Advice From A Psychologist: Can a Relationship Survive Cheating?

Feb 1, 2024 | Communication, Relationships

Approximately 20-40% of marriages in the USA will be affected by infidelity. With that rate, many people find themselves faced with the question, “Can my relationship survive cheating?” Infidelity, emotional or physical, shatters the foundation of trust and can turn everything upside down. 

It is possible for a relationship to survive and even grow after such a breach of trust, but it takes time, effort, and commitment. Let’s explore more how various factors can increase (or decrease) the potential for an effective reconciliation and healing. 


Understanding the Impact of Cheating

Before we dive into how to move past cheating, let’s start with understanding how infidelity may have impacted the relationship. 

The Emotional side 

Infidelity has a significant emotional impact, whether the cheating is physical and/or emotional. The person who was cheated on may experience a wave of different emotions – anger, sadness, fear. And the partner who cheated likely is dealing with their own emotional rollercoaster in response to their action. Don’t disregard or invalidate the emotional part of this experience, even if the emotions are not readily seen or experienced. 

Loss of trust

Trust is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship but is fundamentally compromised when someone cheats. Moving on not only means rebuilding that trust, but oftentimes means redefining what trust is in the relationship and the baseline of trust needed for your relationship to continue. It also means creating space to mourn what your relationship was and understanding that it will not be the same. It doesn’t mean that the relationship can’t be repaired, but it would be dishonest to say that everything can go back to “normal.” 

Physical health

For situations where there was physical cheating (e.g., sexual interactions), there is often a chance that one or both partners were exposed to STDs. It’s highly recommended that both partners undergo physical health/STD testing. While some may argue that it’s not needed or can cause more anxiety, it’s important to validate that this is a real risk with increased sexual partners. 

Psychological impacts

Infidelity can have short- and long-term impacts on an individual’s psychology. The partner who was cheated on will likely experience significant emotional reactions such as sadness, anger, anxiety, or shame. Processing that grief, whether or not the relationship survives, takes time and will vary from person to person. Depending on each person’s history and predisposition, dealing with this grief may also trigger a depressive episode or symptoms of PTSD. This may include difficulties sleeping, irritability, impulsive behaviors, uncontrollable worries, lack of pleasure, change in appetite, intrusive thoughts, or detachment. All this is a normal reaction, and professional services (e.g., therapy) can be beneficial in working through it. 

Family dynamics

For many of us, our romantic relationships are tied to other relationships – those with family & friends. Infidelity impacts those relationships as well. Friends and family may have opinions on how each partner should act or respond, which can complicate an already emotional situation. In addition, if you and your partner have children, you have to seriously consider how this will impact them. How do you speak in a developmentally appropriate manner to your children, and/or how would it impact them if you did or didn’t remain in the relationship?

Can Our Relationship Survive?

While I won’t say it’s an easy path, infidelity does not automatically mean the end of a relationship. In some relationships, the work and change resulting from infidelity have made a relationship stronger. Let’s explore a few factors that come into play in surviving and thriving after cheating. 


Like most things in life, timing is important. Repairing a relationship after infidelity is often not a straight line or a quick process. The timing is dependent on the individuals in the relationship, and especially the partner who was cheated on. Their timeline regarding processing the grief will dictate if and when the process of rebuilding can begin. Trying to rush the process will only decrease the chance of your relationship surviving. 


Acceptance is paramount – for both partners. To repair and move forward, the partner who cheated has to accept all their partner’s reactions & feelings. They have to accept responsibility for their actions without making excuses. 

For the partner who was cheated on, acceptance often means they have processed their emotions and landed in a space to accept the other partner’s apology and explanation. This doesn’t mean that everything is resolved, but there is a willingness to engage with the present and look toward the future.  


The partner who cheated must be willing to identify and accept responsibility for their behavior. Not only that, but they have to be willing and show that they will make amends for their actions and the significant impacts it had. The hardest part is that this has to be done multiple times over a period of time; it won’t be easy. And this process must consider the other partner’s personality and temperament; how do they feel supported, how do they build trust, and how do they want to see repentance? 

This process is a give-and-take; it will also not work if the partner who was cheated on isn’t truly willing to accept the atonement and/or expects their partner to make up for their mistake forever. 

Willingness to forgive

Even before asking yourself if you can forgive your partner, you have to ask yourself, “Do I want to forgive them?” Be really honest with yourself; if the desire and willingness are not there, then it significantly decreases the chance of survival for your relationship. If the desire and willingness are there, then you both can move forward (usually with time and support). 

Open communication

Effective and consistent communication is always vital in any relationship but will become even more important in the healing process. To rebuild trust, both partners must be willing to have open and honest conversations. Conversations about infidelity, what may have led to it, and the fears it created in the relationship now. This is an interpersonal situation; communication includes both honest disclosures and listening to understand (not to respond). 

Being open to other perspectives

While only the partner who was unfaithful is ultimately responsible for their own actions, in order to rebuild the relationship, both partners must be open to understanding the others’ perspective. Being open to understanding the other partner’s perspective does not mean agreement or excusing the behavior. However, it is important to explore and identify any underlying issues that were and still are at play. 

The process of sharing your perspective can also help clarify for yourself what was behind or drove your behaviors in the relationship and how you both would like to show up moving forward. 

Commitment to relationship repair

Let’s be honest – this will not be easy. If you’re both really doing the work, this is a hard and exhaustive process. Both partners should be ready to be 100% in if this relationship is to have a chance of survival. Successful healing demands that both partners be dedicated to working through any underlying relationship issues and making necessary changes in the relationship.

