Healing From Infidelity: Finding the Right Counselor
(Part 1) by Eric Gomez, LMFT That infidelity wreaks havoc on a relationship is not a difficult premise to comprehend. Rebuilding the connection and trust in a relationship is an entirely different matter. It involves incredible emotional risks on the part of each member, countless conversations addressing the effects of the infidelity, and a consistency by the parties involved demonstrating that they are wholly committed to their romantic partnership. This is in addition to the fact that couples desiring to remain together after an infidelity will oftentimes need to seek couples counseling in order to heal relationally and emotionally. As a Marriage & Family Therapist, many of the couples I work with are wanting to do exactly that. They desire to remain together and make things right between them, yet acknowledge the complexities involved in rebuilding trust and repairing their emotional bond. Some couples reach this point of acknowledgment earlier than others, nevertheless the fact that help is sought from a trained clinician is generally a positive move. That being said, I would like to address a few variables couples can consider when deciding on a couples counselor. Experience The reality is not every counselor or therapist has the same training or experience in working with couples, much less the same training or experience in helping couples navigate the trauma of an infidelity. Therefore, couples have every right to do their research by (a) viewing a counselor’s website to learn more about their areas of specialization, and (b) contacting them directly and asking if they have experience in treating the emotional and relational effects of infidelity. Core Values Another central point of consideration relates to finding a counselor who aligns with their core values. For example, some couples prefer to work with someone who has a similar spiritual background, or who has similar views on matters related to infidelity, separation, divorce, etc. These views can be disseminated within the framework of a consultation, during which a counselor will conduct an initial assessment, and the couple can ask questions aimed at helping them better understand where a counselor stands in terms of these central values. Finding a Good Fit for You as a Couple One of the most important aspects of working with a counselor surrounds the notion of fit. Another way of putting it is, “Do we feel this counselor will be a good fit for both members?” This question matters, because it has everything to do with whether you and your partner will feel comfortable with the therapist’s approach, personality and values. As a general rule, it can be helpful to find a counselor who shows, in a relatively short period of time, that they are (a) respectful, caring and able to help you feel secure enough to trust them, (b) non-judgmental, understanding and neutral in their approach, and (c) knowledgeable about the subject matter and able to help you move forward. Learning to Support Each Other as You Heal Moreover, a good counselor is compassionate, yet realistic and honest about what often takes place when trying to heal from infidelity. They will help each of you process your hurt, pain, anger, and other emotions while helping you learn to support one another as you rebuild your emotional bond. However, they will also be honest and realistic with you, cautiously avoiding idealistic time frames or promises such as, “It only takes 6 months to heal from an infidelity,” or “If you work with me, I can guarantee you will heal as a couple.” Experienced counselors know better and rather help normalize the healing process by explaining it is very difficult and requires a lot of work by both partners, which in some cases leads to the desired repair of a relationship. They also explain that some couples decide to separate after having engaged in counseling because the pain of the infidelity, and the damage it caused relationally, was more than the couple could sustain. The Importance of Facing Present Realities I’ve learned it is far more validating to a couple to present the realities surrounding repair and separation, because it allows both parties the freedom to acknowledge both possibilities exists, and helps them gauge their present level of commitment to the relationship post-infidelity. A solid therapist will respect the couple’s right to choose, and help them to respect that right in each other, for only when that right is valued will the true nature of commitment be reflected clinically and relationally. In the end, a couple will want to talk through and decide upon whom they believe will be the best counselor for them. They also have the option to pivot after the counseling process begins. Although making the transition to another counselor isn’t easy, it can be helpful for them to know that as consumers, they are able to keep searching until they find a provider who best aligns with what they need in terms of clinical experience, knowledge, caring support and fit of personality. Eric Gomez is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in building families, strengthening marriages and addressing the personal, relational, and cultural harms of pornography. He received his graduate degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Seattle Pacific University and his undergraduate degree in Psychology from New Mexico State University.