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Overcoming Affair Problems In The Relationship – Couples Therapy, Dr. Bruce Derman

One of the things I do to help couple’s deal with affairs is to help them to understand, through couples tharapy, how this affair works in their relationship. I assist them to see what role and purpose did this affair have in their relationship and help them to explore and look at things that they haven’t been looking at. One core aspect of affairs that I emphasize is in an article of mine called The Key To Resolving Affairs. I have come to realize that when someone has an affair and if they still want the marriage, they will try to state presentable things once they’re caught,. That leaves the person who didn’t have the affair constantly feeling incomplete, and constantly feeling unresolved. I put tremendous emphasis on supporting the patient who actually had the affair to let go of saying presentable things that sound right, such “I made a mistake or I was drinking”. It is very rare during the discussion after the affair for the acting out partner to share at the unpresentable level. To make that occur I encourage the hurt party to say “Don’t tell me that you love me” and, “You know, you made a mistake”, or “You just happened to be drinking at the time.” I don’t want to hear it. I just want to hear from the part of you that had this affair and don’t pretty it up for me. In fact, if you pretty it up for me, I’m going to know you’re lying. So, I’ll know that you’re telling me the truth if I start hearing things that are not presentable, that are not things where you’re trying to sell yourself and you’re not just trying to get back into my bed.

As I said, this interaction rarely occurs. What happens is that the couple starts to discuss what happened that led to the affair, but since they are not really talking to the part of the person who had the affair, the discussion goes on and on and on, because the person who feels victimized is never satisfied. They’re not getting the real truth, so there’s validity to them not feeling satisfied, but they don’t know how to get the real truth, and so they just repeat the same conversation over and over. I recommend the article The Key to Resolving Affairs to give a whole different perspective on how to resolve affairs.

The main advice that I share played out in a couple I recently met with. This couple just came back from a great weekend. Not long ago they’d gotten back together, after he was doing a lot of internet contacts, a lot of phone sex, and dabbling around with women. He didn’t have actual physical contact with them, but there was a lot of what I call “energetic f***ing”. So, I’ve been working with them and it seemed like they were coming to a new place, but he comes back from the weekend, and one of the other women contacts him and he decides to call her back and make contact with her even though he had promised that he would never make contact again with other women. But, when faced with a woman initiating, he made contact.

His wife was totally blown away. Her thinking was, “I finally got myself to understand that you can have an affair when the marriage is weak, and that I wasn’t putting out any energy and I wasn’t showing up, I can understand that, but we just got back from a weekend where none of that was going on. I was giving you total energy, total passion and it made no difference.” It left her feeling totally limp as to where to go from there. She tends to be a pleasing, nice person, yet she was enraged, but struggled with holding that rage.

Consistent to what I was saying in the article of the importance of stating things that are not so acceptable, I asked her, “Is there anything he can really say at this point that would make a difference?” and she didn’t come up with anything. That led me to believe that there’s no way that she’s going to trust him right now.

But her tendency was to touch on her distrust and then try to slip back into her nice act but I didn’t let her do that. I said, “You need to stay with your distrust and you need to hold your distrust until something organically happens within you. You’re not close to it now and he needs to experience you holding the distrust and see what he does with that, where he can’t just say three or four pretty words. This would be consistent with what I said about people saying presentable things, because in that session, he was acting very presentable. “I did a bad thing. I f***ed up. I shouldn’t have done that,” all the things you would expect to hear, but nothing that would help her to connect with the guy who actually made the phone call.

I continued to support her to stay in there until the guy who made the phone call actually shows up in the relationship and is much more revealing and much more sharing than what was going on. I could really feel her struggling, because it’s not her nature to hold distrust. I supported her and by the end of the session, she said she was willing to do that and she was going to hold onto the distrust until something happened in the relationship that would warrant her changing that.

What Would Warrant Such A Change?

It depends to what degree she lets herself hold it, because this is a real stretch for her to hold her distrust. Most people, they touch on the distrust and then they leave it. I was supporting her in allowing herself to be 100% distrustful towards him, and to support her to stay distrustful in the relationship and not do anything that violates her distrust.
I also said to her, “If I saw you hugging and kissing, or being cuddly with him at this point, that would make no sense at all. He needs to experience the power of your distrust.” When he realizes that his usual apologetic statements are not making a difference, then he may get really honest.

Author: Bruce Derman Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and offers couples therapy in Los Angeles & Woodland Hills. He specializes in working with people in all stages of relationships. You may reach Dr. Derman by calling (818) 375-7194.

For more information on couples therapy in Los Angeles & Woodland Hills, contact Dr. Bruce Derman PH.D. at

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