As a therapist who has helped countless couples, I've become aware that social media has directly impacted relationships over the past few years. An intercepted text has become the modern day version of lipstick on the collar. Anthony Weiner is proof positive of that. Without his public political aspirations, this situation wouldn't be too different from what a lot of couples deal with: trust, fidelity, and temptation. Running for office adds an obvious layer of complexity and makes what is a very private matter very public. Ultimately voters must and will decide if Anthony Weiner is fit to lead and has the ability to not let his personal life interfere with his professional life. In the meantime, Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, has said, "It took a lot of work and a whole lot of therapy to get to a place where I could forgive Anthony," and, "it was not an easy choice in any way, but I made the decision that it was worth staying in this marriage." She deserves a lot of credit for disclosing this, and the public should back off and not attack her for her choice to support her husband and participate in therapy. That said, below is a glimpse into what goes on in the early sessions of couples' therapy (at least in my office) and will perhaps provide some insight into the process of recovering from such an event.
- First, I tell all my patients that they must be 100 percent committed and motivated to get better. Couples counseling is no exception. If one person is only there because the other dragged them or because they feel obligated, then therapy will be a waste of time and money.
- In light of any type of cheating (however that is defined by the couple), there needs to be full disclosure. The person who has been cheated on is trying to make sense of what happened. Information is needed in order to do this. The problem often arises though when the cheater wants to move on very quickly and tries to get back to normal life, whereas the person cheated on can't. This person needs time to grieve the loss of what she thought she had and try to come to terms with the new reality. It's not uncommon for this person to also be dealing with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These include: flashbacks to when she may have learned of the cheating, anxiety, feeling on edge, depressed, having bad dreams related to the event, and poor sleep quality. Sometimes it is advisable for the victim to seek counseling on her own in addition to the couples' therapy.
- The cheater should consider solo therapy to address issues underlying his desire to cheat.
- There should be full access to social media, email, phones, etc., and there should be full transparency. This will help to eliminate any anxiety over what activities the cheater might still be up to in cyberspace.
- The victim should realize she is in a powerful position to leverage change. She can call the shots and dictate what her expectations are. For example, insisting that the cheater enter therapy.
- The cheater needs to work really hard to provide reassurance to his partner that he wants to be with her, if indeed he does. So often in the wake of cheating the person feels victimized, worthless, defeated, rejected, unloved, and unattractive. She'll often look at herself and wonder what she did to cause this. Questions abound in her head: "Am I not attractive enough?" "What did I do wrong?" "Is she better looking than me?" The cheater has a great opportunity to help his partner feel better through this by recognizing what he loves about her and telling her.
- Each person should think about reasons to stay in the relationship and what they love about the other person. Conversely, each person should think about reasons, if any, to split. Both questions yield valuable information that is then looked at very carefully in sessions.
- Needs and expectations. What does each person need in order to be in a relationship and what do they expect from the other person. For example, "I need private time when I get home from work," and "I expect to know who his friends are." The couple should think about what is missing from the relationship. More specifically, the cheater should think about what he feels is missing and what led to his cheating. Cheating usually does not occur in a vacuum and is the outgrowth of a deficit such as lack of attention, lack of sex, or lack of stimulation. Further, define what's acceptable. For some people flirting at a party or via text is okay while for others it isn't. Know what the standards are in your relationship and know what is totally off limits.
- Finally, couples need to know that things don't get better overnight, or in a week or two, or a month. It takes a lot of time and hard work on the part of both the couple and the therapist. There will be setbacks but as long as there's growth and a strong commitment to change, then things will get better.
For more tips and advice check out Jonathan's book BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days.
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