Sep 09

Healing After Cheating: Two Experts Offer Hope and Specific Steps

Most experts agree: it’s possible for there to be healing after cheating. Couples can—and often do— survive. Although accurate statistics are hard to come by, Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity (2013), believes at least 50 percent make it.

I. Scott Haltzman

In an interview with Michel Martin, NPR, Haltzman noted the same pattern I’ve seen myself regarding marital affairs: “…10 years ago, the most common complaints that I heard had to do with people in the workplace. And that has entirely shifted…[to situations in which] their partner has been texting somebody, receiving emails, spending time messaging them on Facebook.”

Affairs frequently have characteristics of addiction, and Haltzman actually labels cheating a “flame addiction“: “The chemical rush, cravings, and after-the-fact guilt of a new conquest can be a powerful draw, like a moth to a flame, without regard to the cost.”

His model involves prescribing the following steps to couples aiming for healing after cheating (Hitched Magazine):

  1. Abstain–“For the flame addict, it means having no further contact with the extramarital person who ignites your passion.”
  2. Avoid Triggers–This includes avoidance of anything associated with the cravings, which in today’s world is often the internet.
  3. Foster Recovery–Practice such 12-step recovery principles as taking things one day at a time, finding serenity, turning toward one’s higher power, and seeking support and guidance.

II. Janis Spring

Another expert who helps couples stay together is Janis A. Spring, author of After the Affair (updated 2012).

It takes time and patience in order for there to be healing after cheating, of course. Spring: “The process is a rollercoaster. I tell patients that it can take a year-and-a-half, or longer, to feel okay again.”

The following 10 steps are advised by Spring (rd.com):

  1. Honesty First–“…In the wake of discovering infidelity, Spring asks the wronged party to detail their grievances to their partner by articulating an unsparing and emotionally raw declaration.”
  2. Bearing Witness–“…Spring insists that the offender ‘bear witness’ to the pain they’ve caused rather than defend or deflect the impact, and pinpoints this willingness to take responsibility as vital to the rebuilding of trust.”
  3. A Written Apology–The cheater is counseled to paraphrase what the partner has said and then write a letter showing a detailed understanding of the hurt that’s been caused.
  4. Avoid Cheap Forgiveness–Which is what Spring calls the common tendency to offer perhaps-not-yet-deserved forgiveness.
  5. Sharing Responsibility–“…(T)he wronged party must also acknowledge their own role in fostering an unhappy union, however minuscule. The hurt person must see how they had a hand in facilitating the loneliness or isolation that compelled their companion to have an affair and take steps to ensure greater emotional intimacy in the future.”
  6. Setting Rules–Guidelines need to be established about how a partner might have access to specific areas of the cheater’s life, e.g., phone records, computer sites.
  7. Redefine Sexual Intimacy–Acknowledging that this takes time, “…Spring suggests that couples foster sexual intimacy by creating an ongoing dialogue of fears and desires that eventually leads to physical vulnerability.”
  8. Ignore the Aphorisms–Such as “once a cheater, always a cheater”—as common wisdom is often false.
  9. Reality Check–“In the aftermath of cheating, it’s easy to feel as if your relationship is uniquely dysfunctional, yet the majority of long-term couples undergo at least one instance of infidelity. The stigma surrounding adultery keeps the issue on the DL, but take heart: many couples emerge from an affair feeling closer and more honest than before. Most relationships could benefit from some degree of trust-building and emotional closure, regardless of what spurs the development.”
  10. Letting Go–As things improve, it’s important to lessen the monitoring of the cheater’s behavior. “The onus rests on both parties to prove they are willing to put renewed energy in their relationship, which requires taking risks in a partnership that was formerly fraught and alienating.”
Aug 11

If Your Partner Is Cheating: Sheri Meyers

How do you actually know if your partner is cheating, assuming he or she—or anyone else for that matter—hasn’t yet disclosed this to you?

I still remember one of my first experiences with a client who didn’t yet know. This older woman’s presenting complaints involved her long-term spouse’s new-ish behaviors of continually belittling her in various ways, getting unfairly angry with her, and accusing her of doing all kinds of things she wasn’t actually doing.

Little did she know before coming to therapy that his behavior could be a sign—a cheating red flag.

Therapist Sheri Meyers, author of Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love and Affair-Proof Your Relationship (2012), presents a list of cheating red flags for partners (HuffPost). The one relevant to the above situation is the following:

Red Flag #3 They get easily annoyed, defensive or argumentative. When an affair (be it cyber, emotional or physical) has begun, the cheater may want to sugar-coat their guilt and justify the affair. Making you the bad guy helps them feel better. That’s why a cheating partner may try to find ways to blame you for their indiscretions. They start fights, pick on you, push every button you’ve got and may even accuse you of cheating. Cheaters are good at transferring the guilt onto you — don’t buy into it.

