One of the things that I see happen with betrayed partners and their significant others post-discovery is that they enter therapy and are immediately separated into individual counseling with two different clinicians. For many couples, individual therapy for both partners is desperately needed at the beginning of the process. This is especially true if the cheating partner is sexually addicted, as there is an enormous amount of work to be done by the addict to establish sobriety, and by the betrayed partner to manage trauma symptoms and stabilize.
However, couples are also trying to figure out what to do with one another in the midst of the enormous relational crisis in which they find themselves. When couples are separated into silos of individual therapy, it can leave the relationship floundering. There is no support for addressing the immediate relationship crisis or gaining clarity about next steps and the longer-term path forward.
One way to avoid this dilemma is to ensure that throughout the early stages of therapy the couple has sessions not just individually but together. This can help them address key issues that move their relationship forward in the process of healing. In my next post, we will discuss the issues that need to be addressed in the early stages of couples’ counseling. Today, however, I want to provide some guidelines for addressing relationship issues in this early stage of treatment where individual therapy is your primary focus but you still need support as a couple.
Sign a Release So Your Therapists Can Collaborate
Relationships are systems. A relationship is an entity that two people create between themselves. It is vital that therapists who are involved in individual therapy remember that their client is part of a relational system. Therapists must seek to understand how their client’s particular relational system functions and what the client’s role within the system is. To do this, therapists who are providing individual therapy (and couples’ therapy if that is happening) must talk to and collaborate with one another. Otherwise, they will only ever get part of the story, and they will not understand the full relational dynamics of the system.
As the client, you can ask that both you and your significant other sign the necessary releases so your therapists can collaborate. This communication can help to eliminate some of the gaslighting that often occurs in early treatment, as well as some of the miscommunication about what the path forward in treatment looks like for each of you. This communication also gives you a way to verify what your significant other is telling you about treatment. That way you don’t feel in the dark about what recommendations are being made and what the next steps are. Lastly, and equally important, this communication allows your therapists to brainstorm together about how to support you both individually and as a couple, especially when it comes to managing the intense emotional activation that follows discovery.
Hold Co-Therapy Appointments With Your Individual Therapists
Another option is to request regular appointments with you, your therapist, your significant other, and your significant other’s therapist. These appointments can be very helpful in getting everyone on the same page, working through a particular sticking point where treatment or the relationship is bogged down, and providing you with a safe and supportive environment to talk about things that you can’t talk about at home without ending up in heated conflict. These appointments can be a challenge in terms of coordinating schedules, but they are worth the trouble.
Ask to (Occasionally) Join Your Significant Other at Their Therapy Appointment
Another option is to ask if you can join your significant other at one of their therapy appointments. Most therapists will be open to this. This is not the same as couples’ therapy, where the client is the “relationship” rather than you or your significant other. Instead, this is a session where you join your spouse to talk about specific issues that are occurring or to get an update on progress in treatment. For example, you may ask to join your significant other’s therapy session to hear what treatment recommendations are being made and what the path forward should look like. Or you may ask to join a therapy session to talk about the timing for completing therapeutic disclosure.
Because you, as the betrayed partner, have been lied to so often and so significantly by your cheating partner, it can be very difficult to trust the therapeutic process. You can worry that your partner’s therapist is also being lied to and is believing the lies and doesn’t know what is really going on (and this does sometimes happen). You can experience gaslighting about treatment, with the cheater telling you things like, “The therapist said I’m not an addict,” or, “The therapist said I don’t need treatment,” or, “I only need to go every other week and I don’t need 12-step meetings or group therapy.” These potential issues make collaboration between therapists and ongoing support as a couple from the very beginning of the healing process vital.
In my next post, I am going to talk about the five key couples’ appointments needed at the beginning of therapy.