Has infidelity occurred in your marriage? Are you unsure on how to go about in rebuilding trust in marriage after infidelity? To help understand the impact infidelity commonly has on marriage and what you can do to rebuild trust in marriage after infidelity, I have interviewed psychotherapist Bill Graston.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in downtown Chicago and in Evanston. I received my B.A. in Psychology from U.C.L.A. in 1981, and my M.S.W., also from U.C.L.A., in 1984. My private practice began in 1992, and since that time I have been working entirely with adults, both in individual psychotherapy and in marital/couples counseling. Whether my work with adults has been individually or as a part of a couple, I have found that the vast majority of the issues that caused them to seek treatment revolved around difficulties in relationships. Marital/couples counseling has become a specialization of mine, and since couples tend to not come to see me when things are going well, I have become well versed with the problems that couples tend to present with, including, of course, infidelity.”
What type of impact can infidelity have on marriage?
“Infidelity can have a devastating effect on a marriage. When a person falls in love and gets married, you are, in effect, going out on an emotional limb with the understanding that your spouse is fully committed to you and the trust created is secure. When that trust is betrayed, it shatters the foundation on which the marriage was built on. It takes a lot of intensive therapeutic work over quite some time for that trust to be rebuilt.”
What are some tips for rebuilding trust in marriage after infidelity?
“My perspectives about rebuilding trust revolve around the necessary understanding of why the infidelity occurred, learning about the interplay between intimacy and trust, and understanding defense mechanisms. A spouse that has been betrayed wants to know, ‘Why? Why? How could you have done this to me?’ For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume the husband has been the betrayer.
The husband has to be able to answer these questions honestly and with a great deal of depth, even if the answers are hurtful. For the wife, any sort of ambiguity or gaps in understanding the why of the infidelity will only serve to heighten her anxiety. She has been unbearably hurt, and thus is both overwhelmed by sadness and despair, and filled with volcanic rage. Her thoughts are racing constantly; trying to understand. Understanding the why helps to provide a basis for what needs to be done to correct the problem so the likelihood of this happening again can be greatly minimized.
Understanding why the infidelity occurred is often the ‘easier’ of the tasks at hand when the rebuilding of trust is the goal. The emotional roller coaster that infidelity incites is extremely difficult for both the wife and the husband as they try to repair their marriage. At first, there is a lot of emotional distance. The wife is hurt and enraged and she wants the husband to stay the hell away from her. As they begin to talk about what has happened, as the husband (hopefully) shows a great deal of remorse, and they begin to work on the causes of the infidelity, the wife develops mixed feelings that can change rapidly with the husband trying to react accordingly. The wife doesn’t trust the husband, but she wants to be close to him again. She likes it when he comforts her, but is angry with herself for letting someone who betrayed her get close to her again. What she wants intellectually (to be close to her husband again and to be able to trust him) is the opposite of where her defense mechanisms want her to be (stay away from him, as he is a threat to your well-being).
So you get, over a period of time, what I call the accordion effect: ‘success’, meaning increased closeness with her husband ignites her defenses, which causes the wife to create emotional distance from her husband. The husband is left wondering what happened, thinking that ‘things were going so well…’ This is a pattern that will continue over an unspecified amount of time. The peaks flatten out, and the valleys are more shallow, but the ups and then downs/ hopefulness and then doubt/closeness and then distance, are very difficult, though entirely possible, to navigate.
The husband’s job during this process is to be dependable. Call when you said you would call. Be home when you said you would be home. You have to allow your wife to rage at you, cry about what you have done, listen to and accept a great deal of judgment and criticism without distancing from her. Answer her questions, even if they are repetitive. If sexual activity occurred during the infidelity, be honest about that, as well. However, too much information about the specifics of the sexual activity can create lasting visual imagery that is difficult to overcome.
During this period the wife is hyper-vigilant. She will be watching her husband’s every move, wanting to check his e-mail and cell phone for potential evidence of continued infidelity. This is understandable, but it will need to stop at some point. Trust isn’t rebuilt by being a good detective. There comes a time when the wife will need to stop the detective work and allow herself to be vulnerable. If the husband is faithful in response to her vulnerability, trust can be regained.”
What type of professional help is available for a couple that has experienced infidelity in their marriage and want to rebuild trust?
“Professional help for those couples who want to rebuild trust comes in the form of marriage counseling. A skilled therapist can help the couple understand how the infidelity occurred and help them navigate through the emotional peaks and valleys. Sometimes individual psychotherapy is in order as well, particularly if the spouse who has been unfaithful is confused himself or herself about the reasons for the infidelity. There are also workshops and support groups available throughout the community.”
What last words would you like to leave for a married couple that wants to rebuild trust after infidelity?
“Trust can be rebuilt, but it is a difficult and often exhausting process requiring the commitment of both spouses. I hope the information I’ve provided here can be of help to couples who are about to begin or who are in the midst of this process. Having some understanding of this process ahead of time can help couples weather the storm.”
Thank you Bill for doing the interview on tips for rebuilding trust in marriage after infidelity. For more information on Bill Graston or his work you can check out his websites on billgrastontherapy.com or partnersforchange.com.
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