Couples who stayed together: talked thoroughly about the affair with one another, the betrayer’s expression of remorse was essential, as was the betrayer partner listening non-defensively to the hurt partner’s emotions and answering hurt partner’s questions with absolute transparency. (The strong suggestion is that the hurt partner not ask questions about types of sex during the affair, if the affair was sexual, in addition to an emotional affair.)
Do not blame the hurt partner when exploring the factors that contributed to the affair. Don’t go too fast and make sure that both partners know you will be empathizing with both of them. The therapist may need to differentiate negative emotion from criticism and contempt and teach how to express emotions without the Four Horsemen (handout).
It is premature, at this point, for the couple to talk about why the affair occurred. (Discussing it too early may encourage the betrayer partner to blame the affair on their low marital satisfaction. This might make the hurt partner engage in self-blame. Having an affair is a choice made by the betrayer partner alone.)
The goals of this phase of therapy are openness and transparency, expressing emotions, listening to emotions, and the betrayer partner expressing remorse, which is the beginning of the betrayer partner’s atonement.
Atonement not only includes verbal apology, it includes behavioral change. Only two people in the relationship, unless the couple agrees.
The couple is starting to build marriage number two for which they need honesty, transparency and witnessing each other’s truths.
Verifying that the betrayer partner is now telling the truth may be required. Transparency about location, email, texting, phones, travel- basically everything. This phase lasts for as long as the hurt partner needs it to last.
Affairs happen. You are not here to be judged. That gets in the way of successful therapy. They are, in fact, quite common. The processes involved in affairs are fairly universal and very human. We recognize that people at times betray their own morals.
Atonement is a way of returning to oneself and one’s own moral home. This return involves transparency, and eventually greater understanding in phase 2.