Sunday, June 28, 2015

How to Talk To Your Partner Following Admitting Having An Affair

For couples an extramarital affair is one of the most difficult relationship experiences to recover from.  Emotionally injured partners often have symptoms consistent with depression and acute-stress.   The injured partner will often experience shock, anger, humiliation, rejection, or sadness.  Given that your partner will be understandably upset, how you approach your partner now and what you say can have a huge impact.

First of all, regardless of the situation, you must take full responsibility and be genuinely forthright.   Blaming anyone else will only further mistrust and resentment.  You must express in a respectful way honest remorse and demonstrate you care about the injury caused.

So how do you do this when you are feeling guilty and ashamed and they are shocked and upset?   First, consider timing.  Talk about it if they are ready to.  Finding a good time and place to talk privately, away from children (if any) is critical.  You may need to also take some time to really think through why you did what you did.  Decide with your partner when you will talk fully about what occurred.

It is important your partner know how this happened and what happened. Offer to answer any questions your partner may have.  Be sensitive to your partner’s reactions; be sure not to tell them more than they are ready to hear.  Even if your partner demands to know every detail, the nitty-gritty details may not be necessary and in fact could injure your partner more.  Once your partner hears the story behind the infidelity, they may have continuous intrusive thoughts about it initially. However, you do need to answer questions and be honest so that you can begin to rebuild trust.

A critical key to your success during this conversation will be your ability to not be defensive.  To do this, you need to focus on your partner’s feelings and have empathy for what they are going through. Communication skills to use at this time are reflective listening, validation, and empathy.  Allow your partner to talk about their feelings and reflect back what you are hearing them say.  Next you need to validate and empathize with them. 

Recovery and forgiveness only come through careful discussion and reconnection.  Ask your partner what they need.  Make sure you are checking in with them.  Through out this process it’s very critical to never say: “Why can’t you just get past this?  Or that again?  Or I thought we were over this?”  These types of comments are invalidating and will hurt your partner more.  If you want to repair your relationship, you must expect that you may need to constantly reassure your partner that you are still willing to answer any and all questions as well as remain respectful and sensitive to their emotions.  You must continue to take responsibility, accept blame, and utilize the communication skills mentioned above. 

When I work with couples following an affair, I may recommend individual counseling in addition to couples counseling.  

What to expect with couples counseling for an affair


I utilize a three-phase treatment approach to recovery from an affair that encourages both behavior change and new insight.   

First deal with the impact of the affair: explore emotions, set new boundaries, ensure that you are both coping well.

Then we will understand how the affair came about and began to put together a plan for recovering trust and intimacy.  Restoring emotional security is critical for forgiveness and moving on.

The third phase is focused on “moving on.”  We’ll figure out if moving on means together or apart.  It is a normal experience for the injured partner to struggle with hurt, anger, and fear of future betrayal.  Together, we look at how personal beliefs about forgiveness relate to the ability to move on.

For couples who decide to stay together, interventions emphasize additional changes partners will need to undertake to strengthen your relationship.  For couples who decide to move on apart, we look at how to do that in the least hurtful way – particularly to the children.


For couples, an affair is often one of the most difficult relationship experiences to try and recover.  Couples counseling can help you figure out how to move on, recover and possibly flourish following this crisis.

I’ve Just Discovered My Spouse Had an Affair, Now What?

Finding out about infidelity can be a shocking and life altering experience.  Few relationship events are as devastating.  You may feel like you don’t know your spouse anymore.  You may have many questions, especially why, how this could have happened, or maybe confirmation to what you may have suspected.

In many cases, couples I work with often report that their marriage was not going well prior to the discovery of an affair.  They may have had poor communication, a serious disappointment in their partner, lack of emotional or physical intimacy, or other major disagreement that caused a rift in the relationship.  Or there may have been a major external stressor such as a job change, a pregnancy, or family problems.

So what should you do?

First know that right now you do not need to make major decisions about ending or staying in the relationship.  If a couple comes to work out issues like this with me, I recommend they set a time frame for themselves such as 3 months, provided they are both committed to seeing if the relationship will work and the affair has ended. 

Second, think safety.  Seek help if either you or your partner are feeling serious intent to either take your own life or harm someone else.  The discovery of an affair is a relationship crisis. Certainly the majority of people will not harm themselves or others, but it is important to have both support and healthy outlets for stress.  Know that this crisis will pass.  Know that many couples can and do survive affairs and sometimes can even strengthen their relationship.

