Shirley Glass and John Gottman have done some great research on infidelity and their conclusions are positive. It comes down to what you do after the infidelity has been revealed or discovered.
Couples, they must go through a process of healing, Gottman calls the overall process atonement, attune and attach.
Atonement: Healing after an affair cannot occur without the offending partner’s continual expression of remorse.
I sit in my counselling practice and sometimes I can see which couple is going to be able to move through this. Why? because the offending person is feeling remorse and really feeling it through every cell in their body. This couple has so much more chance of being able to move through this and to create a new relationship. It’s easy for the offending person to assume that if they have said sorry once, then they’ve taken responsibility and the debt is enough and let’s just park it. It is not enough. I can assure you to apologize one time and then expect the conversation to be over is not going to work.
The first stage is recognizing the need for that hurt person to hear again and again the offending person is genuinely sorry. It cannot occur if the offending person applies some of the blame on that hurt partner. And certainly, there may have been contributing factors to the infidelity. For example, “we haven’t had sex in months” or you’d been really, really depressed for a couple of years or whatever it is.
The offending person must take responsibility for the painful way that he or she chose to deal with the circumstances. And at the same time, the injured person must continually work on forgiveness. It is a decision to be able to work towards that. If the injured person gets stuck too long in the hurt and the anger stage, the offending person they might feel like he or she just can’t win.
The injured person, they must agree to work on his or her part of this relationship and it’s staying in the adult. Not attacking or verbally insulting.
When the offending person really gets the enormity of what they’ve done and they, from their heart and from every cell in their body, they connect with their partner and they show that remorse, incredible shifts in a relationship can occur.
With atonement, I love what Gottman has put together with this because I use this repeatedly in sessions. It consists of six different stages that the couple must work through and go through the stages will help to build back that foundation of trust.
What has happened is there’s been a massive interruption to trust.
- Behaviour change, transparency and verification
- Understanding what went wrong
- Explore offending persons reason for return
- Exact a high cost for future betrayal
- Begin to forgive
In summary, the offending person must own it with no justification. Airing of what has happened, 86% of couples stay together if atonement is achieved.
Attunement: Is about the rebuilding of trust and this takes time. This stage comes after atonement in which the couple emerges with tentative forgiveness and where a new relationship is forming.
Both partners, they acknowledge the need for forming this new kind of relationship and the old one obviously wasn’t working, you cannot go back there.
What I do as a therapist is create a space for couples to work through the emotions because it’s deeply painful. However, being able to sit in their uncomfortableness and that vulnerability and wow, I’ve seen some couples create the most incredible relationships through taking a risk because there are no guarantees with any of this. But taking a risk and sitting with what you’re feeling and sharing, it’s huge. People find that inner voice because it’s all about understanding your own inner world and your partners.
When your needs aren’t being met inside of a marriage, you are going to move into a state of emotional pain and in time you will want to meet those needs. Infidelity smashes it open and is an opportunity for healing and growth.
Attachment: As human beings, we are biologically hardwired to attach. The third phase of recovering from an affair is attach. This is where the ability to attune reaches the bedroom and manifests itself in attachment. A great relationship consists of great sexual intimacy. The key to connection is an ongoing intimate conversation.
Couples who are able to work through these three different stages, they will then be able to get to a place where they’re not really triggering each other. Because if you don’t clean up the infidelity and the fear and you continue to stay in your relationship, you will trigger each other.
A closeness and a trust begin to build between a couple when they take the time to work through this. A brand new relationship is formed. For other couples, they part ways as they are unable to get past this but at least an attempt was made so no regret comes up later.
Tune into to my Empowered Marriage Podcast to learn more. There’s a new podcast each week – https://www.powerofchange.com.au/empowered-marriage-podcast/