How can couples counselling after an affair help? | What to expect
An affair can cause great strain in any marriage or relationship. Though dealing with an affair is a top cause of divorce, couples can also come out stronger than ever. One partner having an affair does not necessarily mean the end of a relationship. Affairs can also occur due to the unfaithful partner feeling neglected or having a desire to boost one’s ego through multiple partners.
Couples therapy can help you investigate what led to the affair and understand the reasons for it, and can help to repair the trust of the betrayed partner. It is possible that with the right guidance, your relationship could end up stronger than ever with an improved level of communication and understanding. Here, we explain the benefits of couples counselling after an affair, and what to expect.
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Find out how an affair can affect a relationship.
Read how couples counselling may help improve a relationship.
Find out whether couples therapy may benefit you.
Read what popular methods are used in couples therapy.
We answer frequently asked questions on couples therapy for dealing with an affair.
What impact can an affair have on a relationship?
Affairs can lead to insecurities and mental health issues for both parties. Being cheated on is especially negative from a mental health point of view and can lead to anxiety, distress, depression, low self-esteem, sleep loss, insomnia, PTSD and poor work performance. It can also cause those who have been cheated on to engage in high-risk behaviours.
For the person cheating, there is also an adverse mental impact in the form of anxiety, depression, and guilt, which can be exacerbated by the length of time that the affair continues.
When attempting to stay in a relationship after an affair, there is an increased risk of arguments and tension which can stem from new insecurities. Speaking with a couples counsellor or therapist about this can help with coping methods and developing a more effective way to communicate.
Can a relationship or marriage survive an affair?
Relationships that have experienced an affair can survive and even improve from the experience if constructive steps are taken. Rebuilding a relationship is hard work, but with the currently reduced stigma around couples therapy and counselling, it is easier to get guidance when you need it most.
How can couples counselling help after an affair?
Couples counselling sessions can help relationships start to overcome an affair in many ways:
Help with communication
Having a specific time to communicate with your partner can be extremely beneficial, and when you set aside this time for couples counselling, there are no distractions. Even if you reach a point in your relationship where you feel couples therapy is not a necessity anymore, it is good to continue to have weekly communication time to get things off your chest and have other important discussions which can strengthen your relationship in the long run.
Read more about how couples counselling can improve communication here.
Allow couples to understand each other’s points of view properly
When communicating in a neutral space, without the influence of family and friends, it can be much easier to understand situations from a different point of view. Your therapist will also be able to help unpick your and your partner’s thoughts and feelings to make them easier to understand.
Introduce methods of handling disagreements more constructively
Couples counselling can help you and your partner to communicate in more meaningful and sensitive ways, helping you to see things from your partner’s point of view and help you take steps to avoid speaking out of anger and frustration, which may cause further damage and disagreements in the long run.
Provide tips on dealing with past issues moving forward
A therapist will look at the causes of the affair and help both parties to work on methods of prevention for the future.
Read more about what is involved in couples therapy here.
Do you need couples therapy after an affair?
Couples therapy after an affair can be extremely beneficial if both partners want to stay together and rebuild the relationship but are struggling in some areas. It may be getting to the bottom of the reasons for an affair or helping both partners know where they stand and how they can work together to overcome each other’s insecurities.
It is also beneficial if you need help with handling conflict in a calmer, more constructive way. Calm communication is the most beneficial type of communication, as in heated arguments, less thought goes into what is said. Things said out of anger and frustration can further damage the relationship. Couples therapy will help you recognise when a discussion with your partner is turning more heated and ways to diffuse this.
Couples therapy can also help you understand things from your partner’s perspective, which can be especially helpful for communication.
What methods of therapy are commonly used in couples therapy after an affair?
When doing couples counselling, there are several methods that your counsellor may adopt to help save your relationship and rebuild trust:
Behavioural couples therapy
Behavioural couples therapy works by focusing on criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. The therapist will observe the couple and notice when one may attack the other’s character. There will be a focus on how the other partner deals with the insult and whether they play the victim and make excuses. In stonewalling, the individual may retreat from the relationship, and in the case of an affair, to another partner. The therapist can observe this in the interactions of the couple and explain the cycle to the couple to help them to break that cycle between them.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
This works on the relationships between triggers, thoughts, feelings and behaviours. This can work on triggers for affairs such as low self-esteem, by recognizing the triggers that cause self-destructive thoughts and feelings that eventually materialize as behaviours that are destructive to the relationship.
