Betrayed spouses, hopeful creatures that we are, are often so encouraged when our cheaters do therapy. It doesn't matter if we had to beg, plead, consult their calendar six months out, call seven insurance adjusters, work around their badminton schedule or drag them there by their hairy ears -- our chumpy little hearts sing. "They want to SAVE the marriage! They CARE! They will CHANGE!"
Visions of reconciliation unicorns dance in our heads.
The Wizard of Therapy will say Just The Right Thing in Just The Right Way that the cheaters will see the Error of Their Ways! Sure, I can tell him that texting his mistress at our son's soccer games is hurtful and wrong, but he'll listen when the Wizard of Therapy (who has a masters in clinical social work!) tells him! Of course, when I tell her that she has to promise to never contact him again, she says I'm controlling and hateful. But the Wizard of Therapy will make her see sense!
Let's all go see the Wizard of Therapy! He'll give our cheaters hearts, and brains, and courage to end their affairs! And then we can all click our heels and go back home! To our restored marriages!
God love us, we are so all in. We are such chumps.
Can cheaters do therapy? Yeah, and bears can ride bicycles. You can get anyone to do anything, doesn't mean it's natural for them, and it doesn't mean they can sustain it. Or be anything other than bears.
So how do you know if therapy is really helping your marriage after infidelity? Or if it's just a bear riding a bicycle? Here's a primer.
1.) You booked the appointment. There's your first clue this isn't going to end well. You're already doing the heavy lifting to save this. You're already the more invested partner, when you are the chump. You're not the person who broke the marriage. They cheated. The least they can do is pick up the phone and make a damn appointment. They can't do that? This isn't therapy. This is the "pick me" dance. They'll attend therapy as the price of continued cake eating.
2.) They don't do the homework. Did your therapist tell them to read a book, an article, spend 20 minutes each evening answering questions? And they've got a hundred excuses why they're too busy to do that? If you're a chump, you're making excuses for them. Yeah, those reasons are... reasonable. Okay. So you'll just help. You'll buy the book on CD! They can listen as they drive into work! You'll highlight the relevant passages and leave them by the nightstand!
STOP. Connect the dots. They cheated. They're not doing the homework. They're not invested in fixing this. What possible excuse do they have that is of more importance than working on their marriage? Don't listen to what they say. What are they doing or not doing? That's the clue to their priorities.
3.) They lie. Therapy is not sodium pentothal. Sitting on a shrink's sofa does not confer honesty upon liars. Cheaters lie. What reason do you have to believe they're being honest now? The grueling cross-examination of the therapist? That doesn't happen generally speaking. Most likely your shrink will sit there in a pose of non-judgment.
You're working from the assumption that your cheater wants to bear his/her soul and heal. That's often a faulty assumption. Remain skeptical and watch their actions over their words.
4.) They use therapy to manipulate you further. The very clever cheaters will use therapy as a pretext to mindf*ck you further. They listen to your vulnerabilities and learn to exploit them better.
"Well, you've always been afraid of bees, Janice. I didn't invite you on that long weekend to Winterthur gardens because I knew there would be bees! I was being considerate! But, NO, you just can't see that, can you?"
They also use therapy to cloak themselves in an impermeable barrier of "brokenness." You can't call them on their crap. They're very vulnerable now and might relapse. You wouldn't want them to reoffend, would you?
"Did I cheat on you? Well, it's only because I have a deep-seated fears of commitment. When you rub my back, raise our children and pay the taxes, I feel smothered. It all goes back to when my father left for a package of cigarettes and never came back... How do I know you're there for me and not cheating on me? So that's why I get happy ending massages. You know, to go on the offensive. Get my needs met elsewhere. I really need you to support me now. Because I never feel like you're really all there for me. You're really a drag to be around sometimes. So focused on the kids. I know I'm weak! Can't you see I'm broken?!"
5.) They make false equivalencies. Does your cheater want to divert the therapy conversation to your flaws? Well, that would be a productive conversation if you were in marriage therapy for something other than infidelity. Yes, then I want to hear how I make stewed tomatoes wrong and fail to consider your mother at Thanksgiving. But NOT after I just learned you screwed the babysitter. Now the stewed tomato item gets moved very low on the talking points agenda.
Stewed tomato fails are not equivalent to screwing the babysitter.
Failing to correctly stew tomatoes does not drive someone to cheat on you.
What really sucks is when you get a quack who believes the narrative of Needs Were Not Being Met that Drove the Cheater to Cheat. When the shrink buys the false equivalencies and gives them equal weight to the infidelity, it's incredibly harmful.
Look, it's just common sense that you cannot save a marriage if one person is actively not in the marriage. Focusing on your love languages, communication styles, and mutual flaws instead of the infidelity is like ordering dinner options on the Hindenburg.
So folks, if you're ticking any of these boxes? You've got genuine imitation Naugahyde remorse. Save your money for the divorce lawyer.