There's no polite way to say it: cheating sucks a medium-sized trash bag full of dicks.

If you've recently cheated or been cheated on, it's understandable that your first reaction would be to end your relationship. After all, considering the emotional roller coaster you're undoubtedly riding and the monumental amount of work, tears and weird makeup sex it takes to get over, it makes sense that breaking up can seem like the only logical outcome … especially if you or your partner play by our society's stringent, black-and-white rules for fidelity.

But, there's another, thoroughly under-appreciated side to the pain of cheating: the possibility that, given the right conditions, an act of infidelity can actually make your relationship stronger. After the rage and blame and finger-pointing, some couples find that cheating actually reignites their relationship, reminding them of the reasons they love each other in the first place and serving as a much-needed wakeup call for a relationship that needs work, but wants to live.

For Clara*, her own infidelity served that exact purpose for her and her boyfriend Adam*. They'd been together happily for five years, but insecurity resulting from mismatched libidos caused Clara to seek sex outside her relationship, and she developed a sexual connection with someone else who she felt made up for the passion and intensity she felt she wasn't getting from Adam.

A few months later, racked by guilt, she told him what she'd done.

"It sucked and we had a lot of really hard months," she says. "But we actually ended up learning a lot about each ourselves and our relationship."

Although they'd discussed the issue of mismatched libidos before the infidelity, Clara's cheating was a huge wakeup call for them both.

For Adam, it made Clara's needs very real and very present. Prior to her cheating on him, he'd heard her out when she tried to describe what she needed from him sexually, but he hadn't really understood the consequences of not taking action to address her needs. Now, consumed by the pain and jealousy of her seeking attention elsewhere, he realized he hadn't really been considering her in the way she'd needed him to, and he felt he'd let her down.

"I was angry as hell and I felt like shit, but I also had to own it," he says. "She didn't cheat on me because she was bored; she cheated because she felt she had to. I wish I'd been able to interpret what she needed better, but I guess I didn't understand the gravity of the situation until this happened."

In fact, Adam says their sex life actually improved as they picked up the pieces of their relationship.

"I felt a bit like I needed to make her mine … it was almost as if the jealousy was motivating. I asked her more about her needs, we tried more new things, and it was more passionate knowing there were so many emotions behind it," he says.

As for Clara, she says the experience of cheating felt awful, but it also made her "realize that I sought self-validation and confidence through sex, when I should really be focusing on internally validating myself."

"Before I cheated," she says, "I was under the impression that someone else should make me feel good about myself … but I realized that's something only I can do. I have to take responsibility for my own confidence, and I needed to do that in more productive ways than through sex."

Following the incident, Clara worked with a therapist to evaluate her self image and the increasingly pathological way she approached sex. Her and Adam even saw the therapist together a few times, something felt was "hugely helpful," because the therapist asked them questions about each other and their relationship they'd never even considered.

"On our own, we'd made a lot of progress," Clara says. "But our therapist gave us actual tools and methods to maintain that progress."

A year after the incident, both Clara and Adam say they've had ups and downs like any couple, but they feel a much stronger connection knowing they were able to overcome such a challenge to their relationship.

"I love knowing that I can get through the hardest possible thing with him," she told us.

Adam and Clara aren't the only people who've been able to overcome cheating. Many relationship experts agree that affairs can actually lead to improvement, but, that result definitely isn't the norm. 

It does, however, happen more often than you'd think. In fact, 35 percent of couples who come out to each other about cheating stay together, which is no small number. The fact that a third of couples are able to overcome the trangression points to the fact that maybe fidelity isn't all there is to a relationship.

Sameera Sullivan, the CEO of matchmaking service Lasting Connections, told Broadly about one couple she knows whose relationship improved drastically after the husband cheated. They'd been married for a while, but their communication had fallen off and they'd gotten stuck in a rut of not speaking openly and honestly to each other about their needs and feelings. On a business trip, said husband got a little wasted and cheated on his wife. He told her immediately after, and the reveal brought on a much-needed conversation about the long-simmering issues in the marriage.

"When her husband cheated on her, something came to light, and they were able to make their relationship better," Sullivan said.

However, they only worked out because they used the infidelity to proactively address their martial problems by going to counseling and working on their relationship day in and day out. They both agreed to put effort towards a happier marriage, and they both wanted the relationship to continue. Neither of them saw the cheating as something larger than their relationship and their mutual desire to stay in it, an approach that couples who newly find themselves in this situation might benefit from taking.

"They had to do a lot of work," she said, describing why their relationship worked out while so many others fail. "They're very happy at this point in their lives."

However still, Sullivan considers their story an anomaly. She knows no other example of cheating helping a relationship.

Dr Zhana Vrangalova, an adjunct professor of sexuality at New York University's Department of Psychology, also believes that cheating can improve a relationship, but agrees that it's not the most common result.

"There are a lot of different ways that an infidelity can play out," Dr Vrangalova told Broadly. ""[Staying together is] not the predominant outcome, but it can happen."

In her experience, it happens for the same reasons Sullivan observed: by bringing a communication breakdown into the light, which then allows a couple to discuss an issue they've long avoided.

Sadly though, couples often view infidelity as an unforgivable, cardinal sin. People can get over drug addiction, financial problems and even spousal abuse, but for some reason, most people will not forgive a cheater. She told Broadly she "hopes people will reevaluate cheating and realize sexual deviance doesn't equal a partner falling out of love."

"I do think that a lot of infidelity, despite what people think, is not an indication of being unhappy in the relationship," she said. "It's sad that we place so much weight on fidelity."

The most ironic thing here is that the issues that actually cause infidelity are seen as "normal" parts of a relationship — much less serious offenses than the actual infidelity itself. Resentment, bad sex, neglect, poor communication, stifling routine, abuse, money problems and declining health are all reasons why relationships end or people cheat, yet it's the result of these things, not the things themselves, that people tend to wrongly focus on. They make it bigger and more important than their love for each other, and they let it ruin them.

That's why, in some cases, it can be good that cheating drags these things out from the dark corners of a couples' consciousness out into the light: it can allow the root of an issue to be solved so that the relationship can continue as a healthier, more adaptive version of itself.

Basically what it comes down to is whether or not you and your partner get what you need from the relationship, and whether or not you want it to continue in the wake of infidelity. If your connection is healthy, fulfilling and makes you happy, it might be better for it, and you, to work on the reason the cheating occured rather than throwing something that matters to you away.

Of course, there are definitely situations where people should break up and where cheating rightly ends a love that was on its way out anyway, but … that's not everyone's reality. Some couples are perfectly happy and cheating still happens; what matters then is not who cheated, but why they did and how that problem can be addressed. Picture it like a car: if one of the wheels falls off, do you immediately take it to the junk yard? You might if the car already sucked and it was on its last legs, but you'd be a fool to if the car was otherwise healthy. You'd replace the wheel, not the car.

And if you love each other and you're willing to put in the work to get through it, you could even argue it was worth it.