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Infidelity: Cognitive Therapy for the Hurt Partner and Unfaithful Partner
Infidelity continuing education addiction counselor CEUs

Section 7
Track #7 - Effective Use of 'My Partner’s Attitudes' to Assess Trustworthiness

CEU Question 7 | CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Couples
Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

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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.

5 Indicators of Trustworthiness

Share on Facebook Indicator # 1 - Underlying Attitudes
I find that the first of these indicators of trustworthiness is the unfaithful partner’s underlying attitudes. When Pilar (Pee-Lar) asked Carlos, who she had been married to for three years, why he had cheated on her, Carlos stated, “I didn’t expect you to find out about it.” In our next individual session, Pilar stated, “Carlos’s conscience is ruled only by the risk of punishment! I though about it, and I realized he believes anything is okay as long as he doesn’t get caught! I don’t think I can trust him to stay faithful to me!”

Share on Facebook My Partner's Attitudes Exercise
To further explore her doubts about Carlos, I encouraged Pilar to try the My Partner’s Attitudes exercise with me. I stated to Pilar, “I am going to read a list of seven attitudes an unfaithful partner may have. As I read this list, consider how Carlos would relate to each one. Then, consider what predictions his attitudes concerning this list might have on his future behavior.” The seven items of the attitude list are

  1. What my partner doesn’t know won’t hurt them.
  2. I only have one life to live, I deserve to be as happy as possible.
  3. My affair lets me satisfy my needs without breaking up the family. I’m doing it for the kids.
  4. Men are not meant to be monogamous.
  5. I have no impulse control.
  6. I never promised to be perfect.
  7. Since my partner knows about the affair but isn’t confronting me, it must be ok as long as I don’t flaunt it.

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.”

Share on Facebook Indicator # 2 - History of Deception
A second indicator of trustworthiness can be the unfaithful partner’s history of deception. Mahmud had been married to his wife Teresa for eight years. Mahmud stated, “looking back, Teresa has been double-faced from day one. When we were engaged, I called her place and found myself speaking to a guy she was still dating. And a couple years ago, she went on what she said was an important business trip. A week later, I got a call from the hotel she had stayed at asking if I had left one of my silk ties in ‘our’ hotel room.”

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.”

Share on Facebook Indicator # 3 - Ability to Communicate Openly
In addition to underlying attitudes and a history of deception, a third indicator of trustworthiness can be the unfaithful partner’s ability to communicate openly. Jules, forty-four year old human resources manager, was married to Elicia, who was 12 years younger. Jules felt mistreated by Elicia, but repressed his feelings rather than confronting her, and sought the companionship of a lover.

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.”

Share on Facebook Indicator # 4 - Ability to Hear & Empathize with Pain
A fourth indicator of trustworthiness can be the unfaithful partner’s ability to hear the hurt partner and empathize with pain. As you have probably observed in your practice, partners who cannot get beyond their own needs and appreciate their partner’s feelings are more likely to cheat again.  I encourage hurt partners to consider whether their partner can:

  1. See the hurt partner as a separate person, rather than an extension of him or herself.
  2. Appreciate what the hurt partner has been put through, and the emotional damage the affair has caused.
  3. Feel compassion and remorse for the hurt partner’s pain.
  4. Change to the hurt partner’s point of view, even if it is different from his or her own.

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?”

Share on Facebook Indicator # 5 - Willingness to Probe the Meaning
In addition to underlying attitudes, a history of deception, ability to communicate openly, and an ability to hear and empathize with pain, a fifth indicator of trustworthiness can be a willingness to probe the meaning of the affair and take an appropriate share of the responsibility. Obviously, if the unfaithful partner is unwilling to explore why the affair happened, and accept his or her share of the responsibility for it, hopes for a committed relationship are likely to be built on sand.

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”.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 7
What are 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? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Answer Booklet.

 
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