simple as feeling an attraction and acting upon it and then forming an attachment to someone other than the person you’re committed to. You can probably think of some “reasons” why you did this, but you should be skeptical of those reasons. They are often rationalizations in disguise. 

When we do something that’s not congruent with our self-concept, we latch onto stories that help explain why our behavior makes sense. A person who shoplifts may have a story about how they’re stealing from a big corporation that does harm to society in various ways, so really they’re doing something neutral or even good. A person who cheats may develop negative narratives about their partner or about their relationship, which helps them bridge the mental gap between their actions and the kind of person they believe they are. In other words, they latch onto a narrative that helps them resolve their own cognitive dissonance, at the expense of their partner and their relationship.  

If you catch yourself justifying the affair to yourself or to your partner by pointing to your partner’s failings or your relationship’s flaws, take a step back and reassess. In reality, whatever your issues with your partner are, it doesn’t actually make sense to resolve those issues by cheating. 

The Different Types of Affairs 

Instead, try to understand what needs the affair was fulfilling for you. The types of affairs and the needs they fulfill generally fall into a few buckets: 

  • The Intimacy-Avoidance Affair: Someone who has an aversion to emotional intimacy may turn to an affair when their relationship with their partner is feeling too emotionally intense. This distracts them from their primary relationship and relieves some of that pressure. This is usually happening well below the threshold of their awareness and is most common in people with an avoidant attachment style in relationships
  • The Entitled Affair: Some people cheat because they believe they’re entitled to cheat. They may think that they sacrifice so much for their partner or for their family that they have earned the right to a second relationship. They may have been raised in a family or in a culture in which having other partners was the norm. They may be a selfish person or even narcissistic. Getting to the root of this kind of affair requires re-examining this mindset. 
  • The Sexual or Lust-Based Affair: Some people cheat because they’re trying to meet sexual needs. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not having sex with their partner. It may mean they miss having sex outside a committed relationship, that they’re getting to have a kind of sex they don’t normally have, or simply that they like a novelty. 
  • The Emotional Affair: Sometimes people cheat to meet emotional needs. They are also more than likely meeting emotional needs within their relationship. But having an emotional affair partner may boost their self-esteem, or even give them a place to act out anger against their partner. (Read more about healing your relationship after an emotional affair).
  • The Desire-Meets-Opportunity Affair: This kind of affair is very common. A person who never even considered cheating before may find themselves married with a crush on someone else, see an easy opportunity, and then make a bad choice. Facebook affairs often fall into this category. 
  • The I-Don’t-Know Affair — It’s also totally normal to not really understand why you cheated. Exploring what the affair meant to you and what needs you were really trying to meet will help you forgive yourself, repair your relationship, and become less vulnerable to infidelity in the future.

Feeling Bad After Cheating

When you’re cheating, the emotions can be intense. You may experience a level of excitement that isn’t possible in a healthy relationship that doesn’t involve clandestine rendezvous. You may mistake these drug-like feelings for real, enduring love, and question your commitment to your future with your partner. 

But reality tends to seep in, and when it does, the painful feelings can be overpowering. You may be beaten down by shame, regret, guilt, and confusion. You might feel like you’d do anything to take it back, but you can’t. 

These feelings are a good thing. They tell you that your actions are at odds with the person you are inside. You’re in pain because you’re disappointed in yourself because you know that you can do better than this. 

It’s important for you to care for yourself emotionally during this time, and to get some support for processing your emotional experience. You might feel like you don’t deserve it since you’ve hurt your partner, but you do. You also need it — if you can’t work through your own emotional pain, you can’t be present for the work of supporting your partner and healing your relationship after infidelity. Doing this work on your own makes it possible for you to do the work with your partner. 

Fixing Your Relationship After Cheating

One of the most damaging aspects of an affair can be what happens afterward. If your partner hurts you, you expect them to be contrite, apologetic, and infinitely supportive. But often, people who’ve cheated have a hard time being all of those things, because they’re waging an internal battle over who they are and why they did what they did. This can make it hard to listen to your partner and respond with empathy when they need it the most. 

It’s common for the partner who cheated to feel ready to put the instance in the past and move forward as quickly as possible, and to feel frustrated that their partner is stuck. After an affair, saying “sorry” is not enough to repair trust. You need to be there for your partner through the long process of healing. To do that, you have to make your own healing a priority.

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So You Cheated. Now What?

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

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So You Cheated. Now What? Episode Show Notes

[01:50] Help! I Cheated

  • After an affair, one partner will be hurt, but the one who did the cheating will also have difficult feelings to process.
  • Couples may be at a loss for what to do after cheating.
  • Having understanding on both sides is critical to healing.

[7:01] Why Did I Cheat?

  • What story did the partner who cheated tell themselves about what they were doing?
  • Be careful not to rationalize cheating. Dig deeper to find the emotional roots.
  • The wayward partner needs a safe space to understand themselves before they can repair the relationship.

[15:03] Moving Forward after Cheating

  • There are different types of affairs.
  • Dishonesty and betrayal are the true source of the trauma.
  • Affair recovery is a deep process that takes time for both partners. 

