Can cheaters truly be cured? That is a question so many people ask me.
It depends. I tend to believe that any relationship can be saved as long as two people really love each other and are committed to making it work. By extension, I believe that it is possible for cheaters to become wonderful, loving, trustworthy spouses again. If the desire to change is there, the human heart is capable of anything.
However, not all cheaters are created equal. If someone is a chronic cheater or a sex addict then counseling might not be enough to change that path or bring the marriage back to life. There are some people who just can’t make monogamy work for them, and sadly, many of these people find that out only after they are married.
Luckily, in most cases, it is possible to cure a wandering eye. Therapy is a crucial part of the healing process, and it is invaluable for the betrayed spouse as well as the betrayer. It’s important for betrayed spouses because it gives them a place to voice their feelings and work out their anger. However, it’s also very important for betrayers because it helps them to learn why they cheated and how to never allow it to happen again.
When I am counseling a couple who is trying to repair after an affair, I focus on helping them to move past the hurt. This is where most couples get tripped up. They can’t let go of the pain and the rage and move on. Instead they walk around every day with pounds of emotional baggage weighing them down. Arguments break out over seemingly nothing, and the bedroom becomes a war zone. As apologetic and regretful as the betraying partner is, he/she can’t help but wonder: Am I ever going to stop being punished for this? How many times can I say I am sorry? Meanwhile, the betrayed spouse is thinking: How can he/she ask me to move on when he/she broke my heart in a million pieces? It’s crucial to give value and attention to both of these view points, because they each have merit and they each reflect deep emotional truths.
I help my patients to give voice to the pain of the past while still honoring the importance and the immediacy of the present, such as by having them vent for only 15 minutes a day, or by having them work out their emotions through exercises such as beating a punching bag or screaming into a sink full of water (this muffles the sound but still allows for that wonderful release).
Along with these exercises, I also help couples to get down to the hard, scary truth of why the affair happened in the first place. Often it comes down to a sexual issue, such as lack of sexual activity or lack of romance or spontaneity. It can be very difficult to go down this road because partners don’t want to admit what’s wrong in their relationship. They are often terrified or ashamed that there is something inherently wrong or unfixable about them or their relationship; but by shining a bright light on these hidden thoughts and painful secrets, I help them to realize that there is nothing that love cannot fix. Every couple has difficulties, and many couples struggle with infidelity, but as long as there is love and commitment, it is possible to heal after betrayal.