How to save a relationship after he cheated.
photo: iStock

I knew something was wrong when I hadn't heard from my boyfriend in a week. Just hours before leaving for our Hawaiian vacation, my stomach was in a knot I couldn’t untangle. I knew something wrong — that he wasn’t just busy with work or having phone issues. This absence was about another woman. Someone from his class. But since one does not break up before a trip to paradise without evidence, I put the aching feeling aside. Even after we finally met at the airport, and he sat next to me on the plane, with a faded hickey under the collar of his shirt. A hickey that was definitely not from me.

To say love is not linear is an understatement — it’s like a knotted chord between two people, tangled around all your dreams, fears, and the truth. And while it’s hard to iron out what’s fixable and what’s too damaged, even after betrayal like this, it's still possible for your love to thrive. I sat down with life coach and hypnotherapist Alexandra Janelli to understand how love can survive after a partner has cheated. And while it’s not easy, she insists it’s an excellent opportunity to learn from your mistakes and build something even stronger together.

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Step 1: Get the History

To understand where you are, you have to understand how you got there in the first place, Janelli explains. “You have to be willing to be open to hearing about how this all came to be,” she says. “Because nothing happens suddenly. You don’t just randomly cheat on someone.” 

To do this, try creating a space where the both of you can really talk. When I eventually did this, to my surprise, I learned some of his reasons had nothing to do with me. He felt like he couldn’t meet my expectations; that my cheerleading ways were a source of anxiety for him, and he couldn’t thrive under that sort of pressure. 

When our partners give us this sort of information, it’s an opportunity to see if we are in alignment with our own values. For me, his admission helped me realize that I was not happy with the direction of his life. But it definitely wasn’t fair for me to push an ambitious expectation on him. If I couldn’t accept him as he was, then I should have just left him.

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Step 2: Feel Everything

This is the step that will create the most healing. “The cheater has to be willing to be supportive while that person gets angry,” says Janelli, “and let them be angry.”

But angry with reason — you don’t get to pull a Jazmine Sullivan and bust the windows out his car. But you can feel everything you feel at the deepest level you need to feel it, because eventually it will pass with the unwavering support of your partner. “It’s perfectly normal to be angry and hurt and upset," insists Janelli. “And it's the part of the person who cheated to accept that anger. Not to accept anything violent — just support them through the angry energy.” 

Perhaps where you could not be the perfect team before, this is an opportunity where you can be one now. You can raise your hand, even if it’s during the middle of sex, and just say I’m angry and I just need to feel that for a minute. Stew or cry, or whatever you need to do, so long as you commit to getting through the emotion and back into your partner's supportive (and remorseful) arms again. When the sincerely apologetic partner sees you fighting for them in moments like this, you, too, will see them fight through this pain to create a loving space for you.

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Step 3: Seize The Opportunity

It was not the highlight of my life to sit next to that hickey on a 13-hour flight. Glowing in my peripheral like a neon beer sign, the bruise brought about feelings of shame and anger. I felt discarded, uncared for, and small. It reminded me how I felt as a child, when my parents would miss a recital or ignore a big achievement — where I wanted someone to love me unconditionally. 

“I think it's about understanding where people come from and what baggage we come in with,” says Janelli. “Which will set the precedent for what we hold sacred in a relationship. If you come from parents who cheated, for instance, that’s the paradigm with it,” she says. "What are you willing to put up with? What are your negotiables and non-negotiables?”

Every effort I made to resurrect my feelings for him on that trip backfired with full gusto. And no matter how much I kissed him, or tried to drink away the pain and be joyful, there was no other way around my anger — I needed to both heal from him and my baggage that still wanted to be unconditionally loved. What happened was a non-negotiable for me.

After that trip, we took time apart. I moved to New York, and several times we tried to reconnect our love again. If we had the tips above from Janelli, in the moment of our deepest pain, I think we could have made it happen. If you’ve resurrected your love after a season of betrayal, I think the three bullets above will get you really far. In fact, I think they’ll get you to the kind of love you are longing for — whether it’s with the same partner or not.

Breonna Rodriguez is a Founding Creator and love and relationships blogger. When she's not writing for Vivala.com, you can find her at zenfulie.com.