[31:21] Forgiving Yourself

  • It’s vital to give yourself the space to understand and feel your emotions, but staying in that space can be a form of avoidance.
  • Regulating your feelings is the path to being present for your partner.
  • Forgiving is not forgetting, but don’t let the situation and pain overpower personal healing.

[39:20] A Healthy Healing Process after Cheating

  • “Sorry” is not that impactful — empathy is what’s necessary to heal.
  • It’s important to have self-awareness and communication skills.
  • Learning to self-advocate.

Music in this episode is by Death Valley Girls with their song “It all Washes Away.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: deathvalleygirls.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. Are you the one that cheated in your relationship? If so, where do you go from here? How do you begin putting things back together? What does your process of healing and recovery look like? That’s what we’re talking about on today’s show.

The Death Valley Girls would like you to know that it all washes away. 

Death Valley Girls have a new album out and they’re also on tour. You can check them out and learn where they’re going to be and how to buy your tickets. deathvalleygirls.bandcamp.com. Okay, let’s dive in. On today’s episode of the podcast, we are tackling a tough subject, which is what to do if you have cheated on your partner. Now, most people understand that being cheated on is just such a painful thing, right? 

If it’s something done to you, it is traumatic. It’s damaging for your relationship, obviously, and it can really undermine your trust in your partner, or even other people. Long after the fact, it is a form of relational trauma. There’s a name for it even it’s called betrayal trauma, and it has a real impact. If that has happened to you, obviously, you need a lot of support, a lot of healing to get through it and recover, and that is often the focus of couples counseling after an affair. 

We’re talking about the feelings and needs and rights of the person who has been cheated on and understandably so. It is also true that being the partner who cheated after the fact, it is not an easy path either. I’ve worked with many couples trying to put their relationships back together after infidelity, and I know that the partner who did the cheating is often dealing with extremely difficult feelings, too, guilt, shame, regret, I mean, even self loathing, and also complicated mix of feelings that can be very confusing to work through. 

They may have complicated feelings for their affair partner. They may feel torn about whether they want to repair their relationship or ended. They may intellectually want very much to save their primary relationship, fix their marriage, fall back in love with our partner, and legitimately not know how to do that. It’s not uncommon at all for people in this position to really be at a total loss for how to repair things between themselves and their partner, have no idea what to do with all these complicated feelings, and can be really stuck in so many dark emotions going back to the guilt, anger, shame, that it actually becomes difficult for them to engage in the recovery process. 

Because when they do, they become so overwhelmed and flooded with all of these feelings that just kind of shut down the healing process. So, there is much to discuss here, and that’s why I wanted to create this episode of the podcast for you if you have cheated on your partner and are wondering like, okay, so I cheated now what. We’re going to talk about your experience and, and the things that you can do, both for yourself and for the benefit of your partner, and your relationship. 

Also, if you are someone who has been cheated on, the partner who was betrayed, this podcast will also help you understand what happened, and also why your partner might not be responding to you in the way that you need them to right now. When we are in pain, I think we can all agree, we become very focused on our internal experience and sometimes, it can be harder to understand what’s going on inside of others. 

As challenging as it is, having that understanding on both sides is really crucial to the healing process. So to help us do a deep dive into this topic and develop a true understanding, I have invited my colleague Renelle to talk with us. Renelle is a true expert in all of the above. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist on the team with me here at Growing Self Counseling and Coaching, and she is also a certified sex therapist, and an affair and infidelity recovery coach. 

So, she has extensive experience in working both with couples and individuals on both sides of this issue, and she is, just again, a true expert on this subject and has so much wisdom and insight to offer. Renelle, I’m so thankful that you are joining us today to talk about this. Thank you so much for being here.

Renelle: It’s a pleasure to be here. So excited, I’m so excited to talk about this topic, because it’s a topic that is so overlooked.

Lisa: It really is, and maybe we could just start right there. You mentioned that this topic is overlooked. What do you see happening like in the couples that you work with, and the people that you work with, on the other side of an affair? How does this piece of it get lost in the shuffle?

Renelle: This piece gets totally missed, because what happened is we’re trying to rush back and put the relationship back together. We sometimes forget what was the cause what happened, whatever. It’s just like, we have to get back together. We have to get it back together. So, we don’t even talk about what happened. It’s like what do we need to get back? So, we stay or we should go is more actionable steps. 

The root is never addressed, just the symptom. Alright, I see this concern is never addressed, especially with the hurt partner. They want to know why do we need to talk about them. They did this. They did that. They don’t have space. I always say you can’t heal, unless you reveal. Alright, so we have to understand what we’re working for, and then, we go right into it if they want to. 

Lisa: Yeah. What would you say is one of the biggest reasons why addressing the experience of the person who cheated is really so important, because I totally hear you. I mean, the person who has been cheated on is angry. They’re hurt. They’re the ones that have been victimized in some ways, so the focus of counseling and coaching can very easily go on them. Why is it so important to not forget about what has been going on emotionally with the person who cheated? 

