Our expectations for the institution of marriage have changed dramatically in the last century. What once was an economic enterprise, an exchange of property made between families, is now completely different. Certainly, we are moving away from old-fashioned domesticity and oppression of women. We now have more freedom, more choices, and more expectation of happiness than ever before.
Couples often tell me they need their partners to talk about and share their deepest inner workings. They expect their spouse to help them feel less alone with their fears, feelings, fantasies, and needs. The new model for marriage is that we are best friends, lovers, co-parents, intellectual and emotional equals. In other words, we need our partners to be our everything!
Along with this added pressure on marriage comes the freedom to leave if you think there might be something better out there. We now have constant media access to images of other people’s lives, making it harder to feel satisfaction for the one you have. Yet, we continue to crave the committed relationship as the place to rear children. Children validate us and give our life meaning, even if the marriage, itself, does not.
So, on the one hand, marriage may not fulfill all the needs and desires we had initially hoped for in life. Yet, we’re committed to the union for the sake of the children. Next step...enter the affair.
For some, staying in the marriage but going outside it for particular needs fulfillment is a natural choice. Over and over, I hear from clients that they were “unfulfilled or unhappy” with their partners and were entitled to take care of themselves. The discovery of an affair might come as a complete shock for their partners, especially if they were unaware that their partner was unhappy.
This usually boils down to a fundamental lack of knowing one another because of faulty or non-existent communication. Although the partner who had an affair is 100% responsible for stepping out of the marriage and betraying their partner, both partners must look at the state of the union before the infidelity. It takes two people taking some responsibility for the marriage dynamic before the affair. Working with a trained and qualified Couples Therapist to guide you through the process is a safe and gentle way.
Counseling after an affair is critical, and without it, couples can stay stuck in a cycle of perpetrator and victim mentality. This is a cycle where one is to blame, and the other must remain angry and hurt. Working together in relationship counseling helps couples move through the pain and anger so that they can build a new and improved marriage.
Three Reasons Couples Counseling is Essential After Infidelity:
#1 - Discover How An Affair Could Happen In Your Relationship
Without the help of a skilled Couples Therapist, you are likely to get stuck pointing fingers at one another in an escalating pattern of blaming and shaming. This is unproductive and creates a severe spiral downwards, making it harder ever to recover.
Both of you in the marriage must feel heard, validated, and have your feelings acknowledged for the affair to make sense in any way.
#2 - Learn How to Communicate About the Affair and The Marriage You Both Desire
At best, affairs are bad behavior. They indicate a willingness to put your own needs over your partner’s or the good of the relationship. They pollute the space between you with dishonesty and deception. Affairs are often acts of desperation for people who cannot express what they want in marriage or who feel that their pleas are falling on deaf ears.
A skilled Couples Therapist will facilitate deeper communication between you and your partner.
#3 - Learn How to Rebuild Trust and Build a New Relationship Together
One person cannot do this alone. Both must re-commit to staying together and being better versions of themselves. Rather than being at odds over who was right and who was wrong, the couple who survives an affair is the one that works together to design the parameters of the marriage moving forward.
Frequently, the couple creates new boundaries, new behaviors, and deeper connections. Trust is slowly earned with these changes, and the couple has the sense of being in it together.
Affairs frequently create a crisis in a marriage, and it’s critical to get help. You wouldn’t avoid the ER if you’ve had a heart attack, would you? By working with a Couples Therapist, you can stabilize your situation, analyze the old marriage and build a healthier, stronger one. Weekly sessions or even a longer one or two-day Breakthrough Session are all possible.
Whatever you do, don’t run to divorce court without first giving you and your spouse a chance to heal together.
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This blog was written by Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT.
I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California. I have 30 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families. I have two advanced certifications in working with couples: Imago Relationship Therapy and Encounter-centered Couples Therapy.
I work with spouses and parents to deepen communication, resolve conflict and rediscover the joy of being together. In addition to private sessions in my Los Angeles office, I am also passionate about leading workshops for Engaged Couples. With years of experience in premarital counseling, I am happy to offer an Imago-based workshop entitled, Start Right, Stay Connected. I also facilitate a Weekend Couples Retreat, Over the Bridge, for couples wanting profound transformation. For couples who desire deep, intensive, quick resolution in a private setting, I also offer one and two-day Private Intensives.
I have also been active throughout my career in educating and training students and interns to become practicing therapists. I have taught and supervised at various universities and training sites around Los Angeles. Prior to coming to California, I served as a team therapist and supervisor at Houston Child Guidance Center working with children and troubled adolescents. I have given numerous workshops and presentations, taught graduate courses, and supervised many interns on their way to becoming licensed.
I am an active member of the California Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, Los Angeles Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, IMAGO Relationship Institute, and the Southern California IMAGO Institute. I am a Master Encounter-centered Couples Therapist. I am active in various spiritual settings and community endeavors. I love my profession and truly enjoy helping others to heal, grow, develop a heightened state of well-being and create more love and peace in their lives.
Several years ago, I co-founded The Conversation Group, an organization of like-minded licensed and pre-licensed therapists. We work with you in a very safe and collaborative way to create conversations that open up paths to clarity, insight, and healing which can motivate movement toward the life you desire. Join our Facebook page for daily meditations and healing quotations.
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Dates: December 4 and 5, 2021.