Couples Therapy in the News

couple on couch

CNN) -- It's been said that the only people who know what goes on in a marriage are the two people who are in it, and sometimes, even they're not sure.

The news that the Arnold Schwarzenegger-Maria Shriver 25-year blissfest ran afoul of the former governor's decade-old dalliance and subsequent child from said dalliance makes the pair likely headed toward an uncertain hell.

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So it was that marriage counselors across the continent sighed deeply Tuesday and said, "Welcome to our world."

"This is so very, very, very common," said Dr. Laurie Moore, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Santa Cruz, California, speaking about the number of married couples who struggle through a partner's confessed infidelity.

Dr. Steve Solomon, a La Jolla, California, therapist and author of " Intimacy After Infidelity: How to Rebuild and Affair-Proof Your Marriage ," said the vast number of couples coming in to save their marriages after infidelity is the reason he wrote his book in the first place.

And it's not just because people don't like their sex lives at home.

"When people marry, they have this ideal of eternal fidelity," said Beth Hedva, a therapist and psychologist from Alberta, Canada. "A breach of that ideal can be cause for great injury, yes."

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But, Hedva said, a man or woman can love his or her spouse very much and still be capable of an affair. Such infidelity is not as uncommon as we like to pretend, she said. Its acceptability varies with cultures. Its tolerance varies in our own circle of friends.

"This is not about condemning or condoning that behavior, but what is true," said Hedva, author of " Betrayal, Trust and Forgiveness. "

Source: Arnold Schwarzenegger 'realizes the terrible mistake he made'

How common is infidelity?

Go to the Internet and to something called . Right there it says that the percentage of marriages where one or both spouses admit to infidelity, either physical or emotional, is 41 percent.

" The Monogamy Myth " author Peggy Vaughan famously reported that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will have an affair at some point in their marriage.

Yet, according to a National Opinion Research Center study on American Sexual Behavior conducted in 2006 by the University of Chicago, researcher Tom W. Smith wrote: "There are probably more scientifically worthless 'facts' on extra-marital relations than on any other facet of human behavior."

Smith went on, excoriating everything from "studies" done in Cosmopolitan and Redbook magazines to those done by Dear Abby. "These studies typically find an extremely high level of extra-marital activity. (Pop-sexologist Shere) Hite, for example, reported that 70 percent of women married five or more years are having sex outside of their marriage."

Smith was dismayed. Scientific surveys, he wrote, indicate that it's more like 15 percent to 18 percent of married people who commit old-fashioned adultery. That may be, but everybody you talk to says nobody tells the truth on those surveys.

The truth is out there but who has it?

Who cares who has it, what should I do first if this happens to me?

Solomon, who is also co-founder of The Relationship Institute in La Jolla, California , gave this advice:

1) Don't rush to make any big decisions, especially irreversible ones.

2) Don't tell your children. Especially if they are small.

3) Take care of yourself. This will ensure the patience and calm you will need.

What will I feel?

"Marriage has many obligations," said Donna Bellafiore, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Delray Beach, Florida.

"Sexual fidelity is a fundamentally important part of that trust that has been broken, but the whole has been affected. Everything is questioned, then, about the marriage, if the faithfulness was not kept. What was real? Was I a fool? The impact is like a death. The grieving is like a death. Nothing was what it appeared. That is what has to be healed."

Admittedly, the couples who want to save their marriage will seek help. The ones who cannot see past the infidelity will seek attorneys.

If the decision is therapy, the one who betrayed the other should expect some fury, said Solomon, and to stand ready to take responsibility.

But, after some time, the victim should be prepared to go beyond the fury and to build toward the future.

What will we will say?

"There is usually sadness, anger, hurt, betrayal and a lack of self-esteem on the part of the one betrayed," therapist Moore said. "But there is also a lack of self-respect and self-esteem and a sense of remorse for the betrayer. Lot of work there."

Who has to be healed, exactly?

Both parties will have to take an active responsibility to say what they want, Moore said. "We ask: What do we want to create? What do we want to release? What do we want to transform?"

Post the revelations, what are our chances of staying married?

This is an opportunity for deep healing, Hedva said. In her practice, she said, one-third use the infidelity to clean their conscience and to re-engage as a couple.

Another third use it to get out of the relationship. And the last third is trying to regain their trust, and their potential is quite good.

How long will healing take?

