5 keys to overcome a couple crisis due to infidelity
Several practical tips on how to overcome a couple crisis due to infidelity.
Infidelity is one of the most frequent problems that people who maintain affective relationships of marriage or courtship go through.
Although being a taboo subject it is complicated to make calculations about it, it is estimated that in Western societies, the percentage of adults who are or have been unfaithful is between 15 and 25%. Moreover, it is now known that infidelity is a cross-cultural phenomenon in practically all cultures, although the frequency with which it occurs depends a lot on the place where one lives, the generation to which one belongs, and the age group one is in.
But... Is it possible to overcome infidelity? Several decades of research on this topic show that yes, although it is also true that behind the idea of "unfaithful behavior" can hide very diverse and different realities.
5 key ideas for turning over a new leaf after an infidelity
Not everyone who goes through an infidelity feels bad when faced with the doubt of whether or not to end the relationship. For example, there are those who assume that infidelity is synonymous with breaking up; and at the other extreme, there are those who already know beforehand that they will not be able to break up with the other person, but are resigned to the idea that they will be trapped in a relationship that only brings unhappiness and betrayal.
Both belief systems are wrong and are very dysfunctional in terms of their effects on people's psychological well-being.. Thus, assuming that the only thing to do in the face of infidelity is to break up leads us to lose sight of the fact that the term "infidelity" is a label used to refer to a wide variety of situations, in many of which it is possible to find all kinds of nuances, and therefore is not associated with clear instructions on what to do in all cases.
Similarly, it is clear that where there is someone who finds it impossible to break up with his or her partner, even if this generates unhappiness and discomfort, there is a serious problem in which it is necessary to intervene to overcome this dependence (or even a situation of abuse, if it occurs).
With this in mind, let us look at several key ideas on which it is important to rely when overcoming an infidelity, and which are based on several of the principles used in couples therapy in situations of this type.
1. Always start with how the victim of infidelity feels.
Many people who realize that their partner has been unfaithful to them become fixated on a single idea: what drove the other person to do that? Although this information is important, it should not be allowed to overshadow the one that is really significant in the first place: how do I feel about it?
Overcoming an infidelity is above all a repair process in which the possibilities of repairing that bond based on trust are explored, so if there is someone who should take the lead, it is the one who has seen how the other person broke with that level of commitment. Therefore, everything must start with how the infidelity has generated an emotional impact on someone who up to that point has been left on the sidelines. Even if there have been infidelities on both sides, one grievance does not "cancel out" the other: there are things to be repaired on both sides.
2. It is necessary to know how to detect abusive dynamics
The other big question that must be addressed from the beginning is whether infidelity is one of the main symptoms that something is wrong in the relationship, or if there is really a much bigger problem in the form of abuse, for example, through emotional manipulation.
Does the other person try to make us feel guilty for having "forced" him/her to be with someone else, or does he/she treat us as "crazy" for making a big deal out of the infidelity situation? These are warning signs that indicate the attempts of the other person to dominate the relationship by overriding one's own dignity and decision-making capacity.. In these cases, it should be assumed that the fact that the other person has been unfaithful is not the problem to be addressed.
3. It is necessary to know how to appreciate the nuances of infidelity.
There are various types of infidelity, as well as various degrees to which commitment can be damaged. For example, having sex outside of a monogamous relationship is not the same as making yourself accessible to another person to "feel out" his or her romantic interest in you. Knowing how to appreciate and recognize these nuances is necessary in order to to have a global and realistic picture of the type of problem that is affecting the couple's relationship..
4. When repairing damage, move from words to action
As we have seen, infidelity is a problem because it is incompatible with the element of trust and commitment that should exist in a couple's relationship. That is why it is necessary to generate mutual commitment again, and this cannot be done only through words and promises: it is necessary to demonstrate that there is a willingness to repair the damage and to be worthy of the other's trust. And to do so, it is necessary to carry out objective actions that demonstrate them in practice, beyond the world of abstract ideas.. This should take some time; it is not something that can take place in a single day.
5. Beware of self-sabotaging thoughts.
In cases of infidelity it is relatively easy to fall into irrational thoughts based on fears and obsessions. It is to some extent normal (love relationships are based on emotions with a great capacity to "pull" our reasoning processes), but it is no less problematic.
We must try to have as neutral a view as possible so as not to fall into self-sabotaging thoughts which will tend to keep us in our comfort zone and prevent us from facing the root of the problem. Examples of these thoughts that bring nothing but trouble: "What could I have done to prevent him/her from being unfaithful?" "I have been irresponsible in not making it very clear to him/her that infidelities are very important to me?" "What can I do to make him/her fall in love again?".
Are you looking for couples therapy services?
If you are interested in having psychotherapeutic support either to address problems that affect you individually or to overcome couple crisis, please contact us. At Psicoconsulting we have been offering therapy for adults and adolescents for years, and we currently offer both face-to-face sessions (in our center in Barcelona) and online via video call.
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(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)