How to rebuild trust with your partner after an affair

Can a relationship ever recover from an affair? Therapist reveals the steps to trusting a cheater again – but says the betrayed partner must accept responsibility too

  • Psychotherapist Neil Wilkie revealed the steps to take to save your relationship 
  • Over the past decade he has worked with hundreds of couples to regain trust  
  • Says betrayed partner must accept they ‘co-created’ dissolution of relationship

Infidelity is enough to drive most relationships to the brink but it is possible to rebuild your connection after one partner has cheated, a therapist explains in a new book.

Neil Wilkie is a British relationship expert and psychotherapist, who after three failed attempts at traditional counselling during an earlier marriage developed his own programme to repair relationships. 

Over the past decade he has worked with hundreds of couples to help them reconnect, and has outlined his methods in new book Recover: Rebuilding Trust After The Shock of Betrayal. 

Speaking to Femail, he revealed that whether or not a couple can rebuild trust all comes down to whether betrayed partner is willing to make it work – and can accept they had a part to play in the dissolution of the relationship. 

He revealed what to do if you’ve just discovered that your partner is having an affair, including keeping the news to a close circle of people, and to realise the amount of ‘shouting and screaming’ they do won’t change anything.  

Psychotherapist Neil Wilkie revealed the steps to take to save your relationship. Stock image 

Why do people have affairs? 

In my experience affairs don’t come out of the sky. They normally come from needs not being fulfilled within the relationship. I’ve yet to work with a couple where the relationship was blissfully happy. 

It can either be because the affair partner is being pushed away, made to feel less important, not being listened to. Or it could be that at a weak moment the illicit partner just talks to them more or connects to them more. That opens the door to someone values me, somebody is listening to me, somebody finds me attractive 

The most common gripes are about communication. Normally about how he or she doesn’t listen to what I’m saying. They’re normally complaining at me, I don’t feel heard or able to express how I feel.  

These feelings can build up and fester and just lead to resentment and a couple drifting apart. The affair can be an escape from that. 

Can you prevent your partner from having an affair? 

Yes absolutely, but it would be wrong to get paranoid about it. It would be wrong to always be worrying about, what if my partner isn’t finding me attractive? What if somebody else meets them? What if a person they’re working with finds them attractive? 

Neil has outlined his methods in new book Recover: Rebuilding Trust After The Shock of Betrayal

That can lead to a downward spiral, getting suspicious, getting worried that although your partner might not be very happy. 

You might be creating a situation where they question is this the best I can have. So keeping the relationship growing and alive is really important. 

Can you rebuild the relationship after an affair? 

You can. It is also possible for the couple to end up in a much better place. 

Affairs normally happen because one of the partners needs are not being properly met in the relationship. Many couples I’ve worked with have been together 20-years  and are not in a particularly good place and an affair happens and that is an opportunity to say “Actually, the relationship wasn’t working”. 

Now they have an opportunity, not to stick a plaster over the old, this is about saying can we create a new and better relationship. 

What do I do if my partner has cheated on me? 

First of all, ask yourself a question. What do you want to have happen? And the immediate reaction is people feel hurt and betrayed and angry their whole world is suddenly shifted. 

It’s easy to want to lash out and hurt the other person. But is that actually going to help them? They need to get their feelings out in a way which doesn’t hurt the future. 

It’s very helpful to do something called free writing, where you write something non-stop for 15 minutes. Then you take a break come back read through what you’ve written, see what themes there are, and then just take that paper and burn it . That can be a way of getting that hurt and anger out. 

Should I tell people if I’ve been cheated on?

The important thing is to restrain the number of people told about the affair, that can be very difficult for friends and family to deal with and often if they are told they will take sides. Often they will become friends to one of them and that will drive the couple further and further apart. 

Suddenly people are saying “You shouldn’t be with him or her because they’ve betrayed you”. So my advice to a couple is tell as few people as you can. If you want to rebuild your relationship it’s not going to help. 

You need to find someone independent to express your anger or hurt. 

How do I stop resenting my partner? 

The 6 key elements to a happy relationship  

Communication: Talking to each other, being able to express how you feel to each other and feeling heard. 

Connection: This can be a look, a touch, a word. Anything from that to wild sex swinging from the chandeliers. 

