As I was working with a group of therapists who are learning couples therapy we ran into a HOT TOPIC – infidelity and how to work with it.  The room was full of energy, charge, confusion, anxiety, overwhelm and the conversation lively.  Issues of judgment, morality, health issues, how to balance interventions.  The topic was loaded with the therapists’ beliefs and past personal experience.  For them, the issue of “infidelity” loomed larger than other issues that couples bring to therapy and these therapists felt unclear and somewhat intimidated by it all.

My answer brought the charge down so that we could look at the situation with less reactivity and more curiosity.  What I said was:  it is like any other problem in a relationship that can threaten to break it.  It is serious and in the case of infidelity, most often involves feelings of betrayal and a break of trust.  It is so serious that what is required is to help both partners be able to go under the behavior to the deeper meaning: what parts are activated in them, the meaning they each place on going outside the partnership. And then to help them each be able to talk for their hurt and wounded parts.  My curiosity is about what was, and was not, going on in the partnership that may have led to going outside of it.   Recent data indicate that the main thing that a majority of people, men and women, are looking for when they go out of their primary relationship is not the sex, but companionship! – a relationship where they feel seen and heard.

As therapists we must be aware of what we bring to this issue, ask our moralizing and judgmental parts to give us room to see both parties, and to stay in self-energy so we are able to have compassion for the difficulty both people are facing.  It is our job to help them face themselves (i.e., their activated protector parts and the exile parts that are being protect) and each other, to hear one another, to be as real with themselves and each other as possible, i.e., help them bring self-energy to this difficulty, so they can do the hard work of rebuilding trust and repairing the relationship.  And, for those of us who work with these couples, our work, as always, is to bring ourself  back into self-energy and model what we are helping our clients to achieve.