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After the Affair
Most couples Dr. Paul Standal has worked with are able to survive the exposure of an infidelity.
The triggers for infidelity can be situational, such as loneliness triggered by long-term separations or triggered by deeper personality-driven issues such as low impulse control, an addictive need for validation or an inability to carry your partner’s love into any situation.
The response of the partners to an uncovered infidelity is affected by the attitudes, values, and, in some cases, the culture in which the infidelity occurs.
Dr. Standal does not use a cookie cutter approach with couples. Every situation is different and he does not apply the standard therapeutic admission of an open-secret policy where the therapist is admonished not to hold a partner’s infidelity secrets. Because of the effects of projection, coming clean makes the best sense if the relationship is to survive an infidelity, but using this blanket approach can be detrimental to the therapy and to the individuals involved.
Infidelity affects both the perpetrator as well as the offended partner. The offending partner may experience an addiction to a particular outside lover or to the seeking and seduction process involved in multiple infidelities. Becoming caught up in an addictive process is like being intoxicated, and, at the same time, the experience of guilt and shame occur. For the offended partner, the whole fantasy of being loved and committed may collapse, resulting in a deep sense of hurt, rage, betrayal, emptiness and confusion.
The key to relational repair after an infidelity is the ability of both partners to recommit to the relationship. This is a two-fold process consisting of the day to day life of the partners’ home life being reestablished while the deeper “burn” is healed. This deeper burn takes much more time to heal because there is often tremendous pain, distrust and resentment that keeps the partners from reestablishing their regard complex.
This is also where deeper triggers for cheating may become more clear through the couples’ therapeutic process. Identifying early life experiences that can contribute to affairs can become critical growth experiences.
Potential Affair Contributors from Early Life Experiences
1. Being safe and secure – no abandonment or abuse
2. Functioning independently in the world
b. Anxious parents
c. Can’t breathe or explore
d. To escape control
e. Being in control of others
3. Having solid emotional connections with others (lack of connectedness)
4. “Being” values (not good enough, ridicule, need for positive regard, suck)
5. Being free to express oneself, having one’s voice and feeling listened to
6. Being free to let go and have fun (parentified child, being overly responsible)
7. Living with realistic limitations (grandiose sense of false entitlement, narcissism)
8. Ability to experience gratitude is opposite from narcissism
9. Need to incorporate what has been missing in developmental stages of life
Questions Requiring Answers Following the Discovery of an Affair
• Once there has been so much damage, can we really get back together again?
• How can I trust you won’t stray again?
• Can both of us change in ways that matter?
• Are we incompatible?
• Are your changes permanent and sincere?
• Do you want me or just the package?
• Are my reasons for staying good enough?
• Should we stay together for the children?
A major component in helping couples repair and recommit to the relationship is the willingness of the unfaithful partner to look deeply inside to understand why this happened. Identifying the cognitive distortions that are part of an addictive infidelity is part of the therapy. This requires totally giving up the outside relationship, forgoing any further contact and writing a “Dear John/Jane” letter of apology to that lover at your discretion. This is done in the presence of the offended partner or they may need to communicate directly with the outside lover. Depending on the needs of the offended partner, a call involving a formal ending with the partner on the phone may be required. Included in any communication should be what you know what you did was wrong and how you hurt an innocent person who did not want to hurt you.
The causes of infidelity are held by both partners. In a couple where there has been infidelity, both partners must become aware of their own responsibility for the situation as well as the recommitment to the relationship and recognition of the needs of the other partner.
Demonstrations of real change must occur mostly by the perpetrator but also by the offended partner. Both partners might write an apology letter to each other for their responsibility in the situation. Both partners need to resolve their ambivalence about recommitting. They must commit to turning back toward the other for love to return. The partners must answer such internal questions as: Doing what you did, you couldn’t possibly love me; what is the point of going on? Will I be able to make a better decision about my lover if we spend more time together? Isn’t it wrong for me to be affectionate, to spend too much time with you?
Finally, resolving the negative sexual assumptions that are often corollary to an affair is important for the process of real repair and recommitment. Such assumptions Dr. Standal confronts in therapy include:
1. If you can’t find me attractive or can’t stay around, it is because you’re still cheating on me.
2. I’ll never be able to satisfy you the way your lover did.
3. Talk about what you want sexually with your partner.
4. How can I satisfy you?
5. If I don’t satisfy you in bed, you think I’ve lost interest in you as a woman.
6. Allowing me to feel what I can feel when we touch.
7. Time to reinvent the relationship.
8. Changes partners would like to occur.
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