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On the last track, we discussed five keys aspects concerning exploring ideas about love with couples dealing with infidelity through marital counseling. The five key aspects concerning ideas about love are unrequited or unreturned love, romantic love, confronting unrealistic expectations, the disenchantment process, and determining where ideas about love come from.
On this track, we will discuss five indicators that can help the hurt partner assess whether the unfaithful partner is likely to follow through on their promise not have another affair. These five indicators of the unfaithful partner’s trustworthiness are underlying attitudes, a history of deception, an ability to communicate openly, an ability to hear and empathize with pain, and a willingness to take an appropriate share of responsibility for the affair.
As the hurt partner begins to consider whether or not to attempt to preserve the relationship, the question I most frequently hear is “how can I trust that my partner will not stray again?” I find that hurt partners worry that they will never again be able to trust their partner, or feel secure in their relationship. Obviously, there are no clear guidelines for evaluating the risk that the unfaithful partner will have another affair, but I do find that there are five indicators of trustworthiness that can be useful in helping the hurt partner make a decision.
Indicator # 1 - Underlying Attitudes
My Partner's Attitudes Exercise
Pilar stated, “Most of those are Carlos all over. I really feel I can’t trust him not to cheat again.” In our next individual session, Pilar revealed that she had caught Carlos making out with another woman at a local bar. In Pilar’s case, her assessment of Carlos’ attitudes proved sound.
Clearly, it is difficult for any hurt partner to extend trust to their spouse following an affair. However, I usually encourage my hurt partner clients not to write all of their spouse’s statements off as lies. Rather, I advise them to store the unfaithful partner’s statements away and test them over a period of time.
I also state, “even though your partner’s attitudes concerning monogamy may seem different than yours right now, this does not mean you should give up hope. The problem may not be that your views are radically different. It may be that your partner is on the defensive. Over time, you may find your views are not that different.”
Indicator # 2 - History of Deception
Teresa also had a history of lying beyond her sexual behavior. She had told Mahumud she graduated from Tufts. She had really graduated from Colby-Swayer. Teresa had also told Mahmud that her father was a doctor, when he was in fact a chemical technician. I stated to Mahmud, “I’m not suggesting that a single affair is more forgivable than eighteen, or that having only one affair means the unfaithful partner is unlikely to have another affair. However, if the unfaithful partner has a record of lying and deception in multiple areas of his or her life, they may have more difficulty breaking this pattern than someone who has only strayed once.”
Indicator # 3 - Ability to Communicate Openly
Jules stated, “I guess the affair was kind of a catalyst for me. I finally opened up and told Elicia how much it upset me when she poked fun at my bald spot, called me her ‘old man’, or told me how to spend my money even though I make more than enough to support us both.” To Jules’ surprise, Elicia stated that she was glad to hear him complain and know what he was thinking.
Jules continued, “she said she had never realized how much she was hurting me, and promised to work on changing her behavior. And she really had tried hard since I told her.” By communicating openly, Jules demonstrated a commitment to attempting to heal his marriage to Elicia.
I explain to hurt partners that if the unfaithful partner is willing to openly discuss problems in the marriage, they may be less likely to stray again. I state, “I t is not your job to break your partner’s silence. But by encouraging your partner to open up to you, and by creating a climate of tolerance and acceptance, you may be able to encourage the communication that can help you both regain trust. You may want to remind your partner not to protect your feelings, but to trust you with the truth.”
Indicator # 4 - Ability to Hear & Empathize with Pain
If the hurt partner answers no to most of these questions, I encourage the hurt partner to consider not “would my partner stray again,” but “why wouldn’t my partner stray again?”
Indicator # 5 - Willingness to Probe the Meaning
Kevin stated, “five years ago, my wife Ellen had an affair with her boss. But we’ve never talked about it at all. I know almost nothing about Ellen’s affair other than that it happened. I feel the affair hanging over me like someone else in the room. I don’ t think Ellen is cheating on me now, but I have no security. Because we’ve never talked about it I don’t know where I went wrong, or how, or whether Ellen has changed or not. I don’t think she understands it either.”
I stated to Kevin, “when nothing is learned and nothing changes, the problem remains, and so does the temptation to stray.” I encouraged Kevin to consider ways in which he could open up Ellen’s past affair for discussion.I stated to Ellen, “it is only when you show your inner strength to face your imperfections and accept your complicity that Kevin will feel secure enough to invest in a future with you. If you are serious about recommitting to Kevin, you may need to explore with him what happened and what caused you to have an affair.”
Do your Kevin and Ellen need to be reminded of the importance of discussing the meaning of the affair?
On this track, we discussed five indicators that can help the hurt partner assess whether the unfaithful partner is likely to follow through on their promise not have another affair. These five indicators of the unfaithful partner’s trustworthiness are underlying attitudes, a history of deception, an ability to communicate openly, an ability to hear and empathize with pain, and a willingness to take an appropriate share of responsibility for the affair.
On the next track we will discuss helping couples recovering from infidelity assess their reasons for staying together as a couple. We will specifically discuss four reasons based upon insecurities partners may choose to stay in a relationship. These reasons based upon insecurities for staying together are “I can’t make it on my own”, “my religion says my marriage vow cannot be broken”, “the idea of separating is too overwhelming”, and “I’m responsible for taking care of my partner”.
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