CAN A RELATIONSHIP SURVIVE MULTIPLE INFIDELITIES?
by Annie Gurton, Imago Relationship Therapist, Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
If your partner has cheated on you once you have probably been to hell and back to save the relationship and rebuild trust. Fidelity is usually rated as ‘crucial’ or ‘very important’ in couple surveys. So if the same partner cheats again – or several times more – what are you to do? Throw in the towel or give him or her one last chance?
If promises have been made, regrets expressed and there has been the painful process of overcoming the first rupture of trust, its hard to believe renewals of the same promises over again. If you find infidelity unacceptable and your partner does it over (and over) again, one has to ask why you are continuing to stay. Of course there are reasons why people continue to accept being disrespected and its usually connected with feelings of low self-worth.
To learn that your errant partner has been up to their tricks again can be devastating, and humiliating. Infidelity comes with a lot of coded messages, such as, ‘you are inadequate for me so I need to look outside the relationship to really get what I want’, or ‘our relationship doesn’t mean that much to me so its OK for me to undermine it’. Infidelity makes you feel that you are not good enough. Your self-esteem plummets thinking your beloved has found someone else that is better and more attractive than you in his or her eyes. You feel like trash, unworthy of being loved, unworthy of being. That feeling may be the greatest contributor to your misery and what hinders you from healing from the infidelity or even meeting someone new.
There are some people who find themselves repeatedly with a cheater or a serial cheater, and a good therapist will help you work out why you subconsciously pick these partners and probably ignore warning signs that this is not someone to be trusted. Remember that love used to be a mystery but these days we understand well the science behind it, and a professional relationship therapist can help you understand it too. Why we are attracted to certain people, and why we might endure repeated betrayals despite the hurt and pain they cause.
Once your partner cheats on you, you can either immediately say that it marks the end of the relationship and there is no way that you can ever forgive or rebuild the trust. Thats fairly clearcut. Or you can accept that there may be grades of unfaithfulness and there may be mitigating circumstances. For example, if it was a one-time event, or it could be termed ‘accidental’ in that alcohol was involved and judgement was blurred, or it may have been a sex-only event rather than an involved relationship. All these factors can help you move beyond one event. But if the infidelity involves not only sex but also romantic non-sexual activities, such as going out to dinners, chatting the night away over a bottle of wine, going to the movies or walking on the beach – well, that’s a different league of infidelity. The absolutely worst and most painful form of cheating is one that involves many different partners – the behaviour of the serial infidel.
The pain is caused in part by the images and thoughts you have of your partner committing the acts of infidelity. While you cannot own another person, when you are in a committed relationship you can have expectations of certain activities with your partner such as romantic dinners, dirty text messaging and sex. When those rights are violated, it can feel a bit like having your car or home vandalised. It’s painful to have had a thief go through your personal belongings in your house, but it’s even more painful to unwillingly having to share your partner with another person. And when its not the first time, it is easy to think that this relationship is not for you. When you experience infidelity its more that just a betrayal, it is actually traumatic and can have long lasting effects on you. If you have robust self-respect and resilience, the chances are that you will throw in the towel and seek a relationship that is more stable, more respectful and more healthy.
WHAT TO DO
If you cannot leave, either for economic reasons or for practical ones, or your feelings of love for the serial cheater are so great that you feel you can overlook yet another experience of cheating, there are two steps to follow:
The first step is Acceptance
This is going to be your life with this person. They cheat, they cannot help but cheat, and they will continue to cheat. If you feel you can live with that, and there are good reasons not to separate, then you may decide to continue.
The second step is Forgiveness
Something that is said to be ‘the greatest gift to yourself’. Without forgiveness you will eventually become bitter and angry, emotions that are toxic and not recommended to experience long term. It is only by forgiving the cheating partner that you can healthily continue with this relationship.
There are reasons why people deliberately make choices which will lead to lack of safety and security, and these can be uncovered with professional intervention. Unless you definitely want a polyamorous relationship and are happy to be in a partnership with someone who also has other lovers and intimate relationships, and if your relationship with a serial cheater makes you unhappy, a counsellor will help understand your choice. If you are caught in an unhappy relationship with a serial cheater, seek a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist to help you understand why you persevere with a relationship which is damaging to you.