Seeking professional help

If you’ve made it this far in the article, you may be thinking, “How can I even do this?!” And you don’t have to do it alone. A trained therapist or counselor can guide and support you in learning to atone and re-commit to each other. A neutral third party is also very beneficial in the early stages of this process to help facilitate open communication and offer tools to navigate the complex emotions and challenges that arise.

Rebuilding Trust

One of the biggest predictors of whether a relationship can survive infidelity is the ability to rebuild trust. Given that, let’s take some time to explore this more. 

Transparency and honesty

Rebuilding trust necessitates transparency and honesty from the cheating partner. They must be willing to answer questions, share details, and provide reassurance that the betrayal won’t happen again. Being open about their actions and feelings is essential in demonstrating their commitment to change.

Demonstrating remorse

Again, and this cannot be understated: the cheating partner must show genuine remorse for their actions and the pain they have caused. A heartfelt apology and consistent effort to make amends are crucial steps towards rebuilding trust. Actions speak louder than words, and the betrayed partner needs to see tangible evidence of their partner’s remorse.

Setting boundaries

Establishing clear boundaries is essential for rebuilding trust. Both partners need to communicate and agree upon guidelines that foster safety and security within the relationship. These boundaries may include open access to communication devices, a commitment to monogamy, a certain protocol for checking in about one’s whereabouts via text, explicit agreements about what constitutes ‘flirting’ and when (or if) it is ever appropriate and to what extent, and anything else that fits the couple’s specific situation.

Patience and time

Rebuilding trust takes time, and it’s important not to rush the process. The betrayed partner needs time to heal, and the cheating partner must understand and respect this. Patience, understanding, and consistent effort to rebuild trust are essential for the relationship to have a chance at survival.


Emotional Healing and Moving Forward

Here are practical steps couples can take to move forward after infidelity.

Processing emotions

Both partners need to process their emotions individually and together. The betrayed partner may need to express their anger, hurt, and sadness, while the cheating partner must address their feelings of guilt and shame. Seeking individual therapy can be beneficial in navigating these complex emotions.

Healing from emotional trauma

The discovery of infidelity can result in significant emotional trauma for both partners. Healing from this trauma requires patience, understanding, and self-care, as well as finding healthy ways to cope with the pain caused by the betrayal. 

Healthy coping involves expressing all the emotions that come up rather than keeping them inside–but it doesn’t mean using one’s partner as a literal or metaphorical punching bag. Instead, emotions should be expressed through journaling, practicing a martial art or another sport, producing art, or any other non-harmful method that resonates with the individual. 

Rebuilding intimacy

Re-establishing emotional and physical intimacy is a significant step towards healing. It requires both partners to engage in activities that foster connection, such as date nights, shared hobbies, sexuality, or even re-exploring their love languages. Rebuilding intimacy requires patience, understanding, and a commitment to emotional and physical closeness. It may not come easily after infidelity, especially for the partner who was cheated on. They need to feel that it is safe to be intimately open with their partner again. Therefore, they may prefer to re-establish intimacy slowly, through a series of small steps rather than a concerted effort all at once.

Redefining the relationship

After cheating, the relationship may need to be redefined. Both partners should reflect on their expectations, desires, and goals for the future. It may involve reevaluating priorities, the same renegotiation of boundaries that play a role in rebuilding trust (described above), an explicit commitment to growth as individuals and as a couple, and setting clear goals aimed at growth.

Personal growth

Surviving infidelity can, in fact, act as a catalyst for personal growth for both partners. It presents an opportunity to learn from mistakes, develop greater self-awareness, and cultivate emotional resilience. If both partners are willing to engage in personal growth and work towards becoming better individuals and partners, the experience of repair and rebuilding can even strengthen the relationship. 


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Cheating and Relationship Survival 

Q: Can a relationship survive after cheating?

A: Yes, a relationship can absolutely survive after cheating, but it requires significant effort, clear and honest communication, and a commitment to rebuilding trust.


Q: How long does it take to rebuild trust after cheating?

A: The time it takes to rebuild trust varies for each couple. It can range from several months to years to never-gonna-happen, depending on the individuals involved and the level of commitment to the healing process.


Q: Should the cheating partner be forgiven?

A: If they want the relationship to move forward, yes. It’s reasonable to expect forgiveness to be precluded by a strong display of remorse from the partner who cheated, alongside a genuine commitment to fidelity in the future. It may be very challenging for the betrayed partner to forgive; nevertheless, it is indeed a necessary step in the healing process. Remember, forgiveness does not mean approval of the behavior; it means a readiness to accept the other’s apology and remorse. 


Q: Can trust ever be fully restored after cheating?

A: While trust can be rebuilt, it is likely to be different. Different may be less or more than what it was before; it depends on the individuals involved, the degree of infidelity, and the repair work that was done after. Rebuilding trust involves creating a new foundation based on direct and explicit communication, transparency, and consistent actions that demonstrate commitment. 


Q: Is professional help necessary for healing after cheating?

A: While it isn’t strictly necessary, I strongly advise seeking guidance from a couples therapist or counselor. They can provide valuable support throughout the healing process while helping the couple navigate complex emotions, improve communication, and increase the chances of relationship survival. 

The Bottom Line

Overcoming infidelity is a challenging journey that requires immense effort, understanding, and commitment from both partners. While the road to rebuilding trust may be long and arduous, it is possible for a relationship to survive and even thrive again. Open communication, willingness to forgive, seeking professional help, and a shared commitment to growth are vital ingredients for healing and moving forward together. 

Want to join an online talk group with others who are dealing with infidelity? Use the HelloPrenup exclusive code 63HWWR at to skip the waitlist.

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