Couples can recover from affairs. It’s a long process and a process that requires both partners to give of themselves, to be open, present, and vulnerable, but it can be done.
An affair often causes trauma and PTSD. These usually inflict the betrayed partner, but can also affect the betrayer, as well. Symptoms of trauma and PTSD include hypervigilance (constantly looking for signs the affair is continuing or another one is occurring), emotional numbing/not wanting or able to feel anything, emotional outbursts or explosions, flashbacks or mental images of a partner with somebody else, nightmares, sleep disturbances, and depression.
In order to heal from an affair, very specific steps must be followed. One of the most important things you can do is to seek professional help. Specifically, the help of a couples therapist. At The Relationship Therapy Center, our therapists follow The Gottman Method approach to couples counseling. Each of our couples therapists has undergone extensive training and is equipped to manage the room and hold space for not just one, but two people, to have their experience. It is essential you understand how important this is.
Tangible and science-based, The Gottman Model approach to treatment for an affair outlines three very specific steps: atonement, attunement, and attachment. Named The Trust Survival Method, together, these three steps are designed to treat the two things caused by an affair. The first is the aforementioned trauma and PTSD. The second is the shattering of trust.
Step one, atonement.
In this phase of treatment, the person who was betrayed needs to be able to express how they feel without using what Dr. Gottman calls The Four Horsemen: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. He or she will be guided to use “I feel” statements, such as “I feel betrayed”, “I feel angry”, “I feel sad”, or “I feel so livid I can’t even look at you”. In this phase, the person who had the affair needs to be able to express regret and remorse.
Atonement is the time to work through all of the heavy and difficult emotions, such as anger, shame, guilt, and blame. The person who was betrayed needs to ask questions of their partner about the affair. Their partner, the person who had the affair, needs to answer any and all questions with complete honesty and transparency. The only questions to avoid are questions specifically about the sex because these will give the betrayed person even more images to see in their mind.
Atonement will take different lengths of time depending on each couple.
Step two, attunement.
Attunement is the phrase of listening to one another, of working on the marriage. Often, couples who end up having affairs are either terrible at conflict management or don’t do conflict management at all. Neither person talks about their own needs or brings up what they want. In the attunement stage, both partners will be guided to bring up their own needs and desires, as well as to listen and respond to the needs and desires of their partner.
Attunement is all about empathy, understanding, and conflict management. This stage will also take different lengths of time for each couple.
Step three, attachment.
In the attachment phase, couples will build rituals of connection. They will begin talking about sex, when they will be ready for sex, and what kind of sex they want to have. (Sex is often the last thing the betrayed partner wants to re-engage in after an affair, so take your time and only talk about sex when you feel ready).
In the attachment phase, couples will also talk about what will happen if an affair were ever to happen again. Consequences need to be stated and clearly understood. After an affair, the trust that was built in the first marriage is completely gone. The couple now has to begin building new trust together, one piece at a time. This process of rebuilding trust and connection happens in the attachment phase.
The whole point of attending couples counseling together after an affair is to work through all of the emotions, to understand what caused the affair, to resolve the underlying issues, and to come back together by rebuilding trust and intimacy.
This process is not easy and it’s not necessarily something we recommend you do alone. We have offices located in Fair Oaks and Roseville, California and we offer online couples therapy for those located in the state of California, as well. Our client care coordinator is here to answer any and all questions you have.
Other Services offered at The Relationship Therapy Center in California:
In addition to Infidelity Counseling, our Sacramento area counseling clinics located in Roseville and Fair Oaks, CA are pleased to offer a variety of mental health services. We will discuss the importance of self-care and emotional support to help you cope and to discover ways to find healthy ways of dealing with stress.
Therapy for infidelity can be beneficial, with the right therapist. Our compassionate therapists are trained to walk you through the process and help you find healing and peace. Please contact our therapy office to learn more about the many ways we can help you and your loved ones heal, grow, and love healthy.