Prospective clients ask me this question all the time. I answer, “it depends.”
Infidelity requires special understanding of the dynamics of how it gets created and how it heals.
The therapist needs to believe in marriage. I do. I have been married for 43 years. I am not recommending divorce. When people have children they are together forever for all practical purposes and they have to work it out. If they aren’t good enough friends to be married, it is not likely that they are good enough friends to co-parent after divorce.
Children survive divorce but they don’t recover from it. The damage shows up in fear of committing— getting all the way in. People who fear intimacy and commitment may use infidelity to avoid the closeness so the problem goes into the next generation.
Who commits infidelity? Foolish men who don’t feel good enough and angry women. The dynamic is very different
Dr. Frank Pittman writes, in Private Lies, “infidelity is between a man and his father- not between a man and his wife.” The man who cheats is using women to feel better- it’s a matter of getting with a woman or women who don’t yet know his imperfections.
And women who cheat? They are angry. Because of their emotional connection, they know what they are doing and intend, typically to be hurtful.
In infidelity, everyone must change. This is the most difficult prescription for the hurt partner to swallow and it can be a deal breaker. The hurt spouse MUST treat the unfaithful spouse kindly. The anger will drive the guilty spouse away.
It is very difficult to live with someone you have hurt. The anger can make the marriage impossible to reconcile.
In infidelity, the cheating must be discovered. The truths, all of them, must be told. The lying changes the intimacy to the people who share the secrets. Thus, the marriage partners must share the truths. The offending behaviors need to stop. And, lastly, the hurt partner must come to understand what was going on for the partner who cheated. Cheating is NOT the fault of the marriage- another myth. It is about the person who commits the infidelity and what they were trying to solve for themselves.
I am very optimistic when people call me for help with this problem. The biggest issue is dealing with the anger. It means getting out of ones own shoes and into the shoes of the person who did the hurting. In my experience, male infidelity is much more likely to have a good outcome than female infidelity.
I love working with couples who call me for help with this problem! Certainly, I don’t love the pain. What I love is watching the healing and seeing people come out with better marriages than they had. Once the imperfections are discovered, partners can be together more solidly and without pretense. The safest partner is the one who knows your imperfections and wants you anyway!