Infidelity: Couples Counseling’s Dirty Little Secret

Posted on August 19th, 2012 at 12:50 am by


Infidelity—affairs, cheating, “emotional affairs,” “Internet/Cyber-affairs”—whatever you want to call it, is devastating to a relationship. It is corrosive to a relationship in the same way that spilling an acid or liquid chlorine on a piece of clothing eats it away. It tears away at the trust between two people, and leaves them feeling lost and vulnerable. Often individuals want to know how it could have happened, and why it happened. They don’t know if they can trust anyone, anymore, and they don’t know how to move forward—regardless if they break apart or stay together.

Many couples in the throes of Infidelity will (sometimes reluctantly) go to couples counseling seeking help. Unfortunately, the odds here aren’t very good. Many couples counselors aren’t specifically trained—and don’t feel very comfortable—treating couples where infidelity is the primary issue. What’s even more amazing is that they don’t feel comfortable and are not specifically trained to treat infidelity even though it is the most common reasons for couples coming into counseling. That is like going to a medical doctor who cannot treat for the common cold! It makes no sense!

Why is this the case?

First, they are not specifically trained to understand or treat infidelity issues. Despite all of the news reports and tell-all books, there are only a handful of professional couples counselors who really know how to treat infidelity. The rest never get any training on the subject and are forced to “figure it out” (usually at the expense of the couples they are trying to treat). Second, many therapists fail to use the couple’s emotional responses. The amount of raw emotional energy that is generally released when an affair is revealed can be used to power real change in a relationship, if properly used. Unfortunately, many couples therapists try to diffuse this emotion, thinking that it is destructive and hurtful to the relationship. Paradoxically, if it is not directed properly, it usually does damage the relationship. But, if is wasted, then most relationships will either freeze in place (and bury the underlying issue that drove them towards the infidelity), or it will disintegrated and break apart under the weight of the doubt and mistrust.

In other words couples dealing with infidelity feel lost, the couples counselor feels lost, and eventually, all hope is lost and any chance for healing is squandered away.

But it doesn’t have to be that way…

So what is a person to do…?