There are six others, offered below in shortened versions. Click on the article link above for more details.

Red Flag #1 They’re suddenly more aloof, withdrawn or want more “space…”

Red Flag #2 They’ve lost interest in you, your problems and sex…

Red Flag #4 They’re not immediately available when you call, text or email them…

Red Flag #5 They’re spending more time online or on their cell phone than with you…

Red Flag #6 They’re acting secretive all of a sudden, especially around the computer or cell phone…

Red Flag #7 They look, smell, and dress better, but not necessarily around you. They’ve suddenly started working out…

How do you consider confronting a partner about suspected cheating? Meyers’s formula involves a strategy using the 4 P’s:

  1. Proof. Without proof, says Meyers, confrontation is much less likely to work well for you.
  2. Preparation. This involves being ready for defensive reactions and accusations.
  3. Purpose. What would you like to achieve from confrontation?
  4. Plan. Figure out the details of when, where, and how to present your info and how to have a conversation as calmly as possible.

Another resource for partners who either suspect or know betrayal has occurred is Janis A. Spring‘s After the Affair (see previous post).

New research seems to confirm popular wisdom, by the way, that cheaters are more likely to cheat again than non-cheaters are likely to do it ever. Not only that, the already-betrayed are more likely to re-experience being cheated on than the never-have-been-betrayed.

Thus, if cheating has happened to you at least once, all the more reason to study up now on what it’s all about and how to deal with it.

Nov 13

“After the Affair”: Infidelity, Forgiveness, and Recovery

In the mid-90’s psychologist Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., along with husband Michael Spring, wrote what may be the best book for couples, gay and straight, trying to recover from one partner’s affair. After the Affair: Healing the Painand Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful now has a revised edition, with a new section regarding cyber-affairs.

A review of After the Affair by Samantha Smithstein, another psychologist, names the three stages of recovery outlined in this book:

  1. Reacting to the Affair
  2. Deciding Whether or Recommit or Quit
  3. Rebuilding Your Relationship

What about the issue of whether or not to confess an affair to begin with? From an interview with Spring in the New York Times

Some experts say you absolutely must reveal it in order to rebuild your relationship. When you reveal your affair, it deconstructs your relationship and allows for a new level of honesty.

Other experts say you absolutely must not reveal it. When you do, you destroy the spirit of the hurt partner. They never recover. Keep it to yourself.

I have found that people go on to build better bonds, better marriages, after telling and after not telling. What is essential is to understand the meaning of the affair, why they had the affair and to address those issues.

One of the dangers of not telling is that people give up the lover, return to the marriage, but they never face the problem and so they live in a prison. They come back to something stale or damaged and they never work to reinvent their relationship. That’s not good for anyone.

Let’s say confession has occurred, recovery has begun, but forgiveness is a sticking point. If so, she has another excellent resource, How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To (2004). Like After the Affair, this book presents original ideas that came from her many years of clinical experience. 

Not for issues of infidelity only, this book advises that you may or may not decide forgiveness is the choice for you.

As stated in the book description, Spring “…proposes a radical, life-affirming alternative that lets us overcome the corrosive effects of hate and get on with our lives—without forgiving. She also offers a powerful and unconventional model for genuine forgiveness—one that asks as much of the offender as it does of us.”

Selected Quotes from After the Affair

Love is not static. We grow dissatisfied and move apart; affection returns and we pull together again. Some people, ignorant of the process, pull away when the good times end and assume the bad times will last forever. These people flee, mope, or drift into affairs. Others see the ups and downs as part of a dynamic process, which, when anticipated and understood, can enrich and revitalize their relationship, even give it an added punch.

What I need you to tell me is, ‘I’m not sure, but I turn down temptations every day. I eat salads when I crave hot fudge sundaes, I force myself to go to the health club when I’m feeling dead tired, I discipline myself in a hundred ways to keep myself healthy, and I can do the same for us.’ If you’re so unsure about controlling your impulses, why should I believe you won’t cheat on me again?

This doesn’t mean that you have to feel certain about your future together, only that you must behave as if you feel certain, while you work on changing the ways you perceive and treat each other. Put your negative feelings aside, commit to each other, demonstrate your commitment by engaging in the trust- and intimacy-building strategies, and then, and only then, see whether you feel more loving, and more loved. If you wait to feel more positive before you act more positively, your relationship won’t last the course.