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“Infidelity hurts in ways that words simply can’t explain!”
These words, in some way, shape, or form, are often uttered from the lips of couples who have experienced the trauma of betrayal. After the shock of experiencing infidelity in a relationship, many couples bravely seek help from a therapist. The initial instinct may be to attend couple’s therapy as the wound happened to the relationship, so “the relationship” should be in the room with the professional. This approach is very true for many couples following the shock, pain and confusion of infidelity. However, as a therapist treating couples and individual for many years, there are some relationships that are not ready to address these wounds in a couple’s therapy setting.
5 Signs You Are NOT Ready for Couples Therapy Following an Affair
1. The wound is too fresh.
Just like with a physical injury, often times there is too much external and surrounding damage to dive into the wound. Many times doctors will wait until the swelling or bleeding has reduced before they cut a patient open to treat the problem surgically. In couple’s therapy, if the infidelity is so painful that one or both members of the relationship can’t hardly talk about it without risking (a) becoming verbally or emotionally abusive, (b) experiencing an overwhelming amount of sorrow, and/or (C) they are coping by abusing substances, then the toxicity level of addressing it in the presence of their partner is possibly exacerbating the pain instead of helping with healing. In this case, individual therapy might be a better fit in effort to remove some of the toxins and make healing more manageable. This will often set the stage for couple’s therapy to be a successful in the very near future.
2. The cheating spouse is NOT ready to take ownership.
When working with couple’s who have experienced betrayal, it is crucial that the partner who has committed the act or acts of infidelity take ownership for their behavior. This does not mean that the cheating partner take the blame for ALL the problems in the relationship, but it is key to own the betrayal. Statements like “Yes, I cheated but we haven’t been a REAL couple for months” or “Yes, but I wasn’t happy at home so what was I supposed to do?” are NOT statements that reveal an understanding of the pain the betrayed partner feels at this moment in time. While therapists know that remorse is not a prerequisite to ownership, being honest about what has happened and avoiding blame or excuses is key for a couple to be ready to make progress in couple’s therapy.
3. The cheating spouse is not emotionally equipped to assist in couple healing.
The trauma of infidelity creates wounds for both the acting out partner and the betrayed partner. However, sometimes the cheating spouse is dealing with past traumas and those events have connection to the acts of betrayal. This is NOT an excuse for their betrayal, but it is important and valid information for a treatment provider to have. It is not uncommon for a trauma or mental health issue to block an individual’s ability to participate in couple’s therapy. Similar to the example above, doctors prescribe physical therapy treatment after the wound has had some treatment. In the case of mental health, addressing serious mental health issues before putting a client in with their partner is often more effective and productive. It is important to note that the injured spouse/partner may not be willing to wait for the acting out spouse/partner to “get well” before addressing the wound of the relationship. This is a possible consequence the cheating party will have to accept, but s/her isn’t doing her/his partner any favors by attempting to tend to the betrayal wound when s/he is far from equipped.
4. Someone is still keeping secrets.
Secret keeping is a big problem in treating couples in relational therapy. Specifically, keeping secrets after a betrayal (potentially the infidelity was a big secret for a time) can be devastating. Sometimes a couple will enter into treatment and the betrayed partner knows that they don’t know everything; therefore; an important part of the therapy and couple recovery is about how and when the information is shared (called “Disclosure”; read our blog on Therapeutic Disclosure). However, if one or both members of the couple are keeping secrets from the therapist and partner then the relationship will not be able to heal cleanly. When this happens, couples are not able to make expected progress and describe feeling “stuck” after some time. The revelation of a secret “down the road” can often be too much for a relationship to handle due to the manipulation of keeping a secret.
5. Someone is feeling constrained due to the fear of violence or some form of retribution.
This “NOT” is pretty obvious. Any member of a couple that anticipates pain and manipulation during or following a couple’s therapy session will not be able to honestly and in a vulnerable way reveal their issues. One member will hold back to protect themselves (wisely so) and the couple will spin their wheels in the therapy room. From a therapist’s perspective, our goal is for all our clients to feel safe in the therapy room. We know that before humans can let their guard down, they must feel safe. If one or both members know that they will have “hell to pay” for what is said or addressed in session, then a those clients will rarely reveal all and a therapist will not want to continue further if they fear they are not able to “First, do no harm.” Therefore, safety is key!
Although the information provided is about NOT receiving couple’s therapy, please know that couple’s therapy is a crucial part of healing after a betrayal. When partners are ready, able and willing to work with a skilled relational therapist, the prognosis is good for couple healing. But like anything, the timing and context of this treatment can be just as important as the treatment itself.
