“Leaving the past in the past” after they have been unfaithful, is it really a myth?
So, you found out your partner was emotionally or physically involved with another person,
resulting in a breach of trust in your relationship. Despite the hurt this has left you feeling, you
have made the challenging decision to forgive your partner and move on in your relationship
together. While this was no easy decision to make, the process that has followed seems to have
been all the more difficult.
The Curious Paradox
Infidelity is often viewed as a deal breaker for many people in committed relationships and it
sure might feel that way at times. Perhaps you find yourself questioning if it would have been
easier to just leave the relationship. Just know that it is normal for you to question this and to
feel hopeless over what might feel like a never-ending endeavor to rebuild the trust in your
relationship. Also know that you are incredibly strong for making the decision to forgive your
partner and that there is hope if you deem your relationship worth fighting for.
Trust is incredibly valuable and takes time to build up. We build trust in our relationships by
showing up for our partner, putting our partner’s best interest first, and continue doing so,
even when things get difficult. The curious paradox in trust is that it takes years to build and
only seconds to break.
Perhaps your decision to forgive your partner is a decision you made months or even years ago.
Now you might question how it is even possible to feel as though you have made no progress
on the issue or perhaps have even taken a few steps backward. The lack of progress can begin
to feel overwhelming and hopeless in comparison to the amount of time that has passed, the
lengthy discussions that have taken place, and the effort you have made to forget the thoughts
and fears that have absolutely consumed you.
Perhaps you find yourself wanting to ask your partner more questions about what
happened, only for your partner to respond with frustration over your inability to leave
the past in the past.
Perhaps you find yourself thinking about the incident at random and inconvenient
times, replaying what you believe to have happened over and over again in your mind,
desperately trying to make sense of what happened.
Perhaps you are questioning how your partner could ever have done something so
painful and so unforgivable to a person who they claim to love.
Perhaps you find yourself with a knot in your stomach at the mention of your partner
making plans to meet up with some friends, coming home later than they said they
would or leaving town for a business trip.
Perhaps you feel hyper-vigilant or as if you are on a constant lookout for signs of future
betrayal, you might feel the need to frequently check your partner’s location, go
through their phone or listen to inconsistencies in their story.
Should be over this by now
Whatever it is that is causing you to hold onto the past seemingly unable to let go, might be an
indicator that a critical part of your healing process is missing. You might be experiencing a
great deal of guilt, shame, anger, or disappointment towards yourself for believing that you
“should be over this by now” and that you “should leave the past in the past” – but who told
you that? Statements like these almost always set us up for failure as we tell ourselves not to
think about the very thing that is causing us relentless pain – this is called suppression. In fact,
research has shown that when we try to suppress an unwanted thought, we end up thinking
about it even more. It is like telling yourself not to think about a pink elephant…
Suppression is a coping mechanism that might work in the short term but in the long term it
has been shown to lead to anxiety, depression, memory problems, stress-related illnesses, and
substance abuse. If you are noticing any of these symptoms within yourself, it might be time to
speak to a licensed mental health professional who can help you acknowledge the feelings,
thoughts, and emotions you may have been suppressing.
When it comes to recovering from the injury of broken trust, there is no timeline that can be
put on one’s healing – we all heal and recover at our own rate. While there is a lot of healing
you can do on your own, there are some steps in this healing journey that you and your partner
will need to undergo together, that is if you both decide to stay in the relationship. This means
that if you and your partner make the collective decision to move past the regrettable incident,
there is a critical component in the healing process that will need to take place between you
and your partner.
How to get help?
If you are struggling to recover from a breach of trust that has taken place in your relationship,
be kind to yourself and consider seeking additional support from your partner from a licensed
a mental health professional such as a psychotherapist.
A psychotherapist can work with you to fully process the regrettable incident that took place,
identify the areas that are causing you and your partner to become stuck, and help you replace
unhelpful coping mechanisms with more adaptive ones, and teach you skills and strategies to
begin rebuilding trust and rebuilding your relationship.
Meunier, V. (2017). Gottman Method Couples Therapy. In M. D. Reiter, & R. J. Chenail (Eds.),
Behavioral, Humanistic-Existential, and Psychodynamic Approaches to Couples Counselling (1 st
Shallcross, A. J., Troy, A. S., Boland, M., & Mauss, I. B. (2010). Let it be: Accepting negative
emotional experiences predicts decreased negative affect and depressive symptoms. Behavior
Research and Therapy, 48(9), 921-929.
Wegner, D. M., Schneider, D. J., Carter, S. R., & White, T. L. (1987). Paradoxical effects of thought suppression. Journal of personality and social psychology, 53(1), 5.