My response to this question was published as an article, and I have reproduced it here for our own readers.
“I’m very curious about point 6 – Avoid Marital Therapy. Is this something that you would actively discourage couples affected by infidelity to do? Is it not possible that it can indeed help in some cases?”
Yes, I would actively discourage marital therapy in the immediate aftermath of an affair.
- You didn’t cause the affair – so why are you in therapy learning how to ‘prevent’ another one?
- The marriage didn’t cause the affair – so how can marital therapy fix it?
- Poor communication didn’t cause the affair – so how does learning improved communication in marital therapy stop another one from happening?
Marital counselling presupposes that the issues being addressed are ‘couple issues’ but infidelity is NOT a shared issue – it is owned entirely by the cheater.
Yes, there may have been issues within the marriage, but the affair was caused by the cheater’s internal issues, not any imperfections in the relationship. If affairs were caused by imperfect marriages and/or spouses, you would both be having affairs!
It’s important to understand that cheating is a mindset of entitlement, self satisfaction and unethical behavior. Cheaters feel entitled to continue to deceive and manipulate (trickle truth is a common post-affair problem) to preserve their lifestyle despite their behavior and to avoid any material consequence to their choices.
Marital Therapists and Infidelity
Marital therapy with a cheater who has not made changes to their world view and personal narrative can essentially teach the cheater what to say and do to keep their faithful spouse firmly in place, hushed up and ‘getting over it’. What it doesn’t do is address the internal non-marital thinking that the cheater employed to give themselves permission to cheat in the first place.
It’s worth noting that marital therapy is a business that requires dysfunctional relationships in order to survive. Neither the cheater nor the faithful spouse are encouraged to identify or pursue alternatives to the marital relationship, because the industry requires that fear and convention keep people trying to work though dysfunction.
It is rare for a marital therapist to encourage either party to pursue their personal goals and dreams for themselves if those goals and dreams potentially lead them away from the marriage, and the therapist’s service.
If a cheater requires guidance to help them address their own issues, I would recommend that they seek individual psychotherapy.
The faithful spouse can use this time to observe if there is authentic, clear, and sustained change in the cheater’s fundamental thinking and ethical framework. Only when the cheater has addressed this can there be any meaningful work on the marriage – so marital therapy is an option for much later on in the process.
Is it Possible That it Can Help?
You asked if it was possible for marital therapy to help in some cases. I would agree that marital therapy can help encourage a Divorce Avoidance Plan.
In our experience, Divorce Avoidance Plans always result in an unfulfilled, miserable, and distrustful faithful spouse who feels that:
- The cheater hasn’t really changed.
- This is because the cheater hasn’t changed at their core because at its core, marital therapy isn’t about the cheater.
- The cheater hasn’t truly held themselves accountable and hasn’t personally driven marital repair.
- Unfortunately, marital therapy seeks to ‘share’ blame and responsibility for repair between the cheater, the marriage, and the faithful spouse. It can be inferred from this and the very suggestion that marital therapy is necessary that the cheater is somewhat relieved of sole accountability for their affair.
- For the cheater, post-infidelity marital therapy is externally directed and prescriptive i.e. it is the therapist and the faithful partner who generally drive any ‘recovery’, not the cheater’s inner-directed actions and intent.
We typically see faithful spouses in Divorce Avoidance Plans frustrated and confused, desperate for marital therapy to work. They might limp along in a dissatisfying marriage for years, applying more Band Aids to the cracks, even when they become chasms. Many hold their fundamental deal breaker as another affair – when the real deal breaker should be the cheater’s lack of change.
Discontinuing marital therapy feels counter-intuitive, I know. Many hope that therapy can keep their marriage together, which it might well do for a time. That hope, fueled by fear of change and strong emotional ties to the cheater can result in a desperate investment in and commitment to marital therapy.
I want better for you than a Divorce Avoidance Plan – but I also understand that removing marital support exposes the cheater’s real thinking and lack of personal motivation to change – and that’s when things get risky.