Renelle: Because we have to know the reason what the affair meant to them, what it meant to our relationship, what it even meant to us. We have to talk about the affair story, and with that affair story, we had to say what was the story we were telling ourselves. They have to understand that I see sometimes the hurt partner want reassurance and I say, they can’t reassure what they don’t know. 

You can’t get reassurance if you don’t know what you get a reassurance from that’s when I’m sorry, lack of empathy and all that because we’re going through the motions, right? But, we have to realize why are we here in the first place. This is the first step to do it, and a lot of people don’t want to because one is hurtful. It’s hurtful, and we know it’s no reason to cheat. It’s a personal choice, and sometimes it’s like you chose to do that. 

You chose to do that, and we don’t hear why. Why? Because nothing is, and even though we know why, it’s not gonna make us feel better. I like to tell my clients, we want to understand and if you don’t understand, you just want to get the gist of what’s going on, so you can have what’s going to work for you, what you’re dealing with, but I’m gonna let you know now nothing’s gonna make you go, aha, that’s why you cheated. That’s why you hurt me. 

That’s why you separated our family. That’s why so I always prepare our hurt partner that this is not to rationalize it. Because the thing is, rationalizing to give him a reason to and I was like, I don’t want to rationalize it here. Their excuse, is seen as an excuse, but it’s the root of it.

Lisa: Yeah. Well, I’ve always found it so interesting, because I think when people get into the grips of like a romantic infatuation, right, and they start having an affair, I’ve found that many times the case that people are very good at rationalizing things that they want to do that don’t really make a lot of like rational sense. So you’re right, there are all these kinds of, “reasons” but that fundamentally, sometimes there was just an attraction that people acted on, and it’s sometimes not much more complicated than that. 

But that it can turn into like, excuses and reasons that feel like blaming, I think sometimes for the partner who was cheated on and that can be really damaging, but that’s another question for you. I mean, do you feel like it is helpful when there has been an affair and a couple, for the person who has done the cheating to be processing some of these things and talking about all this stuff with their partner, like in the context of couples counseling? 

Or do you think that it can be important for the person who is cheated to have like, some individual relationship with a therapist to be able to talk about, I mean, they might even be ambivalent about their relationship? They might still have an attachment to their affair partner? Do they need their own space to do that?

Renelle: They need their own space, and they have to have a welcoming and safe space because they have to understand them, or it’s me before we. You have to save yourself and understand yourself before you go back in the situation. I always recommend to my clients either getting an individual coach or individual therapist to assist them or understanding them, so they can go back and fully be present for their partner, because when they go back, they’re only going to be appeasing their partner and still, their needs are going to be going unmet. 

So, nothing’s resolved, because their concerns or issues are not being addressed, and when they come back, we know it’s just constant reassurance, so this can make matters worse. We’re coming back and I’ve seen it go worse because their needs, their understanding, their mental health or anything is not addressed. Again, we’re not romanticizing. Oh, this is the reason why. It’s no reason why we should be able to talk and discuss, but then, it’s gonna go deeper until we go real deep into generational narratives. 

What does affair mean to them? Who did the affair partner make them into? What was the story they were telling themselves? There is so much that goes into this, because when I meet with a couple, the couple is the client, right? So for me to help better serve the couple, I really recommend individuals for both of them, so they can fully be present. One, so the hurt partner can hear, and for the infidel, who went out, for them to understand them.

Lisa: I have to tell you that’s such a good point for people to have their own space and to be heard separately. You just use the term infidel. We recorded a podcast together a while ago about how to rebuild a sexual relationship after an affair, which was so fantastic. I’d recommend everybody to listen to it. But, I thought it was just so funny that you referred to the cheating partner as the infidel, and we actually had somebody write it and be like, you can’t call people infidels. 

So, they had heard that at the very beginning of the podcast, and then, they stopped listening. I was like, okay, she was being funny. She used the term. I thought it was hilarious. Personally, it was kind of like making light of a situation. I mean, it is very serious, but a little bit of levity never hurts. So anyway, the person went back and listened to the whole episode and then wrote me back and you’re like, yeah, you are totally right.

Renelle: We call it the wayward spouse, the affair-er or an affairee, who the one who went out,  the one who broke the contract, the one who broke the vows, so yeah, it’s many different terms. But, I say I even had somebody come to me a couple and say, my partner didn’t have an affair, because it wasn’t my fault. I was like, okay, it’s whatever going to make it work for you. I’m not here with terms to challenge you. 

I just want you to relax your body because you experienced trauma, and sometimes, we hold on and so hyper vigilant. We hyper vigilant about something that we want because it gives us power. It gives us power and when you lost power, you want power so I use the language my clients use. So, thank you for bringing it up.

Lisa: No, I personally thought infidel was hilarious but wayward partner works, too. So okay, it’s so important for people to have their their own space because I think what I was hearing in there it’s like, and understandably so, that people who have cheated feel like they need to hide, they need to go into that appeasing mode, I’ll apologize 27 times whatever you want to hear. 

