Becca Hirsch, M.A., AMFT
One of the most common reasons individuals and couples attend therapy is to heal from infidelity and decide if trust can be regained in the relationship. Statistics tell us that the majority of people will experience infidelity at some point in their relationships, and yet, it still remains a very taboo topic loaded with a whole lot of shame and secrecy. While every couple is different and infidelity can come in many different forms, there are some significant factors that can help the healing process and help the couple grow and learn from this experience. Here are three of them:
1. Sitting in it. By “it”, I mean the pain, the vulnerability, and the shame. One of the first things I address with a new couple who is recovering from infidelity is to tell the partner who had the affair (or the one who looked outside of the relationship), that it is vital they are able to “sit in it” with their partner. It is easy to become defensive, and I will often hear, “I’ve already apologized a million times!” It is more important that the apology feels genuine, and that he or she can show true vulnerability and remorse for their actions. While “sitting in it” hurts more because it forces you to feel the damage your actions have caused, it is imperative to the healing process.
2. What meaning you give the infidelity. Another important factor when healing from infidelity is what views and values you have around monogamy and what meaning you give infidelity within your relationship. Do you view infidelity as the ultimate betrayal in a relationship or as something that is common and can be healed from? This may also depend on how “bad” or damaging the infidelity was, or rather, how much of a betrayal it was (which completely depends on how the person feels about it). Cheating is not black and white and cannot be treated as such. An inappropriate texting relationship with someone you met at a bar may be viewed differently than a three year long physical affair with a coworker. What actually happened can sometimes be less important than the meaning you’ve given it as well as the timing around it.
3. Find a way to learn and grow from the trauma. As you and your partner are healing from this betrayal, it is important to look at this traumatic experience and see if there’s a way to learn and grow from it. In couples therapy, as the crisis of the situation begins to diminish, a therapist may begin to explore what the relationship was like prior to the infidelity, what factors or stressors may have led to the affair, and what types of changes need to be made in the relationship in order to move forward and prevent this from happening again. Couples who are able to heal from infidelity and rebuild trust in their relationship are often able to find meaning in the trauma of experiencing infidelity and see the relationship in a new way.
If you and your partner are trying to heal from infidelity, it would be very beneficial to attend couples therapy and have some guidance and support around this experience. Contact Symmetry Counseling to get in touch with one of our talented therapists.