Infidelity: Now what?
Infidelity: Now what
No one gets a user manual on what to once an infidelity, as defined by one or both parties is discovered. Here are some things people need to consider before making any decision.
What is infidelity?
This may reveal value differences in a couple and highlight how little time a couple spent discussing early on in their marriage what exactly and specifically is infidelity. What is it for sure is a contract violation. Sometimes that’s clear—‘we agreed we wouldn’t have sex with anyone else, and you did.’ But other times it’s much less clear, because marital contracts are notoriously brief and people did not discuss this in details.
So I periodically hear, ‘Yes, I did porn and masturbated, but that isn’t infidelity.’ Or ‘A happy ending to a massage isn’t an affair.’ Or ‘looking up old boyfriends on Facebook doesn’t mean I’m looking for action.’ So what happens is that couples end up trying to hold their partner accountable for their definition of their contract and the other person won’t agree. This complicates matters greatly in deciding how to proceed.
Understanding the Therapist role in Infidelity Counselling:
As a therapist, I don’t vote on whether something is infidelity, whether it’s on-line chat, masturbating to porn, or sensuous slow-dancing. If one person is in pain about the other’s behavior, they need to discuss it; getting bogged down in debating whether something is infidelity is easier—but far less productive—than discussing how each person feels. It keeps the relationship stuck and not able to move forward. Counselling helps to deal with the individual pain, and now more important deciding if and how a couple will want to move forward.
The therapist is a neutral person that can give the couple a framework to look at their relationship and decide a number of difficult decision such as: Is this relationship worth saving? Is there one version of this relationship we both want? What are the reason and purpose we are staying together and is that sustainable. Is the infidelity something we can realistically get over.
Dealing with Broken Trust
After the revelation of infidelity, the Betrayed often demands access to the Betrayer’s cellphone records, email passwords, etc.. The purpose of this is so that the betrayed can feel a sense of control and gain a perception of “safety.” Infidelity hurts and the person’s sense of safety is gone.
However, this activities are not helpful and often harmful because it doesn’t build trust, it prevents it. Trust is what you develop in the absence of information, not as a result of having information. And I’ve never seen anyone use the information gained from this monitoring in a wholesome way—it’s always to hurt someone, either self or other. There are better ways to deal with pain and safety in a relationship.
All affairs have some sexual component. But the Betrayer should be honest—is the affair mostly about sex, or mostly about emotional adventures? A lot of affairs are about intimacy and feeling connected, honored, known, and celebrated, and the sex at the affair’s beginning is just the gateway to those other things
Can you stop someone from cheating?
Yes and no. You can’t “prevent” someone from betraying you again. They either choose to be faithful or they don’t. If they want to be unfaithful, all the monitoring in the world won’t stop them.
Instead, how prevent infidelity is by building a relationship that is satisfying, nurturing and need satisfying for both people so that people want to choose the relationship. This is not done through punishing behaviors, but rather exploring what people need to be satisfied and happy in a relationship so that they want to choose this relationship over all others. This is the process that a professional counsellor helps couples explore, develop and build.
Telling the kids about a Parent’s Infidelity
Unfortunately a number of Betrayeds tell their kids that the other parent has betrayed them. This is not help to your relationship and definitely not helpful to your children. Your marital difficulties or broken heart are not your kids’ problem. No, the kids don’t “deserve” to know “what kind of person” their mom or dad is. Remember your children are made up of both of you and saying anything bad about one parent is the same as saying that bad thing about the child him/herself.
The Process to Recovering from Infidelity
It is possible to recover from infidelity and go on to have an even better marriage than prior to the infidelity. The Betrayed’s desire to express his/her feelings is understandable and legitimate. On the other hand, if there’s any desire for reconciliation, expressing feelings has to be done in a way that allows for the Betrayer’s feelings and reality. Those two conflicting impulses—to express pain and to maintain respect and even empathy—are difficult to manage. Counselling can help provide a framework to work through these conflicting emotions.
The Betrayed often has a desire to know all the details about the affair and the affair person. However, as with other controlling information, most of the time the information is designed to make the betrayed person feel in control. Rarely is the information gained used in a wholesome or helpful way and often results in more pain for the Betrayed person and the relationship.
What are your Reasons to Reconcile?
Particularly if there aren’t small children involved, couples need to really think through their reasons for reconciliation. The therapist is often the only person either party knows who’s neutral on the issue. This is often very helpful in providing a neutral place for people to sift through what do they really want to do and what is realistic and sustainable.
Before people agree to reconcile after an affair, they should describe what relationship they each want to have. It’s rare that both people say ‘yes, I want to return to exactly the relationship we had before the affair was exposed.’ If two people discover they can’t agree on what relationship they want to have, there’s nothing to reconcile. Counselling can help couples work through these very emotional issue.
Making the Decision to Reconciliation
When one person is considering whether to attempt reconciliation, they often want to know HOW this will be accomplished. But you don’t need to know that in order to decide whether to reconcile. First you have to decide you want to. Then we’ll discuss strategy. Counselling helps couples explore if there is one relationship both parties can happily agree to in order to see if they want to. Counselling isn’t necessarily a commitment that you will reconcile, it may be the first step in deciding if you want to proceed to reconcile.
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