But, it’s like they almost have to hide their inner experience from their partner in some ways, and I heard you say that they really need that time and space to sort of get it all straight in their own mind, right? So, you were saying like a lot of that can be unpacking the narrative like let’s talk about the role of infidelity, like in family of origin and your personal narrative and the story you were telling yourself about this situation, unpacking it all. 

I’m also wondering if you can address one of the pieces that I have found to be very difficult with couples in the affair recovery process and something that I think people don’t talk as much about is that there can be a very real situation where somebody cheated on their spouse, who they love, who they’re committed to, who they want to be married to. Maybe, they have kids. They have family. They have a life. 

They have all this stuff that they really appreciate. So on that level, they’re really committed to making this relationship work, and they have broken things off with their affair partner, but they still maintain like they have an emotional attachment to the person that they cheated on their partner with. Do you know what I’m saying? Like they kind of miss their affair partner they had that? 

Renelle: They miss who they became in the affair. 

Lisa: Oh, interesting.

Renelle: They miss who they became in the affair, because sometimes we have to remember the affair story is a pivotal part of the whole recovery. We have to see what kind of fair it was. Was it a split self? Was it avoiding? Was it emotional? There’s so many types of affairs that can let you know what the left though wayward spouse understand them more. We have to see what this affair story said to them. 

So sometimes, I felt like this with this person, and I couldn’t do this with that person. We know that love doesn’t stop an affair, but I can love this person, but this person gave me what it needs. So this, in fact, is helping my relationship. So, we have to also see what is the definition of the wayward spouse is, definition of affair, especially when we get into an entitlement, right? What happened? 

Well, you have the client that’s just feel entitled to their affair. They have to understand that. Yeah, we have all this is an entitlement affair. I’m entitled to this. I take care of this. I do this, do this. I’m entitled to that, right? I’m entitled to this affair. I’m doing like this. I take care of you. I do this. What do we say to that partner? We have to understand their entitlement is okay, but they didn’t get consent. 

Lisa: Yeah. 

Renelle: It’s the consent. It’s the dishonesty that’s the affair. A lot of times when I have my couples is the dishonesty and the deceit and the lack of the, the secret. That was the biggest issue. So, I’m gonna figure out how to get through that. 

Lisa: Oh, yeah. Well, this is so fascinating. This is why I’m so pleased to be talking with you, because you are just such an expert in this. Like, I personally, until we had this conversation, hadn’t known before that. Again, I know that you have done all of this, like very specialized sex therapy training, which I have not. Can you say a little bit more about the different kinds of affairs? I heard you say splitting, entitlement. There was the avoidance. Can you just go into this a little bit? This is interesting.

Renelle: Yes. So, it’s like the intimacy avoidant affair that comes a lot of stuff comes from attachment issues. They get close with a partner and they just stop the attachment and go somewhere else. They deflect, and they go to another partner. We know the sexual affair, and some people just feel like, they love their partner. They had good sex, but they can have this different kind of sex with the affair partner. 

The entitlement is there. We kind of see those were people of higher stature. Like, I don’t want to throw anything out, because I don’t want to by saying that. It doesn’t mean I’ll have an affair, but higher stature like I do this, this, that. I deserve this. I take care of the house. I take care of the kids, whatever. You don’t do this. So to stabilize our family, I’m gonna get this.

Lisa: So, somebody who’s been kind of breeding resentments that make them feel entitled. 

Renelle: They can breed resentment or they just can feel entitled, that goes back to the generational narrative. The men in my family, right, take care of home and they always have somebody on the side. So, these kinds of things, when we rebuild the relationship, kind of hard because we’re not dealing with just an afffair partner, we’re dealing with mindset. That’s something that we don’t talk about. 

We had to deal with mindset, bullies, attachment disorders, a lot of stuff. Some people just don’t cheat to cheat. Some stuff is really deep rooted. It’s not an excuse. It’s an awareness and to really go into the relationship, shouldn’t we be more understanding? The empathy, the understanding even if you stay or you should go, because it’s going to help with healing. Even though we know the affair is not your fault, but it’s going to help you because sometimes, we still think it is.

Lisa: I hear that. For the person, the wayward partner, the person who cheated to be able to do that work of exploration to be like, oh, it’s attachment issues, or it’s this, like, cultural generational narratives, not only does that help them make sense of themselves, because I think in the moment when people do things like we don’t really reflect on what we’re doing all that much and we just do it. 

It’s only afterwards to be able to unpack and be like, Oh, that’s interesting, and to connect some of those dots, but I’m hearing you say also for their partner that they cheated on. I think that’s one of the most painful things. Like when there is an affair, the person who gets cheated on the narrative is I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t sexy enough. I was doing something wrong. 

They didn’t XYZ but to be able to understand the affair in the context of their partner’s either, like family of origin or even like, I mean, I hate to use this word, but like, the damage that they sustained themselves over their lives. That’s not always where it comes from, but it can be, can help the person who was cheated on, not personalize it to the same degree and to sort of have understanding of why it happened.

