Couples counselling for infidelity
I want to highlight in this article the impact of infidelity on a relationship, the cost not just financially, but emotionally on how that could shape any response. That couples counselling could help heal the trauma felt and build a more sustainable, trusting and truthful relationship. While this could, at times, be a painful process, do both parties want to face their difficulties and find a way to either separate or stay together?
To recognise it is an individual journey and that there are many ways to respond to infidelity. If you are ready to accept that unfaithfulness is more than just a betrayal, and could say something more profound about your relationship, then read on.
The consequences of betrayal
Infidelity can severely test the foundations to any relationship, and for some, it could be the end to that relationship. However, can it ever be easy just to walk away with the hurt, anger and shame you may feel? What of the commitments you may have between you; the finances, housing, family, possibly children, friends and the devastation to the love you might feel from being betrayed. The cost of being betrayed, or being the betrayer, can run very deep, and its impact not always easily seen. What may seem on the surface to be something between the two of you, in reality, others can easily be drawn in to. Perhaps to take sides, give advice or just their pennies worth and in some cases, families and friendships could be severely tested and might not be easily reconciled.
While it would never be right to play down how infidelity is experienced by the non-betraying partner, I would want you to consider what this behaviour is saying about the relationship you are in. It might, (and there is no right or wrong), be that infidelity is non-negotiable in terms of what you would accept in your relationship, and it could be right for you to end that relationship.
On the other hand, you might want to consider that unfaithfulness is not always black and white for some couples, and to contemplate how you could stay together despite the infidelity. So while it might be very hard to accept, especially initially as the clouds of what you had imagined was your relationship descend and darken that reality with a truth that is hard to bear, there may be a way forward. If you could accept that this traumatic event in your life is saying more than the betrayal you are experiencing, then couples counselling could help you explore what might lie behind the deceit, lies and unfaithfulness.
I have been describing mostly the impact of infidelity on the non-betraying partner, yet what of the betrayer? Can you face the devastation your partner is experiencing, their anger and need for detail about whom, how, where, when, why you did what you did and 'have you stopped seeing he or she'? It might feel that you could never be forgiven. That the cost of facing your behaviour could be too hard for you, and you might be undecided about your liaison with the other person.
Then consider this; yes it could feel that walking away is the only answer and staying, too painful for you to experience. Yet what of the impact on you, your partner and the commitments you have between you, which might include children? In other words, how easy will it be to walk away? You might decide you do not want to throw away your relationship, that there could be too much you value in your relationship to leave, let alone the love you might still feel through all this maelstrom. And, if your partner is willing for you to remain in their lives, however precarious, then what have you to lose in trying couples counselling?
How can couples counselling help?
If, as a couple, you decide to commit to couples counselling, you will need to consider what you want from a counsellor. You both might want to feel a couples counsellor will not take sides, will help you listen to each other, no matter how that might feel to hear. It could feel embarrassing and shameful in approaching a counsellor, yet please consider that they should be non-judgmental and should work equally with both of you. If either of you feels that the counsellor you have chosen is favouring one of you, it is your right to challenge them, and if this is still what you are experiencing you will need to consider whether you continue working with them.
So, you find a couples counsellor you feel you both can work with, then this is where the real work can begin. It will take a lot of commitment from both parties to decide to face the devastation infidelity can bring, to consider which direction you are going to take, to either end your relationship and face the consequences to that ending, or you decide to work through what the infidelity is saying about your relationship.
Couples counselling, can for some couples, be a place where they can bring all the hurt, anger, denial, deceit, shame and sorrow they may be feeling and through the couples counsellor, try to make sense of the turmoil they could be experiencing. It will not be an easy journey to make, and only you as a couple will be able to ascertain whether each of you is prepared to air all your dirty linen with your counsellor and then make efforts to sort it and then try to make sense what all this soiling means. For some couples, infidelity can be a wakeup call for them to look at what was not working in their relationship, and while the hurt, anger, shame and guilt could at times still feel strong, only through openness and a willingness to face your relationship, warts and all, can a more healthy and sustainable relationship eventually emerge.
Trust can be the biggest issue for a lot of couples trying to repair their relationship. It might feel that trust can never be given and never earnt and that once, where it might have been an unspoken given, now it is never given or earnt.
As a couple, you will both have to accept an openness about trust, that communication between you will be the most important factor in trying to either feel trusted and to feel you can trust. It could take a long time to either earn trust back or feel you can trust again. I use the word 'heal' because that is what fits the ripping of trust given and trust betrayed. To help heal this rift in trust in your relationship, you will need to be prepared to be open to talk about how you feel about trust and to consider as a couple, how you can work at rebuilding trust in your relationship. Of course, it could be a risk to allow your partner to be trusted, yet how can they earn trust without a possible uneasy trust being given. Thinking about this further; it’s always a risk to love and to be open to receive love, with the possibility it could easily be betrayed.
To reiterate, (and this might feel an old cliché), with trust, it really fits, that only time can eventually heal trust issues. And this will obviously depend on the couple. So, you will need to be patient with each other. While one of you might feel you can feel or be trusted the other could lag behind and might not be ready to be trusted or to trust. You might need to set some ground rules around trust; that you could need clarification around where and with whom your partner is with, and they will have to accept this as part of showing you they can be trusted. See giving or earning trust as a process with steps that need to be negotiated between you - and that openness will be the key.
Be kind on yourselves
In the moment, you could feel you will never be able to restore trust in your relationship and that you cannot envisage you could ever trust your partner for fear they will hurt you again, and for the betraying partner you might feel you do not have the right to be trusted. It can take some time to work through some of the issues I have identified. These issues are obviously not exhaustive, and both of you will need to consider how you can sustain and look after yourselves while working through your relationship issues with a couples counsellor. Hopefully, you both can draw support from family and friends and do not have to face too much judgement from others. It is, at the end of the day, your relationship and your life, so hold onto that through whatever you decide to do.
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About Lee Allen
I am a Person Centred Counsellor and Psychotherapist, with over sixteen years experience in private practice. I see adults, couples and young people from the age of sixteen. Some of the issues I work with include abuse, bereavement, depression, anxiety, stress, relationship difficulties, work-related issues and low self-esteem.… Read more
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