DO YOU FEEL BETRAYED BY THE PERSON YOU TRUSTED MOST?
ARE YOU WONDERING WHETHER INFIDELITY COUNSELING COULD HELP?
“My partner had an affair. I never dreamed this would happen to us.”
“He says it’s over and will never happen again, but how can I believe him?”
“I want to be able to forgive and trust again, but I just don’t know how.”
“What do I do with all this anger?" “What did she/he have that I don’t?”
These are just of a few of the thoughts and questions you might be having if your spouse or partner has cheated. It can be devastating to learn that your partner, the person you trusted most to be faithful, is having or had an affair, whether it is a sexual or emotional affair, a one-night stand, or an extended period of secrecy and lies. Whatever form it takes, it feels like a punch in the gut. You may feel like you can never forgive or trust again. You may feel humiliated and embarrassed. You may feel isolated with nowhere to turn. Hurt, shock, sadness, anxiety, confusion, hopelessness, shame, blame – a rollercoaster of emotions – can make it hard to even think straight.
Perhaps your spouse or partner is saying, “I’m sorry. It didn’t mean anything and it won’t ever happen again. It’s over now. Let’s just move on.” “Why do we have to keep dwelling on it? I’ve told you everything. Why do you keep asking me the same questions over and over?” “Why can’t you just let it go?” But you can’t just let it go and get over it, no matter how much you may want to or wish you could. Intrusive thoughts and images haunt you. You have flashbacks to the initial discovery or disclosure. Anger overwhelms you. You feel scared and suspicious every time your partner leaves the house. These are all symptoms of trauma and must be recognized by both partners before the process of healing can begin.
IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE
No relationship is affair-proof. Research data varies, but a common estimate is that 15-40% of men have affairs and 10-15% of women do, but the number of women having affairs is increasing as more women enter the professional world with the subsequent increase in opportunity to meet other people. Although frequency of infidelity is higher for men, the effects of women having affairs are often more damaging to the relationship and more likely to end in divorce.
Why does it happen? One of the most common reasons is simply opportunity. Two people meet, an attraction forms, and a seeming friendship blossoms into a romantic encounter. The underlying causes, however, often have little to do with sex. It stems from relationship dissatisfaction, loss of connection and emotional intimacy, boredom and loneliness, an escape from the daily hassles of life, such as financial stress or the burdens of child-rearing. I hear comments like, “I felt alive again,” or “It felt so good to be wanted by someone.”
Infidelity threatens the stability of a marriage or relationship, but it does not have to result in the demise of it. Healing, forgiveness, and recovery are possible. You can even learn to trust again. Don’t try to do it alone. It takes skill to manage the volatile emotions so they don’t worsen the situation. Seek professional help with an experienced and well-trained infidelity counselor.
INFIDELITY COUNSELING CAN HELP
The first step in infidelity counseling will be to calm the storm and slow down the emotional roller-coaster. This is accomplished by learning how to talk to each other without triggering an angry and defensive reaction in the other person.
The initial stage of infidelity counseling focuses on dealing with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress in the betrayed partner. Unbidden, intrusive thoughts and images lead this person to alternate between periods of numbness and out-of-control emotional outbursts. This is a time that requires tremendous patience by the person who had the affair. They must be willing to listen to endless and repetitive questions and answer openly and honestly. They must be completely transparent, hiding nothing. How this partner responds will greatly influence how well the repair goes. Neither partner, however, is allowed to be verbally abusive during this stage. Hard-to-manage discussions are initially limited to sessions with the infidelity counselor. Eventually, the betrayed person feels satisfied that they have heard the full truth and are able to move on to the next stage. If too little time, however, is spent on the first stage, the healing process may be sabotaged in a later stage.
The second stage moves on to start re-building the marriage or relationship. We begin to explore what was wrong in the relationship that made the ground fertile for an affair to blossom. We define what is broken and work toward repairing it. At this stage, each partner starts to examine and accept responsibility for his or her role in problems that existed prior to the infidelity.
In the third and final stage, the couple starts to restore emotional and physical intimacy. They develop rituals of connection, strengthen their friendship, and rebuild trust and commitment, finding a common ground in terms of the new relationship based on shared values and meaning.
In my experience with couples, most of them make it to the final stage and conclude their Infidelity counseling experience with a marriage that is built on a stronger and deeper commitment than ever. They’re also happier and having more fun together!
A FEW COMMON QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS
What is the likelihood that infidelity counseling will work?
What if we invest a lot of time and money and it doesn’t work?
Couples typically choose one of three paths following infidelity: (1) the couple decides too much damage has been done and they take the route of separation and divorce, (2) they choose not to go through the repair process in therapy, but stay together anyway, harboring resentment and bitterness, or (3) they do the work to build a new partnership that is stronger than it ever was. If you choose the third path, your odds of success are very high and your investment will be well worth the risk. Acting now rather than later also increases the likelihood of a successful outcome.
Are there factors that complicate the repair process?
Yes, there are. These include the type of affair (e.g., one-night stand vs. on-going over a period of time), who the affair partner was (e.g., a stranger vs. a family friend), whether there have been previous affairs, and whether the affair was disclosed or discovered. These risk factors will be revealed and discussed during assessment.
What if the affair is still going on?
Infidelity counseling is generally not recommended if an affair is on-going. The partner involved in the affair must be willing to end the affair and re-commit to the marriage or relationship. Until and unless this happens, progress is unlikely. You can, however, benefit from individual counseling to discuss your position and course of action.
TAKE THE HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP RECOVERY PATH
I can offer you a safe, non-judgmental space to explore your relationship problems with professional guidance. If you would like to schedule an appointment, visit my contact page here. If you still have questions or reservations, I’m happy to schedule a free 15-minute phone consult, or if you prefer, you may send your questions to me via e-mail.