Rebuilding Trust That’s Broken: Managing Jealousy after Infidelity

Once bitten, twice shy. Or shall we say: once a victim of a partner’s unfaithfulness, forever a slave of jealousy? When you’ve invested so much in a relationship — your time, emotions and hopes for the future— it’s but human nature to protect yourself after precedence of betrayal. More so these days! Reality TV has glorified cheating and the “shopping around” mentality. Should we just consider fidelity as a myth and move on?

If you’re having trouble managing jealousy after being burned royally, have hope. Trust that’s broken can be rebuilt, and relationships can be made more resilient than before. What’s important is the willingness to start anew — something which, while may be hard at the beginning, is certainly worth the trouble if it works.

Below are some ways you can rebuild broken trust and manage jealousy after infidelity:

Consider unfaithfulness as a symptom. Relationship counselors have learned to consider infidelity as possibly a symptom of a greater problem. Perhaps your partner feels under-appreciated, and found affirmation somewhere else. Or maybe she’s approaching mid-age, and needed validation of her youth and appeal. Infidelity can also be a sign of hidden power play, e.g. your partner may have cheated because she feels suffocated by your possessiveness. Surface the bigger issues plaguing your relationship otherwise they will re-manifest themselves —  perhaps not through cheating but in other dysfunctional ways. Assistance from a licensed relationship counselor can be vital at this point.

Weigh the benefits of sticking it out. Assess: how good was the relationship apart from the infidelity? Are there other things keeping the relationship together that make it worth continuing? If it’s only the children making you stay, decide if your reason is good enough for you. Don’t blind yourself to the good bits just because of a bump in the road. No relationship is perfect, but flaws can be roads to deeper intimacy.

Negotiate boundaries. Jealousy is an emotion all about boundaries. It defines limits of freedom you’re comfortable giving your partner and vice-versa.  Is a phone call from an ex-lover acceptable? Should she tell you what’s on her schedule every day? Can she wear revealing clothes in public? These are all freedoms that partners can set, negotiate, re-set and re-negotiate. 

Start by listing down all the things you expect from your girl, and ask her what she thinks. Be open to haggling — remember, what’s reasonable for you may not be reasonable for your partner. The ask her to do the same with you. What’s important is finding a balance between your need for assurance and your partner’s need for breathing room.

Contract for restitution. There are occasions when the only way you can feel able to trust again is whenthere’s knowledge thatthe infidelity was not taken lightly — and in fact, actually hurt the other person. In fact, this need for restitution (and in some cases, retribution) is what keeps many couples trapped into a cycle of punishing each other for past offenses. Why not decide once and for all how the issue can be settled? 

Ask yourself:what is the minimum that you have to see or hear in order to trust again? Is your partner amenable to providing you these minimum assurances? For instance, can she forever cut ties with her cheating partner? Should she be serving you hand and foot for three months as punishment? More importantly, are you prepared to live in the present and let bygones be bygones once you’ve received these acts of contrition? Sign a contract to seal your deal. You can even have a “healing ceremony” to mark the occasion.

Humanize the monster. Hey, we all make mistakes, right? Have you ever done something you regret? Can you say that you’re a person capable of learning from past misdeeds? If the answer is yes, then be willing to extend the same courtesy to your partner.  Empathize with the circumstances triggered your partner’s infidelity. Open your mind into looking at the vulnerability and regret in your partner — and your contribution to the whole episode — so that you can stop looking at her as the villain in the story.

Lastly, use new episodes of jealousy as learning opportunities. It’s a given that you’ll be prone to jealousy again — so keep a watchful eye on your reactions when feelings of jealousy come. You can learn more about yourself as a person if you endeavor to experience jealousy in a more mindful way. 

For example, you can learn about what triggers your jealousy — and what you can do to avoid these triggers. You can learn about the particular signs of your jealousy; early detection is key to better management of jealous reactions. You can also learn about your level of skill in controlling your feelings — you can even make every episode of jealousy as time to practice new ways of emotional management. All your learnings can help you decide what you really want in a woman and in a relationship — which will make you a better partner in the long run.