Infidelity Can Be Healed
One of the most common reasons for couples to seek professional help is infidelity. This can appear in many forms, such as flirtatious and inappropriate communications with someone outside of the relationship in the form of texting, emails or actual conversations. These communications may involve deep emotional sharing, sexual content and be excessive and obsessive in nature. It might also involve actual sexual encounters and secretive rendezvous.
Infidelity has devastating consequences on the marriage or relationship. When infidelity is discovered the couple often winds up in the therapist office. The couple is in crisis and they don’t know where to turn. The relationship feels like an open wound and everything hurts.
The partners of those who have strayed may feel like a cruel joke was played on them without their knowledge. They may be in a state of grief over the relationship and experience the same feelings as though someone very close to them has died. They may feel totally betrayed and blindsided or may have suspected that infidelity was occurring but could not confirm their suspicions. They look at their partner with rage, overwhelming sadness, and disbelief. They lose trust in their partner overnight and find themselves searching for clues of further indiscretions by examining belongings, cell phone records and credit card charges. They wonder if they did something wrong to contribute to the situation. They feel on edge and wonder if their partner loves them and if they still love their partner. They wonder if they are capable of forgiveness.
Partners who have engaged in affairs are in a state of crisis as well. They may feel horribly guilty and remorseful for their actions and be in a state of deep depression. They may feel helpless in knowing how to regain their partner’s trust. They fear that their partner will leave them. Many dread the loss of the relationship and family, including children, extended family, and friends. They experience extreme sorrow, shame, and regret. Regardless of what they say, their partner lashes out at them and refuses to believe them. They may not understand what motivated them to stray from their partner but found themselves swept up in a pattern of going down a path that now seems senseless, disastrous, and unforgiveable.
The therapist working with a couple experiencing infidelity needs to be sensitive to the emotional state of both partners. While there might be a tendency to identify with the partner who has been the recipient of infidelity, both individuals are in great pain and require healing. The relationship is shattered and needs to be treated with great care. The condition for therapy is that the affair must be over. Both partners must be willing to attempt to rebuild their relationship. In addition, each partner must be totally transparent and honest in therapy sessions.
The goal of the therapy is to help each partner understand the emotional state of the other and discuss their feelings in a safe, contained way. The therapist provides a method for each partner to share their experience in a protective setting. In discussing their pain constructively, they can begin the process of reconnection and rebuilding. They may realize that they have not revealed true and vulnerable feelings for some time in their relationship. Sometimes the couple is able to begin to understand how their relationship may have been more susceptible to infidelity than they originally believed. Often times trust is restored over a period of time when genuine and truthful information is revealed. Couples undergoing this process need to be aware that true recovery takes time and learn to be patient with the process. Most couples expect that their relationship will be restored more quickly than is realistic. Additionally, they will inevitably experience ups and downs along the way.
As time passes, they may come to see how this very painful event may provide an opportunity for growth. In the best cases, couples build a stronger foundation going forward and learn to truly appreciate the value of their relationship.