Renelle: Some people cheat because they want to. Some people cheat because they want to. People cheat because the opportunity. So, this is why the affair story is so important. Because this is why when I first go in, I know we did a lot of training. We can train all we want, but it’s no cookie cutter approach to affair recovery. You can’t go in with, oh, box one, box two, box three, you can’t. It’s a process, it’s so deep, because it’s so many moving parts. 

It’s so many moving parts, and that’s why one of the main parts is the wayward spouse and what were they feeling. Sometimes, they don’t know, but to offer that safe landing for them to have understanding, and for you to say, well, I would like to hear, and if you don’t want while you figuring it out, just let me know. Getting that communication back, making it feel safe, right? We want to know why so much, but how can we make it safe for them to talk to us. 

Because we want to know and make it like okay, and then we can start rebuilding honesty and transparency, but first, they got to be honest with themselves. 

Lisa: Yeah, well, that’s the hard part. It’s so interesting, too, because I think I heard you say a minute ago that while some wayward partners will believe that they miss the person they were having an affair with or they still have an attachment to that person. What I’m hearing you say is that it’s not actually the person that they miss. It’s not the affair partner. It’s how that person made them feel, and that once they figure that out, it sort of floats away like a wisp.

Renelle: Yeah, because you can romanticize that, right? We all romanticize what the affair is, the affair partner, both parties do. We affair and we don’t listen really to the reality. We romanticize an affair before we even have them, right? Because we romanticize if I be with this person, it’s gonna make me feel like this, and then, the question is why can’t I be that person now? Why do I have to go out? Right? Why can’t I be that person now? 

So, they missing that part of themselves. What we have to do in the forefront is to be very authentic in who we are and when we evolve to make sure our relationship evolves, right? We don’t have to fully give ourselves, really complete the relationship and deplete us because that’s when we go looking for something else to complete us. So, that’s why the affair stories are important. 

People can have emotional attachments to their affair partner because their affair partner is romanticizing and they given them. It’s no day to day stuff. They paying attention to them. They so interested in them. They need, they starving that attention. Sometimes, it’s sets and it’s a myth that women is for emotion and men are for sex. Women are for sex, too. Women are for sex, too. 

So, it’s just like understanding the mess, understanding yourself, understanding what that means to you and not for this not forget the whole discussion on monogamy. Sometimes, we say I do and that’s it. Just think about it, we said I love you one time. That’s it. That’s the same thing I feel about monogamy, it has to be a constant discussion. Understanding your attraction patterns, understanding, really now, if somebody come up to you, what would you do? What will make you more attractive? 

Understanding that attraction is a natural occurrence. It’s the secrecy that when you lust and everything like that. How can we get that back, but the key to this, I’m gonna keep going back to this, is understanding you. What that is called is self intimacy. Into me you see, looking into yourself, understanding your makeup, how do you love. Remember, wanting love is I want you for who you are. 

Needy love is I need you. A healthy balance is in between. When you need love, you’re gonna go to anybody that’s going to give it to you, right, but you don’t know that until you do that self audit.

Lisa: That is a great point to understand what your vulnerabilities are. I think, also, like you’re talking about this radical honesty that is an ongoing conversation around, not just what kind of relationship do I want, what do I enjoy, but you brought up such a powerful word a few minutes ago which was consent. It’s great, like you have this figured out. Maybe, you would like to have flings or attachments with other people. 

Has your partner also agreed to that? To have that be an explicit conversation, because without that, it becomes this like, damaging, unethical situation, really. But, it is also okay to have open conversations with your partner and obtain their consent, or at least, that they know, fully, what this relationship is and what it isn’t so that they can make informed decisions about what they want to do, that you’re not making those decisions for both of you. Is that what you’re saying?

Renelle: Understand the meaning between dishonesty and lying. 

Lisa: How do you see the difference? 

Renelle: Dishonesty is not being honest. It’s thinking about protecting yourself. Lying is trying to probably get out of something, right? I have definitions. I Google everything. I tell people to look it up. Because what I say means nothing — it’s what each partner says. What does dishonesty mean? What does lying mean? What does an affair look like in our relationship? What does affair mean to you? You know, what is trust? Right? What does trust mean to you?

These definitions are foundational, because don’t we can’t assume right now. But we don’t really have an opportunity to discuss. This is why it’s an ongoing discussion we can have it with an individual, but I also bring it up in couples. What are these terms? Because remember, common sense is not common to everybody. We had different experiences, we grew up different. So it’s really amazing to get on the same page. And if you are just to check in and make sure.

Lisa: Yeah, that’s a really good point that you’re not making assumptions and thinking that you have the the terms that you are using the definitions apply to both of you, because there could be a lot of differences between two people unless you’re talking about it really openly.

Renelle: I’m not lying. I’m not lying. Oh, but you retracted that. I was just being, you know, honest with you. But it was really dishonest, right? Because it was in their head. So just understanding that I didn’t have an affair, it was just sex. But it was an affair to the partner because any sex outside of us is an affair. Those things like that, and getting on the same page with your partner. Right? And so that’s what the affair says, what does the affair say about our relationship where the affair stated that we really don’t really have effective communication, and we evolved and we didn’t let each other know. But a lot of that still gonna come from understanding me before we, right? So you can go back fully present, to reconnect after the breach. Because if you don’t, we’re going to do more of the same.

