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On the last 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 this 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".
Jack, a 42 year old hurt partner, came in to counseling after discovering that his wife Minnie had been having an affair with their next-door neighbor for the past three years.
Jack stated, "things with Minnie haven’t been good since I found out about her and David. We’ve been having terrible fights just about every day, and if we’re not fighting, we’re not having anything to do with each other. I’m scared about staying in a marriage like this. I mean, my folks had a hate-filled marriage, and it was bad for all of us. But I wouldn’t have any idea where to begin if I decided to divorce Minnie. No one I’m close to has ever gone through it before. I just can’t face it. I think the best thing to do is to stick with it and see if things get better."
Does this sound familiar? Have you treated a client, like Jack, who is sticking with his marriage after an infidelity crisis only out of guilt, fear, or a sense of duty?
I have found that some clients who stay in their marriage out of feelings of guilt, fear, or a sense of duty find themselves living a life of self-imposed incarceration. Therefore, I felt it important to engage Jack in an in-depth discussion of his reasons for staying in his marriage to Minnie. I stated to Jack, "when an individual is deciding whether or not to stay in his or her marriage following an infidelity crisis, there can be four reasons based upon insecurities for staying."
Reason # 1 - "I Can't Make it on My Own"
Clearly, the financial implications of divorce can be frightening for a client contemplating divorce, especially for women. A twenty-five year study on the effects of divorce on income revealed that living standards following divorce declined 36.4 percent for women. However, living standards for men rose 3.9 percent.
I encourage clients concerned about supporting themselves financially following a divorce to ask themselves is they are underestimating their ability to support themselves. I ask clients concerned about supporting themselves financially to recall how they supported themselves before marriage. I also ask clients to consider if they are overestimating how financially safe and protected they have been with their partner.
Linda believed she was unable to survive solo. However, after reexamining her history with her husband, Linda discovered that it was she who had kept the family financially afloat. After Linda’s husband gambled away most of her life savings, it was Linda who single-handedly prevented the bank from foreclosing on their home. However, as you know these financial concerns are very real in most cases for women especially when children are involved. I find my role of providing as much specific financial aid information as possible to facilitate the decision whether to stay or leave is the most beneficial and provided referral as needed.
Jack stated, "well, it’s not the money that worries me. But look at me. I’m paunchy, bald, and boring. Nobody else is going to want me, and I don’t want to end up alone! God, thinking about being alone scares the hell out of me!!" Does your Jack have negative assumptions about living alone, or self-image difficulties, which affect his or her decision to stay in his or her marriage? I felt that Jack’s focus on how lonely he would be outside of his relationship with Minnie was preventing him from confronting on how lonely he was inside his relationship with Minnie.
Treasure Chest Visualization Technique
When guiding Jack through this exercise, I stated, "the object you find in the chest can be anything that reminds you of a strength or value. It could be a golden heart to remind you of your kindness, a flower from your garden that you spend so much time on. The object in the chest could also be a piece of parchment with a favorite quote." I encouraged Jack to practice this exercise at home every day for a week to remind him of his strengths. Do you have a Jack who would be receptive to visualizations to facilitate a focus on his strengths?
Reason # 2 - Religious Beliefs
For many people, religious doctrine can give meaning to life as a source of certainty, spiritual fulfillment, and consolation. In fact, current research on commitment indicates that couples whose religious beliefs reinforce a deeply felt desire to recommit have a better chance of improving the quality of their relationship. However, when these beliefs are felt as constraints from above, a great deal of frustration can result.
I stated to Neil, "when religious dogma is your only reason for staying in a relationship, you may end up satisfying your faith, but not yourself or your partner. You may want to weigh these options carefully as you make a decision regarding preserving your marriage with Rose."
Reason # 3 - Separating seems Too Overwhelming
I asked Jack to picture continuing to live with Minnie’s infidelity and related difficulties. I stated, "obviously, a separation is traumatic. You may want to take some time to consider which would be worse for you. The trauma of separating, or the reality of continuing to live in a damaged relationship. Deciding which would be the most painful might help you may the decision whether or not to stay with Millie."
Reason # 4 - "I am Responsible for Taking Care of my Partner"
I stated to Sean, "if you are no longer committed to Kim in a meaningful way, you cannot do much to restore or nurture her sense of self. Although separating is likely to be difficult for both you and Kim, you may want to consider that Kim would be better off finding support from others in her life. It seems that you are sacrificing yourself for what you think is best for Kim. Would it be better for Kim to have a chance to separate from you and have a chance to meet someone who genuinely wants to share a life with her?"
Have you treated a Sean whose feelings of responsibility towards their partner are interfering with his or her decision regarding leaving their relationship? Would playing this track in your next session be beneficial?
On this track, we have discussed helping couples recovering from infidelity assess their reasons for staying together as a couple. We will specifically discuss four reasons based upon insecuritiespartners 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".
On the next track, we will discuss the impact of five essential growth experiences that can influence the way a couple handles an infidelity crisis. The five essential growth experiences we will discuss are being safe and secure, functioning independently, having solid emotional connections, being able to value yourself, and living with realistic limitations.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
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.
Cater, T., Zeigler-Hill, V., & Besser, A. (2016). Exposure to an infidelity threat manipulation: The role of adult attachment dimensions in anticipated relationship evaluation responses. Journal of Individual Differences, 37(2), 119–127.
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