Nothing prepares you for the blow of discovering your partner has been unfaithful. It’s emotionally overwhelming and amidst the chaos of your internal and external worlds, it can be challenging to know what to do next. You may not know if you want to stay with your partner and if you do, you may not have any idea how to begin healing, trusting, or moving forward with them.
This is where a skilled couples or individual therapist can enter in and provide the stability, support, safety, and psychoeducation you need to feel more empowered. Couples often wonder if they need individual, couples therapy, or both? And is it better to start with individual counseling or couples counseling? Well, it really depends on where you’re at.
If you’re considering separation or divorce but aren’t confident in either choice yet or if you and your partner are on different pages about preserving or ending the relationship, Discernment Counseling can be a great option to help you better understand each other’s perspectives and make the decision together.
If you’re feeling mostly committed to working on the relationship but know you need guidance to revive trust, reconnect to each other’s emotions and needs, and create a deeper intimacy and attachment to each other, couples counseling focused on Infidelity Recovery will be the best fit for you.
The Betrayed Partner
While couples counseling can be a very effective way to help couples heal from infidelity, the betrayed partner frequently needs additional support to help with the emotional upheaval caused by betrayal trauma. Betrayed partners often often experience symptoms that are associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder like:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Difficulty regulating emotions and alternating between feeling numb and striking out in anger and retaliation
- Intrusive thoughts, images, and memories
- Inability to stop scanning for new threats to the relationship
- Lack of focus and feelings of detachment from reality, themselves and other relationships
- Feeling powerless and out of control and needing to regain self-worth by assigning blame
If you’re not identifying your experience as trauma and learning how to manage these symptoms, it can be incredibly challenging to make progress in your own healing as well as your healing as a couple. Individual therapy focused on the trauma of infidelity is vital for your healing process because it helps you identify your emotions, understand your behaviors, and link them to your unmet needs so that you can communicate them to your partner.
You need and deserve your own space to break down and experience your emotions so you’re not left expressing them to your partner in unproductive ways. Individual therapy can also help you understand the way you have made meaning of the infidelity, i.e. “I have to be perfect now so my partner doesn’t stray again” or “I’ll never be able to trust them not to hurt me again,” and work on developing and installing a new narrative that empowers instead of blames and helps to instill hope instead of despair.
Working through betrayal is an incredibly powerful and important process whether you choose to stay with your partner or not. Therapy allows the betrayed partner to experience, understand, and name their hurt and anger so that they can communicate it in a way that both helps their partner actually hear and understand them and that empowers their partner to actually meet their unmet needs. Here are five tips to effectively work through betrayal with mindfulness and communication:
- Communicate rather than act out your emotion. Infidelity often hurts in ways that words struggle to explain and so it makes sense that you tend to act out your pain instead of communicating it. But take a minute to reflect and ask yourself if you’re acting out your anger, i.e. yelling “I hate you, I’ll never forgive you!” instead of narrating your anger, “I’m so hurt and angry with you that I just want to yell hurtful things. It feels hard to imagine being able to forgive you with all of the anger I have.”
- Use mindfulness to take off your emotion glasses. Think about it like this, if you’re wearing imaginary glasses that represent an emotion like anger or anxiety, you can only see the world through an angry or anxious lens. You might not have any idea that you’re actually feeling that way because it’s all you can see. But if you use mindfulness to pause and be present in the moment with yourself, you can take the emotion glasses off and observe the emotion for what it is, see all the smudges and scratches on them that have been coloring the way you’ve been interpreting your environment and relationships.
- Be curious about your emotions and what’s happening for you during intense emotional reactions. What is the worst part for you about what’s happening? What are you most upset about in the moment? What needs of yours aren’t getting met? Most of the time, it’s easier to focus on the external “thing” that just happened instead of looking internally at yourself and why you are uniquely upset about the “thing” that just happened. If you’re having intrusive thoughts and questions about the affair, focus on what you need to know – what is going to be the most helpful for you moving forward? How will the answers you’re looking for impact you or your relationship and meet or not meet one of your needs?
- Be aware of your partner’s needs and defenses. It might not feel fair to you to have to prioritize them and their needs and defenses right now, but doing so will ensure a productive conversation, where they feel safe enough to answer your questions and empathize with your pain. Think about what may make your partner defensive and try to avoid saying things that might trigger them. Do they need genuine curiosity, open-mindedness, validation, empathy, or reflective-listening from you to be able to give you the same things in return?
- Communicate your needs in a positive way. Instead of focusing on the negative and making your partner feel defensive, shut down, or ashamed, look to empower your partner so that they feel like they are capable of meeting the need you are asking of them. Instead of saying, “You never listen to me or care about how I’m feeling” try “I’m feeling really alone right now in my pain. I really need your empathy, understanding, presence, and support so that I feel connected and cared for by you.”
Therapy & Your Infidelity Recovery
When you’re overwhelmed by your pain, it can feel impossible to see past it long enough to think rationally about how you want to move forward and which steps will be the most helpful to do so. Individual therapy can help you make space for and make sense of your pain to set you on the best path forward. If you think individual therapy may make the difference in your recovery from your affair, we’re here to help! Reach out to us for a consult or to schedule a session.