NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Broken Promises - Surviving Infidelity

In my last two articles, I focused on expectations and promises.  In this article, I'm focusing specifically on broken promises with regard to infidelity and how it's possible for a relationship to survive this betrayal.

Broken Promises - Surviving Infidelity

Broken Promises: Infidelity
Infidelity is a broken promise that many people in relationships have to face.

Depending upon the relationship, how stable it was before the infidelity, the history of each person in the relationship, and other important factors, including prior history of infidelity, some relationships survive and others don't.

No one can tell you what's right for you when you're dealing with infidelity in your relationship--not your family, friends or your therapist.

People often think that they would never stick around in a relationship where their spouse cheated.  But once they're faced with actually dealing with infidelity, they might feel differently about it, especially if it's a long term relationship where each person feels that he or she might have invested a lot in the relationship before the infidelity came to light.

Restoring Trust: The Person Who Cheated Has an Emotional Transformation
Each person is different in terms of how s/he responds to infidelity, even when s/he has made a decision to try to work it out.

It can take a long time for the person who has been betrayed to overcome the anger, sadness and mistrust that infidelity engenders.

Although it's important for the person who cheated to feel sincere remorse, it's not enough for the person who cheated to apologize.

To help restore trust, the person who cheated must be able to explain what was going on for him or her internally that caused him or her to cheat.

There might have been external factors that contributed to the infidelity, but the most important factor in this situation is for the person who cheated to be able to discover, usually in therapy, what was going on in his or her internal world that led to the infidelity.

Not only would this demonstrate that s/he is taking responsibility, but it also shows, hopefully, that there is a possibility for an emotional transformation--a profound emotional shift.  And this profound emotional shift, which is a genuine emotional breakthrough, can bring about the change that the betrayed spouse needs to see in order to trust again.

There's no way to predict in advance how long, if ever, it will take the spouse who has been betrayed to heal from the betrayal, even if the spouse who cheated has a genuine emotional breakthrough.  So, it's important for the spouse who cheated to be very patient.

Let's take a look at a fictional vignette, which is based on many different cases, to see how this can happen in therapy.

Peg and Ed
Peg found out about Ed's infidelity when she signed onto the computer at home and discovered emails of a sexual nature on Ed's email account.

Peg wasn't snooping. Ed left the computer on, and the sexual subject line in an email caught Peg's eye.  As she clicked on the email, Peg discovered that Ed had been having a long distance affair with another woman.

One email led to another email, and as the extramarital affair was exposed, Peg realized that Ed had been cheating on him with woman in California during his business trips.

Peg was shocked.  She could hardly believe that her husband, whom she had always thought of as being kind and faithful, could have done this.  But the proof was in front of her eyes, the emails back and forth between the other woman and her husband.

When Ed got home from work, Peg confronted him with the emails.  At first, he denied it.  He told Peg that he didn't know who this woman was and someone must have hacked into his email.

Broken Promise - Surviving Infidelity
Then, Ed got quiet.  He hung his head down in shame looking away from Peg, and he admitted that he had been having an affair for several months with a woman that he met at a bar in California.  He hastened to say that he didn't have serious feelings for this woman and he was very sorry.  He never meant to hurt Peg.

Peg asked Ed to move out for a few weeks to give her time to think about what she wanted to do.  At that point, she wasn't sure if she wanted to remain in the marriage or she wanted to end it (see my article:

After a month, Ed asked Peg if she would consider going to see a couples therapist to talk about what happened.  Reluctantly, Peg agreed.  Ed wanted to save their marriage, but Peg wasn't sure what she wanted to do.  At that point, she mostly felt emotionally numb.

Broken Promises - Surviving Infidelity

The couples counselor that they consulted with recommended that they each see separate therapists for individual therapy so that they could each work on how the infidelity affected them.

Ed remained with the couples therapist who had a specialty in working with infidelity, and she referred Peg to another therapist.

In the meantime, they continued to live apart and maintained minimal contact by phone.  Although Ed wanted to come home, this was all that Peg could tolerate at that point.

In Peg's therapy, she was able to talk freely about her shock, anger and sadness about the infidelity.  Deep down, she knew that she still loved Ed, but she didn't know if she could forgive him.

Initially, Ed blamed the infidelity on the fact that he and Peg were only having sex about once a month and it felt routine.

When he met the a young, attractive woman, Tania, at the bar, they had both had one too many drinks.  She came onto him and, before he knew it, they were back in her room having the most passionate sex that he had ever had.  It made him feel young, sexy and attractive in a way that he had never felt.

Broken Promises - Surviving Infidelity

After the first time, Ed knew that he had made a mistake and vowed to himself that he wouldn't see Tania again.  But she kept calling and emailing him sexy pictures of herself telling him that there would be "no strings attached," she just really loved having sex with him.

Even though he knew he should have avoided Tania, he was drawn to her each time that he went to California for a business trip, which was happening with increased regularity because of a new business  deal.

