Archive for Affairs

Is it Gutsy to stay in a marriage after Infidelity?

Hilary Clinton was speaking to ABC’s Good Morning America this week to promote a book she wrote with her daughter Chelsea The Book of Gutsy Women. 

When asked “what was the gutsiest thing Hilary had ever done” she replied “politically running for President and personally making the decision to stay in my marriage with my husband – just getting up every morning and keep going.”  

Esther Perel whose book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity: challenges the stigma of shame we face in choosing to stay with a partner whereas it used to be choosing to divorce that carried the stigma.

This raises very challenging questions for couples facing issues of infidelity and seems to be what brings more and more couples to couples therapy.  

Is it gutsy to stay in a marriage with someone who has cheated on you or is it cowardly and self destructive to stay with someone who has broken your trust and let you down so very painfully?

Knowing the relationship will never be the same again does it take more guts to leave a marriage and leave the mess behind you? Or is it more gutsy to stay with a partner when you have been betrayed to try to make sense of what has happened rather than justify ones behaviour.

Although infidelity is still the main reason why couples split up and is the most painful and agonising to go through it can also be the most incredible turning point in a relationship where a very different relationship can be created and thrive.

Both partners have to make the decision to really work on their relationship there is no simple answer to this horrific situation – to stay can be seen as self defeating and fearful.  What message am I giving you by deciding to stay?

Lots of things have to change after an affair.  It takes a lot of courage to admit to being so hurt and betrayed by your partner. Just as it is so shameful for the betrayer to face up to how much hurt and humiliation they have caused.

How do you show contrition?  The person who has strayed demonstrates how sorry they are but after time can get irritated by continually having to show remorse.

This is what psychotherapist Lucy Beresford calls the Museum of Hurt.  If the betrayed partner is constantly reminding the betrayer of what they have done, after a while this is not helping and perhaps signifies that only one partner is doing some of the work to repair.

Saying sorry is not enough- actions have to speak louder than words that give the message that they are not going to hurt their partner again.

However there are people who either find it very difficult to do all the work or are not prepared to put the amount of time and effort required to heal this trauma. 

If you are in a long term relationship where there is a lot of care and love when was the last time you really took time out to really work together to check in with each other, to make time to show real interest and connection?  Affairs are very rarely about having more sex or falling in love with someone else but more often a commentary on the individual as well as the relationship as it is at this moment in time and where we are, what we have lost or what we feel is missing. 

Lucy Beresford in her conversation with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London says that Infidelity forces us to look in the mirror and take a long hard look at ourselves.  Do I like what I see?  Who have I become in this relationship and what do I need to change?

Taking time out to talk to a couples therapist often feels risky for some couples but it can really help to make sense of what has happened to us, what responsibility we both take in taking care of ourselves and our relationship and what changes we both need to make.  Placing trust in an experienced couples therapist to shine a light on a relationship that has been in hibernation and help you as a couple make decisions whether you can stay together and grow together or address the need to end the relationship.  Now that’s gutsy!

Dawn Kaffel

Acknowledgment, admiration and acceptance.

I have noticed during my work as a couple counsellor that the loss of the early interest, acknowledgement and admiration of each other is often cited when a couple’s presenting problem is an affair. When lack of desire is the presenting problem, loss of interest, admiration and acknowledgement between the two frequently go hand in hand with this problem. Sarah Fletcher’s blog posted last week mentions ideas for New Year Resolutions. The points made in 4 and 5 also touch on this hypothesis.
Often, when asking couples what drew them to each other on their first date and during the early relationship, the answer on both sides is, they showed interest in me as a person and admired my approach to life, acknowledging my input in all aspects of life. When asking where they think the difficulties they are bringing to therapy started, it occurs when criticism and dissatisfaction has started to seep into the hitherto daily respect and tolerance.
This new couple interaction makes each person feel they have lost something fundamental in their intimate couple and no sex or unsatisfactory sex may follow as a symptom. A third party then has no difficulty with driving a wedge into the couple containment and often functions initially by picking up what is wrong with the couple and acting out the opposite. This is very attractive to the one they are seducing and seems to replace what they have lost for a while.
Thus an affair begins, followed by the fall out once this is discovered by the one on the outside of the triangle. If a couple knows this on entry into a long term commitment, when they begin to sense that they are no longer admired but are beginning to be an irritant, it would be beneficial if at that stage the couple enters some kind of couple work to arrest this common start to the disintegrations of trust and intimacy between them.
At Coupleworks we are all familiar with this presenting problem in our consulting rooms and know that early intervention can save what seems to be happening. If left to fester, the damage to all aspects of couple intimacy can be irretrievable.
Clare Ireland

Can a Couple Survive an Affair

Many couples believe that an affair means that their relationship is over and beyond repair. They are certain that they will never be able to trust their partner again and they believe that the relationship can’t possibly be viable after their partner cheats. They feel that they know longer know their partner.

There is blame, anger, sadness and a profound sense of betrayal. These are perfectly understandable feelings but what I’ve learned working with couples is that when the story unfolds and both people are able to understand and make sense of the ‘how this might of happened’, healing can, and does, take place. It takes time and patience but couples do have the capacity to forgive and love each other again. There is also a huge opportunity to learn about oneself and their partner through this painful process.
Stages of Healing after an affair:

When discovering one’s partner has gone outside the relationship there is naturally shock and outrage. This is the time when the couples have strong negative feelings towards each other. The reactions that come out may be reactive and forceful or it can manifest itself as one partner withdrawing. Hard though it is to do, this is the time to slow things down and allow the feelings to settle.
Getting to the point where a couple is able to come together and talk effectively varies, and needs to be respected. Once feelings settle, it’s time to talk. Being clear and connected to one’s feelings allows us the clarity to articulate thoughts and emotions, enabling our partner to hear us rather than react and defend themselves. In other words, being clear with our feelings shifts the conversation from blaming to starting to make sense of what has transpired. It’s relational rather than attacking and creates a dialog to start to build trust and understanding again.
It’s important and natural to want to know the facts of the affair because it allows a couple to understand why it happened in the first place. The problem arises when a couple gets stuck in the details because then the underlying feelings and reasons get lost.

Getting to the root cause of ‘why’ isn’t always possible because the person responsible often doesn’t understand why they did it in the first place. There is a feeling that it ‘just happened’ which suggests that they are not taking responsibility for going outside the relationship. This can be frustrating for the other partner because their world has suddenly become unstable and not pinpointing a reason only intensifies this feeling.
I have sat with couples entrenched in this dynamic and I sense the person responsible for the affair really doesn’t have a clue as to why. Staying with the couple’s ‘not knowing’ and gently allowing the process to progress is what allows the understanding to emerge.
The most difficult thing for couples to appreciate in this situation is that both parties are suffering and really do want to understand and most importantly, to get back to the way things once were. Although not always possible, when a couple is able to stay with the difficulty and work forward, the process of letting go and forgiving can and does take place.
Shirlee Kay