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

Section 4
Conflict Behaviors in Infidelity

CEU Question 4 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Couples
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track, we discussed 4 differences between how male and female hurt partners respond to an affair. These four gender differences involve, the desire to preserve the relationship, depression versus anger, feelings of inadequacy, and obsession versus distraction.

On this track, we will discuss five conflicting aspects of the unfaithful partner’s response to the disclosure of the affair. These five conflicting aspects of the unfaithful partner’s response are relief, impatience, absence of guilt, isolation, and self-disgust.

Jerry, 29, began counseling after his wife Olga discovered he had been carrying on an affair with their babysitter. Jerry stated, "Olga won’t even try to consider my feelings in this. I’m confused and hurting, too! But if I try to talk about my feelings, she just gets more angry!" Sound familiar? I explained to Jerry that his feelings of confusion were normal and understandable.

I also encouraged Jerry to remember that Olga was likely in no frame of mind to appreciate or discuss his conflict. I stated, "perhaps the best way you can help yourself and Olga through this is to identify your intense and contradictory feelings. By identifying these conflicting feelings, you can recognize that they are appropriate and normal at this stage of your journey."

5 Conflicting Aspects to the Unfaithful Partner's Response

Conflicting Aspect # 1 - Relief
I explained to Jerry that there can be five conflicting aspects of the unfaithful partner’s response to the disclosure of an affair. I have observed that the first of these conflicting aspects is relief. Jerry stated, "I lied so much to so many people during my affair that I hardly knew who I was anymore! I was always scared to death of slipping up and getting caught. My nerves were always fried. So when Olga finally confronted me about her suspicions, the first thing I felt was the overwhelming sense of relief!"

I explained to Jerry that many unfaithful partners find that confessing their secret makes them feel whole again. However, as you will see with Jerry, this relief often quickly changes into a more complex array of emotions.

Conflicting Aspect # 2 - Impatience
Jerry stated, "At first it felt really good to come clean to Olga. All I wanted to do then was rebuild our life together. But she won’t move on! How much longer do I have to put up with her yelling at me, trying to set me on a guilt trip? Since I told her about the affair, I’ve put up with every single stupid rule she’s made for me. What the hell do I have to do to get her to cut me a break?"

As you may have observed in your practice, Jerry’s impatience is a second conflicting aspect of an unfaithful partners response to the disclosure of an affair. I explained to Jerry that although he was ready to move on, Olga needed space and time to experience her feelings of shock, rage, and despair. I stated, "It is normal for you to feel impatient, but there are no quick fixes for Olga’s pain. What will help heal her are small, gradual steps that will build up to convince her that she can trust you again." Does your Jerry need to be reminded that while he or she may be ready to move on, their partner will probably need a long healing process?

Conflicting Aspect # 3 - Absence of Guilt
In addition to relief and impatience, a third conflicting aspect of the unfaithful partner’s response to the disclosure of an affair can be absence of guilt. Jerry stated, "You know, I feel completely terrible about hurting Olga so badly. But at the same time, I’m really not sorry for actually having an affair. After all, being with Kendra was such an amazing experience! She made me feel sexy and wanted, and I guess I just didn’t want to look past that. How can it be wrong and feel so good? Besides, no man can be completely faithful! We’re just built to roam around a bit!"

I explored Jerry’s generalized statement about male fidelity with him. Clearly, his belief that men were built to ‘roam around’ was a core assumption that justified his infidelity. During our discussion, Jerry revealed that his father had been unfaithful to his mother. Jerry realized that he developed the belief that men could not control infidelity to protect himself from hating his father.

Another reason an unfaithful spouse may not feel guilt over the affair, which did not apply to Jerry’s case, is anger at the spouse. After thirty-seven years of marriage, Jorge blew up at his wife Maria when she confronted him about his infidelity. Jorge stated, "I’ve been miserable for our entire marriage, and you’re a bitch!" Jorge convinced himself that he had sacrificed his happiness for Maria, thus he was able to justify his lack of guilt. However, this also allowed Jorge to distract himself from thinking of ways he had hurt Maria.

