When it comes to infidelity, the choice of a specialized therapist is as important as ever, for a variety of reasons. As therapists, our training in graduate school prepares us for issues that we are certain to face in practice. Couple's Therapy is a well-covered topic, but the segment preparing therapists for the mental impact that deals with betrayal pertaining to an affair is either non-existent, or not really understood. This leaves clinicians unprepared when it comes to dealing with a couple or an individual who is trying to work through an affair in therapy because they were unable to deal with it successfully on their own.
When a couple has been impacted by an affair, the situation is often times considered a trauma or a crisis from a therapist's perspective. Some couples are less vocal, or perhaps more mellow when talking about it than others, but the underlying symptoms that manifest are often times very similar, regardless of how the couple deals with the situation verbally. In studies that I have conducted, most couples (85%) want to stay together and work the situation out, and approximately 80% want to know all details of the affair. This requires the person who had the affair to change their way of dealing with their partner, and perhaps the way they manage issues in their world in a very different way. Even if the couple or individual is part of the ratio of those who do not want to know all details, without open and honest communication (the couple, and primarily the one was not having the affair), can get caught in a circle of emotion, where they keep searching for answers to a million different questions and scenarios they have in their head. They fill in the blanks where things don't make sense unknowingly, in a need to once again feel secure. They need to make sense of what has happened to them.
This requires that the therapist is trained or has an understanding of how to help the couple or individual, so the betrayed feels secure and begins to establish trust in their partner once again. The therapist also has to know how to balance and honor the couple and their personal needs so healing can begin and to prevent further trauma. If this is not understood, the progress will remain stagnan, therapy can produce less results and take longer than necessary until true progress is made. Most therapists have something to offer, however, if the therapist has the proper tools to guide and educate the couple so they understand what they are facing and what took place, circles of emotions will be greatly reduced or eliminated, and questions will not need to be asked over and over.
I have heard many couple's therapists suggest a variety of techniques that may be difficult foir the couple to manage, especially in crisis. Some of these being that the couple schedule times to talk about the affair with one another to manage the situation; that they deal with it only in public to prevent an emotional or physical outburst; some therapist's suggest they ignore their spouse or partner when they ask about the affair, not to talk about it at all, as the goal is to focus on the future and put the past behind them. It has been suggested that the relationship be put to rest and forgotten about because progress has not been made in therapy... As many of these ideas or theories may work quite well for those who had the affair (as it is a nice thought to admit your wrong and then move on), this leaves the person who is suffering from betrayal to continue to suffer. These techniques do not promote connection or healing, but deflecting and redirection of strong emotions that actually are better served by dealing with them head on in therapy. By understanding how to deal with an affair, the therapist can guide the couple to manage and understand their feelings so they can truly move on and make decisions about remaining in or ending the relationship when they are truly ready, because they understand what is needed in order to sustain a healthy relationship individually or as a couple.
Here are a few things that a therapist on the right track can offer or help clients with in Infidelity Recovery:
- Is the therapist educating the couple about attraction and what to do with it when it happens?
- What should the couple do when the questioning begins?
- How can angry, obsessive emotions and thoughts be managed as a couple and individually?
- Why did the affair happen first of all?
-How will this be prevented from happening again?
-Is there addictions involved such as pornography or substance abuse?
-Is there a history of infidelity in the relationship?
-Is the therapist offering a No Secrets Policy to the couple so the therapist is fully trusted by both sides
-If you are the one who is responsible for the affair, are your feelings honored in therapy? Is it a setting where you feel able to communicate openly?
If something doesn't feel right in therapy, it may be because it isn't working. Growth is not always comfortable, but couples in therapy need to pay attention to these feeling and make sure that the therapist they are working with understands the rollercoaster of emotions an affair can create. When the person that you are closest to betrays you, it can bring out aspects of the personality that perhaps never existed prior. If something feels off in therapy, look within and ask for answers. You should be able to talk to your therapist about the feelings that you are having.
Healing from an affair can take 2 to 3 years until true recovery has occurred. THis does not mean that a couple or individual needs to remain in therapy for the entire time, but having a therapist that understands how to help a couple through the impact of an affair so the couple can properly deal with the situation will greatly accelerate the process. The emotions can be managed and there are toold to help the couple to communicate open and honestly, so they will be able to move forward because they are truly healed and ready to.