Therapy after an affair
One of the main questions people have is how to repair their relationship after their spouse or partner has had an affair (also known as infidelity.) Reeling from the shock and pain of betrayal, the hurt spouse is often desperate for answers and may seek therapy in order to try to save the relationship while needing necessary support during the difficult process of healing. However, healing becomes even more difficult for them, and perhaps the betrayal more painful, if the unfaithful spouse refuses to attend therapy and share in the hard work of rebuilding trust and fidelity.
There are various reasons why an unfaithful spouse or partner may refuse to go to counseling:
1. They may be feeling a sense of shame about their affair, and preferring it remain a secret within the relationship, might be reluctant allowing a “stranger” to talk to them about their indiscretion. This coupled with the perception that the therapist will automatically side with the betrayed spouse might keep them from joining in the therapeutic process.
2. The unfaithful spouse may be convinced that by ending their affair and doing everything they can to try to make amends for their behavior, they can fix the relationship and make the problem go away on their own. Although a very well intentioned approach, it often times does not take into consideration the pace of healing for the injured partner, and may not offer insight into the reasons why the infidelity occurred in the first place.
3. They may be in denial about their behavior being wrong, or feel justified for cheating in the first place due to either real or imagined problems that have occurred within the relationship. If they sense that their spouse or partner will not acknowledge their own contribution to the problems, they may choose not to participate in therapy at all.
4. They have no desire or intention of fixing the relationship. Although this feels like an even bigger blow to an already hurting spouse or partner, many seeking therapy believe that sessions will somehow convince the unfaithful spouse to change their behavior, or will convince them to stay and work on the relationship, despite their verbalization that the relationship is already over.
What to Do
So what does one do if after experiencing the betrayal of infidelity, the unfaithful partner does not want to attend counseling? There are a few things to consider depending upon the situation and reasons for the cheating spouse’s refusal.
1. One, it is very normal for there to be initial resistance, because as they come to terms with the reality of their behavior, a variety of defense mechanisms arise as their way of coping. This should never stop the hurt partner from seeking therapy on his or her own however, as it is important for them to begin sharing feelings of pain, anger, confusion, or fear.
Sometimes when one partner begins counseling alone, the reluctant partner may decide to attend later sessions in order to have an opportunity to tell their “side of the story,” or perhaps they will conclude that they need professional guidance after all, because they’ve lost their ability of effectively communicating with the betrayed partner as a result of the infidelity. They may simply realize that they can’t fix things on their own.
2. In the case of resistance due to the belief that the therapist will judge the unfaithful partner and be against them during therapy, it is important to remember that an effective therapist will not “take sides” but will instead work closely with the couple to examine individual dynamics and focus on the strategies that will support the mutual goal of repair and strengthening of the relationship.
It’s true that at times the therapist may confront one partner or the other about their specific behaviors or thought processes, but it is with the intent of helping the partners recognize their own roles, which played a part in damaging the relationship, not due to personal feelings of who is right or wrong.
3. When the unfaithful spouse refuses counseling because he or she feels justified for having the affair due to perceived problems existing within the relationship, it is important for the hurt partner to be honest with themselves and be willing to acknowledge his or her own role in the relationship’s failings.
Some questions one might ask themselves are:
- Was I ignoring my spouse when he/she needed me?
- Was I spending all of my time at work, with friends, with the kids, etc.?
- Do I often express anger and displeasure towards my spouse, even when they have not done anything wrong?
- Have I been controlling or abusive?
Now these questions, or others, are not meant to condone or excuse the affair, or diminish the pain and anguish the betrayed partner feels. They are instead an opportunity to examine areas of weakness in the relationship, and how lack of intimacy or communication have contributed to the decline and disconnect the partners now find themselves in. If the unfaithful partner sees that their spouse is willing to look at their own behaviors as well, and that these areas might improve, they may agree that coming to therapy would in fact be beneficial to the situation as a whole.
4. Sadly, there are times when the cheating spouse refuses to come to therapy because they just don’t want to salvage the relationship. They are either intent on continuing the affair, allowing the betrayed spouse to either accept it or leave, or they will actually verbalize that they don’t want to work things out and that the marriage is over. Far worse, the cheater might actually be mentally, emotionally or physically abusive. It is crucial during these situations to try to seek professional help (a therapist, counselor, doctor, or pastor), even if the unfaithful partner refuses to attend.
A professional will offer much needed guidance, from simply being an objective support person to discuss the difficult decisions that need to be made, or assessing and treating more severe symptoms or disorders such as anxiety or depression that may arise, or even offering resources within the community that will provide assistance for incidents of domestic violence or child abuse.
Infidelity is one of the most painful crises that a relationship can suffer. It hurts everyone involved, and is very difficult to overcome, especially when one partner feels that they are doing it alone. Whether or not the unfaithful spouse will eventually come to therapy, it’s important to remain hopeful that with time, patience, honesty, perseverance, and a lot of hard work, the relationship can be saved. If it is not, therapy can still allow the hurt partner to explore his or her feelings in a safe space, help restore self-esteem and dignity, and help them move forward with the process of rebuilding their life.