Affairs are something everyone knows are part of the world we all live in. They are even the subject of many popular jokes. We often playfully tease/ hurt our own partners about them. "Wouldn't mind having an affair with him." "If she looks so good, go have an affair with her." Sometimes that playful chiding becomes reality and when it does it is anything but funny.
I have met partners for whom it was considered okay for one or the other to have an affair. Interestingly, it was usually not okay the other way around. One had the right to have extramarital sex while the other could only do so "over my dead body."
As a society we no longer believe that men are the only ones who go outside their marriage to express sexual and emotional needs. Unless informed ahead of time, I can never guess who it was that had the affair. I also never know ahead of time where the couple wants to go with it or where they will eventually end up. I find that couples who come in after some level of initial disclosure and some level of taking mutual responsibility will usually be able to survive the affair. That is not the same as saying, will stay married. Everything requires hard work and time. The benefits of therapy are never gained without growing pains.
Sheila was the last one she, her husband, family or friends thought would have an affair. That was what was so disturbing to her. It went against everything she valued and she had no explanation for it. There are of course, neat little categories in neat little articles which tell us all the five or so reasons why people have affairs. Life is never that simple and is always one step ahead of us. That's the difference between articles and therapy. Articles are about Us in general. Therapy is about You here and now.
Over the course of this particular therapy several things happened that eventually led to the feeling that the couple could go back to dealing with their lives alone again, as they had before. We worked together to recreate the couple's boundaries that had been violated twice. Once by the introduction of a third person and a second time by the ongoing well-meaning advice giving by family and friends once the affair had come out in the open. In this case the husband benefited by becoming able to ask his wife to spend more time with him alone, something he had not felt able to ask for previously. This helped them reestablish their initial premarital bond. The wife and husband collaborated in creating a plausible explanation for the affair's taking place. It was framed in terms of the wife's giving sexual favors to protect a vital family interest. While I initially had many questions about this way of understanding what happened, it seemed to help them find closure.
When we finalized therapy, each member of the couple felt they had said and touched on everything that was important to them. I, on my part, felt there may be more to be said or worse, that there was "unfinished business." But that is what tomorrows are for. I told them that they could always come back if the need arose. But they knew that. Weren't they the one's who recognized their need for therapy in the first place?
Ari Levine, Ph.D.
Director of Mercaz Levine
Accredited Psychotherapist and Sex Therapist
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