Two things motivate change in human beings: fear and desire. After the crisis of betrayal, fear is what initially motivates and drives the process of change. However, to achieve long-term transformation, a person’s motivation must eventually shift from fear to desire.
Over the past two weeks, we have talked about both avoiding and allowing the moment of truth in your relationship with your cheating partner. As you may recall, the moment of truth is when you stop monitoring and regularly reminding your partner of how they have hurt you. Instead, you step back and see what happens. You see if they step up and continue to invest in their recovery and healing the relationship. Or not. When this moment is allowed to happen, it typically marks a significant transition in the recovery process for both you and your partner.
In the beginning, your cheating partner’s recovery is usually driven by fear—mostly fear of losing the relationship. They enter recovery not because they want to change their behavior and make amends, but because they do not want to lose their relationship with you. Going to therapy, attending group and 12-step meetings, doing homework, making phone calls to supportive peers and mentors, and changing long-ingrained habits are all motivated, at least initially, by fear of losing the relationship.
You, as the betrayed partner, are also motivated by fear—fear that you will be hurt again, fear that if you don’t stay on top of the cheater he will do it again, fear that he won’t be willing to do what is necessary to heal your relationship. So, the crisis of betrayal trauma creates massive fear for you and your partner alike, as your relationship is brought to the brink of destruction. This fear pushes both of you to work toward change.
However, there is a moment in the recovery journey when you as the betrayed partner need to step back and allow your cheating partner’s energy, rather than your pain and their fear of losing the relationship, to become the primary motivating force. This moment is as important for your cheating partner as it is for you and your relationship. This is the moment when they must move beyond the pain and fear-driven paradigm of early recovery and find within himself a different impetus for change and healing.
This means your partner must connect with what they want for themselves long-term. What do they want their relationship to look like? What will a healthy sex life look like? What do they want for their children? What do they want for their friendships? What is their value system? What does it mean for them to live a congruent life where their values and their behaviors are in alignment? Who do they want to be?
Connecting to these deep desires about relationships, meaning, purpose, and legacy is a key task in your partner’s recovery process. Often, infidelity and addiction hijack a cheater’s life, pushing them off course and diverting their energy and attention away from what they truly believe in and value. Rediscovering and connecting to their truest, deepest desires and beliefs about what gives life meaning and purpose transforms their motivation for recovery, shifting them away from pain and fear and connecting them to their true longings and desires for the future.
Fear-based motivation takes an enormous toll on the goodwill in the relationship, as it requires both the cheater and the betrayed partner to stay in constant connection with the pain, fear, and damage that infidelity has brought. Couples who are unable to move out of the pain/fear phase of recovery and into the longing/desire phase often find themselves stuck in a toxic relational cycle. This can only be sustained for so long. Thus, the transition from fear-based motivation to desire-based motivation is vital to long-term recovery and healing.
For your cheating partner to make the transition from fear-based to desire-based motivation, they must quit looking to you as the primary driver of their recovery. They must quit using your pain as the energy behind the changes they are making. They must find their own reasons for changing. They must connect to their own desires, their own vision for life and relationship, and their own longing for things to be different. These must become the primary motivators that energize them and sustain them for the long-term.
If you haven’t risked the moment of truth yet, consider having a discussion with your cheating partner about the need for the two of you, as a couple, to make this transition. Take this topic into couple’s therapy and get assistance with it there. And know that making this transition is not a one-time deal. You will loop back into the fear at times, but you will come out of it quicker and find your footing faster if you and your partner are focused on the long-term vision of what you long for and want for yourselves and your relationship.