Lisa: Definitely. Okay. So there has to be that honesty and that insight and, and many courageous conversations, you know, to try to heal this. Let’s talk about another situation too. And I’m sure you’ve also experienced this, but I can’t tell you how many people I have talked to who have in the moment, you know, gotten caught up in feelings of attraction or that like, infatuation, you know, they have get a crush on somebody, which totally happens, right? And they act on it. And before they know it they find themselves in this affair situation that can feel kind of like addictive in the sense that it feels kind of out of control while you’re in it.

And then, you know, some weeks or months or sometimes even longer, people kind of like come to their senses, maybe something happens or they get found out or the person that their affair partner doesn’t want to do it anymore. And they have this thing, like in the cold light of day where they’re like, Oh, my God, what have I done. And they feel so badly about it. It’s like, they just woke up from this fever dream and, and they feel shame, they feel so much guilt, they would do anything to put that genie back in the bottle, and they can’t. And they are not just, you know, now faced with trying to repair their relationship, if that is even a possibility.

I mean, sometimes it isn’t, but inside of themselves, they are just wrecked. Like it is not who they thought they were it is not who they wanted to be. What would you say to somebody who is in this kind of space, where they are just feeling so badly about what they did? And not not just, you know, feeling like they could never be forgiven or redeemed by their spouse, but they feel like they can’t forgive themselves? Where do you even start with that?

Renelle: Really giving them space to understand and give themselves grace that yes, it was bad that it happened. But staying in this space is not going to give you the resolution that you need. This space is avoidance. This space is avoidance, that feeling bad and sad, we can understand that. And we can acknowledge that, but then what’re we gonna do, right? So we have to relax our bodies, because our bodies remember trauma. It was maybe in trauma to them.

So giving them some relaxation techniques, creating a safe space for them to really now get off a fight flight or freeze and get more understanding. Okay, so what was going on when they feel so the emotions hijack them. So they so worried about the emotions, feeling their emotions, they’re not getting to the root of what was going on. And when they get down to the root then it’s like then we say, You know what, I really needed that I was missing that. They reminded me of my mother. Right? They bought out that kink side.

But before we do that, it’s called emotional regulation. emotional regulation is something that we teach in all aspects of couples therapy, because it’s so needed, you have to emotionally regulate our bodies. So we can come down and really feel like we can hear and understand and let the thoughts flow. So again, emotions won’t be hijacked and everything.

So if I had a client like that, we’d really spent some time with self soothing, meeting them where they’re at, validating that feeling. But then I’m getting them in a relaxed state so we can start now being detectives and on discovering some things.

Lisa: Now, that’s such an important point. And, and you said that so nicely, like, beating yourself up that like emotional flagellation, and like, I’m the worst person in the history of the world, and I’m unforgivable, and I, I hate myself like that, in some ways, is actually avoidant, like if you’re in that self loathing and guilt, it’s actually almost protective in some ways, because you don’t, you can’t really get into understanding yourself when you’re stuck in that.

Renelle: And they romanticize the affair. If you think about it, right. I’m such a bad person like that, then you had that other side. But that affair made me feel like, you know. So that’s why we have to go into that because I’m such a bad person, but we are bad person. Good people do bad things, but why? We have to make sure and that’s where that uncovering come in. You are a bad person, but you want to get back in the relationship. How can you get back into the relationship when you’re a bad person? And why are you failing this? Only an honest person will feel bad. Right? So understanding like, I understand that you feel like you’re a bad person, but only an honorable person would feel bad, only an honorable person will have feelings. Because if you didn’t, we know where you will be. You wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t care. So you care. So let’s start unpacking that.

Lisa: Yeah, and to really help people make sense of it. Because you’re so right, like if somebody’s stuck in that I’m a horrible person. I hate myself. But they also did things and it’s like, we can’t it’s almost like they’re hiding from that other side of themselves. And and not letting like yes, okay, I know you hate yourself and that was the worst thing in the universe and let’s can we also talk about why that actually happened?

Renelle: Do you like yourself? Who were you in the affair? Did you like that person? Do you like that person when you were somebody else with the affair partner? What did the affair partner make you like about yourself. See how we flip it, and then we can go more into understanding. And tell me now let’s talk about why they didn’t show up in your relationship. And this is not to blame. This is and this I’m saying, we’re not blaming anybody, we get more understanding, because sometimes the hurt partner feel like, Oh, I’m being blamed. I’m like, No, it’s not blaming is understanding. And I’m sorry, you feel blame. We can talk more about that projection. 

That’s why it’s so good to have the wayward partner to have their own space, because we have to focus on them. Because a lot of stuff we can do in couples, because even as trained couples therapy, we can get all these emotions flying all over the place. Right. And sometimes somebody needs our energy more. And it may not seem fair. So that’s why it’s good that you have that individual space to work with somebody. So when you come into the couples, you feel more represented, you have your notes,and you’re able to articulate your feelings?

