Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Infidelity Counseling: How Effective Is It?

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Have you ever done something that just didn’t work? When I was 9, I dared my 6-year-old brother to kiss a snapping turtle. Somehow, neither of us anticipated the outcome. The turtle grabbed Jay’s lip, and what followed is the stuff of legends: He ran around screaming with the turtle hanging from his bottom lip, and I was working like crazy to get the darn thing off before mom discovered my dastardly deed. As you might imagine, it cost me a pretty penny to keep Jay quiet about my failed experiment.

I’m older now and hopefully a bit more thoughtful. Along the way, I’ve learned that if you want to run, you’ve first got to tie your shoes. It’s not OK to risk making a mess of someone’s life on a hunch and, yet, that’s what happens with individuals as they recover from infidelity.

Why ‘Expert’ Doesn’t Always Mean Expert

When it comes to the services offered by many general marriage and family therapists, there seems to be little positive momentum gained. I think people genuinely mean well, but there’s little to no training offered by graduate schools on the topic of infidelity. Many profess to be experts in treating infidelity when they’ve only treated a few cases. They attempt to use their minimal experience as grounds to label themselves as “experts.” At Affair Recovery, we hear stories like this nearly every day.

The fact of the matter is infidelity is a complex beast. Every situation is uniquely different. Our Affair Analyzer alone has more than 850 different outcomes associated with where people can land after infidelity. Sure, there are trends and there are markers associated with the actions of both wayward and betrayed mates; however, your situation is going to be one of a kind in how it unfolds in your individual world. It will require an expert approach, not one that’s been honed over a few years or a handful of cases.

What Therapists Often Get Wrong About Infidelity

Peggy Vaughan, who passed away in 2012, was one of the foremost early researchers on infidelity and affairs. Her work research on the effectiveness of general therapy among those suffering the pain and hurt of infidelity is still practically unrivaled. She published a wonderful piece of research, Help for Therapists (and Their Clients) in Dealing with Affairs, which was based on the results of a survey of 1,083 people whose spouses had affairs. I highly recommend going to her website and reading it in full. Also, consider picking up her book "The Monogamy Myth: A Personal Handbook for Recovering From Affairs." This resource is loaded with information on how to rebuild after infidelity and get the help you need to move forward.

In her research for therapists, I found interesting how she highlights a lack of effectiveness with counseling. On page 38, there were 861 responses to this question: “Was the counselor helpful?” No, mostly frustrating said 57%; yes, but not as much as I’d like said 23%; and yes, very helpful said 20%. When more than half of the respondents say that not only was their experience unhelpful, but that it was also frustrating, something is very wrong.

On page 39, there were 725 responses to this question: “Did the counselor focus directly on the issue of affairs?” No, mainly focused on general marital problems said 59%; yes, but not as strongly or clearly as I’d like said 28%; and yes, very directly dealt with this issue said 13%. Again, it’s sad that only 13% of therapists knew how to directly address infidelity. I suspect the others fell into the “cause and effect” trap, which blames the marriage (or the hurt mate) for the affair. Generally, that approach is disastrous in couples’ recovery. Often, couples walk away feeling more frustrated, hopeless and angry at their inability to gain ground, in both their individual recoveries and marriage restoration.

Why a One-Size Approach Is Harmful and Inadequate

In all of our Affair Recovery resources, we want both mates to feel safe and validated. For us, a pivotal part of offering this space is maintaining an objective atmosphere. We want every individual to find healing and new life after their difficult situation. We know that a one-size-fits-all approach causes more damage and not only frustrates mates, but it can also further traumatize them. Misinformation is spread with this approach, such as:

  • If the betrayed mate had been more physically intimate in their relationship, then their partner wouldn’t have cheated.
  • If the betrayed mate just stops talking about the affair, then they’d finally develop new momentum in their relationship.
  • If the wayward mate strays, even just that once, then it’s normal for the betrayed partner to physically abuse and harm them.
  • If the wayward mate had never cheated, then their relationship wouldn’t be in such bad shape today.

Not to mention, it’s about every week that we hear of a therapist telling someone to simply divorce their mate because “that’s what they would do.”

How Affair Recovery Expertly Tackles Infidelity

Traumatized lives like yours and mine are far too important to generalize. Infidelity and addiction require a delicate-yet-expert approach to address issues in both spouses while providing hope for the future. It’s true: People who are hurting tend to hurt people. Even therapists, if they’re not free of residue from their own situations, they can inadvertently damage those who are looking for their expert, objective insight.

At Affair Recovery, we understand that healing is an ongoing process and treat it as such. We’re always evolving our programs and courses to better serve individuals and couples, while also working tirelessly behind the scenes to improve and heal ourselves. We pride ourselves on being healthy enough to heal and help others, while also being able to uniquely empathize with their unique situations.

With that being said, I hope you’ll take time to review some of our other healing resources. In our Q&A videos, Wayne and me regularly review your infidelity questions and respond with our expert insights. These videos are all found in our robust Recovery Library, which you can subscribe to here. Below is an example of one of my Q&A videos, in which I tackle this question from a betrayed spouse:

'How Do I Handle the Abrupt Emotional Changes?'

“Hi, Rick. How do I deal with strong emotions that change for no seemingly good reason at all? For example, one day I will feel completely fine, loved, hopeful, happy, grateful for this wake-up call and motivated to work on us (currently in EMSO) and do the best for my family. And in the next moment, I will feel disgust, dread, unloved and unloving, like I just want to leave my spouse and start my life over, one that I deserve.”

I hope you’ll find this video helpful and consider submitting a question of your own. To do that, you’ll simply need to subscribe to our Recovery Library, and then submit a question using this link.

Registration for EMS Online opens today, March 17, at noon CST!

Our Emergency Marital Seminar Online, better known as EMSO, isn’t a one-size-fits-all program for couples. Over decades of experience exclusively in the field of infidelity, our methodology has been honed to better serve couples as they address the betrayal, reconnect as partners and restore their lives.

“I would like to comment on the course as a whole. I am the unfaithful spouse and today on the call, my spouse said that they had started the course as a last-ditch effort before divorce, but they now see hope for our marriage. We are continuing with Married for Life, and I am grateful not only for EMSO and all that it has taught us about how to recover from infidelity, but that it has also provided us with materials on how to rebuild a solid marriage and the tools to move forward. I cannot count how many times I have thanked God for Affair Recovery.” — Anonymous EMSO November 2020 participant.

Spots fill up quickly, so don’t wait to register for EMSO! Click to link below to kick-start your healing journey today.

Register Now!

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