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Infidelity and Affairs

An affair is a traumatic event for the injured party, regardless of whether the infidelity was discovered or disclosed. The injured partner will invariably experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress which may include (but are not limited to) flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, racing thoughts, intense anxiety, and difficulty eating, sleeping, and focusing. Meanwhile, the unfaithful partner experiences his or her own set of distressing emotions which typically include some combination of shame, fear, guilt, anxiety, and anger.

Therapy is a multi-layered process that occurs over many months, focused on helping partners navigate the aftermath of the infidelity disclosure. Initially, attention to helping both partners process and manage their emotions is vital. Given the acute distress in one or both partners, therapists may suggest, or support a client’s request for, medication to take the edge off of debilitating anxiety and/or depression.

The partners’ desire to recommit to and work on their relationship needs to be gauged throughout the therapy. Often one or both partners may express ambivalence about working on relationship repair, which needs to be normalized, but eventually resolved.

Therapy focuses on helping partners co-create a narrative of the infidelity. Injured partners must get answers to their questions regarding the infidelity, so that they don’t remain in a one-down ("not knowing”) stance. Therapy involves guiding this discussion so that affair partner doesn’t create additional injury by withholding information that their partner requires in order to make sense of the traumatic event. Because secrets and withholding create barriers to closeness, the process of collaborating over questions and answers begins to restore intimacy and authenticity to the relationship. Throughout the process, the injured partner needs wide berth to share his or her feelings of sadness, loss, anger, etc. The therapist must support this step—to help the injured party more fully process their relationship injury, while being well-skilled in keeping escalation of tone and volume in check as this discussion goes on.

A more detailed description of the steps necessary to work through an infidelity can be found in my article “The Road to Recovery Following an Affair” -- on my webpage under the link, “Articles I’ve Written.” 
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