Written by: Caitlin Edwards
Invariably, when working with couples who come in with an experience of infidelity, new crises occur. Every couple I have worked with has experienced relapse in some way and this is especially normal when the couple is still in the recovery process. Although the couple may be working very well together, there are aspects of the relationship that are out of your control — such as the affair partner — as well as other stressors that become especially difficult during a time when you my lack safety and security.
Additionally, in the process of rebuilding the relationship after infidelity, it is likely that the you will discover new information about your partner, about the affair, or about yourself that may threaten to shatter previous conceptualizations of the relationship. Navigating these crises together can be challenging, but an important part of re-creating safety and security in your relationship.
Crisis One: Uncovering Previous Lies
One couple I worked with truly struggled to talk about the infidelity. This struggle resulted in a gradual uncovering of previous lies in the relationship. Although some gradual discovery is normal, it can be very difficult to learn about the what, why, and how of infidelity gradually. When this occurs, it is important for the partner who had the infidelity to try to understand the pain the betrayed partner is experiencing. Listening, being with a partner’s pain, and demonstrating remorse can be crucial steps in healing the crack in the relationship caused by the infidelity. While uncovering previous lies later on can be painful, especially if the relationship feels like it is on the road
to repair, many of the couples I meet with would rather know than be left in the dark. This is particular to each couple, and actively asking your couples therapist to help you navigate this process can be a crucial step in healing.
Crisis Two: Special Occasions
As we are especially aware of during this time, our lives are marked by rituals and celebrations. This is particularly true in families, each of which has their o
wn unique tradition around holidays, birthdays, etc. While your relationship feels unstable, it can be difficult to navigate these significant times. As such, couples need to be proactive rather than reactive regarding special occasions. Each significant event that may cause pain on either side needs a coherent plan. One couple I worked with struggled with attending office parties, as it was an ongoing reminder of the affair. Although difficult, they eventually agreed that they would attend these parties together, not drink, and leave after a specific amount of time. Being able to speak proactively and openly about needs around these matters enabled this couple to come closer together.
Crisis Three: The Affair Partner
As the saying goes, you can only control your own behavior. Many couples I work with struggle with the actions of the affair partner or the affair partner’s partner. It is possible that as a couple begins to work on and heal their relationship, that the affair partner may react in a way that threatens the safety and stability of the couple. It is necessary that the couple handle these matters together. Not doing so results in further secrecy which undermines the healing of the relationship. The couple needs to be united in how to manage potential incursions by the affair partner. Again, this needs to be discussed openly and proactively.
Crisis Four: Relapse
When in recovery, relapse can occur. New triggers can emerge and being vulnerable can result in the need to retreat and form a protective barrier. When a relapse does occur, it may be necessary to calm down, take a break, and then come back together to process the experience. It is necessary to openly speak about what happened, how you got here, and what can be done differently in the future. Again, a couples therapist can be helpful in navigating these conversations if they are too difficult to manage alone.
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