If you work hard, expect a two-year miracle.

Finally, what should we do about Arnold and Maria?

In marriage counseling, Moore said, it helps immensely if the victimized partner realizes how imperfect they are, as well.

"When we offer ourselves up with some humility," she said, "we apportion less blame to others."

Person close to Shriver: She is not adrift

In the Raw: Rebuilding trust after you have an affair

Jennine Estes, MFT - SDGLN Contributor
May 18th, 2011

It started with a flirt, a simple flirt.

This harmless friendship crossed the line; flirtatious text messages, anticipation for the next contact, or simply a shoulder to cry on when things weren’t going right in your relationship.

The friendship started off innocent, but after one too many drinks, you two ended up hooking up. This "one time mistake" or "long term affair" was hidden, pushed aside, or buried under lies, because you knew you were wrong and didn’t want to lose your partner. Eventually -- reality hit full speed and your partner found out anyway.

When your partner hears about your affair, he or she feels horrible -- and as if the mistrust in the relationship will never end. Their reactions may feel like a rollercoaster; from anger to tears, from fear to suddenly needing your comfort. Your partner blasts a thousand questions and begins the interrogation all at once.

Now that the affair is out in the open and the trust is broken, where do you go from here? What is next?

Rebuilding the trust and facing the consequences of your actions may feel never-ending. But hang tight, it doesn’t have to be like this forever. Keep in mind that it will be like this for now. Although the relationship is in a tragic storm, it doesn’t mean that it won’t make it through to sunlight again.

Relationships are similar to buildings; they can get knocked down by a storm and be rebuilt even stronger and better than before. It just takes work.

Here are a few things you can do to rebuild with your partner:

Have your actions match your words: Your partner will have a microscope examining all areas of the relationship; "Can I trust and believe in my partner?" Make sure all of your behaviors match your words. If you tell your partner that you will be home by 8:00 pm, come home no later than 8:00 pm. If you are going to be late, call them and let them know ahead of time. Teach your partner they can trust in you and believe in you … in all areas of life.

Stop all secrets and lies: Perhaps in the past you might have omitted information, told your partner a few white-lies, or kept a few secrets from your partner. All of this must stop today. The more you lie, the further your partner will be from trusting you.

Lay off the booze: If alcohol played a part in the hook-ups, stay away from the booze. Show your partner that he/she is more important than a glass of alcohol, or going out to the bars.

Safety, safety, safety: The affair is similar to touching a stove. At first, it was never hot and always safe to touch, but suddenly it was burning hot. It took time to heal from and the scar remains. Your partner needs to learn that the stove will never get hot again. Reassure your partner and show that you are safe with all of your actions. Understand the challenge it is for your partner to get close to someone that also created pain.

Clearly define red flags vs. friends: Same-sex and bi-sexual couples face the additional challenge of filtering "red flag" (threats) vs. friend, especially when friends are the same gender that you may be attracted to. Friends and red flags may be difficult to sort through while rebuilding trust. Ask your partner who they feel comfortable with and who is considered a threat. Since you broke the trust, it is your job to start reassuring your partner by avoiding the threatening relationships.

Don’t be unrealistic: Avoid saying that you will "always" have your cell phone on or you will "never" turn your phone off. This is unrealistic. Instead, tell your partner that you will try your best to answer the phone. And then … follow-through with what you say.

Bring down the wall: If you have a wall up, it hides information and creates a suspicious feeling for your partner. People have easier times believing when they see things first-hand, and have a harder time seeing what is behind the wall. Be an open book. The more you open up, the easier it will be for your partner to trust you.

Keep your eyes on the prize: Body language speaks louder than words … and so does your eye focus. If your eyes tend to "wander" or the flirt comes out, take action and refocus your energy. Keep your eye on your partner and give them your complete attention.

You can rebuild the trust, it just takes time, effort and follow-through. Start today.

Understanding and Resolving Conflicting Goals in Marriage
Distinguishing what type of "partner path" you and your spouse share can lead to clear and concise relationship goals.

Whether it’s your first year of marriage, 10th or beyond you know that conflicting goals can put a major crimp in the operations of your relationship. Disagreements about finances, friends, vacation plans and which way the toilet paper roll should face can put snags in an otherwise smooth relational fabric.

