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In this section, we will discuss three therapist judgments that can interfere with counseling couples experiencing an infidelity crisis. These three therapist judgments are judging whether an affair is good or bad, separating the couple into victim and victimizer, and suggesting the couple should stay together no matter what. We will also discuss choosing terms in infidelity counseling.
Norman and Alicia had been married for nine years. Recently, Norman had revealed to Alicia that he had been carrying on an affair with a friend of theirs from church for the past two years. Norman stated, "It was the worst night of my life. Of both of our lives! Sue was Alicia’s best friend from church, and I was betraying Alicia with her. I tried to break it off a couple of times, but Sue and I always ended up back together. Finally, I told our pastor what was going on, and he told me I should tell Alicia right away."
When Norman told Alicia what had been happening, she was understandably crushed. Alicia asked Norman if he wanted a divorce. Norman sincerely wanted to recommit to his wife, so on the advice of their pastor, he and Alicia sought marital counseling.
Norman was concerned about marital counseling. He stated, "I know we need to do this, but I’m worried about always coming off as the bad guy. I know I did a terrible thing! But are we just going to focus on all the horrible things I did!?" I explained to Norman and Alicia that there are three judgments that I do not make during infidelity counseling. Each of these three judgments can interfere with the couple’s healing process.
♦ Therapist Judgment # 1 - Labeling the Affair Good or Bad
♦ Therapist Judgment # 2 - Separating the Couple into Victim & Victimizer
♦ Therapist Judgment # 3 - Couple Should Stay Together No Matter What
As you have probably experienced, choosing terminology to use when referring to the partner involved in the infidelity counseling can be challenging. I tend to refer to partners as the hurt partner and the unfaithful partner. I explain to my clients that I refer to the partner whose assumption of monogamy has been violated as the hurt partner. However, I explain that this does not imply that the unfaithful partner does not feel equally hurt at times. I do feel that in general, the hurt partner experiences the greater sense of devastation.
I do not categorize partners as betrayer and betrayed because these words can be interpreted by clients as conveying a certain moral righteousness or condemnation. The words betrayer and betrayed may also be interpreted by clients as putting the burden of responsibility on one client alone. I usually use the term lover to refer to the person with whom the unfaithful partner had an affair, whether or not the affair is still going on. Do you use the terms unfaithful, hurt, and lover? Or do you have other terms that you use? Do you need to reexamine the terminology you are currently using in your couple’s therapy sessions in which infidelity has occurred?
In this section, we have discussed three therapist judgments that can interfere with counseling couples experiencing an infidelity crisis. These three therapist judgments are judging whether an affair is good or bad, separating the couple into victim and victimizer, and suggesting the couple should stay together no matter what. We also discussed choosing terms in infidelity counseling.
In the next section, we will discuss the psychological impact of an affair on the hurt partner. We will specifically discuss the five emotional losses experienced by the hurt partner following the affair. These five emotional losses are the loss of the sense of specialness, the loss of self-respect, the loss of the feeling of control, the loss of a sense of order, and the loss of a sense of purpose.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Walsh, M., Millar, M., & Westfall, R. S. (2019). Sex differences in responses to emotional and sexual infidelity in dating relationships. Journal of Individual Differences, 40(2), 63–70.