In closing, if you have experienced the trauma of infidelity, then I encourage to wait no longer and find a therapist that is skilled in working with individuals and couples who specialize in this issue. As you are searching for a therapist, you may look for terms such as, “Affair Recovery,” “Betrayal Trauma,” “EMA (Extra-Marital Affair)” or even “Sex Addiction.” Below are some online directories that can help you in our search. Blessings.
Licensed Marital & Family Therapist
Certified Sex Addiction Therapist
When you think of the word TRAUMA what images come to mind? Maybe your mind steered you toward natural disasters. You might be thinking about what people had to endure during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or those impacted by the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. You might even be thinking of the volcano eruptions in Hawaii where over 2000 residents have been forced to evacuate their homes. It is also common for people to think of acts of violence or terrorism when considering what it means to experience trauma or to be “traumatized.” Many of us still remember where we were, what we were doing, and maybe even, what we were wearing as our nation was traumatized by the events of 9/11. What about school shootings? Many of us remember the Columbine Massacre of 1999, or the Sandy Hook shooting of 2012. We think about how horrifying these experiences were for the kids and all involved. We grieve for the families who had to lay their children to rest. We would all say, that THAT is trauma.
But, can trauma be experienced in families and relationships? “Of, course!!” you might say. “Physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence…..all of these can be traumatic.” I cannot agree more! The lingering question, though, is – Can we experience TRAUMA from BETRAYAL?
~What is Betrayal Trauma?~
Betrayal trauma is most often associated with relational infidelity in couple relationships, whether it be an emotional affair, a sexual affair, or chronic infidelity as seen in sex addiction. However, there can be other types of events that create betrayal trauma (e.g., financial infidelity, other addictions, etc.). Despite the context from which it manifests, secrecy and deception are more than likely involved in the experience. When this occurs, the world of the one betrayed often gets tipped upside down. It creates a deep wound, not only in the one betrayed, but also in the couple relationship. It is important to note, that when the word “trauma” is used to describe these experiences, it is not being used for effect; it truly is TRAUMA in every sense of the word!
~How do I know if I’ve been traumatized by betrayal?~
There are many symptoms that can manifest when one has experienced betrayal. For example, you might have heightened feelings of anxiety and/or depression, intense feelings of anger, broken trust in the relationship, intense personal insecurity, and more. These are important symptoms to pay attention to, but, in my opinion, the most important symptom to pay attention to is the DEEP PAIN you are experiencing. Many people who have experienced trauma from betrayal describe the pain as having a depth to it that they have never experienced before. And if they are familiar with it, it usually is because they have experienced this type of betrayal before. So, if you have experienced betrayal and the pain manifesting feels almost unbearable, then you possibly are dealing with a deep wound that needs tended to right away.
~What do I need to do now?~
The first step is to SEEK HELP. Tackling this problem in solitude will often result in an exacerbated wound. My encouragement is to find a professional therapist trained to work with betrayal trauma so that s/he can help stop the bleeding. Then, s/he can help you and your partner/spouse develop a plan for healing and recovery. Here are some quality therapist directories where you can find therapists in your area:
- Directory for Infidelity & Sex Addiction Recovery Therapists
- Directory for Somatic Experiencing Therapists
- Directory for EMDR Therapists
- Directory for Therapists (general listings)
~Can my spouse be involved in my healing process?~
This is a question that my colleagues and I are commonly asked from the betrayed partner/spouse. The question is quite understandable given the fact that their partner/spouse is the one that created this deep wound they are suffering from. Think about it, if you were healing from an injury caused by a drunk driver, would you want that person involved in your healing process? The answer seems obvious; but, when it comes to relational traumas, it’s different. In my practice, we not only think it is a good idea, we encourage it. The reality is that the one suffering from betrayal trauma does not NEED their partner to participate in order to effectively heal, but the relationship does. When the betrayer is a willing participant in treatment, yes, it is often very difficult and emotionally painful in the beginning; but as the couple progresses in treatment, this effort toward healing and recovery can become a very intimate and bonding experience.
Experiencing betrayal in a committed relationship is often very painful because it IS traumatic. However, it is important to note that these relationships can survive and even thrive after the experience. In other words, although we could never guarantee the relationship will recovery, for many couples this is often the beginning of a new type of relationship built on a foundation of honesty, transparency, and integrity – because that is the type of relationship they deserve. And so do YOU!
