Merilee Lane, one of our BWC sisters, posted this the other day in response to some discussion on another post around how a therapist can help...or harm. She has beautifully articulated what every therapist should know about betrayal, and what each of us needs to know in order to benefit from therapy.
She's given me permission to re-post her comments here so that they're more widely read.
A NOTE TO THERAPISTS, COUNSELORS, PSYCHOLOGISTS AND PSYCHIATRISTS
by Merilee Lane
I would like to begin by stating that I have the utmost respect for this field of study. Those of you who put your hearts and souls into your work and studies make huge contributions to your patients. For those of you truly dedicated and who wish to reach out to the betrayed, I would like for you to know, understand and be perfectly clear on the following:
First of all, beginning any conversation with the words, "I don't mean to minimize your pain, but..." is designed to do nothing more than exactly what it says...minimize our pain. Never, ever say these words. I understand that you may be trying to diffuse the situation, but that cannot be done. When feelings are raw they are intense and that intensity cannot be extinguished until it has completely burned itself out.
Secondly, in treating patients, do not work from the out-dated theory that an affair is a symptom of existing marital problems. Here is the truth: affairs happen in good marriages, bad marriages and every marriage in between. An affair is not necessarily a symptom of existing marital problems; it is a symptom of existing issues within the perpetrator.
Asking us to "take responsibility for our part in the affair" is like telling a rape victim that she is somehow responsible for enticing the rape. Perhaps she wore provocative clothing or flirted with the perpetrator? NO! A woman is in NO WAY responsible for being raped, just as a wife is in NO WAY responsible for the actions of her straying husband. Infidelity is a CHOICE on the part of the unfaithful and has NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH THE BETRAYED.
I don’t know a woman who isn’t willing to take responsibility for her part in an existing unhealthy relationship between she and her husband. However, whatever issues may exist in a marriage are in no way responsible for his choice to stray. The choice to stray is about sex, not existing marital issues. The choice to stray is due to deep emotional issues within him, not existing marital issues. The choice to stray is exactly that — a choice. Don’t read into it something that doesn’t exist just so you have a logical basis from which to begin a healing plan. There is nothing complicated about infidelity. It is quite simply at its core a selfish, self-centered decision to please himself. There may be existing emotional issues, but the act itself is just that — a selfish act.
Do not tell the betrayed that she has asked enough questions and needs no further information. Do not advise the unfaithful not to participate in or to be anything less than 100% honest and upfront about every single thing. The betrayed is trying desperately to process the information. Is the information crushing her soul? Absolutely! Is it causing great pain for the unfaithful to relive his transgressions? Absolutely! But full disclosure and constant conversation is VITAL to both parties in order to heal. He needs to take complete responsibility for his actions. He needs to feel his wife’s pain and take an active role in her healing. He needs to feel remorse for his actions and show that remorse openly to his wife. She needs to hear things over and over again until she has finally desensitized it. She needs to be shocked over and over in order to accept the full scope of what happened and make an informed decision as to her future. She will not stop asking questions until she has processed the entire matter. She needs and deserves his full cooperation if she is to heal her relationship with him. His cooperation is VITAL in honoring his wife and helping her to restore her self-respect and dignity. And his cooperation and participation is VITAL in learning to respect and honor his wife.
I am no authority on counseling, but I AM an authority on infidelity. I AM an authority on what the betrayed is living through and how hard she is working to come out on the other side as a whole human being. I can also tell you in great detail of my husband’s pain in all of this. He is finally talking to me without hiding behind fear and shame and he is suffering greatly. I understand his pain, and I also see immense growth as a direct result. There is nothing easy about this. Sharing the details and reliving the pain is the only way the unfaithful comes to the realization of just how far-reaching his actions were. My husband had absolutely no idea the full impact of his decisions. It never even occurred to him. He knows now and he is having a very tough time living with himself as a result.
The ironic thing here is that there will be no healing unless the unfaithful takes a full and active role in the healing of the betrayed. He must be there 100% to support his wife or she cannot heal within the marriage. It seems odd to me that her healing would be so reliant on him after what he did but if the marriage is to survive with a strong relationship intact, that is exactly what is required. She needs his unwavering support in order to regain her sense of self and get the closure she needs. And, just as she needs her husband’s support in her healing, he, too, cannot heal without her 100% participation in his recovery process. This is something unique of marital relationships — a couple truly does become one in a marriage and healing from life’s blows really is a joint effort. True healing can only take place when both parties are fully participating in one another’s lives.