Nothing drops a bomb in the middle of a committed relationship like the discovery of infidelity. Here in Northern California, where my clients from Santa Rosa are often employed and absorbed in the hi tech world, communication is largely by email, text message and chat – all of which can be recovered and read by a discerning, suspicious, and frightened partner. I would venture a guess that never before has it been so difficult to hide unfaithful actions, and consequently the number of couples and individuals I see, who are trying to cope with the damage, has never been greater.
I recently read an article which stated that the more the unfaithful partner met the hurt partner’s need to talk about the affair, the more likely the couple would be able to recover and remain connected. But how, where and when does that happen? In my professional experience, it can happen best within the safety of my office, at least in the beginning.
The process of helping recovery can be divided into phases, which I’ll briefly summarize.
In the beginning, partners may be seen separately and together, as the story emerges and feelings of grief, often for both people, begin to be processed. Decisions are made regarding ending contact with the affair partner, how that may or may not be done, and whether the couple will remain living together for the present.
The status of the relationship both pre- and post-affair discovery is explored and a sense of hope for repair is communicated. Communication skills are taught and self care facilitated.
Next, we agree on the rules that will support the process of recovery; how remorse will be expressed, how feelings on both sides can be shared thoughtfully, and what caring behaviors will be useful. For the unfaithful partner, the question is, “how did I get to this point?” For both partners to understand why a choice for unfaithfulness was made is important in order to avoid repeating destructive actions and to reassure the hurt partner that they can move toward feeling safe, again.
Ultimately, the couple’s relationship itself is explored, repaired and restructured to accomodate damage done and changes needed, as the affair is eventually integrated into the story of the relationship. All along the way, partners work to build trust and communication.
Will every relationship survive? No. Sometimes people end by respectfully agreeing to separate/divorce. But having said that, I can also tell you that with good treatment, I have seen people come out the other side of the pain having grown and changed, and emerge into a place of health, love and joy.