Below are some resources we offer here at FSC:
- Betrayal trauma groups for the BETRAYED and the BETRAYER
- Betrayal trauma therapy
- Affair Recovery & Sex Addiction Recovery Couples Intensives
Check out these videos on our YouTube channel #RecoveryTV:
- The 5 Myths of Infidelity
- A Message to The Betrayed
- Trauma Therapy
- Is there Hope after Infidelity (about couples intensives)
- Making Sense of Infidelity
Don’t stop with this article, take the next step toward healing. Contact us TODAY!!
Licensed Marital & Family Therapist
Certified Sex Addiction Therapist
In this segment of RecoveryTV, therapist, Joshua Nichols, tackles the dreaded F-word – FORGIVENESS!! For more informative videos like this one, please SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel and ring the bell to receive notifications for when new videos are posted.
All of us have uttered the word “sorry” many, many time in our lives. Some people say it so often that it is as much a part of their vocabulary as “hello” and “good-bye.” Some people cringe so strongly when they say it that it seems like “sorry” actually has a bad taste. Neither of these descriptions exude an authentic, meaningful apology. [Scroll down for VIDEO]
Merriam-Webster defines apology as “an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.”
This definition is clear in what the word means, but actually giving a good apology can feel elusive, or like a talent that many struggle to achieve. I would like to help you change that by sharing with you five concepts that can help you create and deliver a quality apology and meaningful exchange with another.
This is the most important of all the concepts because truth and authenticity is key in order to offer true amends to someone as well as creating a change in interpersonal healing. We have all probably had an experience when someone utter the word “sorry” and it felt like a bold face lie. This neither draw anyone closer nor released someone from feeling bad about hurting another. Basically, this is a waste of an experience. Instead, take time to evaluate, think, reflect and perhaps study how someone felt wronged, even if it is not how YOU would think or feel. Then once you have been able to make this connection, identify honest words that truly reflect how you feel.
When preparing to give your apology, be mindful of how you may be explaining away the wrong actions. People often will say things like “I am sorry, but I was really stressed that day; and I didn’t even think about how important it was to be on time.” This kind of statement does not make the other feel like their feelings matter; adding context may be important down the road, but at the stage of offering an acknowledgment of transgression, the “why” doesn’t matter as much.
This word is just as you might imagine. It means presenting yourself in a soft, open and somewhat reverent manner. Especially in intimate relationships, most of the communication between people is non-verbal. This means that even if your words are perfectly crafted, it is your tone, body position and eye contact that will really send the messages. Sitting down next to or across from the other person, alternating between looking them in their eyes and looking down, and being able to show emotion through tears, a soft voice or gentle affection is the most effective way to communicate “I get that I wronged you and I care about you.”
This is the part of the puzzle that can get many people stuck. This is addressing the when, where, and how you will apologize. Timeliness of an apology is important; often times we want to apologize right away so that the other person can see that we are on top of things. However, for deeper and more complex issues, like betrayal or secret keeping, scheduling or inviting another to hear your apology sends the message that you respect their time and feelings [WHEN]. In addition, location matters as you want to acknowledge privacy as well as a place where you can manage distractions and be able to reveal yourself in the “soft “manner described above [WHERE]. Finally, how or what method is VERY important especially when the apology is going to an important person. Text, email or voicemails may work for minor infractions, but face to face is the most vulnerable method that offers the most opportunity for resolution and connection [HOW].
In a perfect world, saying “sorry” would be enough for people to wipe the slate clean and move on with no hesitation. However, many times an apology may not be met with forgiveness or acceptance. Instead, especially in difficult situations, it may be met with resistance. If one can create an apology that is sincere, thoughtful, mindful, and vulnerable then that is success. The reaction to it is the wild card. Instead, focus on doing your part and identifying how crafting and sharing this apology is representative of personal growth and that the other person’s reaction is theirs to have and you must respect and accept it as true. Finally, many times apologies must be delivered in higher doses. Saying “I’m sorry” may be a statement someone needs to hear and experience many times to begin to see the other as genuine and repentant.
~a final message~
The art of the apology is often like actual art in that its quality is in the eye of the beholder. However, creating and giving an apology has the opportunity for one to experience transformation and connection regardless of how another takes it.
You may be reading this simply for personal and/or interpersonal growth, but you may also be reading this because you’re relationship with someone you care about has been wounded; thus, an apology is needed for healing and reconciliation. If this is you, you should be proud of yourself for having the maturity and courage to further investigate on delivering a proper apology. However, if the offended party is suffering from a deeper wound that stems from events like betrayal, infidelity, abuse, addiction, etc., then I encourage you to consider working with a professional relationship counselor to better assist you (and your loved one) on how to proceed with healing. Keep on pressing forward.
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY:
Licensed Marital & Family Therapist
Certified Sex Addiction Therapist