There's A Right And Wrong Way To Take Back A Cheating Ex
First came the flood of feelings—humiliation, betrayal, anger, self-doubt—all common byproducts of being cheated on. Then came the breakup. But what came after that was unexpected: The ex you were about to remove from your life started creeping back around, asking for a second chance—and you considered it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of; it happens. But if you’re serious about taking back a cheating ex, there are some critical moves you’ll need to make first.
Most revolve around repair work: work that requires you to take a deep dive into your former relationship and search for fault lines beneath the surface, says relationship expert Maryanne Camoroto, PhD. Those include a so-so sex life, illness, past trauma, among others. Taking a minute to thoughtfully sift through these issues will help you realize that, like most things in life, cheating isn’t black-and-white. And that maybe, just maybe, communicating with each other about how to work through them will makefor a stronger round two. If it doesn’t? That’s okay. too. After all, it means you can move on free from the nagging what-ifs.
Still with me? If you’re deciding whether to give your cheating ex another shot, here’s everything to know about making the do-over not only worth your time, but also leaving you with a stronger relationship than before. By the end, you’ll be ~at least~ a few steps closer to deciding once and for all whether your ex should, ya know, stay your ex.
Yes, relationships can be repaired after cheating, but…
You and your ex will have to break down what led to the cheating in the first place.
Camoroto’s seen exes rebuild trust once they both “acknowledged an imbalance in the relationship.” This is not to say that the affair was in any way your fault. However, if your ex tells you that they were seeking intimacy because you hadn’t had sex in months, or they didn’t want to burden you with their stresses after being laid off and so turned to someone else, you might be able to hear them out and eventually forgive. Of course, this would require sincere remorse on your ex’s part, and on yours, sympathy for how they felt.
“You both have to accept that there was a dynamic behind the cheating that was worth repair,” Camoroto explains, then decide how you’ll resolve it with an actionable plan (think: scheduled date nights sans phones so you can really listen to each other). You’ll also need to keep open lines of communication so the imbalance doesn’t creep up again.
Rebuilding relationships is tougher on couples in which one person cheated for an indiscriminate reason, such as boredom or drunkenness, says Camoroto. In these cases, there aren’t a lot of reasons to convince you that your cheating ex won’t go off and cheat again.
Second chances call for new terms.
Cheaters won’t change unless they commit to making changes in their relationship. So, once you decide to give things another go, don’t go on hoping things will be magically better this time around. You’re dealing with trust issues and insecurity now. Yes, you can get past them, but how you’ll do that isn’t something you should leave to fate, says Camoroto.
Instead, come up with a strategy for your relationship’s success, or as Camoroto calls it, a “written consciousness agreement.” In it, write down what you each expect from each other and what you’ll commit to moving forward, whether that’s attending couples therapy or seeking help for addiction issues that have come between you. If the disconnect is sexual, you might even decide to ditch monogamy altogether and spell out what your open relationship will look like.
Look, this doesn’t have to be a lifelong binding contract here, says Camoroto. Instead of stressing about getting it right immediately, test your agreement for six months to relieve some of the pressure. Focus on showing up for each other in the ways you’ve said you will. And when you struggle (because you might), tell your partner and adjust where needed. This way, you can be there for each other and reestablish the trust…together.
If you don’t end up together, maybe you can at least stay friends, like these celebs…
You’ll find you learned a thing or three from the experience.
It’s not like you want your partner to cheat again, but making their fidelity your ultimate goal is a no-no. “It’s not a good plan, because aiming for that outcome comes from fear,” Camoroto says. By shifting your focus to strengthening your relationship—rather than keeping your ex on a tight leash—you’ll have a better chance at success. You’ll also end up with more than a couple of key takeaways about your resilience, your relationship, and your partner:
- Chances are, this time around, if you or your partner are feeling insecure or neglected, you’ll be quick to address it with each other or your therapist. You can count on being able to better assess when your relationship needs some TLC.
- Because you have to care for yourself so you can better care for someone else, prioritizing your wellness will rise to the top of your to-do list. Maybe you’ll both make time to journal or turn to self-help books (two Camoroto endorsements), so you can be the best you can be for your partner…and everyone else in your life for that matter.
- You might find it much easier to recognize harmful or toxic relationship patterns that caused rifts the first time around, such as minimizing your partner’s feelings, and quickly self-correct. Even if you don’t end up with a happily ever after with your cheating ex, these acknowledgments will come in handy for any ‘ship down the road.
And sometimes, you’ll learn it’s better to let go and move on.
Ultimately, rekindling with your cheating ex is up to you, but you might choose not to if you can’t shake jealous or distrustful feelings…and that’s totally okay. You may decide to pass on their pleas, too, if they can’t commit to new compromises or their behavior doesn’t live up to their new promises (of, say, treating you better and being more transparent with you).
Whether you get back together or not, the ideal outcome here isn’t to “get over it,” says Camoroto, “because that would mean you haven’t learned anything.” The goal is to grow from it, set new boundaries, and learn how to make future relationships healthier from the start.
“Keep in mind that staying in a relationship where you feel insecure, resentful, or inferior will never end well.”
Also, keep in mind that staying in a relationship where you feel insecure, resentful, or inferior will never end well. So even if things seem different for a little while, be sure to check in with yourself periodically to make sure you’re truly happy with your cheating ex.
If you’re not, get out, girlfriend! And do what you need to heal. Take a girls trip, see a therapist, find a project, and focus on personal growth, so you can reconnect with your most confident, trusting, and badass self. You’ve been through a lot—you deserve it.
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