WHY SEEK COUNSELING WHEN THERE HAS BEEN INFIDELITY?
Has your partner cheated? Studies have shown that the results of cheating are a number 1 cause of partners choosing to end a relationship, even one that would have been described as working well.
The good news is that the majority of marriages survive infidelity! Why is that?
The discovery of infidelity, like the discovery of other betrayals of trust, results in a cascade of intense emotions; shock, anger, confusion, grief, sadness, anxiety, fear, shame, and guilt, to name a few.
The causes of extramarital affairs are many. The classic belief is that the cheating spouse is seeking satisfaction elsewhere because they are not getting enough in the marriage, and sometimes that is the case. However, sometimes the cheating spouse is themself the one who is holding back from connection and intimacy. Sometimes cheating results from lowered impulse control due to substance use and abuse issues. Sometimes it has to do with a fear of confronting various issues within the relationship.
The reason I recommend seeking professional help when a couple is struggling to deal with, and heal from, infidelity, is because it is so confusing and scary. Couples split up prematurely, or they try to move on prematurely, and either way, do not effectively recover.
A sad but true example:
Sam, 29, and Carmen, 28, had been married almost 2 years when Carmen learned that Sam had reconnected with an old girlfriend and brought her to their home when Carmen was at work and Sam was allegedly “home sick”. They had sex in Carmen and Sam’s bed. The marriage had so far been a disappointment to them both, but they didn’t know how to effectively even talk about it, so they had become increasingly distant over the past year, and the discovery sent them both into a tailspin, along with their respective families.
Carmen immediately moved out and went home to her parents. She was pretty sure it was her fault; after all, if she’d been a more lovable partner, would Sam have strayed? She attempted suicide, but fortunately did not succeed. She got a little therapy, but it was too painful to discuss so she stopped.
Sam was consumed with guilt and shame. His family, with whom he was very close, ostracized him. He started drinking heavily and probably would have lost his job if an uncle hadn’t intervened. He had 3 dates with his old girlfriend, but he felt too confused to pursue a relationship. He knew full well that he had behaved badly, and was deeply remorseful.
After 8 months, Sam’s family prevailed upon Carmen to meet with Sam. They both felt pretty lost. He apologized profusely, said he didn’t know why he did it, and asked her to return. She wanted to, and they agreed to put it behind them, and “move on”. They had a few brief conversations – very uncomfortable – and he said that if she couldn’t forgive him they should just divorce. She tried to think positively.
Carmen began having panic attacks. She didn’t understand why he cheated in the first place, and neither did he, so how could they have faith he wouldn’t do it again? Repeated attempts by Carmen to talk about her feelings made Sam feel guilty, scared and angry.
Ultimately, this couple separated again, and then divorced.
With quality couples counseling, these two people probably would have learned to communicate about not only the infidelity, but about what was disappointing about their marriage before the cheating occurred. They would have had a safe place to talk and a skilled professional to build a container and framework for those discussions. In time they would have developed relationship and communication skills and tools that they could have used to move through the pain and to heal.
Isn’t your marriage worth the effort?