By Robert Scuka, Ph.D.
Infidelity is one of the most difficult challenges that any marriage or committed relationship can face. Infidelity is almost universally accompanied by a deep sense of betrayal and a profound loss of trust. The reason is that the one partner experiences the infidelity of the other partner as both a violation of explicit agreements or implicit assumptions about the nature of the relationship, and a violation of what is regarded as acceptable and unacceptable behavior relative to the deep emotional need to preserve a sense of safety within the relationship.
Infidelity can take many forms, and is not limited to sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual behavior. In addition to sexual infidelity, there is emotional infidelity, combined emotional/sexual infidelity, and financial infidelity. Also, infidelity can take place in person, by telephone or email, or via the internet, as with live chat or pornography.
Each form of infidelity involves secrecy and a desire to preserve secrecy. The reason is that the person engaged in the infidelity knows on some level that the other partner would not approve of what is being done and would feel betrayed. That is why the revelation of the infidelity is almost universally accompanied by a sense of shock, disbelief, anger and a loss of trust. Indeed, the discovery of infidelity often results in a trauma-like experience akin to an emotional tsunami.
These feelings are fostered not just by the sense of having been betrayed, but also by having been lied to. Such an experience typically calls into question the very foundations of the relationship and even the one person’s confidence about who the partner really is as a person.
Often there are other issues in the relationship that will require attention as part of a process of healing. That said, one crucial aspect of the process of healing is that the partner who engaged in the infidelity acknowledge and accept full and exclusive responsibility for their decision to engage in the infidelity. In other words, the existence of other issues in the relationship cannot be invoked as a justification for the infidelity. On the other hand, identifying personal vulnerabilities and contextual factors that may have rendered the one partner more susceptible to engaging in infidelity is an important part of coming to understand how it was that the one partner allowed him or herself to engage in infidelity.
In order for there to be genuine healing in the relationship in the face of all these complex factors, it is vital that both partners openly address both the infidelity and other issues in the relationship. The failure to address the issues and heal the pain from the rupture to the relationship risks emotional disengagement and a deadening within the relationship, or even the eventual dissolution of the relationship.
Addressing the infidelity and other issues in the relationship must be done in a safe environment that permits openness, honesty, caring and compassion. From this vantage point, Relationship Enhancement® Therapy for couples is an ideal form of treatment for infidelity. Its emphasis on communicating skillfully, empathically connecting with the feelings, concerns and desires of one’s partner, dialoguing in a highly structured format that preserves emotional safety, and managing potential conflict in a manner that also preserves emotional safety all help create the conditions conducive to the constructive engagement of these emotionally charged issues. As a result, Relationship Enhancement® Therapy is very effective at facilitating mutual compassion and genuine emotional healing. Please click here for information about the Effectiveness of Relationship Enhancement® Therapy.
Rob Scuka, Ph.D., is author of Relationship Enhancement Therapy: Healing through Deep Empathy and Intimate Dialogue (Routledge, 2005) and specializes in helping couples recover from the trauma of infidelity.