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Forgiveness Therapy After an Affair

Other articles I’ve written about infidelity captured the meat and potatoes, so to speak, of cheating. In summary, the person who does the cheating experiences a very different series of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, than does the wounded party. I used some of the same thinking error/cognitive distortion parallels that have been suggested for the *cycle of abuse (in domestic violence) and the **offense cycle (in sexual offending). The emotionally injured party has a completely different journey that involves processing a collage of feelings.

So what happens therapeutically after the affair? What about forgiveness? First of all, the couple has to agree (in a couples session) to move forward with the relationship. I generally prefer to use Dr. Robert Enright’s forgiveness model, which includes the following phases:

  1. Uncovering phase: The emphasis is on exploring the pain that the wounded party has experienced.

  2. Decision phase: The nature of forgiveness is discussed. Also the person commits to forgiving the partner.

  3. Work phase: The focus is shifted to the transgressor in an effort to gain insight and understanding.

  4. Deepening phase: The victim moves toward resolution, finds meaning and purpose in the forgiveness process. He/She becomes more aware that they have themselves been the recipient of others’ forgiveness,

Dr. Enright pioneered the scientific study of forgiveness. According to him, Forgiveness-Oriented Therapy can help reduce anger in people treated unjustly by others. This in turn improves overall psychological well-being. Each case is different, so I use Enright’s model as a guide for the therapy process.

My recommendation is still that each of the parties have individual therapy at first. I believe this is important for assessment purposes. It gives me more information about the individual needs and the future couple needs. For example, if domestic violence has occurred in a relationship, there are other factors to consider before couples counseling is appropriate. The same hold true for alcohol or drug abuse in the relationship, mental illness, sociopathy, or other issues that should be addressed individually. Appropriate referrals are made to assist both parties with development of a healthy support system, and general personal growth.

Another reason for individual forgiveness therapy is so that both parties are educated about the concept of forgiveness, before couples therapy starts.

  • Each person needs to know what forgiveness takes;

  • They need to know the different forms of forgiveness;

  • Each person learns how to overcome communication challenges in the forgiveness process; and

  • Perpetrators and victims have different perceptions of forgiveness, and they learn how to view things from the partner’s perspective.

*cycle of abuse

**offense cycle

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