Third, take care of yourself.  You may feel that you are on an emotional roller coaster.  The reaction is similar to the stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and (hopefully) acceptance.  You may move from one emotion to the other even in one day.  You need to be extra careful during this time to employ healthy coping mechanisms and watch out for self-destructive behavior.  Grief reactions can affect people for up to two years.  Know you do not have to go this alone, consider seeking individual counseling.  It takes time for the pain to go away.

Individual counseling can help you focus on healthy coping and provide a safe confidential place to talk about what has occurred.  If you have children they will see you are distressed.  Make sure they know you are going to be OK and they are not to blame.  Also, it’s important to make sure that you are not fighting in front of the children nor bad-mouthing your spouse to them at this time.

Fourth, really think before you tell family or friends about the infidelity.  While you may be angry or devastated now, some people can hold grudges a long time.  If you do repair your relationship and actually wind up happier, you will both want to feel comfortable around family and friends.

Fifth, both you and your spouse should get tested for STDs.

What to expect with couples counseling after an affair


I utilize a three-phase treatment approach to recovery from an affair that encourages both behavior change and new insight.   

First deal with the impact of the affair: explore emotions, set new boundaries, ensure that you are both coping well.

Then we will understand how the affair came about and began to put together a plan for recovering trust and intimacy.  Restoring emotional security is critical for forgiveness and moving on.

The third phase is focused on “moving on.”  We’ll figure out if moving on means together or apart.  It is a normal experience for the injured partner to struggle with hurt, anger, and fear of future betrayal.  Together, we look at how personal beliefs about forgiveness relate to the ability to move on.

For couples who decide to stay together, interventions emphasize additional changes partners will need to undertake to strengthen your relationship.  For couples who decide to move on apart, we look at how to do that in the least hurtful way – particularly to the children.


For couples, an affair is often one of the most difficult relationship experiences to try to recover from.  Couples counseling can help you figure out how to move on, recover and possibly flourish following this crisis.  Please visit my website for more information about couples counseling with me. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Posttraumatic Growth: An Upside to Trauma?


In the recent years with the number of returning veterans you may have heard about Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.  Among the symptoms are: high anxiety, feeling constantly fearful, nightmares, intrusive thoughts and flashbacks.   Events that could bring on PTSD include any situation in which life and safety is lost or threatened.   The more frightened and helpless you feel often the more likely to feel traumatized.  

Some examples of emotional or physical events that can cause psychological trauma are: accidents and falls, sudden death of someone close, breakup of a significant relationship, humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, abuse, seeing someone die, being threatened with death, combat, and rape.

Not everyone who experiences trauma will experience life-impairing symptoms great enough to reach a diagnosis of PTSD.  How some people recover or even thrive in the aftermath of a trauma has been increasingly studied.  Studies show that acute stress symptoms are very commonly experienced immediately after extreme trauma situations.  One of the first studies, published in 1980, looked at POWs during Vietnam War.  Sixty-one percent said they had benefited psychologically from their time in captivity.  Studies like these influenced the work of Richard Tedeschi, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, who has termed the phrased “Post –Traumatic Growth” to describe the resilience and recovery from trauma.   Studies of Post –Traumatic Growth have found positive individual changes in five areas:


  1. Turning suffering into meaningful action – such as helping others with a similar illness or     standing up for other victims
  2.  Developing deeper relationships and greater compassion for others
  3. Feeling strengthened to meet future challenges
  4. Reordered priorities for fuller appreciation of life
  5. Deepening spirituality.

Tedeschi explains that “Only a seismic event—not just an upsetting experience—can lead to this kind of growth.”  Tedeschi is referring to the kind of event that “shakes you to the core and causes you to question your assumptions about yourself and the world.”  Tragic events can awaken us to what really matters in life and inspire us to redefine our identity, to reorder our priorities, and to take initiative in caring actions to benefit others.
How Do We Go On In the Aftermath of Traumatic Loss?  

You can bounce back from tough times in life and yes-even trauma.  In his well-known book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust Survivor Viktor Frankl wrote about how he and other survivors went on with life.  Frankl found the key to be not searching for happiness, but finding a reason to be happy despite the suffering. 

It’s important to know that distress is typical when we face traumatic events.  Even those who are able to find reasons to be happy despite suffering does not mean they did not suffer.  Tedeschi is careful to point out that he is in no way implying that traumatic events are good and that Post –Traumatic Growth is not universal.   Many people need to work through natural responses to trauma like guilt, shame and blame.   Counseling and Psychotherapy can help someone work through negative emotions and help individuals, groups, and organizations in the recovery process.