Nowadays, infidelity is not necessarily just with a live person; it can be one's secret porn addiction, chatting on-line with strangers for emotional or sexual pleasure (or escape), going to massage parlors for "happy endings", messaging old "friends" on facebook to get emotional or sexual needs met (note: this is not an exhaustive list). Regardless of the type of cheating, a spouse's infidelity can be traumatic for the partner and their children. During the initial stages of discovering such a painful betrayal, it is often extremely difficult for loved ones to cope. Partner's tend to feel shock, disbelief, anger, confusion and feel as though they can't think straight. Some may feel like they are going crazy, obsessing over their partner's every move, wondering when it will happen again. Older children and teens report feeling like the cheating spouse betrayed them as well. They are left feeling confused, hurt, sad and angry as well.
Partners and their older children wonder what they did wrong to cause their spouse to be unfaithful. My answer is nothing. Cheating has to do with the person, not their partner or family. However, this is often hard to believe in the initial stages of discovery, and a spouse's act of being unfaithful is even more difficult to not take as a personal attack on oneself and the relationship.
With all of this pain and betrayal, is it possible to survive such an intimate betrayal? Actually, it is. Here is how:
1.Counseling. Surviving infidelity is possible if both the partner and unfaithful spouse are willing to seek counseling either together, separately, or both by a therapist who specializes in relationship betrayal. Some therapist may say they work with couples where there has been an intimate betrayal, however, they actually don't have the background, training or experience in doing this type of complex work, especially if their is a sexual addiction or other addictions present.
2. Rigorous Honesty by the cheating spouse. Cheating is based on lies and secrets, especially when the person cheating is already in a committed relationship. The affair is illusive because it was created on false premises, secrets, betrayal and lies. Thus, the spouse must get completely honest with themselves and their partner about what the underlying and "real" issue is that drove them to cheat. (Note: In sex addiction treatment, due to the trauma that partner's endure with on-going sexual acting out, a formal disclosure process is followed that allows the partner and spouse to have ample preparation and support by their therapists to ensure the partner is not continuously traumatized by on-going disclosure).
3. Boundaries. Partners often feel as though their boundaries have been stepped on by their spouse usually long before the intimate betrayal. However, often times they don't know how to implement healthy boundaries. Through therapy, and with a lot of support, we encourage partners to identify what their new boundaries are as well as their "deal breakers." A deal breaker is a behavior(s) that the partner will absolutely not tolerate (for instance, having sex with a minor, one's best friend or sibling/parent, is often a deal breaker for partners). However, a boundary may be that the partner will not allow the spouse to look at pornography any longer (note: if the spouse has a porn addiction, this may actually be a deal breaker for the partner). In order to recover, the spouse needs to be able to respect the partner's new boundaries.
If the spouse violates the "deal breaker" rule, it is crucial that the partner has a clear consequence and sticks to it. This is often very difficult but with the support in therapy, many partner's gain the strength and self esteem to follow through with their planned consequence (which sometimes is separation or divorce).
4. Self Care. It is extremely important during this time that partners' self care. This includes seeking safe support networks whom they can vent to and spend time with as needed. Group therapy and workshops can be effective ways to gain on-going support by others who understand the repercussions of such a painful experience. Exercise, rest, eating healthy are very important during this time yet often challenging at first. With support and guidance in therapy, partner's start to learn that the importance of putting their needs first.
5. Therapeutic Separation. At times, a therapeutic separation, guided by the partner and spouse's therapists, is necessary to allow both parties to get clear on what they want and need in the relationship. This is often encouraged if boundaries are continuing to be crossed, or the household becomes so contentious that one or both parties and/or the children are emotionally suffering. These usually last 90 days and can be very beneficial with clear goals, structure, and follow through by both parties.
To learn more about how to survive infidelity in a safe, supportive environment, contact our office at 801-272-3500 to schedule an assessment. Also, please join intimacy disorder expert Candice Christiansen, CMHC, CSAT and Kate Johnson, LCSW on March 1st, 2014 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. We are offering a Saturday Intensive called Intimate Betrayal where we will explore what spouses can do to begin their healing from infidelity and/or their spouses sexual addiction. Email Candice at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 801-272-3500 if you are interested in attending. Tuition is $150 for the three hours; $140 early bird special if paid in full before March 1st 2014.