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Can a relationship go back to normal after cheating?

“My partner has cheated on me”

Finding out about your partner’s affair is not always as dramatic as you see in Hollywood movies. It’s not always screaming, throwing things at your partner, slamming doors, and never seeing them again. If your partner has cheated on you, it’s likely you feel a range of emotions, from anger, frustration, and a deep sadness to disappointment and even self-blame.

The first thing to remember if you have found out that your partner is cheating on you is to not blame yourself. Reasons for adultery can be varied, and whilst some partners may like to blame their affair on their partner, it is not the responsibility of the cheated-on.

If your partner has revealed they are having or have had an affair, it can be difficult to think your relationship could ever recover. There is a lot of black-and-white chat around cheating: you can either stay together or break up.

However, the reality for many couples is much more of a grey area. It will take a good deal of time and effort to recover from an affair, but it can be done if both of you want it to work. Remember, there is no timeline for something like this, and it could take years to recover.

This is not to say that couples should recover from an affair. For some relationships, adultery is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. If your relationship is already struggling, which is fairly common if one partner has cheated, it might be that the cracks are too big and calling time is the best option for you both.

What counts as cheating?

Under UK divorce law until April 2022, ‘adultery’ as a reason for divorce constituted a married person having sex with another adult of the opposite sex, who was not their husband or wife. Under this law, someone in a same-sex marriage or civil partnership could have sex with someone out with their relationship without it legally being classed as adultery.

However, although there is now no need for a legal definition of adultery since no-fault divorce was implemented, sex outside of a marriage is widely considered adultery. This includes same-sex relationships.

Cheating or infidelity is having and emotional or physical relationship with someone not their partner. This can also include micro-cheating and emotional cheating. The key part is that this happens without their partner’s consent (and, often, knowledge).

Ultimately, cheating and infidelity is a breach of trust, whether this be through emotional or physical intimacy with another person. By engaging in this behaviour, it is likely that the ‘cheater’ has broken a promise or commitment.

Can we recover from my partner’s affair?

The short answer is yes. You can recover from an affair.

However, it will take work and commitment from both you and your partner. You both need to be honest about what you want moving forward.

Firstly, your partner needs to stop seeing the person (or people) that they cheated on you with. It simply won’t work long-term if they are still talking to or seeing the other person.

This may seem dramatic, especially if the person they conducted an affair with was someone they were close to before the romantic attachment. However, you will be unable to trust your partner completely if you know they are texting, calling, or seeing the other person. Relationships cannot survive without trust.

You also have to be totally honest with each other. This might mean that once you the affair has come to an end, you are allowed to ask your partner anything about the relationship, and they must be completely honest with you.

Hiding the truth can be far more damaging than trying to protect someone’s feelings. Encourage open communication with your partner and be open yourself without being defensive or judgemental.

Handing over passwords for social media accounts, phones and emails can be a helpful part of the recovery process, too.

This is all part of rebuilding trust within your marriage or relationship. It is almost like you are starting again, letting go of the elements that are proving to be obstacles and resetting your mindset on what your new dynamic will be.

It might be helpful to consider whether you and your partner need professional help. Relationship counselling may be a good option for you to help work through the affair, and any other issues that have come to the surface. You may also need individual counselling or therapy.

It certainly won’t be a ‘quick fix’ but if the dedication is there, recovering from an affair is possible.

What happens if we can’t come back from the affair?

For some couples, an affair does sadly mean the end of the relationship and breaking up is the best option. It can be that the affair exposes other issues such as poor communication or lack of trust between you and your partner generally.

In this instance, it can be best to go your separate ways. This might mean divorce, or civil partnership dissolution. If you are struggling to know where to start, we have a range of free resources available to support you. You should seek legal advice, as well as emotional advice for example from a divorce coach or a counsellor.

Useful Links

The role of phones in divorce

How to ask your spouse for a divorce

Mental health and divorce

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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