By Kyle M. Reid, LMFT
Sexual infidelity in a relationship causes significant distress to the partner that falls victim to it. Sexual infidelity can encompass a variety of behaviors. These behaviors include, but are not limited to, sexually acting out, having an emotional affair with another person outside of the relationship, or viewing pornographic images.
Regardless of the type of infidelity, all may have equally damaging effects on the partner who is victimized.
If the partners want to make things work, seeking counseling is important for the couple and often the family. Much of the therapy experience, at the beginning, is dedicated to exploring the emotional betrayal and trauma of the injured partner. The ability to express and work through this pain with his or her partner present can be invaluable to the healing process.
However, this can often be a difficult thing to do if the offending partner or the offender is seeking to move on from the infidelity. He or she might not wish to revisit all the hurt and pain that had been caused by the infidelity. They might worry that their partner will not be able to move past it, or that talking about it makes it worse.
When this happens, couples often get stuck in the cycle of the offended partner becoming an anxious and fearful detective – always assessing what their partner is doing and where they are going, and the offender feeling controlled and frustrated with their partner for not being able to move on and trusting them again.
In actuality, as the offended partner works through the emotional trauma associated with the infidelity and is able to feel validated and understood by their partner, he or she is able to move on in the relationship much more quickly and come to a place of forgiveness.
However, getting to forgiveness is difficult if the offender continues to commit infidelity in the relationship due to sexual or pornography compulsions. When this happens, much of the work is centered on helping the offended partner establish appropriate boundaries as well as reaching out and leaning on others for support and strength. At the same time, the offender must stay in recovery in order to leave their addiction or compulsion behind and begin to understand the needs that he or she is trying to meet in the process of acting out.
Building a string, loving and healthy attachment bond between the two partners and obtaining long term sobriety from the partner with the addiction or compulsion – is the ultimate goal in this process. Marriages can become much stronger as result of this tragedy when proper work is done in understanding and healing issues that led the couple came to where they are. (Examining the relationship prior to the infidelity can also be crucial due to the fact the infidelity often occurs after the relationship starts to get disconnected).
Help through therapy can be an important step in this process. Many couples in our clinic have discovered a stronger relationship as result of working through the pain and finding individual and couple healing from the infidelity. While some couples have decided to part as result of the infidelity, others have sought to make things work; all can find healing and forgiveness from the pain and betrayal of infidelity.