As a couples therapist I witness the overwhelming pain and relationship rupture that infidelity causes. I also see the shame both people wrestle with in their very different, yet equally overwhelming experiences of trust, shattered.
The story of infidelity and trust, broken, sits within the complex narrative of the relationship
- Esther Perel
Trust is not simply about sexual faithfulness however and betrayal takes many forms – not something we generally negotiate … until we need to.
Trust is a feeling, a knowing, that your partner will be there when you need them; do what they say they’ll do; choose you over others where possible and appropriate; take the time to truly listen; accept your differences and alternative perspectives. As John Gottman states, trust is built in very small moments of ‘turning toward’ your partner which, over time, provide a felt sense of safety.
"Trust is a risk masquerading as a promise"
- Adam Phillips
What if trust is simply a “risk masquerading as a promise”? This quote, from Adam Phillips, is one which I find profoundly powerful as a source of liberation and healing for couples rebuilding after infidelity. Ultimately, are there really absolutes? Can we truly expect guarantees? For many, this idea demands a deep, uncomfortable dive into a radical new kind of thinking.
What if we could create safety by showing up for our partner whilst at the same time, loosening our grip on our need for ‘guarantees’? We may feel more able to accept this duality and refocus our attention onto what is most important - the here and now experience and the building and cherishing the relationship we want. We may cease wandering in the land of 100%s and recognise that every time we turn toward our partner we nurture the space in between we call ‘us’.
Rebuilding, together, becomes a new relationship ... ... with the same person.
Our willingness to work through infidelity is an excruciatingly difficult topic to talk about. I acknowledge also, that for some couples, this experience sheds light on the fact that their relationship had come to an end before this occurred but they hadn’t yet found a way to face this painful truth.
In repair after rupture, couples learn to have conversations they've long needed and to redefine themselves and their relationship. When they have the willingness to see infidelity as a catalyst for change, they reflect on the relationship that was; they come to make sense of how they got to here; and with great courage and clear intention, articulate a new vision for love. What a beautiful gift to any relationship.
If you are experiencing relationship distress due to infidelity, couples therapy can help you navigate the path toward a new relationship.
"Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present and accepting it as it is now.
For relationships, too, must be like islands. one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits - islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, continually visited and abandoned by the tides.
One must accept the security of the winged life, of ebb and flow, of intermittency"
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh