Rebuild TRUST. Reinvent your Marriage.
FINDING THE RIGHT THERAPY
I have a lot of couples who come to me after they have worked with another therapist to help heal an affair so I have seen some of the disastrous results of working with a therapist who is inexperienced in affair recovery.
When I speak to other therapists on the topic of infidelity, I always ask:
How many of you were trained in graduate school on how to help couples after an affair?
Usually, I'm lucky if I get one or two hands raised.
This always amazes me as statistics show that 20-40% of heterosexual married men and 20- 25% of heterosexual married women will have an affair during their lifetime.
Any couples therapist knows that affair recovery is one of the most common reasons couples reach out to a therapist. Yet, remarkably, few therapists actually receive specific training on this complex, traumatic breakdown in marriage.
This, however, doesn't prevent therapists from working with couples who are struggling with the aftermath of betrayal.
This lack of training is a travesty given all that is at stake. Affairs rock the very foundation upon which marriage is based. Plus, betrayals trigger intense primal emotions that can easily hijack therapy sessions unless the therapist has solid plans about how to handle escalated feelings and interactions.
WHAT TO ASK
The therapist should have clear responses to the common questions betrayed and unfaithful spouses ask:
Should I stay married?
How could my spouse do this to me?
Will I ever be able to get over this and feel myself again?
If I share information with you (the therapist), will you tell my spouse?
How can talking about the affair as much as we do be helpful?
Will my spouse ever stop feeling triggered?
Won't it hurt my spouse to share all of the gory details?
When will we ever be able to stop focusing on the past?
I cheated because my marriage wasn't working for me. When can we focus on that?
How will I know that my spouse will never have an affair again?
How will I know if the affair is really over?
Should we tell the kids?
Is it okay to talk to family and friends about what happened?
I've apologized. So, why does my spouse keep focusing on the affair?
How do I stop seeing pictures in my head about the affair when we start having sex?
How long will it take for our marriage to be in a better place?
BUILDING THE NEW MARRIAGE
Even though infidelity takes a real toll on relationships, most couples choose to remain together for a variety of reasons. Staying together usually ends up meaning to "divorce" the old marriage and co-create a new one.
To help couples build "new" marriages after affairs, you must have a detailed road maps about the nature of forgiveness, realistic strategies for working through the pain, concrete steps to rebuild trust, and guidance on reconnecting emotionally and physically.
Without a clear framework, it's easy to feel lost, resulting in couples leaving sessions feeling worse than when you walked in. That's when some couples give up - and also when some couples come to me.
Please remember that the decision to divorce or work things out is one of the most impactful decisions you will ever make.
Before taking this step, reach out and get qualified professional help. You and your family deserve it.
Many couples begin therapy with me as a result of an affair which has brought complete devastation and chaos into their lives. That's why I am part of a group of therapists at the Affair Recovery Therapy Center. We offer a path through infidelity that is both caring, personalized for you and structured. The structured process is based on our AFFAIR RECOVERY ROADMAP.
A summary of the recovery steps in the Roadmap are shown below.
1. CRISIS MANAGEMENT
After an affair, couples often lose the ability to have a simple conversation. Defensiveness and shame take over and destroy one's ability to listen and respond with compassion. When the betrayed partner expresses feelings with a partner who is unwilling or unable to listen, it heightens the already emotionally-charged feelings. I offer highly structured communication training to help the offending partner avoid the traps of shifting blame, denial of what happened, or withdrawal.
Also, the betrayed partner will receive training from me on how to ask questions in a non-accusatory way. This partner will often have a burning desire to understand how and why the infidelity occurred. These questions can only be answered by the offending partner; however, I work hard to keep the questions from degrading into counter-productive punishment of the betrayed partner.
MANAGING THE EXTREME FEELINGS:
This often includes normalizing the extreme feelings that are being expressed, and learning to contain the anger.
BOUNDARIES FOR FEELING SAFE:
I help you negotiate safe boundaries for physical space, sleeping arrangements, child care, touch, communication, money, and coordination of responsibilities during the recovery period.
In the midst of swirling emotions, it is extremely difficult to make a thoughtful decision about your marriage. Choosing your path forward is often based on careful consideration of your beliefs, values, needs and circumstances.
As the crisis subsides, if needed, I will work with either partner to help you decide whether to attempt recovery. Often clients are unsure but will try affair-recovery therapy believing it will either heal their marriage or allow them to really learn how to be a better partner for future relationships and behave better in co-parenting.
If the decision is made to recommit to the relationship, recovery must begin by the offending party severing all ties to the affair partner.
This can be very difficult. The power of the fantasy relationship can feel irresistible. Nonetheless, if the affair continues in any form, the wounding and betrayal only get worse.
