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 Ms. 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 one or both partners. It touches the human spirit on so many levels, leaving people feeling hurt, betrayed, and exposed and vulnerable. However, with a commitment to counselling with the goals being of reconciliation and building a stronger relationship, couples can indeed heal and move on.
In couples counselling, your therapist will treat each partner in the relationship with equal respect, empathy, and care. It is important to note that your therapist will not be taking sides, however much either partner may desire an ally. This is simply not helpful to the healing process.
Depending on the practice of your therapist, he or she may choose to have a brief individual interview with both partners. This is an opportunity for your therapist to get a better understanding of the individuals that they will be working with. You can decide who meets with the counsellor first. If the betrayed partner is first, your counsellor will need to assess feelings regarding self, expectations regarding details of the affair, expectations regarding admission of guilt and remorse, and expectations regarding changes to unacceptable behaviours.
Your counsellor will likely want to have an understanding of how the relationship started, including each of your roles in forming the relationship, and how you, as a couple, brought the relationship to crisis. It is also important to know whether either of your parents have been divorced and get an understanding of beliefs and attitudes towards infidelity.
Beginning healing after the affair
At the beginning of treatment, your therapist 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 your counsellor to get an understanding of what brought you to counselling, how each partner perceives the situation, and how you feel about each other and your marriage.
During the session with the offending partner, your counsellor will need to gain an understanding of what they thought of the marriage before the affair. The counsellor should also assess this client’s attitude toward the affair, any 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, all emotions are to be treated as valid, and 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, the couple is not ready for therapy.
Healing is a process
Your counsellor 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, and more importantly, of yourself, will change.
It is important for you to know that your relationship can make it through this, but it is just as important to know that you may make the decision to separate. This is not at all meant to be discouraging, but it is essential for you to be fully aware that you both have choices throughout this process.
Taking responsibility for your role
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. Your therapist will be empathetic and compassionate during this difficult process to help you through it.
Disclosure and expectations
The affair will most likely need to be dealt with prior to dealing with the relationship. Full disclosure will likely be expected by the partner who is hurt, which would mean that there will be many questions requiring answers.
The client needs to be prepared to discuss the affair, which will include hearing how that experience was for the partner they have hurt. This is something that a lot of offending partners will feel very uncomfortable about, but it is a necessary step towards the goal of reconciliation. Again, your counsellor 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.
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