"Why should I go to couples therapy? You're the one who had the affair; you should go to $%&@ therapy!"
Do you see yourself saying something like that if your cheating partner suggests you go to couples therapy to see if the relationship could be saved? After all, why should you go? You didn't cheat.
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Truth be known, when a monogamous relationship suffers an epic failure like an affair, both partners are at least somewhat at fault. You may not be the one who stooped low enough to cheat, but there were definitely warning signs that something was wrong with the intimacy and connection in the relationship — long before the affair happened. Either you chose to ignore the warning signs, or didn't acknowledge or know what you were missing in a healthy relationship.
To clarify, there are some people out there who engage in affairs regardless of their partner's attempts to reconcile the relationship. However, these people are relatively rare and in this article I'm focusing on relationships that showed signs of distress before the affair began.
An affair is one of the biggest betrayals we can experience. But if you are willing to work on the relationship, the journey can be one of transformation, changing both of you for the better — even if you decide to go your separate ways, after all. We unconsciously choose the people we enter into relationships with with because there is something for each of us to learn from our partners. So I remind couples that if you bail out of this relationship before you've learned what you need to learn, you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes in the next relationship... and every relationship after that until you finally get a grip on the lessons.
What keeps a relationship healthy is the quality of the emotional and psychological connection between the partners. The best way to describe healthy intimacy between two people is an ability to share their innermost hopes, fears, dreams and disappointments without fearing rejection, criticism, retribution or blame. If this quality is strong between the two people, and flows in both directions, then the likelihood of an affair is very low.
So the contribution to the affair by the "innocent" partner is bigger than you might think. It's not speaking up when intimacy starts to drop off, and it's not admitting that the relationship needs serious help. That's why it takes three to have an affair. This is a great opportunity to bring couples therapy into the picture to teach you how to communicate in healthy ways.
One of the big failures of our education system is that we don't teach relationship skills to our kids as they grow up. Imagine, how different might your life be if you'd had a class in meaningful relationship before you started dating? You probably didn't get that training growing up but it's not too late now, and couples counseling is the way to learn it.
The process of couples therapy is different in each situation but here's what you can expect:
1. Each person gets to air their grievances and express how they've been hurt by the other in a safe environment with a therapist present. The therapist will make sure each of you understands and hears each other.
2. Once each of you has acknowledged the hurts, you can then move on to exploring what went wrong. You'll discuss each partner's opinion on what happened and give them equal weight.
3. When the events and facts are fairly well understood, you can then start looking deeper to understand what emotional and psychological dynamics were at play that led to the affair.
4. Finally, you'll start the process of learning new ways to relate that are healthier, and that foster a sense of connection and intimacy.
It's worth noting that sometimes, even after a couple goes through this process, they decide to split up. But even if that is the final decision, each person tends to feel relatively OK about it because of the work they did together to get there. Through this process of self-discovery, each of you will have had the opportunity to learn the lessons you had to teach one another. That in itself is a major accomplishment, and you can both feel good about that — together or apart.
If you do split up you will both stand a much greater chance of having a successful next relationship. This is my hope for everybody who sees me with couples counseling and relationship coaching goals: that they learn, grow and evolve to a higher level of awareness — and therefore a greater capacity for love, intimacy and healthy relating.
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