Infidelity – can a relationship be saved?

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Infidelity is one of the most devastating things that can happen in a relationship or marriage. According to research, 30-60% of marriages deal with an affair, many of which end in divorce.

Why do people cheat? All relationships change over time and with it changes the dynamics in the relationship. Gay men that have been together for a long time often find that a relationship that started off as passionate and where sex played a big role, transforms into something more like ‘brothers’ or ‘besties’.

Some people cheat because they feel unsatisfied or unfulfilled in their current relationship, while others cheat because they have a desire for novelty or excitement. Some people cheat as a way to cope with personal issues such as low self-esteem, insecurity, or a lack of emotional intimacy in their current relationship.

Additionally, some people cheat due to external factors such as being away from their partner for long periods of time.

Besides the emotional damage of infidelity, it can also significantly impact health. If partners have unprotected sex as a couple but one (or both partners) also have high-risk sex with other people, this puts both at risk for HIV and other STIs. It is very cruel and selfish if one partner has unprotected sex outside the relationship while the other partner is unaware that they are also at risk.

If you have experienced infidelity, it can be difficult to know where to begin to repair the damage. Many, though deeply hurt from the affair, still want to salvage the relationship. Here are some steps you can take to try help you renew trust and work towards rebuilding a relationship:

  • Look at problems that existed in the relationship before the affair happened. Affairs don’t happen in a vacuum and understanding the events and emotions that led up to the affair can help bring healing and potential restoration.
  • Communicate openly and honestly. This is key to rebuilding trust. Both partners must be willing to be open and honest about their feelings, thoughts, and actions.
  • Take responsibility. Accepting responsibility for what has happened is an important step in rebuilding trust. It shows that you are aware of the harm that has been caused and are willing to make amends.
  • Make amends. Apologise and take action to make things right. This might include things like therapy or counselling, or even something as simple as writing a letter of apology.
  • Be patient. Surviving an affair includes much rebuilding of trust and patience on both sides. It can be a bumpy emotional roller coaster ride during the post-affair recovery. Rebuilding trust takes time. Be patient with yourself and your partner as you work through the process.
  • Be open to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a vital step in rebuilding trust. If you were the one who was cheated on, it is normal to feel hurt and angry. Some relationships don’t survive after infidelity because the unfaithful partner’s cheating is used by the other person to keep punishing or controlling them. If you really want it to work, it is important to be open to the possibility of forgiving your partner, even if it takes time. At some point, you may need to let go of the past and focus on the future. This can be difficult, but it is necessary for rebuilding trust.
  • Seek professional help. A therapist or counsellor can help you work through the issues that have led to the breach of trust. They can also help you develop the skills you need to rebuild trust.
  • Trust is built over time through consistent behavior. You need to show up for your partner and stay true to your word by consistently doing what you say you will.
  • Be willing to compromise. Rebuilding trust requires a willingness to compromise. Be open to making changes in your relationship to make things right.
  • Remain committed and show your commitment by making time for each other, doing things together and spending quality time together. Put the phones away and actively listen to your partner.

Rebuilding trust is a process. It’s important to remember that it is not something that you can demand or force; trust is something that must be earned.

Are you having relationship problems and looking for a relationship counsellor? The Engage Men’s Health Mental Health Support Team offers free in-person counselling for gay, bi or other MSM individuals or couples in Johannesburg. To make an appointment or for more info, WhatsApp call or message 063 649 5116.

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