Lots of little things within connection like creating moments of intimacy as if the world has stopped and nothing else matter, those few seconds where you’re having a hug or a kiss or whatever can really make you feel connected with the other person.

Commitment: Making sure you both are putting the relationship as a really important thing and you’re both working to allow it to continue to grow and flourish. 

Because it’s very easy to fall in love but it’s hard work to keep a relationship good. 

Fun: Fun often gets forgotten about, particularly when parents have children and focus on earning money to buy a bigger house, more stuff. 

But actually to have fun keeps the relationship alive and thriving. 

So couples need to unleash the child within them, do silly things to laugh until they can’t laugh anymore.

Growth: There’s three parties in a relationship; there’s the you, the me and there’s the us and they all need to be growing because life changes, time moves on and the relationship is not a static thing, it needs to be vibrant and changing.

Trust: We normally assume we trust the other person until something happens to make us doubt that. 

When things are going well trust doesn’t figure at all, it’s just there it’s assumed. 

The partner needs to try and accept that it’s a situation they co-created. 

It wasn’t all the affair partners fault. If they hold on to the belief it’s 100 per cent their partner’s fault they had an affair, that’s going to be very hard to recover from. 

If they can say it’s really bad that you did that, but I accept our relationship wasn’t in a good place, and I love you and you’ve really hurt me – but what can we do to come out of this in a better place? 

And that can be really hard, that requires the one who has had an affair to do all they can to apologise, to show regret for what happened, but also requires the betrayed partner to want to work towards something better in the future rather than hold on to that resentment. 

They can’t change what happened, no amount of shouting and screaming is going to help them. They can change how they allow it to effect them in the future.  

How can I trust my partner after they’ve cheated on me?  

Trust takes time to rebuild. What is needed is first of all complete openness by the affair partner. 

So first of all what I recommend is that the affair partner talks to the illicit partner, the one they’ve had an affair with and tells them it’s over and why it’s over. 

They need to be very clear and say, this is the boundary and it is over. I’m not going to be able to speak to you anymore and if we do bump into each other or you contact me I’m going to tell my partner. 

The betrayed partner needs to hear this. That will give them clarity that it is over.If there is any communication after that, they need to be told, because affairs don’t normally end elegantly with a clean cut off. 

It’s really important there is complete openness and transparency because so many affairs start and continue by text message, email, WhatsApp so their phones and computers need to be completely open for their partners to have a look at any time they want to, to give them the reassurance that nothing is being hidden. 

What if my partner cheated with someone they work with? 

That’s hard, it’s the easy place for illicit affairs to start. Boundaries need to be put in place and it’s difficult. 

Ideally one of them will move to a different location or a different company but if that’s not possible, then its going to take longer for that trust to rebuild. But what will help is openness and transparency. 

What also helps is the betrayed partner seeing the affair partner is really working as hard as he can to make this relationship work and that’s about making time to connect with each other, to enjoy each other’s company, get out of the rut they’re in and do different things. 

How long will it take to trust my partner again? 

I would say anywhere between three months and two-years. 

That depends on the attitude of both of them, if the betrayed partner is prepared to accept that the relationship wasn’t great or they had a part in it and if they still love the affair partner and really want to make it work, and are looking forward to a positive future then I’d say about three months. 

If the betrayed partner feels a lot of anger feels it wasn’t their fault, is blaming the affair partner then it’s going to take longer and if they really want to hold onto the past and want them to suffer as much as they’ve suffered, it’s going to be difficult to make it work. 

What is the affair wasn’t physical? 

What’s been rising significantly for the last couple of years has been emotional affairs, where there isn’t actually any sex involved or any physical intimacy. 

It’s all about talking and sharing, either on the phone, face to face or online and in some ways the emotional affairs can be worse, because the betrayed partner will think  – well actually, they’ve been hearing things my partner didn’t tell me, deep stuff about me and our children, our family. 

They’ve been expressing feelings, they might feel if they wanted a quick shag it’s not so bad, because there’s not much emotional context and those affairs can be damaging because of that.  

Recover: Rebuilding Trust After The Shock of Betrayal is out now, available from amazon.co.uk, priced at £12.99 

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