What Happens to a Relationship After an Affair?

Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex, and Kids, says that as a general rule of thumb, “most women cheat because they feel emotionally deprived, and men are unfaithful because they often feel sexually deprived.” But regardless of someone’s reason for cheating, breaking someone’s trust should never be the solution to an unfulfilled need. Why? Here are the usual damages a cheating partner incurs after an affair.

Here’s What Happens to a Relationship After an Affair

1. You and your partner won’t agree on how bad the cheating was.

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How do you define infidelity? Does looking at porn count? How about webcam sex? Hookup apps without actually hooking up in person? Chatting with an old flame on social media? What about playing virtual-reality sex games? Different people often have a different idea of how bad a cheater’s actions were. One partner might believe that a kiss is not a big deal, while the other might think it’s a deal breaker.

This is why it’s important to define your boundaries beforehand. If a cheater feels like what they did wasn’t so bad while their partner is devastated by it, things might be difficult moving forward.

2. You’ll take some time apart.

The partner who was cheated on will obviously need some time to recover, that is if they are wiling to continue on with the relationship. Love and relationship psychologist Madeleine Mason says, “If the relationship is to return, it usually happens after a long period of time apart where the couple was considered broken up.” The person who was cheated on will feel too betrayed to fully engage in the relationship, and that person will withdraw.

3. Serious trust issues will plague the victim of infidelity.

No matter how hard the cheater tries to justify their actions, cheating will completely wipe trust away. A victim of infidelity will begin to doubt the cheater in many, if not all, areas—including finances and parenting. While some may argue that trust can be rebuilt, things will likely never be the same. Best-selling author and relationship expert Susan Winter says, “It’s a fissure that’s always present. Whoever crosses that line will find it easier to do so again.”

If the relationship doesn’t survive, trust issues may continue to haunt the victim in many aspects: future relationships, friendships, and even people in general.

4. The cheater’s self-esteem soars; the victim’s suffers.

Since the cheater sought for satisfaction from another person because they felt undesired or bored, their confidence gets a boost out of finally receiving the attention they craved for. On the other hand, the person who was cheated on will suffer a major blow to their self-esteem. They’ll feel they were not attractive enough, not funny enough, not smart enough, or not caring enough, despite of all the effort they exerted and all sacrifices they underwent for the relationship.

5. Your sex drives plummet.

For many people, infidelity destroyed their sex life. Depression, mistrust, anger, betrayal—all these just kill off your sexual desire. Guilt may affect the cheater’s actions, that is if they’re remorseful. For most women, trust is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Chances are, it’s not so much that the victim lost their libido. It is that they lost that feeling of trust and security they need in order to experience true arousal. Rekindling sexual intimacy after infidelity is a process of doing the right things and doing them in the right order.

Someone submitted in GoAskSuzie, “Every time I see his hands, all I can think is that he used them to touch another woman. Every time he tries to kiss me, all I can think is he used those lips to kiss another woman. And because of this, I seem to have lost all my desire to make love.”

6. Commitment strengthens, or the relationship ends.

Cheating can be a huge wake-up call to both partners and a test of their commitment. Tessina says that understanding relationship dynamics (sexual satisfaction, emotional needs, and hidden motives) and learning to discuss what went wrong in the relationship will help both partners and their marriage—and might even help make their relationship affair-proof in the future.

However, because the trust in the relationship has been broken, the cheater must expect to be on a short leash for a while. The person who cheated will need to work hard to reassure their partner it won’t happen again. During this time, the cheater must exert extra effort to reassure their partner, and this could include complete transparency with diaries, messages, phone logs, and more. “This can be taxing for the transgressor,” Mason said, “but it is necessary for the relationship to get back on track.”

Also, after being rigorously honest, cheaters sometimes feel as if they deserve instant forgiveness. This invalidates their betrayed partner’s experience and does not allow their spouse to fully feel and process the pain of the betrayal. Betrayed partners will resent this.

But oftentimes, even if a couple wants to make it work, they might not be able to. Most couples usually can’t find common ground again after infidelity. Read our factors to consider when deciding to leave or stay after an affair.

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