In Review: After the Affair – How Therapy Helps
By Elise Hartin, RCC
Elise Hartin is a Registered Clinical Counsellor who finds immense satisfaction in helping people to achieve success in their lives, by addressing and conquering their emotional obstacles.
In this article, Registered Clinical Counsellor Elise Hartin reviews how counselling helps couples to heal and recover after an affair.
Every relationship is different and every couple will have their own story to tell. Whatever the affair looked like, it was a traumatic and painful experience for you. It touches the human spirit on so many levels. You feel hurt, betrayed, exposed, and vulnerable. However, with a commitment to counselling, you can heal and move on. When you commit to the goals of reconciliation and building a stronger relationship, your relationship can heal.
The Therapist’s Role
In couples counselling, I will treat each partner in the relationship with equal respect, empathy, and care. It is important to note that I will not be taking sides, however much either partner may desire an ally. This is simply not helpful to the healing process.
I will likely have a brief individual interview with both of you. This is an opportunity for me to get a better understanding of the people that I will be working with. You can decide who meets with me first. If the betrayed partner is first, I will need to assess a number of things with them. These include feelings regarding self, and expectations regarding details of the affair. It will also include expectations regarding admission of guilt and remorse, and expectations regarding changes to unacceptable behaviours.
I will want to have an understanding of how the relationship started. Most notably, this will include each of your roles in forming the relationship. It will also include details of how you as a couple brought the relationship to crisis. Furthermore, it is important to know whether either of your parents have been divorced. This is to understand your beliefs and attitudes towards infidelity.
Beginning healing after the affair
At the beginning of treatment, I will assess whether you are ready for counselling. There will be a fair amount of time spent just listening, validating feelings, and asking questions. You can be assured that there will not be any judging nor blaming as these are not helpful to the goals of counselling.
During the initial stage, it is important for me to get an understanding of what brought you to counselling. Additionally, how does each partner perceive the situation, and how you feel about each other and your marriage.
During the session with the offending partner, I will need to gain an understanding of what they thought of the marriage before the affair. I will also assess this client’s attitude toward the affair. More importantly, what are their justifications, resentment, or attachment to the person with whom they had the affair.
A commitment to healing
For therapy to be successful, both individuals in the relationship need to be committed to the process.
In the initial session, it is important to the counselling process that some rules are set and a commitment is made by all to stick to these rules. Important rules include no name calling, and all emotions are to be treated as valid. Certainly, degrading or abusive language will not be tolerated.
It is also necessary for healing to begin, to establish that the extramarital affair has ended. If it is still occurring, you are not ready for therapy.
Healing after the affair is a process
I will explain what you can expect from counselling. It is important to know that healing is a process, and that time and commitment are both necessary. You may feel frustrated that the process is slower than you would like. With each step that you take, and with each day, week, and month that goes by, your understanding of the affair will change. More importantly, your understanding of yourself will change.
It is important for you to know that you can make it through this. However, it is just as important to know that you may make the decision to separate. This is not at all meant to be discouraging. However, it is essential for you to be fully aware that you both have choices throughout this process.
Taking responsibility after the affair
An important factor in your healing will be your ability and willingness to reflect on your responsibility for the deterioration of your marriage. If you do not believe that you have done anything to contribute to the breakdown of your marriage, this will be a major stumbling block in the therapeutic process.
This is a challenging aspect of the process, but self-reflection and ownership of your behaviours will be a necessary key component of your own healing. It will call for you to be honest with yourself and to be vulnerable. Rest assured, I will be empathetic and compassionate during this difficult process to help you through it.
Disclosure and expectations
You will need to deal with the affair, prior to dealing with the relationship. Your spouse will expect full disclosure. This would mean that there will be many questions requiring answers.
You need to be prepared to discuss the affair, which will include hearing how that experience was for your partner. This is something that a lot of offending partners will feel very uncomfortable about. However, it is a necessary step towards the goal of reconciliation. Again, I will be there to support you both through this challenging process.
Freedom from the pain of betrayal
With persistence and determination, you can heal from the pain of a betrayal, and experience the freedom to move forward with life. Couples who are committed to counselling have found it to be a helpful part of their healing.
Finding a counsellor who is compassionate, empathetic, and effective, is a major step forward.