When working with couples who experience the challenges of infidelity, it is important to understand the situation form the position of the wounded party. This individual is experiencing a collage of negative emotions, and the cycle is very different from that of the person who cheated.
Prior to discovery, the injured person might be oblivious to what is happening in the relationship. Or, perhaps this person may have had some indications that the partner’s behavior has been unusual. Many times, the suspicions are not openly addressed at the time they happen. The bottom line is there is a lack of communication in the relationship.
Once the infidelity is out in the open, the emotions become overwhelming: shock, anger, anxiety, betrayal, self-doubt, numbness, fear, rage, abandoned, humiliated, worthless, manipulated, rejected, unloved, insecure, alone, discouraged, neglected, and even ashamed.
“Did you have sex with them?!”
“How did this happen?”
“Do I know her/him?”
“What were you thinking?”
“How long has this been going on?”
“Did I have anything to do with it?”
“How could you do this if you love me?”
“How did this happen to me?”
“I feel so stupid!”
“What am I going to do now?”
“Can I trust you again?”
“How do I know you’re not still doing it?”
“How can I help fix this?”
“Do I still want to be in this relationship?”
“What will everyone think?”
The wounded person goes through a plethora of negative feelings and they spiral to a point that seems out of control. From a clinical perspective, it almost looks like some of the symptoms of post-trauma, but it is not.
So, what happens from this point? It is essential that the victim be given space and the opportunity to be heard. Individual therapy is also important. Couples therapy will not be very successful initially because of all of the very raw emotions. It is also important for the person who cheated to be as understanding as possible; although you want to get past the incident quickly, it really is not possible right away.
Does this mean that the victim remains a victim? Absolutely not. A relationship involves work on both sides. It is a team effort. Once the emotional turmoil has subsided, then the communication in couples therapy can begin in a constructive manner. If the cheater has also had some individual therapy to work on cognitive distortions, then the couples therapy will be more productive.