Can Your Relationship Come Back From Infidelity? The 3 Phases You Have To Get Through

Alexa, play "Not Gon' Cry" by Mary. J. Blige. That's right, this is the official anthem of scorned women everywhere, especially if you've just discovered that your partner has cheated on you. For years, there was only one way to deal with such betrayal: follow Angela Bassett's cues from "Waiting To Exhale" and set all of your partner's things (and their car) on fire. Then you smoke a cigarette and walk away from the blaze, satisfied. *looks around* What, you guys have never done that?

In reality, finding out that your partner has lied, cheated, betrayed your trust, and violated the monogamous terms of your relationship is more complicated than that. Revenge isn't actually the main way that people deal with such a blow. In fact, there are stages one goes through in order to navigate the crisis in their relationship, feel every valid feeling in their heart, understand what is the best course of action going forward, and heal. Experts have outlined the three main phases people encounter during this crisis, and many more still have offered concrete action items to enact during these phases. Let's explore what they are and let the healing begin.

You will go into crisis mode

It's deeply painful when you find out that your partner has cheated on you. The huge rush of emotions at that moment is what sex therapist and author Dr. Tammy Nelson calls "The Crisis Phase," per HuffPost. She writes, "The initial shock and deep betrayal can rock your confidence, and make you feel like everything you have ever known is collapsing." 

You might wonder what you did wrong, you might scream and cry, you might want to cut off the relationship immediately, or you might turn to social media. "If you need to scream, scream — into a pillow rather than at your partner. If you need to cry, then let yourself go into that ugly cry," clinical psychologist Piper S. Grant told SheKnows. "No matter what the situation was, your partner had a commitment to you, and you can't feel responsible for it," Lori Bizzoco, a relationship expert, added.

Just remember that now is not the time for big decisions or social media posts. As Bethany Ricciardi, a sex and relationship expert, told SheKnows, "Right after finding about a partner cheating, we can feel like we need to go straight into fix-it mode or make big decisions based on discovering the sexual infidelity. Rather than being reactive, be intentional and thoughtful." Ricciardi also says to keep your business off your profiles. "You're really hurting right now, and you want your partner to hurt the same, but don't spread the pain."

Understanding why it happened comes next

Dr. Tammy Nelson tells HuffPost that the second phase is called, "The Understanding (or Insight) Phase," where you start to deconstruct the particulars that lead to your partner's infidelity, and often this deconstruction happens together. You haven't yet decided if you want to separate or stay together, but you're moving beyond your hurt, confusion, pain, and anger. "Damaged relationships don't heal overnight," Sexologist Dr. Rob Weiss tells "Moreover, damaged relationships don't heal simply because one party wants them to."

Speaking with SheKnows, sex and relationship expert Bethany Ricciardi says you need to ask your partner some tough questions. "As much as you might not want to hear about the specific details, you will want to create an understanding for why your partner did what they did." Ricciardi also says of this phase that the focus should be on your coping skills so that you can forgive and forget.

Life coach and counselor Joie Bose, who specializes in working with people dealing with extramarital affairs, agrees, telling Bonobology that it is in moving past the pain that understanding happens. "When you focus on processing your pain as a part of the stages of adultery recovery, you do better for yourself," says Bose. Some processing activities include speaking to a therapist, journaling, meditating, and surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family.

Then you must decide if you should stay or go

Now comes the big question: do you stay together or separate? That's what Dr. Tammy Nelson calls "The Vision Phase," where you have to envision your future with or without your partner. Nelson writes that this phase allows you to reconsider if monogamy is the best option for your relationship and if you can truly move past the lies, betrayal, and lack of loyalty. Sexologist Dr. Rob Weiss tells many questions arise here. "First of all, has the cheating stopped? Have the lies and secrets stopped? Generally speaking, are there more positives than negatives to the relationship? Is the cheating partner ever going to be able to restore relationship trust?"

He adds that if you still love your partner despite the betrayal, that's normal, but both of you must want to save the relationship. "If both parties do their work in the process of healing, relationships can end up being stronger than ever — deeper vulnerability, deeper intimacy, and more rather than less support of one another." Lori Bizzoco, a relationship expert, tells SheKnows that if you can forgive the betrayal, then discussions must be had about how to move forward in the best way. But if you can't forgive them, "then you'll have to move on in the best way you can," she says.

Whatever you decide, there's one thing we can all agree on — setting their car on fire isn't a good idea.