Couple Therapy After Infidelity
About one third of couples I see are coming for help because one partner has become aware of the other partner’s affair. Because of the focus on building safety with the emotional bond between partners, Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy is well suited to handle an affair.
We meet together first and then I meet alone with each partner to find out more about whether the affair is over and to assess if they are both committed to working on the relationship. In the individual sessions, I will also look at family of origin attachment styles that may have contributed to the distance between the couple.
The so called injured partner may not know that he or she wants to work on it and they may be separated when they come in. If the discovery is recent, then the injured partner may be in shock and still dealing with the reality of what has happened while the partner who had the affair may be surprised at the intensity of their partner’s response to the news. The affair is a breech in trust and the betrayal will need to be healed as a deep wound in the relationship. Our sessions focus on helping to deal with the shock of the news, helping the partner who had the affair be with their partner’s pain and slowly rebuild trust. The injured partner wants to know if the partner who had the affair is really there for them and often needs a lot of reassurance and validation. The partner who had the affair may already have difficulty being emotionally present and is now being asked to be more present. Our sessions help to deal with these challenges.
I would not generally work with a couple in which one partner is unwilling to give up the affair. I have worked with couples where the affair is not quite over but the sessions addressed the need to make a clear ending of the affair. Research shows that partners who are having affairs or engage in a lot of porn hold a more negative view of their spouse/partner and may be less emotionally responsive to their primary partner’s needs. A previous cycle of disconnection between the couple may be worsened and this cycle will be addressed in sessions. Either the partner who had the affair or both partners may be feeling lonely and reached out to someone who was comforting or made them feel valued or seen. Our sessions will help build safety and emotional connection which has been lost or was not present in the relationship.
I recommend reading the book After The Affair by Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D.
Here Dr Susan Johnson talks about affairs and why people cheat: