It’s the most pervasive and heartbreaking fear of anyone involved in a committed relationship: the person you’re in love with, admitting that they cheated on you.
When a character in a movie or a TV show discovers that their partner cheated, it’s generally grounds for automatic dismissal. And, rightfully so. (Barring a Rachel/Ross misunderstanding, of course.) Cheating is easily the most unforgivable of all the relationship sins — right behind telling your partner that their outfit makes them look fat, probably.
But … what if you do want to forgive?
It’s not unheard of for people to want to salvage their relationship following an infidelity. In fact, it happens more frequently than you might realize. For some, the legal or financial ramification of ending the relationship outweigh the insult of infidelity. For others, the love that’s there is simply stronger than the unfortunate mistake.
So, if you do decide to forgive your partner, how are you supposed to move forward in your relationship together?
While there are no hard and fast rules, there is a general roadmap that’s beneficial to follow:
1. Attempt to investigate the nature of their cheating
As uncomfortable as it might be to have this discussion, it’s important to make an effort to understand why your partner cheated. It’s entirely possible that the reasons behind their infidelity were not solely rooted in sex, and determining their motivations might shed a different light on their actions. If your significant other was incredibly inebriated at a party, for example, their actions might be more forgivable than if they were, say, canoodling with your best friend for several months.
Not all cheating is created equal, despite what many pop-culture narratives might have you believe.
Determining the nature of their infidelity will also help you to determine the likelihood of this occurring again in the future.
2. Get some space
In the aftermath of their confession, it might behoove you to keep your distance from one another until you decide how you’d like to move forward. This is an incredibly emotionally charged situation, but it’s probably something that merits a calm discussion. Give yourself some time to process your feelings (alone) before you attempt to either work things out or end the relationship. This is a good time to reach out to close friends for love and support, and perhaps a glass of wine. (Although take any advice given during this period with a grain of salt.)
3. Set clear boundaries going forward
If you decide to forgive and move forward, there’s going to have to be a serious and frank discussion about expectations and consequences in regards to infidelity. Make it clear which actions you consider to be cheating, and ensure that your partner understands your position. (For example, if you consider texting with an ex to be “emotional cheating,” then it’s important to let them know that this behavior is out of bounds.) This will eventually enable you to reinstate trust in the relationship.
It would probably also be a wise decision to request that they cut off all contact with the (*ahem*) third party in question. As long as you’re still dating, there’s no good that’s going to come from having that person in your life.
4. Go to couples therapy
You’re rebuilding the trust in the relationship, and that’s not going to happen overnight. It can be hugely beneficial to have a professional mediate this period of reconstruction, and their expert guidance will hopefully help you feel closer to one another.
However, it’s important that your partner is as dedicated to working on the relationship as you are. If you’re just going to have a weekly session of expensive, one-sided conversations, you might as well cut the other person loose. If they’re not willing to do the emotional legwork to make up for their mistake, they’re not worth your time.
5. Listen to your gut
If the relationship feels irreparable, or if your trust cannot be regained, you’ll most likely feel it. While it’s fully possible to forgive a partner for cheating, this particular choice isn’t going to work for everyone. If you don’t feel compelled to make the partnership work, then it’s simple: don’t.
There’s nothing wrong with walking away from a relationship that is going to make you feel ill at ease — and you know yourself (and your scope of forgiveness) better than anyone else.