This article by Sona Patel in The New York Times might be of interest to readers of this blog.
When Cheating Is the Issue, Remorse Helps
For a couple faced with overcoming the effects of an extramarital affair, regaining trust is crucial.
“If they really do love each other and they really believe in the marriage, yes, I’ve seen it work,” said Molly O’Shea, a marriage and family therapist in San Francisco.
Research compiled by the Kinsey Institute from the early 1990s showed that infidelity was the single most cited cause of divorce in more than 150 cultures.
And in western countries, one research report estimated that 25 to 50 percent of people who split up cited a spouse’s infidelity as the primary cause of the divorce.
Ms. O’Shea considers spouses who are cheated on as people who are dealing with grief and loss. She will start by asking what they love and respect about their partner.
In the beginning, emotions are high and the therapist may suggest that they consult individually.
There is a no-secrets policy, however, that anything said by a spouse while alone with Ms. O’Shea will be discussed when everyone is together.
In Ms. O’Shea’s experience, a year or more of therapy is needed for a couple to start the healing process.
She asks the person cheated on what it would take to regain trust and what the cheating spouse can do to prove the affair was a mistake.
“Usually the person who has been cheated on says, ‘I don’t know what I need’ and ‘nothing is going to help,’ ” Ms. O’Shea said. “They’re just so angry.”
For the majority of Ms. O’Shea’s clients, the spouse who was cheated on will ask for specific details about the affair: where it happened, what happened and how long it lasted.
“They’re looking for consistency in the story,” Ms. O’Shea said.
At the same time, too much questioning can become unproductive, so Ms. O’Shea will set limits.
“I’m not going to let one person bash the other person,” she said. “But I will validate their feelings and their anger.”
“When you think of someone who has been traumatized, they have to tell their story over and over, and the person has to tolerate hearing it over and over,” Ms. O’Shea said. “Then you start talking about what’s working and why you want to stay connected.”
Chief among the issues is continuing suspicion, including becoming upset each time the spouse doesn’t answer the phone.
People who have cheated need to affirm their partner’s feelings, sympathize and put up with a lot of justifiable anger.
As for tracking a couple’s progression, that is partly just observing them. At the start, it can be something obvious about their behavior like sitting on opposite ends of a sofa, keeping their arms crossed or avoiding eye contact.
As they progress, they may speak up for each other, actually defending the partner to the therapist. “Maybe I’ll bring to attention the words that were used and question how hurtful they were,” Ms. O’Shea said, “and the other person will say, ‘I don’t think it was wrong’” to say that.
Still, while a couple may become stronger, rarely do they regain complete trust. “You forgive, but you don’t forget,” she said.
As for spouses who cheated, Ms. O’Shea prepares them for a rough path back.
“They need to be able to validate the pain and continue to show remorse,” Ms. O’Shea said. “Over and over and over again.”
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.