Even if you say, I don’t know, then a couples therapist can help you say, Okay, I don’t know, how can we deal when we don’t know something? How can we have space for vulnerability, so we can figure it out? Because sometimes I know this conversation is about the wayward partner, but sometimes they don’t know. They don’t know.

Lisa: Oh, I fully agree. That’s been my experience.

Renelle:  Why, why, why. And then it’s no time to explore because I gotta give them what they want. So what they do is they make up something, and then whatever they say is not good enough for the hurt partner, because the hurt partner, done romanticized the affair, right. So every time they do, they just say, whatever you want, they give up. So empathy and endurance is so needed on this journey.

Lisa: It really is. It really is. And I can relate to what you’re saying. I mean, so many times, with couples in this space, it’s almost like, you can’t focus too much on the partner that cheated, because the partner who’s been hurt is so angry and upset. It goes into a lot of like, helping them and taking care of them. And you’re absolutely right. And, and I think if somebody is feeling very guilty and ashamed, they will interpret understanding as blame.

But they have to, like work through that and understand that in their own counseling in order to like get to that place where they can do that with their partner and kind of own it. Because if they haven’t, it just turns into all this reactivity between two couples, and nobody can have the empathy or the understanding that each other needs in that moment, and it’s very difficult to heal. It’s very difficult.

Renelle: Very, very difficult, especially tough saying that understanding is not agreement. We have to make sure we say that understand is not agreement, listening to their side is not agreement. Being empathetic towards them is not agreement. Alright, so we have to make sure we say that because the hurt partner wants to have so much power, they don’t want to make any leeway and want to give them any space. Right? And anything he’s like, I don’t want to I don’t want hear it, because they feel like the agreement is not it’s not agreement. Just like forgiving is not forgetting.

But when are we going to not let the situation overpower us and our personal healing. And sometimes we just have to just really not challenge them, but challenge the myth of what these words mean to them, just so we can get a place of understanding. And sometimes you’ve never gone to understand. And that’s okay, too.

Lisa: Yeah, but these things don’t always make sense. They’re emotional, they’re limbic.

Renelle: The moral standards, because they’re not you. What you want to do, you can’t project what you would do on to your partner. I would never do that. And I had many opportunities. I’m like, I understand that. But you’re not your partner. And we had that whole projection. We have to stop doing that too. Because then we don’t want to go against what our partner idealized, because then we’re gonna be wrong. So it’s so much going on in these spaces that each person needs healing. Personal healing is a part of affair recovery, each person needs it.

Lisa: So then on that note, if I could get your insight into what you have seen when it comes to the person who has cheated. What do you understand to be one of the most common things that can sabotage the healing process for the relationship? If the cheating partner is not able to kind of do in their own individual work, and maybe there’s a few things but what what do you see as being the kind of necessary components. And if they don’t happen on the cheating partner side, it’s very difficult for healing to be achieved.

Renelle: Emotional regulation, if they’re not emotional, emotionally regulated, so they can hear their affair partner and understanding their emotions because even when the affair partner is I mean, even when the hurt partner is telling them how they made them feel a lot of people can’t take hearing how much they hurt and messed up. So they want to avoid it and just give up and shut down. They rather just shut down and say nothing. Because they can’t hear it anymore. Right? They can’t hear these things. They can’t, they’re not regulated enough to take it. It’s too much. It’s too much to hear.

Lisa: I said I’m sorry!

Renelle: Absolutely, yes. You know, and then we know sorry, is not needed, is more empathy. Because this is something that is not training. It’s not a class on how to cheat. So they do what they do. Don’t ask for forgiving, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, instead of just listening and empathizing, and what gets in the way when they can’t do that. And it’s always Yeah, but Oh, but see, when you didn’t work? Oh, that’s when it all goes. And I’m like, can you be quiet and listen, not being an effective listener, not being empathetic, not being aware of your own emotions, and not knowing why you went out? Right, or not even want to discover why that blame, you know, all that is the big thing. But emotional regulation is a big one.

Lisa: I hear you and so so, for the cheating partner to develop the ability to manage those big emotions that might be coming up in their couples sessions, but also to be able to have like the emotional strength to really, honestly reflect on their own process rather than minimize or avoid it. Like if they can’t do that emotional work in their individual counseling, they are going to be too fragile to do any meaningful work and couples counseling, is that what you’re saying?

Renelle: Yeah.

Lisa: Okay, so I’m thinking of other, you know, another situation here. So if you had somebody who, or even a couple where there had been an affair, and the person who had been cheated on, is willing to do the work and come into couples counseling, maybe they’re pursuing their own therapy to manage, you know, the anger or the anxiety, the things that are coming up on their side of the equation. And their partner, the person who has cheated, is not willing to engage with their own individual growth or to develop these emotional regulation skills to do the hard work of figuring out yeah, why don’t I do that? And is not like engaging on that level? What would you say, to the partner who has been cheated on or even to that couple in terms of the prognosis for this?

