If your partner betrayed you, you likely feel like your entire world’s been turned upside down. This person you thought you knew inside and out, you thought you could trust, completely broke your heart, and upended everything you knew to be true. You find yourself questioning everything you’ve been through together, trying to make the puzzle pieces fit together, but they just don’t.
At this moment, it’s probably challenging to imagine how you can heal from this, let alone how you might ever trust your partner again. It’s likely even more difficult to picture how you two will ever become a loving, happy, intimate couple once again.
The reality is, through the right kind of infidelity therapy, not only can you heal from what you’ve endured and genuinely learn to trust your partner again, but you can also expect that the two of you will transform yourselves into new, better versions of yourselves. You can anticipate that, by the end of your infidelity therapy journey, you two will become a profoundly stronger relationship than you may have ever imagined.
In this blog, we will look at an overview of how this process happens.
1. Phase One of Infidelity Therapy: Repair/Heal/Atone
Most of the work in this early infidelity therapy phase falls on the betrayer.
For you to heal from what your partner did to you, s/he must repeatedly express remorse, avoid defensiveness at all costs, and remain consistently patient in the face of your repeating questions.
Additionally, while it is critical your partner apologizes for his/her actions, apologies only account for about 10% of his/her task here; 90% of his/her role here is empathizing. In other words, s/he must continually answer your questions and, while doing so, largely concentrate on conveying his/her understanding of how all this lands on you (your thoughts, emotions, beliefs, behaviors, etc.).
Furthermore, the betrayer must be the one to bring up a willingness to answer any questions you may have at least several times a week. One of his/her biggest goals is to continually work to make sense of the story for you. One of the central ways you can heal is to know what exactly happened to led him/her to make this incredibly devastating choice. While it is much better for him/her to leave out any descriptions of sexual acts in the betrayal, s/he must work to share everything else.
Throughout this, s/he likely will feel a lot of shame for hurting you, but it’s critical s/he works to challenge that shame and replace it with guilt. Shame means feeling you’re a bad person, while guilt means feeling you’re a good person who behaved badly; when we feel shame, we get stuck in the mud, we’re preoccupied with ourselves, and therefore can’t readily be there to answer our partner’s questions and help him/her heal and trust again. So, it’s crucial the betrayer works to feel guilt instead, as this will dramatically help him/her regularly be present, non-defensive, patient, and able to routinely make sense of the story for his/her partner.
In addition, s/he needs to also continually express how s/he is in a lot of pain as well over his/her poor choices, as you must know you are not the only one suffering in this process.
The betrayer must also proactively look for experiences, people, and things that may/will trigger you and check in with you about them when appropriate.
Another paramount element of this early phase of recovery and healing is essentially an invasion of privacy. This is the one time in a relationship where it is healthy and critical that we are allowed to look at our partner’s phone records, credit card receipts, etc. Trust will not return without continual access and evidence of this honesty.
It is also important to know that while you, the betrayed person, most centrally requires the betrayed person to take on all the above tasks for you to heal and trust again, the betrayed person needs essentially the opposite during this early time.
Specifically, s/he likely feels just awful over his/her actions and, if given the choice, likely wants nothing more than to never talk about what happened and to move forward into the future acting like it all never occurred. The reality of the infidelity and the healing process is that you’re both right. You’re right to want answers, need access to his/her phone, require his/her continual patience and non-defensiveness, deserve his/her consistent empathy and apologies, and so on, and s/he is right to want to escape this thing.
To give him/her what s/he needs, then, you’ll both want to schedule in a regular opportunity each week for fun. This is a time where you two must focus on completely separating from the horrible experience you recently endured and diligently work to enjoy yourselves for the time being.
If you two are doing all of this, it’s critical, then, that as the betrayed person, you work to begin to forgive your partner. In their book, What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal, Gottman and Silver explain that, “in this context, forgiveness means the deceived partner is willing to cooperate and trust, even in the face of uncertainty and the atoning partner’s occasional slipups. An ‘acceptable’ slipup is not a return to the affair or a new indiscretion, but an invasion of the past that produces a regrettable incident. A husband might buy his wife flowers from the same store he used for his lover. She knows this because she saw those credit card receipts. Part of forgiveness is to acknowledge that anyone can be untrustworthy on occasion. None of us is perfect. What the betrayer did is unacceptable, but he or she is changing that behavior” (168).
2. Phase Two: Attune (Rebuild/Transform)
The goal in this phase is to concentrate on coming together to forge a new, much improved, relationship.
Here, both partners recognize that the old relationship didn’t meet both of their needs, and this contributed to the door opening up to the betrayer’s poor behavior.
Then, both partners collaborate to create a new approach to relationship success. Generally speaking, this new approach includes the following elements:
1. Attunement Skills: To achieve this, a couples’ therapist will teach both partners what are called attunement skills to help them improve their ability to listen to, hear, and understand each other. “A deep sense of feeling ‘known’ and knowing the partner is the ultimate shield against disloyalty” (Gottman & Silver, 2012, p. 170). These skills will notably improve your ability to each know one another in a much more comprehensive sense than ever before, therefore drastically protecting you both moving forward from betrayal.
2. Enduring Vulnerabilities Understanding: A big part of this includes your couples’ therapist helping you both explore and understand each other’s “enduring vulnerabilities” (or sensitivities formed from earlier childhood pains/traumas). “Sharing enduring vulnerabilities prevents either partner from feeling lonely or invisible, two powerful setting conditions for betrayal” (Gottman & Silver, p. 170-171).
3. Conflict Management Skills: It is almost certain that you/your partner’s previous ways of managing conflict needed improvement. This area of likely past difficulty is one reason that your relationship was vulnerable to betrayal. When we have difficulty talking about difficult things in productive ways, it tends to breed feelings of frustration, hopelessness, a lack of trust in each other to be there, listen to, and productively work through those problem areas. This all then often leads to relationship disconnection, and, some notable enough extent of the time, betrayal.
Therefore, it’s critical you both learn where, in terms of conflict talks, you two do well and need improvements. Your couples’ therapist will teach you things like the gentle start-up (a skill to best bring up tough things in the most productive way), the Gottman-Rapoport Blueprint for conflict talks, and the Aftermath Kit (which is a formula for how to discuss and work through a recent conflict).
3. Phase Three: Attach (Sexually Repair/Rebuild)
The goal in this final phase is to attune in the bedroom.
While in the aftermath of betrayal, the betrayed person often does not want to risk physical intimacy with the betrayer, in order for the relationship to truly begin again, mutually pleasurable sexual intimacy must exist.
“In a long-term love, sexual intimacy is founded on a healthy interdependency that satisfies the longing for connection. This bond serves as a stalwart barrier against ‘distractions’. The keystone to this pleasurable and meaningful sex life is a steady diet of [thorough] intimate conversations, including those about sex” (Gottman & Silver, 2012, p. 171-172). Your couples’ therapist will help you build safety and comfort in asking each other the kind of crucial and vulnerable intimacy and sex questions to help you two improve on this key area.
Learn the Right Ways to Most Quickly Heal, Rebuild, and Transform Your Relationship Through Infidelity Therapy and Online Couples Therapy in California, Oregon, and Florida
Enduring a betrayal in our relationship is one of the most excruciatingly painful times we can ever experience. It’s so challenging to even begin to imagine how you might heal, let alone conceive of a reality where you and your partner move confidently forward into the future. At Stress Solutions, we can help you learn the exact formula to do all of this. We can walk you through the entire process.
To learn more about these infidelity approaches and relationship-building skills or to schedule a consultation with a couples therapist in California, Oregon, or Florida, we recommend you contact us.