Healing From Infidelity and Betrayal

Healing From Infidelity and Betrayal

Healing From Infidelity and Betrayal

by Gretchen Hentsch-Cowles, MS, LMFT,
Clinical Director of Hopemead Counseling and Trauma Center

All too often, when we are faced with infidelity and betrayal in our relationship or marriage, we come to believe that it’s our fault. We are told we had a part in it, we turn inward and blame ourselves, we feel rage, and we are led too fast too soon down a road of forgiveness which doesn’t address the wound and the trauma of having experienced betrayal.

When working therapeutically through infidelity, we need to follow a specific treatment that will allow for individual healing as well as a program for the couple to work through the dynamic that led to the infidelity.

Currently, there are two approaches in the area of affairs/infidelity. The first is the “Addiction Model,” which states that sexual addiction and affairs are a family affair and disease. Hence, the spouse of the offending cheater is shamed into believing he or she has a part in the infidelity and needs to take accountability and change his/her behaviors. Most importantly, this approach leaves the betrayed spouse/partner feeling powerless and blamed.

Through personal and professional experience, we say this approach does not work. It does not empower either spouse but merely encourages the deception and gaslighting to continue. And it doesn’t hold the offending spouse/partner accountable. Furthermore, it consistently undermines the betrayed partner’s emotional and intellectual wellbeing. The article I published in 2013 in Taylor & Francis, A Systemic Review of the Literature on the Role of the Partner of the Sex Addict, Treatment Models, and a Call for Research for Systems Theory Model in Treating the Partner, was precisely written under the “influence” of the “Addiction Model” created by Patrick Carnes (think famous celebrities retreating to Mississippi at Gentle Path), the sex addiction guru who has written profusely on the topic and offers extensive training to therapists as Certified Sex Addiction Therapists. I was led to believe that the spouse/partner was at fault and needed to not only correct her/his behavior but could not hold his/her spouse accountable for his/her behavior. Rather, they had to consistently consider it a personal issue. Over the years, the trauma is never addressed and merely accumulates.

The second therapeutic approach, created by experts in the field such as Milton Magness and Barbara Steffens and which offers healing in relationships and a chance for couples to move forward, is referred to as the “Trauma Treatment Model.” This model recognizes the level and depth of the betrayed spouse’s/partner’s trauma due to the infidelity and offending behaviors of the partner/spouse and treats it accordingly. The offender is not shamed but held accountable, confronted, and guided to learn how to cherish and respect her/his partner/spouse to develop healthy intimacy and vulnerability in the relational dynamic of the couple. You can find more information at the Association for Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists.

When faced with infidelity, recognize your wounds and seek out therapists who specialize within the framework of the “Trauma Model.” You will find support and validation, the gaslighting will stop, you will be empowered to set boundaries, and you may experience a new found intimacy with your partner/spouse that you haven’t experienced before.

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