1. The Start of Affair Recovery – The recovery clock on infidelity doesn’t start ticking unit the contact (all stimuli – texts, calls, seeing one another, etc.) stops. Given this, what is the motivation to recover, as not all couples come to counseling to recover. It is important to be really clear on what it is that you and your partner/spouse both want. Sometimes couples attempt couples counseling as a demonstration that they have “tried everything” to make it work, and they aren’t really committed.
Recommend Reading, “Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Love” by Helen Fisher.
2. “Closing the Pharmacy” – is an important next step and something to be aware of. The involved or unfaithful partner must be willing to “close the pharmacy” on the love drugs that keep him or her involved and unfaithful. Love drugs are seducing and intoxicating and keep the unfaithful partner returning to the drug store for more contact with the affair partner. The interaction produces a strong feel-good chemical production in the brain, and it is like self-medicating with drugs more powerful than crack. It is also important to remember with any “drug” or “addiction” it is always temporary and never lasting and often can have serious consequences. The high we get and feel when we initially fall in love or lust doesn’t last.
3.Establishing Guidelines – Once both have agreed to terminate contact and to start healing from the affair, guidelines need to be established and followed by both parties. The involved partner MUST be transparent. It is therapeutically recommended that the hurt or betrayed partner not ask about the specifics of the sexual acts as research has shown this to be more traumatic and detrimental to both parties. Being transparent helps to re-establish and regain trust. The involved/unfaithful partner must help the hurt partner understand how far back he or she has to go to find the truth in their relationship, how long has this been going on, etc. It is important that the hurt partner’s questions are to understand, not to punish or make feel guilty! The betrayed or hurt partner must learn to contain emotions, take time for self care and learn ways to self soothe. Although the hurt partner may feel justified in his or her actions, comments, rages, blames, etc. it can further damage the relationship if emotions aren’t contained. Emotions, especially early in this process can feel like a glass of milk that spills all over the counter. Affair Recovery can be messy and is often a moment-by-moment, day be day process. This is why having ground rules and/or guidelines helps. Your trained couples counselor can help you in establishing these as well as work with you to support you in the healing process by facilitating and teaching communication skills to both you and your partner/spouse.
4. Both Parties Hurt – The unfaithful partner also hurts, can be anger, and feels resentment. These feelings can interfere with effective and corrective expression of remorse. They are angry too. They are hurt too. Often affairs or infidelity are a symptom or manifestation of issues in a relationship. Sometimes while the couple is going through couples counseling it can be helpful to have each party engage in individual therapy if they are having difficulty expressing themselves or working through some of the emotions they feel.
Recommend Reading – “After the Affair” by Janis Abrahms.
5. Re-Building Trust – During couple’s sessions the couple’s counselor will work with both parties to teach them different ways of communicating that deepens the understanding of each other. This is done through communication techniques that are validating, curiosity seeking and empathic. Couples learn to show empathy for one another. Getting the couple to turn toward each other with their feelings, their experiences, and helping them sort through the day-to-day rubble of their marriage or relationship.
6. Forgiveness – This is the final stage, the place of acceptance that the affair happened, understanding what was going on in the marriage or relationship, oneself, and taking responsibility – on both sides, for what has transpired. Dr. O’Mara tells the couples she works with, “your relationship is wounded and this affair is just one symptom of many that needs your attention. Affairs are co-created in relationships. EXTREME RESPONSIBILITY” is her motto. “You can’t fix what you don’t own”.
Dr. Michele O’Mara has a private practice in Plainfield, Indiana mainly serving the lesbian, bi-sexual, gay, and transgender community. She is committed to helping couples through difficult times in their relationship and enhancing their love and connection for one another.