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In the last section, we discussed three gender differences in the unfaithful partner’s emotional response to an affair. The three gender differences we focused on were what kind of partner is sought, what justifies an affair, and what internal tensions the affair causes.
In this section, we will discuss five keys aspects concerning exploring ideas about love and reasons for affairs with couples dealing with infidelity. The five key aspects concerning ideas about love are unrequited love, romantic love, confronting unrealistic expectations, the disenchantment process, and determining where ideas about love come from.
Abby, a hurt partner, had been married to her husband Randal for fourteen years when she entered counseling. Randal had recently confessed to Abby that he had had eighteen affairs over the course of their life together. Randal was more involved with his new lover, Tina, than he had been with any of his previous lovers. When I met Abby, she was in a state of shock and denial.
Abby stated, "We have a great marriage! Randal is perfect for me!" I encouraged Abby to explore her ideas concerning love with me during our sessions. As you will see in Abby’s case, there can be five key aspects in this exploration of a couple’s ideas concerning love.
♦ Key Aspect # 1 - Unrequited Love
I felt that Abby was exhibiting signs of the first key aspect concerning ideas about love, unrequited or unreturned love. Abby was convinced that the pain and suffering she experienced were a logical part of loving her husband so deeply.
♦ Key Aspect # 2 - Romantic Love
I stated to Randal, "When you first become involved with someone, the intense feelings create a kind of natural high that can distort your perceptions of others. You may idealize your new lover, while painting your partner as a negative foil for this new wonderful person. Part of this is due to some very real chemical changes that occur in the brain. Feelings of intense passion occur when the brain releases amphetamine-like chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and PEA. Over time, however, your body’s tolerance to these chemicals increases, and the intense feelings diminish. Randal does this make sense to you?"
Would your Randal who is in romantic love with his Tina, with whom he is having an affair, benefit from a description of the neurochemical aspects of romantic love that can distort perceptions?
♦ Key Aspect # 3 - Unrealistic Expectations
Confronting my Expectations Exercise
Through discussion of these, both Randal and Abby were becoming increasingly aware of the unrealistic expectation each had.
♦ Key Aspect # 4 - Process of Disenchantment
-- Stage # 1 - Romantic Love
-- Stage # 2 - Disenchantment
-- Stage # 3 - Mature Love
Think of a couple you are currently treating for issues related to infidelity. Has the process of disenchantment been a factor in the unfaithful partner’s search for the feelings of romantic love outside of the marriage?
♦ Key Aspect # 5 - Where Ideas about Love Come From
Abby stated, "My dad was pretty violent, and I know he slept with a lot of women. Then he’d come home and smack Mom around, swear at her. But Mom was always perfect. She did everything for him. She told me the key to a happy marriage was always being available for sex. And whatever she did seemed to work; Dad stayed with her no matter how mad he was."
Abby clearly chose to stay in her relationship with Randal because this pattern was all she had known as a child. She interpreted Randal’s behavior as the way love was supposed to work. Has your Abby’s subliminal map locked him or her into accepting an unfaithful partner’s hurtful behavior? Would playing this section in your next session be helpful for your clients dealing with infidelity?
In this section, we have discussed five keys aspects concerning exploring ideas about love with couples dealing with infidelity through marital counseling. The five key aspects concerning ideas about love are unrequited love, romantic love, confronting unrealistic expectations, the disenchantment process, and determining where ideas about love come from.
In the next section, we will discuss five indicators that can help the hurt partner assess whether the unfaithful partner is likely to follow through on their promise to not have another affair. These five indicators of the unfaithful partner’s trustworthiness are underlying attitudes, a history of deception, an ability to communicate openly, an ability to hear and empathize with pain, and a willingness to take an appropriate share of responsibility for the affair.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
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.
Cater, T., Zeigler-Hill, V., & Besser, A. (2016). Exposure to an infidelity threat manipulation: The role of adult attachment dimensions in anticipated relationship evaluation responses. Journal of Individual Differences, 37(2), 119–127.