My Partner Had An Affair: Should I Stay or Go?

As a couples therapist, there’s no greater challenge than working through infidelity and its fallout – it’s like a nuclear bomb went off in the marriage, with no bomb shelter in sight.

I recently saw a couple whose marriage was at the breaking point due to an affair (as usual).  Both partners were devastated, but in different ways. In our first session, their main question was simply:  Should we stay together?  This is a great question and not one that’s easy to answer, especially when partners are reeling from the emotional tsunami that every (revealed) affair slams into a marriage.

John and Julie Gottman have researched hundreds of couples post-infidelity, and suggest the following three questions, to help couples decide whether to end their relationship, or buckle up for the hard work that it will take to salvage the relationship:

1. Would you want to be committed to your partner if you trusted them again?
In other words, do you have enough admiration and respect left to salvage the relationship? Be honest and ask yourself: Do we still have fun together and enjoy each other’s company most of the time?

2. Have you let go of your anger and resentment about your partner’s betrayal and are you able to move forward?
Can you imagine ever feeling happy in your relationship or wanting to be close or intimate with your partner in spite of their actions?

3. Can you forgive your partner for their actions?
This does not mean condoning their actions but simply not letting them have power over you. Research suggests that a willingness to forgive can help heal marital problems, both big and small. In fact, marital therapists have found that forgiveness is an essential ingredient of healing from infidelity and contributes to a long-lasting, successful marriage.

I tell partners that, for either of them, if the answer to one or more of these questions is “no”, it’s time to seriously consider leaving the relationship. My job is to help couples look hard at these questions, and to answer them HONESTLY, even if the answer is hard to take.  That’s why I see partners individually for our second session.  I tell them that there’s little to be gained from going through the motions in couples counselling, and that they owe it to themselves and to their partner to be upfront about their commitment to the process.

IF couples answer yes to the above questions, there’s hope, and we begin the long journey back to trust and love.  See my blog, My Partner Had an Affair:  How to Stay Together to learn how to process the affair and rebuild the marriage.

Gottman’s couples counselling won’t create a CONFLICT-FREE marriage. It will, however, create a SAFE-CONFLICT marriage.

Ok, I know what you are thinking, “Good marriage counselling will eliminate arguing and conflict from my marriage”.

Well, the truth is, conflict is totally normal and arguing can be healthy, depending on how you do it. ALL RELATIONSHIPS HAVE CONFLICT.  The nature of arguing brings up tough emotions and depending on how you react to those emotions, an argument can be a learning experience or emotionally devastating.

First you have to realize that you are two different people with unique histories that will impact how certain issues affect you. Your childhood and how you were raised will determine what types of feelings trigger you. For example, you might react badly to feeling excluded because your parents didn’t include you in important family decisions. So when your partner makes an important decision without you, it brings up that old feeling and you have a hard time controlling your emotions. Through counselling you can come to understand what yours and your partners triggers are and be more cognizant of them when bringing up certain issues.

Second, avoid Gottman’s four horsemen: criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. Any one of these behaviours will shut down all communication and prevent a thoughtful discussion and resolution. The problem is that you might be unconsciously engaging in these behaviours.  Gottman relationship counselling can reveal where you are using one (or more!) of the four horsemen and help you to find other ways to communicate.

Third, avoid statements like, “YOU don’t do this,” and opt for “I need you to do this”. Then listen to your partner’s response and try to understand their perspective. Finally, you want to end the argument on a positive note, so review your behaviour and apologize for anything you said during the argument or in the past that might have caused your partner pain. In therapy sessions you will discuss the 6 parts of an argument and how to move through each step, mindful of both yours and your partner’s needs.  This resolves, rather than escalates conflict.

I base my couples counselling on the principals of John Gottman, who has worked with and studied over 3000 couples to develop a counselling approach to support, repair and strengthen committed relationships. 

Check out this video of John Gottman discussing four negative patters that predict divorce.

Find strength in your marriage by exposing some relationship myths

There’s plenty of ideas floating around about what makes for a good, or bad, relationship.  For example, it’s all about communication, conflict is a sign that relationship is in trouble and the one I like best (or really least) from an old movie:  Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

Unfortunately, much of the thinking about problems and solutions in relationships is based on conventional “wisdom”, not evidence.  That’s why I use Gottman Method couples counselling.  This model of therapy is based on years of research on real couples, with real issues in real trouble.
For instance, did you know that most conflict in relationships is unsolvable?  The goal is not to eliminate or solve all conflict (impossible), but rather to make conflict SAFE.  The  trick is to learn ways to “down-regulate” emotions, defensiveness, contempt and other triggering events DURING CONFLICT.
Here is a great article from the Huffington Post, Debunking 12 Myths About Relationships.

Understanding Attachment in your Marriage

Attachment is the emotional bond that forms between an infant and their parents or caregivers. The infant depends on the adult to provide their basic needs and the security of that attachment shapes their brain. How an infant attaches to their parent will affect the development of their personality and dictate how they may behave in adult relationships.

This article does a great job of explaining How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationship.


Free yourself from unwanted and intrusive thoughts through EMDR therapy

I recently finished working with a client who had been in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. She was exhibiting classic signs of PTSD: intrusive thoughts, hyper-vigilance, and “fight, flight or freeze” responses when she thought of the abusive partner or saw reminders of him.

She did EMDR therapy for four months with me, and left my office the other day completely free of unwanted intrusive thoughts (distressing thoughts of memories of a trauma that just “show up” out of nowhere) and any fear of coming into contact with the abusive partner. We were BOTH amazed and delighted at how quickly her memories of the abuse were “filed” or adaptively processed by the EMDR sessions.

I find this over and over: what seem to be entrenched and frightening memories are faced and dealt with by this amazing therapy. The central nervous system wants to and WILL heal all on its own when given the means to do so.

Check out this article:

EMDR is Driving my Recovery from PTSD and Addiction

Bring back the magic

I often work with couples who want to feel closer to their partners, who don’t understand where the “magic” went. They used to have an easy intimacy, shared dreams and lots of laughs. What happened?

Dr. John Gottman and his wife, Julie, address this and many other relationship issues, many of which I see over and over in my practice. Their Gottman Method of Couples Counselling is based on 30 years of research and focused work with over 3000 couples. Here’s an article from their blog, “3 Steps to Reconnect When You Feel Disconnected From Your Partner”, that describes practical ways to bring back the “magic”.