After a while, it got easier for him to lie to Peg about being in late night meetings in California so he could spend all of his free time with Tania.  Even though he loved Peg and he wasn't in love with Tania, he felt obsessed with his sexual relationship with Tania.  He describe it as feeling like he was "addicted" to her.

Sex with Tania was constantly on his mind, and all he could think about was the next time that he would see her.  Between his trips to California, he even flew Tania in a few times so that they could spend weekends together in a hotel in New York.  During those times, he lied to Peg and told her that he was away on business.

Whenever he was with Tania, he felt happy and alive.  She was constantly telling him how sexy and attractive he was--things that Peg never told him.  He loved her wild, free spirit and how she pushed him to be more open and daring sexually.

At first, although Ed said he took responsibility for his behavior, he also blamed Peg for always being tired or disinterested in sex.  He said he had "sexual needs" that weren't being fulfilled in his marriage and, even though he never sought out an affair, he felt he couldn't resist this attractive, sexy woman who threw herself at him.

Broken Promises - Surviving Infidelity

His therapist called Ed on the excuses and asked him if he ever spoke to Peg about feeling dissatisfied with their sex life.  Reluctantly, Ed admitted that he had not.

Then, his therapist told him that he was making excuses for his behavior by blaming Peg, and she told him that if there was any hope of salvaging his marriage, he would have to look deep within himself to discover what caused him to cheat on his wife.  That would be his only hope for trying to get Peg to trust him again and to believe that it wouldn't happen again.

They also talked about the fact that Ed left the computer open with his emails exposed for Peg to find.  On an unconscious level, did he want Peg to find out?  He and his therapist explored this.

Over time, Ed's therapist helped him to look beyond the surface and delve into the underlying issues.

Not surprisingly, these issues had nothing to do with Peg or his marriage to Peg.  They involved long-standing feelings of inferiority and unattractiveness that went back to a young age when his family would tease him for being overweight, calling him "an ugly duckling."

Even though Ed had lost the weight when he was in college, he still harbored this deep sense of inferiority.  Peg was his first and only girlfriend when they met in college.  He had never had sex with another woman--until he met Tania.

Although he loved Peg, he felt like he "missed out" on dating other young women at college.  So, when he met Tania, he felt like a young man again.  Even though he felt ashamed to say it, he realized that knowing that she found him attractive and that she wanted to have sex with him, made him feel good about himself.

This helped him to realize that he wasn't "addicted" to Tania, he was really drawn to how his affair with her made him feel about himself.  It also helped him to realize that he had been carrying around this sense of inferiority without realizing it for a long time.

Realizing this was an emotional breakthrough for Ed.  He understood that he was still responsible for his behavior, but now everything made sense to him.

Broken Promises - Surviving Infidelity

He and his therapist were able to work directly on his longstanding feelings of inferiority to enhance his sense of self worth.  He mourned for all the years that he harbored his low sense of self and gained new confidence in himself.  He knew now that he would never need to resort to having an affair again to feel good about himself.

Ed blocked Tania's emails and text messages, and he erased her number.  He had no desire to be with her ever again.

Eventually, Peg joined Ed so that he could talk to her about the emotional breakthrough that he had in therapy and to assure her that it would never happen again.

Peg was happy for Ed and, for the first time, she felt there was a real possibility for reconciliation because she believed that Ed had undergone a transformation in therapy.

Over the next several months, they worked at reconciling and repairing their relationship.

Discovering the internal experiences that led to the infidelity doesn't excuse the infidelity.  It's not a justification.  But it helps both spouses to understand what drove it so that the person who cheated can work on these factors in therapy to ensure that it doesn't happen again.

In order to trust again, the spouse who was betrayed needs to know that the spouse who cheated has undergone an emotional transformation that leads to a major shift emotionally as well as in terms of behavior.

Broken Promises - Surviving Infidelity

Surviving infidelity isn't easy or quick--if it happens at all.

It requires a commitment from both people.

Often the underlying issues are unconscious and longstanding.

There is often a need to do grief work to grieve for earlier losses as well as the loss of innocence and trust in the current relationship.

Both people need to be patient and there is no way to predict how long it could take to restore trust.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many couples, who experience infidelity in their relationship, avoid coming to therapy because they feel ashamed, angry and hopeless about salvaging their relationship.

Many relationships fall apart after infidelity is discovered, and there's no way to predict which relationships will survive and which ones will end.

Doing nothing and trying to "put it behind you" or "start over" almost never works because nothing has changed.  Neither person has gained insight into what and why things happened.

Some couples need individual therapy before they can come together for couples therapy in order for each person to understand how s/he feels and the underlying emotions experienced by each person.

Getting help in therapy can help to save your relationship if you're serious about making a commitment to change.

Don't wait until it's too late.  Get help.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individuals and couples.

I have helped many individuals and couples with infidelity.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during regular business hours or email me.