Tim and Barbara came to see me in therapy a few weeks after Barbara discovered Tim’s affair. The affair had been going on for several months, and Barbara was devastated. Her world had been turned upside down, she was scared of having gotten a sexually transmitted disease, and she didn’t know what to believe or whether she even knew who Tim was anymore.
The first few months of therapy were an emotional roller coaster for both of them. Tim struggled with intense feelings of guilt and shame, and his pre-existing depression only got worse. He was profoundly grief stricken over the pain that his affair had afflicted upon Barbara, and was scared that Barbara would choose to end the marriage, which he did not want to see happen because he did love her. For her part, Barbara lost all trust in Tim, was preoccupied with learning the details of the affair, and was fearful that Tim was no longer committed to her and would eventually go back to the other woman.
Tim and Barbara made some progress in the first 4-6 weeks, including Tim’s effort at coming to understand his own vulnerabilities that rendered him susceptible to engaging in the affair, his unconditional acceptance of his own responsibility for the affair as well as Tim’s genuine expressions of regret and remorse for having had the affair. Barbara was attempting to deal with her own anger and grief at the same time that she was trying to understand what Tim had done and his seemingly genuine remorse. This progress was facilitated by them learning and beginning to use the Relationship Enhancement® skills of empathy and respectful self-expression in the context of a structured dialogue process that permitted them to dialogue about the extremely challenging issues they faced.
But when Barbara learned some additional details that she had not previously been aware of regarding the extent of the telephone contact between Tim and the other woman, Barbara went into an emotional tailspin. Increasingly, a tendency that had only fleetingly emerged in the early stage of therapy now burst forth into a firestorm in that Barbara was now convinced that Tim had the affair because he felt the other woman was sexier than she was, was more fun than she was, and that Tim was more in love with the other woman than with her.
This personalizing of Tim’s affair by Barbara whereby she turned it into a judgment and commentary about herself made the relational work between them even more challenging. While it took many months of intensive crisis management on the one hand, and frequent individual sessions combined with weekly couple’s dialogue work on the other, Barbara was gradually able to see that Tim’s affair actually had little to do with her and had everything to do with Tim’s underlying depression and poor self-image that rendered him vulnerable to the attentions of another female in order for him to escape the despair of his own lost self.
Tim’s unwavering commitment to Barbara and remorse over his infidelity also gradually helped Barbara to be able to put the affair in the context of his personal vulnerabilities while also being able to face the aspects of their relationship that made the relationship vulnerable to his infidelity. With Tim’s devotion to Barbara and complete transparency in his behavior, combined with their continued use of the RE skills and dialogue process, Tim and Barbara were able to gradually rebuild trust in the relationship and move toward genuine reconciliation and forgiveness.
Today, with the help of the RE skills and dialogue process, Tim and Barbara have completed therapy and are now planning their future life together, including making plans to fulfill their mutual goal of having a family.