Ask Sahaj: We both cheated. Now what?


Dear Sahaj: Roughly seven months ago, my relationship hit a significant rough patch. There was cheating from both parties, and since then we have been working on things and it’s been going fairly smoothly. However, she’s been pushing me away recently and she’s been very hot and cold. She went through my phone and read private conversations with friends I had during our rough patch, when I was on the fence with what to do with our relationship. I understand that some of what she read upset her.

She said she doesn’t see our relationship as a priority anymore and is focusing solely on herself. I support her wanting to focus on herself and grow, and I’m trying to find a way to understand and be empathetic toward her. I love her, but I don’t understand where she’s at with everything at times. She says she loves me and she’s happy she’s with me but her behavior doesn’t feel like it. What can I do?

— Ruptured Relationship

Ruptured Relationship: I don’t know what you two have done to repair the trust that is broken from your mutual infidelity nor do I have information about the history of your relationship. Cheating changes the level of intimacy between two people, and takes a toll on self-esteem and mental health.

Cheating can sometimes be a product of built-up resentment that needs to be surfaced, acknowledged, and addressed to facilitate healing. More than that, the impact cheating has doesn’t get canceled out when both people in a relationship do it. If anything, it further complicates the issues that need to be confronted to minimize resentment and repair what’s broken.

Most importantly, you will need to take some time to figure things out for yourself. It’s not clear what you want from your question. You mention that you want to understand where your partner stands, and yes, you love her, but you don’t say how you want things to work out. What, if anything, has changed for you since the rough patch and infidelity seven months ago? I suggest you reflect on how willing you are to heal the hurt and betrayal that is lingering in your relationship or if you are just hoping to avoid conflict and keep the peace.

Your partner told you you’re no longer a priority. This may be because she feels the need to protect herself from getting hurt by you again, or maybe she’s trying to move on altogether. Your partner looked through your phone, so it’s clear she still doesn’t trust you and is navigating her own pain. You both need clarity on what you want and need from this relationship, now.

The relationship will need to feel different for you both to truly move forward together, so I encourage you to try to explicitly address the following with your partner: What does safety and trust look like to each of you? How do you know you have forgiven each other and how will you know you have been forgiven by the other?

To truly repair what was broken there needs to be a mutual understanding and accountability for why things fell apart in the first place, how things will actually be different, and both of your roles in contributing to the emotional disconnection that led to infidelity. This will require your partner to also be invested in working through these issues with you; regardless of how much you want things to work out, you won’t be able to fix it alone.

You’ll have to give room and time for mutual healing to occur, while understanding that you both may not be affected by the infidelity in the same way. If there’s a desire from both parties to move forward and you still feel stuck, couples counseling is always an option.

Remember that two things can be true at the same time. You can each feel hurt and you shouldn’t be continuing to hurt or punish each other. You can each feel guilty and you each need standards for what you’ll accept or need in the relationship. You can both be sorry and want to fix things and you’ll need time and honesty to truly repair what was ruptured.

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