Ask a Therapist: How Can I Trust My Wife Again After She Cheated?

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A Reader Asks

My wife cheated on me last year. I can forgive her, but I’m not sure I can trust her. I am always suspicious that she is cheating again. Sometimes, I look through her stuff to make sure I don’t find any evidence that she is cheating. I feel bad about that, but if she cheated once, isn't she likely to cheat again?

Amy Answers

No, she’s not necessarily going to cheat again just because she cheated before. But, if you don’t trust her, your relationship isn’t going to be healthy—and neither are you. It’s important to address the distrust you have so you can move forward.

Forgiving Without Forgetting

You mention that you can forgive your wife for what happened. Forgiveness means slightly different things to different people and I’m not exactly sure what it means to you.

Healthy forgiveness isn’t about saying, “What you did to me was OK.” Instead, it’s about saying, “What you did to me wasn’t OK but I’m not going to waste my mental energy harboring anger and resentment about it.”

Of course, letting go of anger is easier said than done. It’s usually a conscious decision you have to make—and recommit to as time passes.

Forgiveness is necessary if you want to move forward past an affair. But, trust is also an essential component. You have reason not to trust your wife. She betrayed you before and you don’t want to get hurt again. But it’s impossible to be in a healthy relationship with your wife if you don’t trust her.

Addressing the Problem

The details of the affair or how you addressed it aren’t clear. But, no matter what happened, it’s essential that both of you address the issue—as painful and uncomfortable as that may be.

An affair is likely a symptom of an underlying problem. And it’s important to treat the underlying issues so you can feel confident that your wife isn’t likely to cheat again. Some affairs stem from loneliness and emotional disconnect in the relationship. Others begin because someone has a self-esteem issue and an affair gives them confidence that they’re attractive again.

It’s important that you and your wife explore the underlying reason she strayed. This isn’t meant to give her an excuse. Instead, it’s about developing an explanation. When you understand why it happened, you and your wife can ensure that you are building a healthier relationship moving forward.

Your Wife’s Response

You don’t mention your wife’s response to the affair. Is she remorseful for what she did? Does she take responsibility for her behavior? Is she invested in making the relationship better as you move forward?

If she’s blaming you for her choices or minimizing your pain, you’d have good reason not to trust her again.

It’s not clear whether she has contact with the person she had an affair with anymore. Perhaps you don’t trust her because the affair was with a co-worker she continues to see on a regular basis. Or maybe you’ve discovered her still texting the person she had an affair with.

It’s important she’s honest with you about any contact she has with the other person. If she’s lying and keeping secrets, you won’t be able to trust her again. Much of the pain that often accompanies an affair stems from the dishonesty that happened. So it’s essential that she is willing to be open and transparent now.

Your Response

Snooping through your wife’s phone when she leaves it unattended or checking her purse is only damaging your relationship more. But it’s understandable that you’re doing it. She betrayed you and that hurt. You’re now attempting to protect yourself from being hurt like that again.

Each time you check up on her, you might gain a sense of momentary relief if you don’t discover any evidence that she’s cheating. Your relief is likely short-lived, however, and you probably find yourself snooping and checking up on her again soon after.

But, constantly looking for evidence about whether she’s cheating again will exhaust you.

And interrogating her or looking through her belongings will only drive a further wedge between the two of you.

It also won’t help you trust her. In fact, you’re putting a huge spotlight on the fact that you don’t trust her by spending all this energy looking through her things. This will cause your distrust to grow even bigger. Your time is much better spent healing your broken heart and working on the relationship.

Get Professional Help

The passage of time alone isn’t likely to heal your relationship. If you don’t trust your wife now, it’s not likely that you will trust her in the future unless something changes.

Tell your wife that you are having a hard time and suggest you go to marriage counseling. Talking to a licensed mental health professional could help you work through this.

Just know, some couples emerge from affairs saying their relationship is stronger than before. So it’s possible to develop a healthy relationship again. But it sounds like you may need a little professional help getting there.

By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.