Infidelity in relationships. Why reconciliation is so difficult.
I was interviewed on Cape Talk on 5 September: How infidelity affects marriage and families.
Infidelity is one of the main reasons couples arrive at my door. In the majority of cases couples maintain that they want to reconcile and heal their relationship.
In the first session I try to clear up all misconceptions that a couple may have concerning the hard path to reconciliation and the time frame involved.
I often tell clients that recovery from infidelity can be compared in certain respects to rehabilitation from substance dependence.
Why do I say that?
First, there is often a great deal of ambivalence involved. In many cases the cheating partner has developed strong feelings for the third party and is thus seriously conflicted about the choice he has to make. The relationship with the other person often fulfills an important role in the spouses life and has become an important coping resource. However, there is often also a great deal of denial and minimizing of the relationship on the part of the person who is having the affair.
In addition, both spouses are often in two minds about whether or not they want to embark on the difficult process of reconciliation. Hard work and endless patience will be required by both partners to keep the process on track. This ambivalence has to be resolved for the most part before couple counselling can begin in ernest. Often I see the partners separately for individual sessions in an effort to help each of them resolve any ambivalence they may be experiencing.
Trust in the cheating spouse has inevitably been lost and will be highly elusive for many months and perhaps years to come. I tell couples this but inevitably the spouse who has cheated runs out of patience pretty early on in the reconciliation process because they believe they are trying to put their best foot forward in the relationship and to be transparent about their behaviour and their whereabouts. However, their partner often fails to show much appreciation and continues to be angry and suspicious. This can cause the previously unfaithful spouse to waver in their decision to work on the relationship as they lose faith that their partner will eventually be able to move past their infidelity.
Couples who are battling with this process often ask me if there are any success stories.
I tell them “yes”. There are certain couples who report years after seeing me that their marriage is strong and mutually fulfilling. These couples often tell me that they have fewer illusions about themselves and each other but that they have a mature appreciation of their partner’s qualities and their tenacity in sticking with their reconciliation process.
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