Emotionally focused couples therapy
This can help couples to form stronger bonds and improve communication. It has three stages, which are de-escalation, restructuring, and consolidation.
De-escalation is identifying the negative patterns in the way the couple communicates which contribute to conflict. When this is brought to light, it helps the couples see how their fears and insecurities are negatively affecting their relationship.
Restructuring is where each partner learns to share their emotions positively and show passion and acceptance for their partner. This process reduces conflict and creates a secure emotional bond which makes future affairs less likely.
Consolidation is when the therapist helps the couple with new communication strategies and positive interaction skills. This allows new sequences of bonding to replace older negative patterns. Positive cycles can then be self-enforcing to achieve permanent change.
Gottman therapy is about disarming conflicting verbal communication and replacing it with intimacy, affection and respect. It assesses the relationship and helps problems be addressed with research-backed intervention methods. The Gottman method is personalized for every couple as it starts with an assessment from the couple’s counsellor. The couple works with the counsellor to put together a therapeutic framework that will aim to improve friendship, conflict management, and creating shared meaning.
Narrative couples therapy looks at the neglected aspects of stories that are given less visibility and power. Many couples will see relationship problems, such as adultery, as part of their relational identities and these are internalized. Narrative therapy aims to externalize these problems, as it views the problems as separate from the couple. The problems will be referred to as nouns, therefore separating them from the couple.
Positive psychology in terms of couples counselling is based on attachment theory and is an open enquiry between the therapist and couple. Positive psychology encourages listening rather than just talking. It encourages positive behaviours like paying full attention when your partner tells you about their day. This is a kind of positive reinforcing behaviour that will allow both parties to feel more secure in their relationship. It aims to help each partner to understand the positive intentions behind potentially negative behaviours to prevent affairs.
What is the difference between psychologists and psychotherapists?
A psychotherapist is a physician or psychologist who has had special training from a psychotherapy school. Psychotherapy is a psychological intervention that looks at health and illnesses brought on by emotional issues, which can be eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. Some, but not all, psychotherapists are also able to prescribe medication.
A psychologist will have a qualification and doctorate in psychology, which is the study of the human mind, and can help more with identification problems, motivations, and finding the answer within yourself. A psychologist will be trained as both a therapeutic practitioner (someone who delivers treatment for psychological and emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression) and a scientific researcher (someone who explores and expands the field of psychology through scientific research). They are unable to provide medications but can help you come to terms with issues and adopt positive behavioural cycles. Find out more about what qualifications psychologists hold here.
Exercises that might be provided by the therapist for dealing with the aftermath of an affair
There are many options for this and the therapist you choose may have their original methods. Generally, they will involve discussing questions like “What triggers are connected to the affair?” to help the couple understand each other and work on the perception of those triggers to result in positive behaviours. Exercises will involve discussion, writing and even drawing, but the therapist will work with you to discover what is the most effective.
Commonly asked questions about dealing with an affair aftermath and considering therapy
How can you relate to each other after an affair?
Find the time to communicate and take an increased interest in each other’s lives, essentially getting to know each other all over again but with a heightened understanding of the importance of communication.
What type of marriage therapist is best?
This is dependent on the couple, for example, if cheating was brought about by feelings of low self-esteem in the unfaithful partner, a therapist who can provide cognitive behavioural therapy can work on the cycles that cause destructive behaviour from negative thoughts and feelings. This allows positive cycles to be put in place instead. If you’re unsure, it is worth seeing what is available to you and having initial discussions to find out what style of counselling makes you, as a couple, feel the most comfortable.
Should you stay married after an affair?
This is completely dependent on the couple. Although issues surrounding an affair can be overcome, it depends if both partners are willing to work hard and open themselves up emotionally to work to fix themselves and the relationship.
What percentage of marriages survive after an affair?
Around 15-20% of married couples cheat but statistics show that 31% of married partners will stay together and try to work through their marriage.
What are the divorce statistics after an affair?
Infidelity is said to be responsible for 20-40% of divorces.
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