Conflicting Aspect # 4 - Feelings of Isolation
A fourth conflicting aspect of the unfaithful partner’s response to the disclosure of an affair is feelings of isolation. Jerry stated, "I feel like everyone in my life has abandoned me. I don’t have Kendra to confide in anymore. My mother is so furious about the affair she’s hardly speaking to me! I thought I could at least talk things through with my best friend Rich, but he just told me to get a grip on myself and think of my family. I feel so alone, it’s so tempting to break my promise to myself and call Kendra again."

I explained to Jerry that his family and close friends may be too close to his marriage to provide support. Jerry stated, "that might be true. Rich and his wife are close to Olga, too." I encouraged Jerry to find friends to talk to who had no personal stake in his decisions concerning Olga, who could be firmly there for him. I also advised that these friends be able to challenge him to accept his complicity in his problems at home.

Conflicting Aspect # 5 - Self-Disgust
In addition to relief, impatience, the absence of guilt, and isolation, a fifth conflicting aspect of the unfaithful partner’s response to the disclosure of an affair can be self-disgust.  In a later session, Jerry stated, "I’ve been feeling awful lately about what I’ve put Olga through. I can hardly stand myself anymore! How could I just turn my back on my marriage vows like that? I’m so pathetic! I never told Olga I needed her to be more nurturing. Instead I just went out and found somebody else to do it! I even blamed Olga for a while! I’m disgusting!"

I stated to Jerry, "guilt can be a healthy reminder that you have been untrue to yourself. But if you focus your energy on trashing yourself, you distract yourself from learning from the experience and rebuilding." I encouraged Jerry not to focus on blaming himself, but instead to focus on identifying the aspects of himself which he disliked. I also reminded Jerry that he was doing himself a disservice by focusing only on his role in the affair. I explained that while he had no right to blame Olga for the affair, it was healthy for him to address how Olga contributed to his dissatisfaction in his marriage.

Time Projection Technique
Since Jerry had struggled with impatience, I suggested that he might try the Time Projection Cognitive-Behavioral Technique. I stated, "imagine what your life would be like if you made some of the changes Olga has asked you for. Imagine what would change if she made some of the changes you are asking for. What difference would this make six months from now? A year from now? In five years?"

I find that by visualizing the end result of these small changes, clients like Jerry can often find the motivation to put bitterness and despair behind them. Jerry also found that rehearsing these visualizations helped him be more patient with Olga’s need for stricter rules at home.

On this track, we have discussed five conflicting aspects of the unfaithful partner’s response to the disclosure of the affair. These five conflicting aspects of the unfaithful partner’s response are relief, impatience, absence of guilt, isolation, and self-disgust.

On the next track, we will discuss three gender differences in the unfaithful partner’s emotional response to an affair. The three gender differences we will focus on are what kind of partner is sought, what justifies an affair, and what internal tensions the affair causes.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Atkins, D. C., Marín, R. A., Lo, T. T. Y., Klann, N., & Hahlweg, K. (2010). Outcomes of couples with infidelity in a community-based sample of couple therapy. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(2), 212–216. 

Bendixen, M., Kennair, L. E. O., & Grøntvedt, T. V. (2018). Forgiving the unforgivable: Couples’ forgiveness and expected forgiveness of emotional and sexual infidelity from an error management theory perspective. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 12(4), 322–335.

Cornish, M. A., Hanks, M. A., & Gubash Black, S. M. (2020). Self-forgiving processes in therapy for romantic relationship infidelity: An evidence-based case study. Psychotherapy. Advance online publication. 

Leone, R. M., Jarnecke, A. M., Back, S. E., Brady, K. T., & Flanagan, J. C. (2020). The moderating role of infidelity on the relation between oxytocin and conflict behaviors among substance misusing couples. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 28(3), 251–257.

Marín, R. A., Christensen, A., & Atkins, D. C. (2014). Infidelity and behavioral couple therapy: Relationship outcomes over 5 years following therapy. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 3(1), 1–12.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 4
What are five conflicting aspects of the unfaithful partner’s response to the disclosure of an affair? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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