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In the last section, we 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 this 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.
Ellen entered counseling after discovering that Paul, her husband of seven years, had been carrying on an affair with his secretary for most of their marriage. Ellen stated, "I started thinking, if Paul isn’t the person I thought he was, and our marriage isn’t what I thought it was… am I who I think I am?" I explained to Ellen that the hurt partner can feel five senses of emotional loss following an affair.
♦ Emotional Loss # 1 - Sense of Specialness
I explained to Ellen that she was perceiving herself through the filter of Paul’s infidelity, and that her ability to see herself clearly was at an all-time low. Ellen replied, "I guess there’s a point to that. I try to keep reminding myself that even though I may not be special to Paul anymore, I’m definitely special to my two kids. I’m their only mother, after all."
♦ Emotional Loss # 2 - Self-Respect
I explained to Ellen that her basic values had not changed. The emotional maelstrom of Paul’s affair had temporarily hindered her ability to make the best decision for herself and her family based on those values. I encouraged Ellen to realize that her actions were an understandable due to her injury, and that she should not judge herself too harshly. Does your Ellen need to be reminded that the emotional shock experienced by the hurt partner makes most individuals behave in ways they will later regret?
♦ Emotional Loss # 3 - Feeling of Control
Ellen stated, "I feel like my mind’s been contaminated! I wake up at 3am and can’t stop imagining Paul and his secretary together! I keep going back over and over things that happened, wondering what I missed! I even found out what restaurants Paul took her too by reading his credit card bills, and I find myself going by them over and over to see if they’re there. I’m driving myself crazy!"
Thought Stopping Technique
♦ Emotional Loss # 4 - Sense of Order
Ellen’s assumptions about marriage centered around the idea that if she was a good and loving person, she would be loved in return. She began to believe she had gotten what she deserved from Paul. Clearly, other clients may respond to this challenge to their assumptions by coming to believe that the world does not operate according to the principles they once believed in.
♦ Emotional Loss # 5 - Sense of Purpose
Ellen stated, "There were days I just couldn’t see the point in living if I couldn’t trust anyone to love me. I wasn’t enough for Paul, I was a failure! Some days when I got home, I’d leave the car running and try to work up the courage to kill myself." I explained to Ellen that it was understandable for her to experience thoughts of suicide after the emotional devastation of Paul’s affair.
I stated, "Right now, your depression is like a thick morning fog, and it’s hard to imagine being able to see clearly through it. But over time, you can learn how to value yourself again, and trust in the people who love you." Have you discussed suicidal thoughts with your Ellen? Would playing this section in your next session be helpful to him or her?
Think of a client you are currently treating. Rreread the five emotional losses and assess which losses are the strongest in that client, and whether playing this section during your next session might act as a springboard for added insights.
In this section, we discussed the five emotional losses the hurt partner may experience. These 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.
In the next section, we will discuss 4 differences between how male and female hurt partners respond to an affair. These four gender differences involve the desire to preserve the relationship, depression versus anger, feelings of inadequacy, and obsession versus distraction.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Atkins, D. C., Marín, R. A., Lo, T. T. Y., Klann, N., & Hahlweg, K. (2010). Outcomes of couples with infidelity in a community-based sample of couple therapy. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(2), 212–216.
Bendixen, M., Kennair, L. E. O., & Grøntvedt, T. V. (2018). Forgiving the unforgivable: Couples’ forgiveness and expected forgiveness of emotional and sexual infidelity from an error management theory perspective. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 12(4), 322–335.