Renelle: I’ll just welcome to the space and just tell them that I’m glad that they want to work on it, I’m gonna do the best that I can, but it’d be a benefit if the individual gets their own assistance. I’m going to say that I will explore with them. And if they need more exploration, it’d be really beneficial for them to go outside and get their complete therapist or coach to themselves, I’m gonna do my best. And I’m going to ask the person, wayward partner, if things come up, please, journal, please even have a one on one session with me and I can help you explore as much as I can. But some of these are going to be the key to understanding.

So one thing is, I still make them feel safe, and I can do as much as I can. But as we come up, a lot of things that come up is gonna have to have a little bit more understanding and insight. Hopefully, some do and some don’t, feel like you know, what I do need to go off and sit by myself. And even, I give them resources. Everybody don’t want to go to their own therapist, a coach. So I give them a lot of resources for the ones who cheat with journal articles, even books or anything that just helped them explore.

Because sometimes who it is they don’t have the space and they’re dealing with the deficit of you know why and sometimes it gets so stuck in a emotions hijack, and they just want to just just make it go all go away. So this is really normalizing the process, letting them know the steps, and letting each person know the benefits of whatever we choose and how it will greatly be a pro or con to the process.

Lisa: Yeah, that’s such a compassionate attitude. You know, like you’re, you’re willing to work with people and I think, I think I’m reading between the lines that kind of your, your hope is that over the course of couples work, they will kind of come to understand that doing this individual work is really really important, and also necessary to be able to be a partner in healing. And that without it, it’s very difficult to do that work in couples counseling, they can’t tolerate the feelings of their partner and they can’t, they don’t have enough personal insight into themselves to be able to fully participate in the couple’s work because that is that it?

Renelle: And self awareness and, and being able to learn communication skills. So they can self advocate. Self advocate, even for themselves for understanding what they want, need and desire. They have to understand that that all don’t fall on they’re partner all the time. And a lot of times, I love for them to get to work because they have to stop going outside of themselves to get their satisfaction, because they keep going outside of themselves. And it’s going to keep getting them in the world of hurt if they stay or go.

This going outside instead of looking within is a destructive pattern. And it is better for them to understand that if they stay or if they go, they can’t keep if something doesn’t work here, oh, I can do this. So I just let them know the benefits of knowing that and how can we put some mechanisms in place for when that come? How can we address it?

Lisa: Yeah. And that’s such a great point. You know, I love what you just said, like whether or not this relationship can be healed, it’s very important for you to do this work. Either way, because unless you do, you’ll have a be it kind of just like mindlessly repeating the same old patterns and not even be fully understanding why.

And maybe that’s, you know, the one of my main takeaways from this wonderful conversation is that I think this this big myth that sometimes cheating partners have around I said, I was sorry, I know it was a mistake, I’m not doing it right now, I won’t do it again, you know, sign of the cross right here, like can, can we just move past the past, and just leave that behind us and, and, and not really fully understanding the extent of the emotional repair work that really needs to be done.

And also understanding who they need to be to help an emotionally traumatized partner heal and recover. And so that is a really important takeaway, I think, for me from this conversation. And so I hope that that message resonated with people who maybe need to hear it.

Renelle: I hope so too.

Lisa: Yeah. Any last words of advice for our listeners who might be struggling with this very difficult situation,

Renelle: There is hope. There is hope. You just have to offer each other grace and understanding. That’s the best thing before we get to anything, just grace and understanding self forgiveness. Right. And you matter, and I know it’s hurting right now. I know you don’t know what to do, but you deserve to understand you so you won’t hurt anybody else in your mess. You know? In your mess. We can’t keep hurting people just while you understand and figure yourself out. They don’t deserve that and you don’t either. So please get the help that you deserve.

Lisa: That’s a wonderful message. Thank you so much for spending this time with me today. This has been wonderful. Again, another just amazing conversation. I appreciate you being so generous with your expertise and your wisdom. But well, couples, you know, this is some of the hardest things that a couple will have to deal with and really, really need guidance. So thank you for offering it today.

Renelle: Anytime. Thank you for having me.

Lisa: And if you’d like to learn more about Renelle or her practice, you can learn more at growingself.com and schedule a meeting with her now to talk about your hopes and goals for your relationship and how she can help. So thank you, Renee.

Renelle: Thank you.

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2 Comments

  1. Unfortunately I have Cheated on every relationship and all my marriages. I ruined my children’s childhood by all my cheating.. I’ve tried to fix it and I cannot, my urges are way Too strong and over exceeds anything else I do in my life.

    1. Connie, what a painful insight this must be. You may already be connected with a good therapist, but if not, I’d definitely recommend looking for one who has a strong foundation in attachment theory who can help you get to the bottom of this. My hope is that you will arrive in a place where you feel more in control of your actions. (You may still choose to pursue different relationships, but in a more intentional way.) Here’s an article I put together about how to find a good therapist, and I hope it helps you.

      Actually, before you make an appointment with someone, check this one out too: Evidence Based Practice. Even though you have tried to work on this in the past, it’s important to know that not all therapy is the same, not all therapists have the same qualifications, and who you work with matters in terms of the outcomes. Don’t give up on yourself Connie! Wishing you all the best, LMB

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