Infidelity and the Relationship

Nothing grieves me more, in couples therapy, than when I have the issue of infidelity come into the treatment room. The energy that fills the space is fraught with pain, abandonment, sadness, and betrayal. It lingers and I have to do a lot to prepare the room for the next client. While they are present, I have to hold the space for their feelings and help re-direct them to another level of awareness. This is with the knowledge that this could be the end for them.

The topic is fragile but not fatal. In fact I have come to the awareness that almost nothing is un-fixable (for lack of a better word), if two people really want each other. However, both people must be willing to face the truth: Infidelity is the responsibility of both people in this relationship. Everything that happens in the relationship, regardless if it is infidelity or some other issue, both parties have to be able to look at and see where things began to fail, in order for them to mend.

Relationship failure – Was it communication? Was it someone taking the relationship for granted? Was it one spouse turning a blind eye to behaviors? Blind eyes usually get the most blame in the end – when it is found out. Couples have at this point resorted to denial. They are okay as long as it is kept secret. When it becomes known, now this has become a different story. Now the victim is suffering humiliation.

So how do you mend a broken heart? This question pertains to the couple who is willing to work through this. Keep in mind that no one owes you anything. As this is the responsibility of both people, that the relationship fell apart, if you want to stay together than it will take work – from both sides.

1. First Is it Over? If so what do you want to do as a couple? What do you want to do as an individual? How will you both come to terms with what just happened? This takes time. It will depend on the length of the affair and how it has impacted your family. It could take months to clean up the mess.

a. If children are involved – from the affair, clean up the marriage first and re-build a stronger relationship. Then deal with the child (if you have this option).

2. Closure – You must determine how you are going to put an end to the affair. Steps must be taken by the cheating partner to sever ties with this person – to show the victim that it is over with. Otherwise you are not ending the affair. Emotionally hanging on is actually worse than sex.

a. If it is over, it is over. This means that you do not have anything to do with them ever again. No emails, letters, visits, chats, phone calls, texts, nothing. If there are reasons that you need to be involved with them, in order to have closure – deal with this through a third-party and have a timeline for this to complete. It might mean you move to a different area, school, job, whatever it takes to move forward and put an end to the past.

3. Space – The victim in this situation needs to give the other party space to figure out what they need to do.  This is hard as hell to go through because you have already been abandoned. You are hurting and you need re-assurance that the other person is going to stay. Be forewarned though that the more pressure you put on the other partner, the less attractive you will become. The less likely they are going to want to stay. Space is something that is defined by both parties. One says “I am going to stay in this marriage and give you the space to get through this but here is how it is going to go…” The other one replies by stating what they are willing to do or not do. You each decide what you want and need and tell this to each other. This is the beginning of setting boundaries and re-building a relationship. If you need a timeline, communicate this without giving an ultimatum. Naturally you are not going to sit around for a year with your relationship in limbo. Yet you are also not going to say – Either you do this or that will happen.

4. Healing – Of course therapy is a good answer but I also think couples workshops are good too. Sometimes with infidelity I have requested to do individual work with each person and check in with the couple after a few sessions alone. This is to help coach each person on how to get through the crisis. It is not easy when both are in the room together because then I as a therapist can’t really get the truth out of the person (s). I will see this on occasion that both parties have prior issues to the relationship that have never been managed properly. This has snuck in to the partnership and influenced the choices they have made.

5. Re-affirming your love – Yes, people can fall in love again once they have healed the relationship and begun to see each other as a new person who has just supported them through this process. Don’t make this your goal. Naturally this is what you hope will happen but if you focus on this, you won’t focus on learning about yourself and healing from the affair. If it does happen though, re-commit yourself to the relationship. Do something significant to take the relationship forward. If you are married, re-marry. If you are in a relationship, get married. But don’t do anything unless both of you are clear that this issue has been dealt with and you have put it behind you. Forgive but not forget. Forget does not mean you bring it up whenever you are upset in the future. It means that this is something about your relationship that the two of you have grown from and know about but don’t need to talk about anymore.

 

Relationships are going to have issues that come up. This is why we have to be strong and focused while in the midst of this union. If the two of you are kindred spirits and meant to be together, you can get through anything. Once again though, the commitment that two people take is what will strengthen this partnership. As it takes two people to be in a relationship, issues must be dealt with by two people. And both need to want to change and become a better person. Good luck!

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One thought on “Infidelity and the Relationship

  1. The issue I have with therapy or therapist is that I commonly hear that both people are to blame for the failure of the marriage (I understand that) but some how it seems to also translate to the infidelity being both parties responsibility! The original issues that lead to failure of the marriage are still there but now there is another major issue (Trust!!!!!!) the marriage failed for both but only one chose infidelity!!!! It seems that not dealing with that choice when that choice is available to both is irresponsible at best and malpractice at it’s worst!

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