In a recent issue of Psychotherapy Networker, author and sex therapist Tammy Nelson wrote a case study on “Women Who Cheat.” The article focuses on the kind of theoretically monogamous heterosexual couple for whom any sexual encounter with a third-party constitutes a potentially lethal breach to the marriage contract. I know from my experience and from my practice that many couples find ways to accommodate and negotiate for non-monogamous commitments. Still, I recognize that every couple is entitled to its own culture and ground rules, and the framework that Nelson offers to help this particular couple cope with sexual infidelity seems sensible enough that I wanted to share it with you. I especially appreciate her advocating the redefinition of monogamy from “blanket prohibition on outside sex to a search for deeper intimacy inside the marriage.”
“In my view,” Nelson writes, “infidelity recovery has three phases: crisis, insight, and vision. The crisis stage occurs right after disclosure or discovery, when couples are in acute distress and their lives are in chaos. At this point, the focus of therapy isn’t on whether or not they should stay together or if there’s a future for them, but on establishing safety, addressing painful feelings, and normalizing trauma symptoms.
“In phase two, the insight phase, we talk about what vulnerabilities might have led to the extramarital affair. Becoming observers of the affair, we begin to tell the story of what happened. Repeating endless details of the sexual indiscretion doesn’t help, but taking a deeper look at what the unfaithful partner longed for and couldn’t find in the marriage—and so looked for outside of it—as well as finding empathy for the other, who was in the dark, can elicit a shift in how both partners see the affair and what it meant in their relationship.
“Phase three is the vision phase, which includes seeking a deeper understanding of the meaning of the affair and moves forward the experience and resulting lessons into a new concept of marriage and, perhaps, a new future. In this phase, partners can decide to move on separately or stay together. This is where the erotic connection will be renewed (or created) and desire can be revived. In this phase, the meaning of monogamy changes from a moralistic, blanket prohibition on outside sex to a search for deeper intimacy inside the marriage. A vision of the relationship going forward includes negotiating a new commitment.”
You can check out the whole article here. Let me know what you think about this topic.