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MA, LPC, CGT, cgp
Infidelity is one of the most devastating and traumatic events that couples experience. It marks an abrupt departure from the relationship you thought you had to one that is characterized by deep pain, anger, shame and anxiety. This type of betrayal, according to John Gottman, is usually the symptom of a dying marriage, not the cause. What I want my clients to know about infidelity is that many couples survive this type of rupture. In fact, after targeted therapy, couples have the ability to survive infidelity as well as experience a stronger and healthier marriage than they had before. While it is true that your "old"marriage is over, the affair recovery process can give rise to a more conscious and nourishing version of a new marriage. In order for this type of relationship healing to be possible, both partners must be committed to the deep work required to create both individual growth and relationship change. This work requires complete transparency, patience and a willingness to work with your partner to co-create a healthier and more secure bond.
In this phase, we create a safe space for partners to talk about the story of the affair. During atonement, the focus is on the betrayed partner and their understanding of what happened. This is a stage where the betrayed partner is able to ask the many questions about the affair that have been unanswered or remain unresolved. At this acute stage, both partners are dealing with a wide range of emotions including anger, disbelief, fear, shame, depression, and PTSD symptoms. Frequent triggers are also common, and I guide my clients in learning how to cope with the triggers individually and as a couple. The atonement phase requires transparency and honesty from both partners. It also requires that the partner who had the affair take full accountability for their actions. According to John Gottman, “atonement cannot occur if the cheater insists that the partner takes partial blame for the affair “. Here, the partner who strayed must be transparent and take full responsibility for the betrayal. To begin trust building, partners are also coached to express what they need in terms of transparency and security at this early stage.
In essence, this stage is one of meaning making. Here, my couples have structured conversations about the vulnerabilities in the relationship that led to the infidelity. We continue to work through the layers of trust building and forgiveness. Couples work to explore the parts of the relationship that kept them stuck, disconnected and isolated from one another. We examine the unexpressed feelings, conflicts and dynamics that created the context in which the affair occurred. We look at the cascade of events within the relationship that exacerbated feelings of distress, isolation and loneliness. At this stage, couples work on enhancing communication and conflict skills, expressing core needs and creating safe emotional connection. At the end of this stage, couples have a coherent understanding of the affair within the context of their “old relationship” and begin to actively work on building a more conscious, secure and connected partnership.
In this final stage of affair recovery, we focus further on deepening trust, connection, security and commitment. Couples work on enhancing their emotional connection as well as rekindling romance and passion. During the attachment stage, my couples explore their values and shared goals to create a conscious and future-oriented vision for their partnership. At this final stage of affair recovery, my couples are well on their way to building a new foundation for their emerging relationship. They have done the hard work of excavating the lessons from their crisis and deep pain in order to create a happy, connected and nourishing marriage 2.0.
Tara Khadem, Psychotherapist
MA, LPC, CGT, CGP
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