Monday, March 7, 2011

Counselling: Do You Want Penance? Or Healing?

When a couple seeks out therapy in the wake of infidelity there are often duelling motives.
The betrayer frequently seeks some sort of protective balm to keep him on the straight and narrow. And he can also be looking for someone to "protect" him from the onslaught of verbal abuse, the relentless questions and looking, perhaps, to hide behind a professional.
My husband, for example, kept insisting that our counsellor tell me that I can't keep asking the same questions over and over because it "keeps us stuck in the past and we need to move forward."
Unfortunately for my husband, our counsellor insisted that I needed to ask as long as I needed to ask. And that my husband's task was to be transparent and keep answering...though he did say my husband could insist on a "break" or to remove himself if he felt I was getting abusive.
The betrayed, too, can sometimes be looking for an ally – someone to acknowledge the pain caused (particularly if the spouse isn't doing a very good job of that) and a way to ensure that the betrayer "pays" for his mistake by sharing with an outsider and, hopefully, getting a stern talking to.
However, neither motive is likely to move the relationship forward toward healing, which is ostensibly the true purpose of seeking counselling.
And frankly, a good counsellor isn't there to pick sides. Which can be where the trouble starts.
No amount of finger-pointing and blame is going to make a remorseless spouse suddenly develop a conscience. Counselling is only going to work if both spouses are there to truly examine the relationship, be willing to face their own failings and give each other, as much as possible, the benefit of the doubt.
As long as you remain stuck in the "but it's his/her problem....that's the problem", then you've got a problem that no therapist is going to be able to fix.
If an ally is what you need, turn to a trusted friend who will agree with you when you call your husband unspeakable names...then forget you ever said it when you've decided to forgive.
A therapist is there to guide you both toward creating a marriage that speaks to both of your needs and helps you heal from the betrayal. Or, if reconciliation is off the table, then help you move toward an amicable divorce that leaves both of you with some dignity intact.
So, like so many situations, check your motives around marriage counselling. Ask yourself the tough questions of what you're truly hoping to achieve. Not easy...but the only way your time and money will truly be well spent.

2 comments:

  1. So what did your counselor do to help you heal from betrayal?

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    1. MBS,

      She kept reminding us when our responses were more about family-of-origin stuff than each other. It's amazing how often we respond to our partner as if they are our parent and attribute all sorts of motives and manipulations that have nothing to do with now and a whole lot to do with when we were kids and powerless.
      But mostly she reminds my husband that his responses to me when I need reassurance or I need to talk about what happened as rooted in his own shame. She points out that I'm not looking to hurt him but am mostly looking for truth or reassurance. It's so helpful to have a third party bring both of us back to our goal of a better marriage…rather than spiralling into the same old fights/hurts.
      Does that answer your question?

      Elle

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