Can a Relationship Survive Infidelity?

The topic of infidelity has been front and centre in the media with the recent Ashley Madison scandal regarding the release of personal information of those who joined the website that encourages people to have affairs. Much of the media coverage and response to this issue has focused on morality–the idea that the people who joined the site to have an affair “had it coming”– or on privacy–the idea that people have the right to expect companies to protect their personal information. There has been little discussion of the impact of infidelity on relationships, or on how couples impacted by the Ashley Madison scandal can heal.

Infidelity is often discussed as if it will (and should) lead to the end of a relationship. A common phrase that gets used is “once a cheater, always a cheater.” But is it possible for a relationship to survive infidelity?

As a relationship therapist in Toronto, infidelity is one of the more common concerns I see in relationship and marriage counselling. Those who discover their partner’s infidelity are often surprised at their reactions if they too had previously believed one should not stay with a partner who has had an affair. However, when they experience infidelity for themselves, they realize it may not be so simple to end the relationship. Despite the hurt, sadness, anger, and grief, there is often still love or at least the memory of love and a shared history together. In some cases, a relationship cannot survive infidelity. It is just too hard to recover from the pain and rebuild trust. Sometimes a person just doesn’t have it in them to try. But sometimes, the relationship can be healed.

I have seen many couples recover from infidelity. It takes time and effort to rebuild trust and overcome betrayal, but it can be done. When the pain of infidelity is fresh, it can seem impossible to find a way forward. If your partner has had an affair and you’d like to see if it’s possible to stay together, look for support to help you do so. Be wary of telling others about the affair, as they may repeat that old saying “once a cheater, always a cheater” or tell you to leave simply because they care for you and don’t want to see you hurt. The reality is that you have been hurt, and any path forward will be difficult—whether you choose to end the relationship or move forward together. An experienced relationship therapist trained in the treatment of infidelity can help.