Helping Couples Recover From Infidelity

Hello everyone! I’m at the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference this week. I’ll be sharing some of the best things I’ve learned here. In this post: Infidelity. If you are a therapist or therapy student, I hope you will pick up a few skills. If you are a prospective therapy client in San Diego, email me or call if you are curious about talking more about infidelity one on one or as a couple.

“When staying together after an affair makes you a warrior not a doormat…”

Infidelity Therapy San Diego

First, I heard from Michele Weiner-Davis, LCSW, about recovering from infidelity. You may know her from the “Sex Starved Marriage” book and this TED talk.

She is also known for “Divorce Busting.” Michele has also been a part of the early stages of Solutions Focused Therapy. Therapists will recognize elements of SFT in her approach, a modality I use frequently in individual therapy.

Michele is passionate about one specific problem couples face: Infidelity. Most graduate training programs do not cover how to help couples heal from infidelity. She believes two-thirds of divorces are unnecessary and that most relationships can be repaired. Hopelessness is the real culprit of divorce.

Next, Michele shared that one mistake some therapists make is to teach a skill needed for the wrong stage. For example, therapists should avoid building empathy (a skill needed later) during the later crisis stage. For me, this resonates with my stance from Motivational Interviewing and Client Centered Therapy of starting where the client is.

The stages of recovery from infidelity

For her, there are three stages in recovery from infidelity:

  • Crisis stage
  • Rebuilding stage
  • Maintenance stage

While infidelity is always a challenge, have you ever wondered: Why do people divorce after betrayal? For many, it is hopelessness and shame. How many people say when they get married, “I’ll stay with my partner no matter what… unless they cheat, then I’m out”? However, the reality is more complicated. Michele fights shame by educating: people who decide to work through the hard times are “warriors” not doormats.

Affairs can be so devastating that people have symptoms similar to PTSD and can sometimes not function. It hurts so bad that you are not sleeping or eating. You can’t work. Rejection feels as bad as physical pain.

Don’t give up hope!

Healing from infidelity can take a long time and is often non-linear. But it is possible. There will be a lot of ups and downs. In addition, each partner will be on their own separate journey. Even if they are working together in moving forward, the tasks for each partner are different. To illustrate the challenges of both the betrayer and the betrayed, check out Wendy Plump’s essay about the misery of being on each side of an affair. (By the way, if you are considering having an affair, this cautionary tale may talk you out of it.)

For therapists out there, Michele’s training is great in that it lays out a roadmap detailing the specific tasks that each partner needs to go through. I recommend hearing her if you have the opportunity or check out her online courses. Since it is her proprietary information, I will not write out the specific steps here.

Finally, for partners who are struggling with the first stage after an affair, I will say this: Early on, spending lots of time together can help with trust. Next, scheduling an appointment with a couple’s therapist can put you on the right path.

About the Author:

Abigail Burd, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist practicing in San Diego. (CA lic #LCS26867.) Specialties include maternal mental health, parenting, addiction, depression/anxiety and personal growth. Abby is experienced providing counseling to others in the helping fields, college students, and graduate students.

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