By Dawn Goers, MA
Infidelity is the most common presenting issue in couples therapy today and is also the most difficult to treat (Whisman, Dixon, & Johnson, 1997). Efficacy studies have presented mixed reviews on the success of treating infidelity issues in couple’s therapy, and therapists often approach these cases hesitantly because of the complexity of treatment (Blow & Hartnett, 2005; Whisman, Dixon, & Johnson, 1997). In conjunction with the challenges that have been engendered by the infidelity itself, there are other underlying issues that need to be addressed that have corroded the foundation of the couple’s relationship (Fife, Weeks & Gambescia, 2008). Often, these issues are individually driven and therefore, should be addressed on an individual basis.
In addition to the individual issues that contribute to the relationship problems, there are divergent feelings that each person in the relationship experiences due to the act of infidelity. These complex feelings are often best addressed independently. According to Spring (1996), it is important for individuals to take some time, independent of their partner, and address their fears surrounding the infidelity event(s) in order to challenge distorted thinking, and to sit with the truth regarding what led to the current situation in their relationship. The risk of censoring their thoughts is higher when they try to address them in the presence of their partner, and sorting out feelings of ambivalence can feel impossible (p. 80). The entire process of working through an infidelity event in a marriage can leave the betrayed partner feeling confused and alone. For that reason, it is crucial to have a safe place to address these issues in a therapeutic setting (p. 10).
Goals and Objectives
Using a combination of the intersystem model developed by Fife, Weeks, & Gambescia (2008) and the text After the Affair (Spring, 1996), individuals and couples can gain some perspective and make critical decisions about their relationship. The four phases drawn from these resources include: stabilizing emotion expression and normalizing feelings around the infidelity disclosure, exploring the relationship commitment level, exploring systematic considerations, and facilitating forgiveness. It is important to keep in mind that this process is dynamic in nature, and there is not a specific timeline associated with these phases. Instead, individuals can work through this process in a flexible linear progression. During this process individuals will address feelings of ambivalence regarding their relationship, their contributions to the infidelity, how family systems may have contributed to attitudes and behaviors surrounding infidelity, and most importantly, how to forgive themselves and their partners in order to heal and move forward.
Look for Part II – Stabilizing Emotion Expression and Normalizing Feelings Around Infidelity Disclosure
Blow, A. J. & Hartnett, K. (2005). Infidelity in committed relationships I: A methodological review. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, (31)2, 183-216.
Fife, S. T., Weeks, G., & Gambescia, N. (2008). Treating infidelity: An integrative approach. The Family Journal, 16, 316.
Goers, D. E. (2012). Group Proposal: Beyond Infidelity, A Road to Recovery – A Women’s Infidelity Recovery Group. University of Colorado Denver: Denver.
Spring, J. A. (1996). After the Affair: Healing the pain and rebuilding trust when a partner has been unfaithful. New York: HarperCollins.
Whisman, M. A., Dixon, A. E., & Johnson, B. (1997). Therapists’ perspectives of couple problems and treatment issues in couple therapy. Journal of Family Therapy, 20, 59-76.
Dawn Goers, MA is Private Practitioner and Intake Manager at Maria Droste Counseling Center. In addition to her work at Maria Droste Counseling Center she has a private practice in Castle Pines, where she works with children, adolescents and adult clients. She specializes in therapeutic interventions that help to empower clients who have experienced trauma, grief and loss, and who have had relationship issues with an emphasis in infidelity work.