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In the last section, we discussed helping couples recovering from infidelity assess their reasons for staying together as a couple. We will specifically discuss four reasons based upon insecurities partners may choose to stay in a relationship. These reasons based upon insecurities for staying together are "I can’t make it on my own," "My religion says my marriage vow cannot be broken," "The idea of separating is too overwhelming," and "I’m responsible for taking care of my partner."
In this section, we will discuss the impact of five essential growth experiences that can influence the way a couple handles an infidelity crisis. The five essential growth experiences we will discuss are being safe and secure, functioning independently, having solid emotional connections, being able to value yourself, and living with realistic limitations.
Remember Jules and Elicia from Section 7? Jules stated, "I know Elicia is displaying affection when she picks on me. But it hurts! Even though I know she finds me attractive, when she shines my bald spot it feels like she’s reminding me how inadequate I am!" I explained to Jules that as children interact with parents, siblings, and other significant persons, they develop certain dominant ways of feeling, thinking, and behaving.
As children become adults, these patterns become hardened and integrated into the sense of self. These patterns also influence how people relate to each other. I have found that identifying these patterns can be helpful when choosing appropriate cognitive behavioral techniques for the hurt and unfaithful partner.
♦ Growth Experience # 1 - Feeling Safe & Secure
I stated, "There can be two common ways children experience an insecure home environment. The first involves physical or emotional abandonment. In adult relationships, children who are physically or emotionally abandoned grow up to feel rejection too easily and too often, and believe that people who love them will leave them. The second way children experience an insecure home environment is through physical or emotional abuse. In adult relationships, these children perceive control and subjugation in their relationships. Children who have been abused often grow up to believe that people who love them will hurt them."
An unfaithful partner who is unable to feel safe and secure may find that an affair reduces his or her fear of being emotionally dependent on someone who will inevitably reject them. An unfaithful partner may also be unconsciously seeking to "even the score" of their childhood by gaining power and control through their affair. A hurt partner responds to being unable to feel safe and secure by becoming clingy in intimate relationships. A hurt partner may also respond by mirroring the abuse he or she once experienced by becoming overbearing and manipulative, unable to respond to his or her partner’s needs.
♦ Growth Experience # 2 - Functioning Independently
Ian, 43, grew up with an overprotective mother. Ian stated, "My dad died in a hit-and-run when I was young, and Mom grew up terrified that she’d lose me too. Even when I was in high school, she walked me to and from school every day. My wife, Rachel, was very similar. She needed me because she was frightened all the time. And I was scared to be alone. But the more I tried to meet her needs, the more I felt cramped. It was only with prostitutes that I felt I could get my needs met."
A hurt partner who is unable to function independently may envy their partner’s separateness, and expect their partner to be responsible for enriching their life. A hurt partner who is unable to function independently may also become fiercely independent in response, and create tension by never permitting their partner to support them.
♦ Growth Experience # 3 - Connecting Emotionally to Others
I stated, "A child who has experienced this emotional vacuum often experiences others as disinterested or cold. As an adult, this child may remain aloof, drift from relationship to relationship, or desperately seek attention from people who let him or her down. Adults who cannot connect emotionally to others feel that no one is there for them, and cannot grasp the importance of intimacy."
An unfaithful partner who is unable to connect emotionally to others may experience enduring relationships as predictable and disillusioning. He or she may become compulsively sexual, craving the excitement of short-term encounters. A hurt partner who is unable to connect emotionally to others may compensate by withholding love, or by demanding more than anyone can give. Clearly, both of these coping mechanisms can drive a partner away.
♦ Growth Experience # 4 - Valuing Yourself
A hurt partner who is unable to value him or herself may push his or her partners away with negativity. A hurt partner who is unable to value him or herself may also feel continually unwanted, and as a result, drive his or her partner away by being needy.
♦ Growth Experience Inventory Technique
♦ Growth Experience # 5 - Setting or Accepting Realistic Limits
An unfaithful partner who is unable to set or accept realistic limits may have grown up without a model of mature reciprocity. He or she may demand much more of his or her partner than of him or herself. As a result, the unfaithful partner may be able to easily justify his or her dissatisfaction at home and his or her affairs. A hurt partner who is unable to set or accept realistic limits may expect to be taken care of.
Janine, 26, stated, "My mother raised my sisters and I to be totally carefree. We never had chores, or bedtimes, summer jobs, or responsibilities. She’d say, ‘Life’s short, so enjoy it.' When I married Phil, I didn’t have a problem with him bringing all the money in. It never occurred to me that he’d have a problem with it. But then he started sleeping with my best friend… and I realized I was totally replaceable."
Have you treated a client... like Janine, whose inability to set or accept realistic limits has made it difficult for him or her to engage in a mutually reciprocal intimate relationship? Would he or she benefit from listening to this section in your next session?
In this section, we have discussed the impact of five essential growth experiences that can influence the way a couple handles an infidelity crisis. The five essential growth experiences we discussed are being safe and secure, functioning independently, having solid emotional connections, being able to value yourself, and living with realistic limitations.
In the next section, we will discuss how understanding the "flip flop factor" can help couples working through an infidelity crisis address the disenchantment process. We will also discuss a specific technique to help couples analyze how the flip flop factor may be affecting their feelings of disenchantment towards their partner.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cornish, M. A., Hanks, M. A., & Gubash Black, S. M. (2020). Self-forgiving processes in therapy for romantic relationship infidelity: An evidence-based case study. Psychotherapy. Advance online publication.
Hughes, S. M., & Harrison, M. A. (2019). Women reveal, men conceal: Current relationship disclosure when seeking an extrapair partner. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 13(3), 272–277.