Your worst nightmare has come true.
We were happy, I never thought this would happen.
Why couldn't you just come to me?
I'm scared we won't recover from this, but I don't want to just throw away everything we've built.
They say infidelity doesn't happen in happy relationships. And yet, there are many seemingly "perfect" couples that have experienced this particular kind of pain.
Whether a physical or emotional affair, the betrayed partner will often say it's the secret that is most painful. As with any secret, they are usually a symptom of some other underlying issue between you: resentment, fear, unmet needs.
Uncovering a secret brings you the opportunity to become closer to your partner. The couples who can work through an affair are often much stronger on the other side.
Coming to therapy is a last resort, but if you're in the room, there's hope.
The Trauma of Betrayal
Being betrayed by a partner is a traumatizing event. It may not feel "life-threatening," but it certainly destroys the world you know. Traumatic reactions such as intrusive thoughts, flashes of images of the infidelity (real or imagined), paranoia about your partner's routine habits or errands, alternately feeling numb or feeling waves of intense emotion, and depression, are all common.
Early on in couples therapy, I help partners heal this trauma together. We don't get into blame, or explaining why this happened. First, we focus on repairing the harm caused by the infidelity. Now is not the time to "justify" anyone's actions.
Rebuilding Relationship 2.0
Eventually, couples have more and more "good days." As they start to heal from the shock, they can focus on creating a new relationship. In therapy, we start to address those old incidents, disagreements, or resentments. It's often a relief for people to finally get things off their chest.
This vulnerability is a great step toward building a more solid foundation.
I believe that all couple issues (aside from abuse) are the responsibility of both partners. That is, if one of you is holding on to long-term resentment that ultimately causes you to harm the relationship, it is up to you to speak up before stepping out. But it is also up to your partner to be receptive, and to send the message that speaking up is OK.
As couples share their pain points, they start to see communication and behavior patterns that reveal what led up to the affair. In therapy, they can learn from these, and re-learn how to relate to each other in new ways.
Reconnecting to each other
It's tempting to rush this process. Couples hope that if they take a trip together, "act as if" they are their old selves, or make an external commitment (getting a pet, or buying a home), that they can repair what happened. These can be helpful and important steps, but they're much less effective if you don't heal from the initial pain and rebuild a new relationship first.
Physical intimacy, creating routines that bond you, and remembering your shared life goals can bring people back together in a more trusting, connected way.
Healing from an affair is possible. It takes time, commitment, and bravery. You may feel like you'll never be the same. But you might be a stronger couple than you were before.
If you've experienced infidelity and you're interested in couples therapy to repair your relationship, call (562) 704-4736 for a free consultation. Prospect Therapy welcomes individuals and couples of all genders and orientations in Long Beach and Seal Beach.