If you and your spouse have been affected by an extra-marital affair, you are likely feeling a variety of conflicting emotions. You might be feeling anxious about whether or not you will be able to stay together. If you both want to salvage your marriage, you are likely much more distraught at this time than if you and your partner have already been heading towards separation.
If you and your partner want to stay together and you think couples therapy would be beneficial, then I encourage the two of you to start engaging in some much-needed R and R. And no, I am not talking about Rest and Relaxation. Although a nice trip to Hawaii might sound impulsively tempting right about now as a way of running away from your marriage in a state of panic and confusion, you will still have the problem looming over you when you return.
The R and R that I am referring to is a combination of factors that not only should be part of a healthy marriage, but should also be part of the couples therapy process for the problem of Infidelity.
RESPECT and RESPONSIBILITY.
Often, people assume that the concept of love is and should be the central, core basis for all healthy romantic relationships. Certainly, love is one of the most important (and mysterious) factors in a relationship with a partner or spouse. However, often overlooked is the construct of RESPECT in an intimate partnership.
Respect in a marriage is what encourages both partners to treat one another with honesty and dignity. Respect in a marriage allows for a sense of true integrity in the relationship. When one does not respect one’s partner, one may fall into a habit of devaluing, taking for granted, and possibly even becoming emotionally abusive to one’s partner. Without respect, there is no sensitivity, kindness, and honor in the relationship. I dare even say that respect is more important than love. Respect needs to come first. One can develop strong love for someone one respects.
To that end, the process of therapy for Infidelity needs to include Respect at all ends. The spouse who was unfaithful needs to be able to respect the hurt spouse by being open and honest about the problem and the affair. If the couple has decided to work on their marriage, the hurt spouse deserves a large amount of gratitude from the unfaithful spouse for being open to staying together after an affair. It is appropriate for that gratitude for allowing the relationship to heal to come from a place of true respect.
Responsibility in the context of Infidelity therapy is just as important. The unfaithful spouse must, from the beginning, take responsibility for his or her actions and refrain from blaming the spouse and/or other people for the affair. It was the physical and actual actions of the unfaithful partner that led to the affair. Affairs tend to start out slowly, with some inappropriate contact here and there. Oftentimes, the unfaithful spouse has many opportunities to nip the potential affair in the bud before it takes on a life of its own. Therefore, the process of the Infidelity therapy needs to start from a place of the unfaithful spouse taking responsibility for the affair as well as the repercussions of the affair, such as possible financial strain, conflict with the children, etc.
So where does the BS fit in, you might be wondering at this point. And no, I am not just referring to BS as in the lies that have been told, the deceptions that have occurred and deeply hurt the marriage. There are other types of BS that creep into the marriage with Infidelity, particularly when the affair has been discovered.
BLAMING and SHAMING.
And these things are not to be allowed. Not within the marriage moving forward and not within the Infidelity therapy. Certainly, at first, the couple will often argue terribly about the affair. Placing blame on one another, shaming one another for all sorts of reasons fueled by anger, jealousy, and deep-rooted pain. But there comes a point when the blaming and shaming needs to stop. How can a couple successfully improve their marriage if they continue to blame and shame one another, holding the affair over each other’s heads like angry storm clouds? How can they move on if they feel shame about the affair, talking about the affair, about the sexual ramifications, or about flaws that they continuously bring up about one another in a hurtful way?
They can’t. At least not very successfully.
For the Infidelity therapy and the marriage to stand a fighting chance, the blaming and shaming is better tended to as a wild-fire. It will inevitably burn strongly in the beginning stage of the crisis, it will burn for hours at first, but eventually, with some skilled help, with some rationality, with a shift in winds, it will cool down and become contained and manageable.
It is at this point that the real healing can begin. With plenty of R and R … and no BS.
If you have any questions about anything from this article or would like to talk to Misa Butsuhara, MFT or one of our therapists about infidelity in your relationship, give us a call: 800.317.8010.