When I started school, I learned that couple therapy is when two people who want to work on their relationship come to therapy and work things through.
Now, years later, and with a lot more experience with couples, I know it is much more than that.
One of the most difficult tasks I encounter as a therapist is to support couples going through an affair.
Contrary to the idea that once this happens, there are no more chances for the couple to continue being together, I’ve experienced that it is not always the case if partners are motivated and willing to work on their relationship.
If the strong emotions associated with an affair can be overcome, the affair itself could mean the end of a dysfunctional, unhappy relationship and the beginning of a new, more authentic, and thriving one.
Getting through the crisis caused by an affair can take a long time and differs from couple to couple. It depends on the personal strengths and weaknesses of the partners, on how strong the foundation of the relationship is, and on the commitment, the partners are willing to assume.
From my experience, I've learned that there are some “must-do” actions that partners need to consider during this phase of recovery, which would be the first sign of care and safety in the relationship.
- Talking about what is a betrayal for the betrayed part and avoiding doing those actions that might create more pain.
- Ending the affair and concentrating on the recovery and rebuilding of your marriage.
- Talking about the affair and the intense feelings involved for both partners is also an important part, although very hurtful. Feelings need to be expressed, acknowledged, and validated as part of the healing process.
- The betrayed should avoid hurting their partner for hurting them, as entitled as he/she’d feel, because this will push the partner away. The idea is to express feelings, without putting down their spouse, rather using sentences that express their own feelings.
- Finding a balance between the “affair talks” and other parts of normal living instead of allowing all negative feelings involved to spread all over your time together.
- Saying sorry and mean it, not only with words but with actions and expressing real empathy for the hurt partner.
These could be very difficult steps for a couple who is in crisis, but turning to psychotherapy can help mediate and overcome these moments.
If this phase is successful, rebuilding the relationship follows.
Now we focus more on identifying what needs to change in your marriage and work on those in an open, transparent way. In this part, both partners must be willing to take an honest look at their marriage and assess ways to make it stronger.
In the end, it is important to know that the process of healing will have major ups and downs, there will be moments of bad feelings but also of calmer times.
What helps couples succeed is to go through relapses and bad moments with optimism and to get themselves quickly back on track, by staying centered and having a list of strategies that are successful in overcoming negative feelings. It also helps to look for small rather than big improvements in your relationship.
Please feel free to share my article