It started with a flirt, a simple flirt.
This harmless friendship crossed the line; flirtatious text messages, anticipation for the next contact, or simply a shoulder to cry on when things weren’t going right in your relationship. The friendship started off innocent, but after one too many drinks, you two ended up hooking up. This “one time mistake” or “long term affair” was hidden, pushed aside, or buried under lies because you knew you were wrong and didn’t want to lose your partner. Eventually- reality hit full speed and your partner found out anyway.
When your partner hears about your affair, he or she feels horrible- and as if the mistrust in the relationship will never end. Their reactions may feel like a rollercoaster; from anger to tears, from fear to suddenly needing your comfort. Your partner blasts a thousand questions and begins the interrogation all at once.
Now that the affair is out in the open and the trust is broken, where do you go from here? What next?
Rebuilding the trust and facing the consequences of your actions may feel never-ending. But hang tight, it doesn’t have to be like this forever. Keep in mind that it will be like this for now. Although the relationship is in a tragic storm, it doesn’t mean that it won’t make it through to sunlight again. Relationships are similar to buildings; they can get knocked down by a storm and it can be rebuilt even stronger and better than before. It just takes work.
Here are a few things you can do to rebuild with your partner:
Have your actions match your words:
Your partner will have a microscope examining all areas of the relationship; “Can I trust and believe in my partner?” Make sure all of your behaviors match your words. If you tell your partner that you will be home by 8:00 p.m., come home no later than 8:00 p.m. If you are going to be late, call them and let them know ahead of time. Teach your partner they can trust in you and believe in you …in all areas of life.
Stop all secrets and lies:
Perhaps in the past you might omit information, tell your partner a few white-lies, or keep a few secrets from your partner. All of this must stop today. The more you lie, the further your partner will be from trusting you.
Lay off the booze:
If alcohol played a part of the hook-ups, stay away from the booze. Show your partner that he/she is more important than a glass of alcohol or going out to the bars.
Safety, safety, safety:
The affair is similar to touching a stove. At first, it was never hot and always safe to touch, but suddenly it was burning hot. It took time to heal from and the scar remains. Your partner needs to learn that the stove will never get hot again. Reassure your partner and show that you are safe with all of your actions. Understand the challenge it is for your partner to get close to someone that also created pain.
Clearly define red flags vs. friends:
Same sex and bi-sexual couples face the challenge of filtering “red flag” (threats) vs. friend, especially when friends are the same gender you may be attracted to. Friends and “red flags” may be difficult to sort through while rebuilding trust. Ask your partner who they feel comfortable with and who is a “threat.” Since you broke the trust, it is your job to start reassuring your partner by avoiding the threatening relationships.
Don’t be unrealistic:
Avoid saying that you will “always” have your cell phone on or you will “never” turn your phone off. This is unrealistic. Instead, tell your partner that you will try your best to answer the phone. And then….follow through with what you say (tip #1).
Bring down the wall:
If you have a wall up, it hides information and creates a suspicious feeling for your partner. People have easier times believing when they see things first hand, and have a harder time seeing what is behind the wall. Be an open book. The more you open up, the easier it will be for your partner to trust you.
Keep your eyes on the prize:
Body language speaks louder than words….and so does your eye focus. If your eyes tend to “wander” or the flirt comes out, take action and refocus your energy. Keep your eye on your partner and give them your complete attention.
To learn more about San Diego’s Marriage and Family Therapist Jennine Estes, MFT, visit her relationship column Relationships in the Raw or her San Diego Couples Therapy website.