The Relationship Blog

Equal Contributors – Couples Therapy, Dr. Bruce Derman

As I have stated in previous blogs, in my work with couples in couples therapy, I see whatever happens between them as a mutual experience, in the fact that I see them as equal contributors to whatever is happening in their relationship. When it comes to infidelity, people don’t typically see it that way. They tend to favor one person as the bad one, or one person as the problem, and the other person as an innocent. So the one that’s having the affair is usually considered the bad person and the other one who feels victimized is seen in a much more presentable light. I don’t really agree with that view, based on what I previously said. I’m more in support of what therapist Carl Whitaker said, “that most affairs are bilateral,” meaning that there are two affairs typically going on, it’s just that we tend to select having an affair with another person as a bad and all other affairs are not eve3n considered as affairs. I see affairs as giving energy to something where there is no agreement within the relationship, and from that perspective where there is no value judgment is easier to see the bilateral view.

So, while a particular man may be having an affair with another woman, the woman in question could also be having an affair. As I know with one of my couples therapy patients, he was the one having the affair, but she was having a constant affair with her own emotionality and she was constantly giving energy to unending emotions. You could multiply his one affair by twenty and you still wouldn’t equal the amount of energy that she would put into her various emotional attacks, her emotional uproars, her emotional blaming, and her emotional accusations. But as I said, in the typical way this is viewed, he’s the one having the affair. So, I put a lot of emphasis on looking at both partners, no matter who comes in with the so called affair, I explore what role each is playing in their relationship situation. Sometimes it’s very delicate due to how they deal with blame. So If the person who feels victimized is tremendously wounded, you have to be delicate in terms of approaching that person, because they’re not open to hearing that they had anything to do with it.

One person who I was working with, his wife had absolutely no idea that he was having affairs, despite him having affairs from the beginning of their 20 year marriage. He must have had ten affairs, yet no awareness on her part and just. If she ever found out, she, of course, would feel victimized. However, if one is really honest with themself, there are many, many signals that can tell you an affair is going on when you care to pay attention. If you don’t want to pay attention, you can ignore anything and then you can act surprised. It can be how the person talks to you, the person’s reluctance in kissing you, or the sex life has diminished, etc. As I said, I put tremendous emphasis on seeing the actions of both partners beyond who is playing the wounded role, so that it shifts from being his or her affair, to our affair.

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