Infidelity is one of the most destructive events that can take place within a relationship. Infidelity causes both partners pain and intense feelings that are felt physically and emotionally. Many couples that have gone through this describe it as the most difficult experience they have gone through. This is only made worse by marriage counselors who aren’t comfortable with marriage counseling for infidelity and don’t know how to deal with the unique problems caused by infidelity. Infidelity brings up raw emotions and it’s important that your marriage counselor knows how to deal with these issues.
This is especially important because 25% of all couples who begin marriage counseling identify infidelity as their marriage’s primary issue. Further, an additional 30% of couples who didn’t identify infidelity as their main issue reveal that infidelity has taken place in their relationship.
Unfortunately, many marriage counselors admit that they are least prepared to deal with the topic of infidelity. Many have even stated that they prefer not to discuss infidelity at all! This makes it even more important that couples find a counselor equipped to handle marriage counseling for infidelity. This is a topic that requires an enormous amount of emotion and work to be processed, sometimes very quickly. This is why it’s so important to work with a marriage counselor experienced in taking advantage of these critical moments during treatment.
Where Marriage Counselors Go Wrong
Why is infidelity such a difficult topic for so many marriage counselors? One reason is that this is a topic wrapped up in very intense emotions that dominate therapy sessions. These emotions include rage, pain, love, lust, and jealousy, and these aren’t easy emotions to deal with.
From a psychodynamic perspective, the reason why infidelity is so damaging is that it creates an “attachment injury”. This injury threatens the relationship along with each partner’s sense of self within the relationship. The “injured” partner likely feels intense and overwhelming grief, anger, and fear over losing the attachment to their partner. The injured partner may even have PTSD-type feelings. They may feel that they’re living in a waking nightmare where they are constantly reminded of the infidelity. The partner may even feel that they will never emotionally recover.
The intensity of this overwhelms many therapists who either become flooded or jump too easily to unhelpful solutions. This makes it crucial that whoever you choose to work with is equipped to deal with marriage counseling for infidelity.
Countertransference: When The Counselor’s Feelings Get in the Way
Infidelity can bring up a myriad of emotions, even for the marriage counselor. This can lead to the counselor’s feelings potentially getting in the way. Sometimes, a counselor may lack self-awareness and struggle with issues of countertransference.
What’s countertransference? This refers to a feeling, whether negative or positive, that a counselor may feel toward the client during the therapeutic relationship. Awareness of these feelings can move therapy along, but if the counselor isn’t aware of them, they can be destructive.
When discussing infidelity, even marriage counselors are vulnerable to being influenced by their own unresolved feelings. They may even over-identify with the “injured” partner, making them overly reactive or defensive. Unrecognized countertransference can be deleterious to the therapeutic process and therapist decision-making, which is another reason why it’s so important to find a counselor experience in marriage counseling for infidelity.
Not All Affairs Are the Same
This might seem strange, but not all affairs are the same for all couples. While for some, infidelity will end the relationship, for others it may provide an opportunity to take another look at their relationship and repair their communication. Some people being affairs to avoid closeness with their spouse, while other times people being affairs in order to end their relationship. It’s also important to remember that most affairs have very little to do with sex. Most often, the affair is either a way to act out a problem with the relationship or an internal conflict.
A common problem is that many marriage counselors treat infidelity itself as the main issue and think of all affairs as being the same. Regardless of the reason for it, the pain of any infidelity will need to be processed, but if the counselor only allows the issue of infidelity to be discussed, they’ll fail to understand the underlying dynamics of the relationship and the couple will miss out on growing from their therapeutic experience.
If your marriage counselor isn’t capable of dealing with marriage counseling for infidelity and treats all infidelity as if it’s the same, your therapy will reach a standstill. The therapist may fail to listen with sufficient empathic attunement and the therapy itself may become shallow and ineffective. Deeper interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics will not be explored, and the couple will fail to have the corrective experience they need.
Examples of Therapeutic Errors or Inexperience
The following are some of the most common mistakes made by marriage counselors dealing with marriage counseling for infidelity:
- Colluding with one partner
- Being judgmental or intolerant of the unfaithful client
- Avoiding uncomfortable, intense, or painful feelings in session
- Allowing their own feelings (countertransference) about trust, cheating, and attachment to affect the treatment
- Provide quick simple solutions without really understanding the complexity of the couple’s unique situation
- Talking only about the affair rather than looking at underlying dynamics
Marriage Counseling Can Help Couples Heal from Infidelity
While there are many mistakes a marriage counselor can make during counseling for infidelity, finding the right marriage counselor for your relationship’s needs will help with the healing process. If both partners are engaged in treatment and open to the therapeutic process after infidelity, it will most likely be successful and couples can overcome this devastating event.
If you are located in the Newport Beach, Irvine, or Orange County area and are looking for a marriage counselor to help you heal from infidelity, reach out to Jennifer De Francisco, LCSW at (949) 251-8797 or make an appointment on our website.