The general consensus in society is that infidelity within a relationship is unacceptable, unforgivable and it will destroy any hope of trusting again or being close. This article presents a different view. The trauma of infidelity creates a lot of pain and fear and insecurity however, processing the injury in therapy can also create a deep sense of closeness, intimacy, understanding, and lead couples back to finding the relationship of their dreams.
Infidelity within the relationship has a huge impact on both partners. The injured partner often suffers a hug blow to their self esteem. They begin to question if their appearance is ok and often become insecure about their body image. They also question their ability to really “be enough” for their partner. The injured partner lives in a dangerous, painful world filled with constant triggers and obsessive thoughts related to insecurities and the time of the infidelity. They often look at their partner and think, “Who are you really?” lost in confusion they can not understand how their partner acted loving and kind towards them and the other person at the same time. It makes them seriously question “What was real?” and “What is real now?” They feel very afraid that it will happen again. They also feel ashamed, humiliated and embarrassed to be “duped” or “the fool.” The other partner often feels an immense amount of shame and guilt for what happened. They often get stuck in a vicious cycle where the injured partner is voicing their obsessive thoughts and fears in a demanding, angry way (or completely shutting down) and the other partner is trying to shut down or avoid the discussion to prevent feeling ashamed and bad about themselves and what they did. These are the painful places that couples end up stuck in after the find out about an infidelity. This vicious cycle feels like it is going to rip the relationship apart.
The good news is that a couple’s relationship can grow very strong and close after processing an infidelity in marriage therapy. Once a sense of safety is established in therapy the deeper hurt and fears of the injured partner are expressed and the other partner witnesses begins to witness the devastating impact that they have had on their partner’s self-esteem and the relationship. The partner that caused the infidelity usually feels and shows a lot of remorse and regret for their actions. It is only until this deep hurt and pain is fully felt, expressed and understood that the injuring partner really recognizes how much hurt they have caused. (All too often this hurt is hidden by anger and frustration and never seen). When the injured partner sees that their partner is more fully aware their pain and feels a lot of shame and remorse for what they did, the relationship begins to repair. Then the injured partner begins to open up and talk about some of the deeper fears and insecurities that they feel. The couple is able to identify that they get stuck in a negative communication cycle when these fears come up. They work together to stop the cycle and deal directly with the fears. The other partner stand by them and gives them ongoing reassurance and comfort when the fears and triggers come up. They work together over time, with the fears to help the injured partner realize that their deepest fears are not true, that they are enough, and they are loved.
Often infidelity happens in couples because there is a lack of emotional intimacy. I have found that the hurt and pain caused by the infidelity and the need to for reassurance creates a deep sense of intimacy between the partners because are forced to open and discuss their deepest fears and longings. This creates a platform for deep intimacy in the future. The couple begins to develop an understanding of why the infidelity happened by recognizing that a lot of their adult attachment needs were not being met in the relationship. In every relationship we all have adult attachment needs: to feel special, important, cared about, appreciated, valued and safe. We want to feel that our partner is there for us emotionally when we really need them. Many couples come to the conclusion that the problem was caused together, by not making an effort to really meet each others attachment needs. From this point on the relationship can blossom because the couple is aware of what their attachment needs are and puts more time and energy into taking care of each other.
In essence couples go through a huge trauma when infidelity happens in their relationship. However this trauma creates a deep sense of intimacy and understanding in the relationship. Couples then go forward working to create the relationship that they have always wanted; usually a relationship where they feel special, important, cared about emotionally, and deeply valued.
A Path of Heart Counselling Services in Kelowna offers couples counselling for infidelity and is also offering an upcoming couples weekend based on Dr. Sue Johnson’s Hold Me Tight Program and book. Contact Robin to get on the mailing list for the future workshop dates.