“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
There are many ways infidelity can impact a relationship – a single affair, an emotional affair, an online relationship, and even sex addiction. However, despite what form it takes, it typically creates a deep wound in the couple relationship. Left unattended, this wound likely will fester, creating more problems and conflict in the relationship. We hope these videos will help give you more insight and direction as you navigate the wounds of betrayal. Please contact us for more information on our services regarding affair recovery and sexual addiction.
VIDEO 1: Making Sense of Infidelity [webinar]
In this 40 minute video, Carrie and Josh, discuss several important aspects that a couples often experience after impacted by infidelity.
Video 2: A Message to the Wounded Partner
In this brief video, licensed therapist, Joshua Nichols, has an important message for spouses or partners that have been wounded by a cheating spouse/partner.
Video 3: 5 MYTHS of INFIDELITY
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE OVER!! In this video, licensed therapist, Joshua Nichols, addresses a few misconceptions people often have concerning infidelity.
Video 4: Affair Recovery Couples Intensive
In this video, licensed therapists, Carrie and Josh, discuss this unique service for couples who are suffering from the impact of infidelity, chronic infidelity, and/or sex addiction.