After Sexual Betrayal: How Can Marriage Counseling Help?
Sexual betrayal can cause shame, sadness, and mistrust in a relationship.
It is also quite common. According to one study, roughly 30% to 60% of all married individuals in the United States will engage in infidelity at some point.
When an affair gets uncovered, many couples choose to work it out at home rather than go to counseling. This may work in some cases but it is often a mistake.
It can be quite difficult for couples to manage their feelings and discover the true reason for an affair, without the guidance and expertise of a facilitator.
When there is a lack of communication and understanding, couples will likely not have the right mindset to work through this powerful issue and, instead, remain angry and resentful for years.
Counseling can provide the tools for both partners to explore (without judgment) what thoughts and feelings are guiding their behaviors. With counseling, it is possible to return to a place of honesty, accountability, respect, and trust.
With the right therapist—somebody free of judgment, who understands the dynamics of an affair and has the experience of shepherding couples through this typically dark time in their relationship—marriage counseling can be extremely useful, not just for facilitating difficult conversations, but also for setting the tone for healing to take place.
If you and your partner have experienced sexual betrayal and are hoping to rebuild trust and commitment, marriage counseling might be the best way to begin. Affair recovery is complicated.
Can Sexual Betrayal Be Understood?
Sexual betrayal is often the result of deeper issues that have gone unacknowledged in a relationship.
For example, problems with communication, often stemming from misunderstandings, arguments or feeling unappreciated, can cause a couple to become distant and emotionally unavailable to each other.
Perhaps one partner feels reluctant to hold meaningful conversations, while the other partner feels neglected and alone.
Sometimes, the spark of connection is lost because partners end up de-prioritizing each other in favor of hobbies, friends, and jobs. This can result in unintentional neglect, boredom, and even casual indifference between partners, to the detriment of the relationship.
Perhaps the excitement disappears and spouses do not know how to put in the required effort to fix it. The relationship might feel stale, both emotionally and physically, resulting in the lack of an intimate connection.
There could also be built-up resentment and anger resulting from unresolved differences. Feelings can fester into a dissension that makes every small obstacle harder to overcome and almost every interaction edgy.
An affair can also occur due to personal, internal issues. Perhaps a partner feels trapped, stressed out, depressed and unable to cope due to his own existential struggles that may not be partner related.
The Path to Healing
If both partners are ready and willing to move forward, work through their pain, and try to understand what got them to this point in their relationship, then it is possible for them to create an even stronger bond than they had before.
While the path to healing looks different for every couple, here are some things couples can do on their own to begin the process:
• Give space to your pain by writing a letter to your partner. Feel free to express just how hurt you feel and why. Acknowledge the letter together and spend some time reviewing and discussing it.
• Practice taking responsibility for your actions. The unfaithful partner must apologize in a way that reflects true remorse. The hurt or betrayed partner should consider whatever role they might have played in the breakdown of the relationship. Both partners need to be willing make changes whenever necessary.
• Work to stop blaming one another. Blaming oneself or each other in an attempt to make sense of the infidelity is to be expected. As is shame and self-hatred. These strong emotions (anger as well) need to be understood, acknowledged and processed together for healing to take place.
• Choose to love. Getting to this point, where the hurt partner is ready to accept the unfaithful partner back into their life does not mean that there is forgiveness. It means that there is a choice the hurt partner has made to continue the relationship and work at making it better. This often entails putting pride aside and recognizing what has been good about the relationship.
• Forgiveness. This aspect of healing clearly is the most difficult to achieve and one that takes the most time. Some couples may never get to true forgiveness. However, working toward forgiveness can be a truly cathartic experience.
My Experience as a Marriage Counselor
I have spent over 25 years working with couples struggling with the results of an infidelity. Affair recovery can take a long time but is a fully worthwhile process.
Most couples have a great deal of glue that holds their relationship together. They often have children and families whose love and connections have been years in the making.
It is always in the couple’s best interest to move slowly and wisely when dealing with an infidelity, despite the strong urge to react quickly.
This may be the darkest time in the life of a couple but it does not have to be fatal.
To learn more about marriage counseling services, click here.
About the Author
Dr. Stan Hyman is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach in private practice in Miami, Florida. He works with people struggling with powerful issues such as infidelity, depression, addictions, anger, anxiety, stress, and work-life balance.