If your partner is taking his need for help seriously and is fully committing to a process of recovery, there are certain things you can expect to see from him. These new behaviors, when you see them, will go a long way toward helping you rebuild a sense of safety.
One of the first things you will see from your recovering partner is willingness. For him, willingness is a major shift in the healing process. For you, willingness indicates he is taking the process of recovery seriously, and he’s likely to take the necessary steps toward recovery and healing.
There is a saying in AA that the ‘ism’ in alcoholism stands for ‘I Sponsor Myself.’ Before entering recovery, most cheating partners very much embrace the idea that they know what is best for them and they are in charge of themselves, even when they find themselves operating in complete secrecy and isolation in many areas of their lives. In my previous post, covering the bad things you can expect to experience at the beginning of recovery, I referred to this as your partner’s desire to continue being the captain of his ship, even though he has rammed it onto the shoals and caused catastrophic loss and damage.
One of the ways you will know your cheating partner is truly committed to repairing the damage he has caused is that he will start to let other people help him steer his ship. He will listen to and hear the advice of wise friends, family, pastors, bosses, etc. He will take in what his therapist says to him, and he will be willing to do the things that are recommended as part of treatment. He will also have the willingness to listen to you, to hear your pain, and to see you as an important ally in the process of recovery.
When willingness comes on board, there is a softening that occurs in your cheating partner. Rather than being hard-edged and defended, he becomes open and interested in advice and direction that might be helpful to him. Rather than trusting only himself (a situation that has not worked so well) he begins to trust others and to try on the suggestions and recommendations they make.
Another thing you can expect to see with your cheating partner is a new level of transparency. When he was cheating on and betraying you, there were all kinds of opaque and confusing secrets and lies. Because of this, you probably felt like the truth was a phantom ghost you could never pin down. It’s likely that you continually had an uneasy feeling that something was wrong, even if you couldn’t put a finger on what it was.
Your partner played into this. To keep his infidelity secret, he guarded his phone(s), kept secret bank and credit card accounts, created diversions, and maintained elaborate ruses. Now, if he is committed to recovery and restoration of the relationship, these guarding and defensive behaviors give way to transparency. Technology is left unguarded and open to your perusal. The same is true with financial accounts, your partner’s location throughout the day, etc.
There is also a new level of transparency in your conversations. And this is as helpful for your cheating partner as it is for you. I have had countless cheating partners tell me about the relief they feel when they no longer have to pass every word they say through a filter in their minds, wondering if anything they are saying will give away their secret life.
After discovery and disclosure, your cheating partner can share his thoughts, daily events and happenings, and relationships with you in a much freer and more authentic way. This level of transparency may be experienced viscerally by you. It may feel as if a veil has been lifted or an invisible object that was sitting in the middle of the relationship is no longer there.
Along with willingness and transparency comes a movement toward accountability. This is a major change from the cowboyed-up attitude of doing whatever is wanted with no thought given to the impact on others. When you see your partner becoming accountable, you know that he is serious about recovery.
Most cheating partners have been accountable to no one, not even themselves. Often, they have violated their own value systems and deeply held beliefs about trust, fidelity, loyalty, and family. They have been caught in the throes of self-will run riot, and have refused to be subject to the limits and responsibilities that are part of relationships with other people.
In early recovery, a shift from self-will toward accountability takes root. There is often a recognition of the deep self-centeredness driving the cheating behaviors, with a commitment to work on and eliminate this character defect. As part of this, there is recognition of the need to be held accountable by others.
Most of us aren’t very good at being our own accountability partner. We need the people around us to expect certain things from us, to encourage us toward being our best selves, to remind us when we fail of who we want to be, and to hold our feet to the fire when necessary. Recognition and acceptance of this fact is a significant step forward in your cheating partner’s recovery.
As your significant other moves forward in recovery, you will see him let others hold him accountable. You will see him welcome accountability as a beneficial force in his life rather than something to be rebelled against. This shift toward accountability will help him become more congruent—aligning his words, values, and beliefs with his behavior. For you, his willingness to be accountable for his behaviors can provide hope for long-term change and relationship healing.