Your Questions From the Webinar--Answered
Please say more about how to help either individual (especially the Betrayed)
decide IF they want to work toward reconciliation. Is this something you as the
couple’s therapist can help them decide? Or need that work be done in that
individual’s separate therapy?
First, not every couple we see is also involved in individual therapy. More to the point, reconciliation involves a negotiation between two people. Our office and the couples work is a great venue for that.
After the disclosure or discovery of infidelity, I discourage people from making a decision too quickly. After all, you wouldn’t want to decide on whether to sell your house or quit your job immediately after hearing terribly upsetting news. Most importantly, a person—either partner—considering reconciliation has (or should have) many questions: what (if anything) will be different? Exactly how sympathetic are you about my pain? Will we install an effective “early warning” system to make sure we’re current on problems before they become way bigger?
I encourage people to ask their partner tough questions, and to invite thoughtful answers. And I encourage people to be honest with themselves about how they really feel and what they really want.
If the Betrayed wants access to the Betrayer’s passwords and GPS data to help ease her pain and isolation, and you interrupt and say you think that’s a bad idea, how do you prevent the Betrayed from feeling you’re on the Betrayer’s side?
San Francisco, CA
My empathy for the Betrayed is clear, frequent, and sincere. I sometimes talk to the Betrayer about how I imagine the Betrayed feels, and I’m pretty straightforward—sometimes to the obvious discomfort of the Betrayer. And I ask the Betrayed if all that data is really what they want—rather than what they’re planning to settle for. I’m always encouraging my patients to be more ambitious in identifying what they really want.
Do you think it’s a good idea for a couple to continue having sex after one spouse has discovered the other one having an affair?
This is a great example of a question to which I can’t possibly have a simple answer. And of course patients ask us questions like this all the time.
It really depends on the meaning the sex would have for each person, and what the experience would provide. For some it would be a reassuring form of connection; for others it would feel like giving in. For some people it would validate their attractiveness; for others it would feel distancing.
So my answer for a given person or couple would be to explore the anticipated meaning and experience, and invite them to decide based on that.
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