Transparency is an essential step in recommitment and in rebuilding trust. If the offending partner is able to offer complete access to cell phone records, emails, and computer accounts, restoration of trust can begin. In any information is hidden, even if innocent, it will slow down the healing process. The pain caused by dishonesty is often worse than the sexual or emotional betrayal.
You will need a few trustworthy people who you can turn to for support. We will agree up front who should be told about what has happened.
2. UNDERSTANDING WHAT HAPPENED:
An accounting of the affair needs to be fully discussed before the betrayed partner can believe that trust can be restored. This full disclosure needs to be done with enough detail so that the betrayed partner feels that the hiding has ended. Often, the acting out partner prepares a disclosure working with his or her own therapist.
Careful judgment needs to be exercised so that important details are brought to light while avoiding needlessly negative images of the affair which could unnecessarily magnify the trauma.
3. UNDERSTAND WHY IT HAPPENED:
Most couples first assume that an affair was about the sex. It usually isn't. In my experience, there is usually a deeper reason. In therapy, the couple will begin a shared journey of soul-searching in order to develop a full picture of why the affair happened. A step-by-step review of the affair and your marriage will provide a pathway to clues for understanding.
We will consider:
how you may have been wounded by experiences during your childhood and how that is showing up in your current relationship;
how you may be affected by previous damage (sexual, financial, parenting, or otherwise) by your partner;
how your partner's qualities that drive you crazy may be ones that you long to have for yourself;
how stressful events in your lives that occurred prior to the affair may have pushed you off-kilter and contributed to the struggles in the relationship.
To be clear, these problems can never be a justification for an affair. Nonetheless, understanding them helps the couple to prevent recurrence.
For example, if the offending partner suffers from low self-esteem that was lifted up by the affair partner, then we will work on healthy ways to build confidence. If there was an anger issue in the relationship that created distance in the marriage, then anger management will be a major focus. If the betrayed partner was emotionally unavailable to the betrayed spouse, we will identify the roots of the unavailability and work toward vulnerability and openness.
In each case, I help you explore these deeper issues in a healing fashion.
4. EMPATHY / RELEASING THE EMOTIONAL PAIN:
The hurt partner will learn to talk in ways that allow your spouse to hear you and have compassion for your pain. The unfaithful partner will learn to listen in a way that encourages your partner to be vulnerable and open.
5. OWNING THE DECISION:
The unfaithful partner will learn how to fully own the decision to have the affair without minimizing it.
6. MAKING A PLAN FOR CHANGE:
You will rebuild:
The couple must connect the "WHY" the affair happened to a plan for change. In doing so, you will both learn to recognize and manage your differences so that you can stay committed even at times when you do not feel loved or wanted in the relationship. We will identify specific steps that you will take in these circumstances and thus provide "Trust Building Evidence" (T.B.E)" that the betrayal will not happen again
After completing the prior steps, the couple is an incredibly vulnerable moment for the both partners. The couple typically has come to a fork in the road where they will have an opportunity to make a conscious choice for a new future.
To be clear, the fork is:
COMMIT: A commitment to a new relationship which is based on a new respect for honesty, a new understanding of yourself and your relationship, empathy and care, a concrete plan for change, and a set of shared boundaries for safety and future behaviors, or
END: A decision to end the relationship and commit to a new life without an intimate relationship with your partner.
This decision point is a true crucible for the relationship. Both partners may waffle, going back and forth in this decision process for some time before each is clear on his/her decision. The path to recommitment can not be rushed. If you are not able to decide either way, stay in the process.
If and when the couple decides to recommit, a rebirth of the relationship can take place. This means that the couple is in agreement that a new relationship is worth fighting for. They commit to talk about the past wounds without using the past as a weapon to hurt each other. They know that much work remains ahead but they have a new shared purpose and a strong sense of hope.
I believe that good people can become lost in a marriage and make costly mistakes. While an affair is a devastating event, there is a path to healing if both partners are willing to be honest and re-commit to the relationship.
The goal is never to return to the marriage that was, but to create a RADICALLY NEW marriage that is much more capable of meeting each other's needs - a new marriage that is based on commitment, deep friendship, and passion.
On a personal note from me, working with couples who have gone through an affair is often the most difficult and the most rewarding work that I do. The lows can be painful but the highs and the re-birth of a marriage are glorious. I welcome the opportunity to go through this journey with you.
Some couples are in complete crisis after the discovery of an affair. If this is the case for you, I offer extended care (more than my regular double session to start) to help you deal with the confusion and extreme emotions.
If this is you, please talk to me about an Affair Recovery Intensive.
These books can help tremendously but they will probably not be enough. Personalized support by an experienced therapist is usually key to survive the crisis and rebuild the relationship.