Posted by: counselorcarmella | August 16, 2011

Counseling the Couple Dealing With Infidelity

When couples come to see me, they are very upset.  Well, at least one of them is, usually the betrayed spouse.  Emotions are  very raw and  can  quickly get out of hand. I try to offer hope and a game plan. First of all, I do a lot of listening and validating of feelings.  I normalize the range of responses people have, whether it is the person who had the affair or their spouse.  I let people know how common affairs are and that many couples do stay together and try to work on  their marriages.  I let them know I’ve worked with lots of individuals and couples where  an affair was the big issue. I encourage them not to make hasty decisions.  I let them  know I want to help them stay married, if  that’s what they want to do. If they aren’t sure what will ultimately happen, I seek to get them to agree to a period of time during which all their energies will go into working on the marriage, a  time when divorce isn’t mentioned.  I try to get them to agree on six months but sometimes, it is shorter if they can’t commit to that. I  say their marriage will be different but that it can also be  better or back to a healthier place. I let them know that healing from an affair takes time and hard work and will require commitment from both of them. 

 

Part of my role is to be an objective third party  who can provide them with information, such as books, websites, and  other resources.  Another part of what I seek to do is to create a safe place where they can each talk.  I’m not going to let them start  interrupting, name calling, yelling, etc.  My role is to decrease emotionality  so they can hear each other and  have productive conversations about this  loaded topic.  I often have each person have a dialogue with me while the other listens.

 

I make sure the cheating partner has terminated all contact with their lover and that the betrayed spouse  feels okay about how this was done. If this hasn’t happened, we talk about the necessity and  the plan for how they will do so. I encourage full disclosure and answering all questions the betrayed spouse has but also let the  person asking the questions know they need to be prepared for   what they find out.  I  encourage open communication and help them build up these skills if they’re lacking. I want them to have a marriage of openness and honesty and want to help them learn active listening and other skills so that they feel safe talking with each other. 

 

I work on  helping them assess the strengths of their marriage  and seek to help them  engage in behaviors that build up  the 5:1 positive to negative ratio needed to even break even. I find out about how they met,  their dating relationship and engagement, their wedding, other stressful times in their marriage and how they handled  those, and  times when they’ve been close and happy.  I want to know what has worked in the past so we can incorporate it into their current situation. I want to talk about what  nearly tore them apart but also talk about what keeps them  together, whether that be  a shared history, the kids,  running a business together, shared finances, or  just love.

 

I help them decide on new  rules, such as betrayed spouse being able  to look at the cell phone records or email and talk about the consequences of  trust being violated.  I  also help the spouse who had the affair to find out what their  partner needs from them, such as calling to check in more often, giving more details about their daily  activities, calling if they’re going to be late, etc.  I talk about forgiveness of self and others. I also talk with them about setting up  boundaries with members of the opposite gender so that situations are less likely to start (no confiding in opposite  sex friends or colleagues about marital problems or being someone’s confidant, not  going out to lunch or dinner with work colleagues of opposite gender alone, especially at conferences where alcohol and hotel rooms may be involved, not communicating with former lovers without spouse knowing and  on a very limited basis, if at all, telling spouse if one is hit on or  has any sort of “questionable” encounter with  someone else as soon as possible,  etc.)  The betrayed spouse needs to feel  as confident as possible that their partner really is sorry and  committed to not making such a mistake again and that there are safeguards in place to prevent future problems.  If  proper boundaries are in place to begin with, affairs would not have the chance to happen nearly as often. 

 

I also believe having good communication, going on “dates” as a couple, and  staying affectionate and intimate  make it where someone is less likely to seek something outside the marriage.  If there are problems in these areas, I help them talk through and come up with ideas for what to do about these issues. One thing I am  clear about, though, is that  there is no “excuse” for having an affair.  No matter what is or isn’t going on in the marriage, it doesn’t give someone the right to cheat.  I  also encourage couples to have friends who are also involved in committed relationships who will call them on behaviors  that aren’t right or that would be destructive for  the marriage.  A friend who will cover for you, keep your secret, and  help you betray your spouse is not a friend.  Some couples want to renew their vows.  Others  do things like insist on lie detector tests.  I let them know neither of these are necessarily helpful because they can provide a false sense of security or even  be inaccurate.  I also say each couple has to do what they need to do to feel okay about their relationship, though.  

 

The biggest thing is consistency over time.  There’s just a lot of talking followed by  actions that show how things are, and will be different.  Consistency over time leads to a greater sense of security and safety in the marriage. I try to be someone who is calm, has hope, and is willing to accompany them on their journey of healing, as it can be a roller coaster ride.

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