Disagreements are inevitable. Like money, conflicts are neither good nor bad. How you manage conflicts determines the impact on your relationship. When managed poorly, conflicts tear at the relational fabric. When managed well, the seams are stronger than ever.

In my conversations with couples in conflict, I find that each tends to fall into one of three groups based on how the spouse defines a good relationship; and metaphors help us express our underlying beliefs. Asking one another to define how a good relationship is like a path exposes these three groups.

The Single Path Partner:
"We walk hand-in-hand on the same path."

The Single Path Partner thinks both individuals should be alike in their needs and desires.

Childhood fairytales promote the idea of meeting Prince Charming or Princess Snow White and living happily ever after in perfect bliss. People in this group often tell me, "I want to be with someone who thinks like I do—we will walk the same path side-by-side for the rest of our lives."

It’s a nice image. However, we all invariably discover that we are not the same person as our spouse. We want something they don’t want and they want something we don’t want.

The first time this happens represents a volatile point in the relationship and the two of you may ask yourselves: "Does this mean we don’t belong together?" "Were we ever on the same path?" "Are you the person I thought you were?" "Where do we go from here?!"

The Parallel Path Partner:
"We walk side-by-side on parallel paths."

The Parallel Path Partner wants to please the other but recognizes the need to guard their own boundaries too.

People in this group value both their goals and their spouse’s goals. They have developed a sense of their own needs and desires and know where their hard and soft boundaries lie. They know where to compromise and where to stand firm. They believe that a healthy relationship requires an equal commitment to personal goals and awareness of boundaries and say things like: "I would like to spend the day cleaning the garage. How does that fit with your plans?" "What kind of work would you like to be doing?" "How can we do this in a way that works for both of us?"

The My Path or No Path Partner:
"I will continue to walk my path and hope you’ll join me."

My Path Partners are accustomed to doing things their own way. It may be due to a strong personality, a desire to control, fear of uncertainty, a belief in the "rightness" of their way, or a variety of other reasons. The bottom line is that My Path Partners have a difficult time honoring the needs of their spouse when those needs conflict with their own desires.

In many cases, My Path Partners are motivated by a belief that they are showing care and love for their spouse. Since they know best and wish to keep their partner safe and happy, they impose their wishes… with the very best of intentions and will carry them out and tell you: "I’ve picked the best route for our roadtrip." "We’re hosting a party next weekend. The invitations have already been sent." "You’re doing it wrong. You should…" and so on.

Combination Characteristics

Which group do you most identify with? Which group do you think your spouse represents? Here are some possible combinations.

Single Path Partner with Parallel Path Partner. If you are a Single Path Partner paired with a Parallel Path Partner, you may find yourself struggling to maintain your boundaries. You attempt to walk side-by-side on parallel paths while your spouse attempts to find ways to merge your paths. They expect you to have the same needs and desires as they do. If you are the Single Path Partner in this pairing, you may see your partner’s resistance as a lack of love or commitment to you. Is this a sign they are not on the same path? This may feel quite confusing and threatening to you.

Parallel Path Partner with My Path Partner. What if you are a Parallel Path Partner and your significant other is a My Path Partner? You may believe your spouse is unfairly imposing her will on you and not granting you freedom and independence. If you are the My Path Partner, you may believe you are showing love and respect to your spouse through your leadership, guidance and protection. You likely find your partner’s resistance irritating and disrespectful. This combination can result in frustration for the two of you.

Single Path Partners with My Path Partners. The result here is sometimes a codependent relationship. In order to preserve the illusion of unity, the Single Path Partner may work diligently to mirror the needs and desires of the My Path Partner. Over time, the Single Path Partner may resent the sacrifices he has made to maintain the relationship. The My Way partner can view these changes as threatening because they upset the relationship balance.

Two Single Path Partners: At the outset, the future looks rosy to this couple. They imagine they will easily satisfy one another’s needs and desires. They think they will rarely face conflict because they are "perfect" for each other. Imagine their surprise the first time they disagree about childrearing or spiritual values or whether to buy a Ford or Chevy. In many cases, these types flounder as they seek together to return to a common path.

Two My Path Partners: Two My Path Partners frequently find themselves in power struggles. Misunderstandings can also result as each spouse pursues individual interests without communicating well with the other.

Two Parallel Path Partners: These folks have found a healthy way to balance the needs of their relationship, of their spouse and of themselves. When both partners in a couple are in this group and have compatible communication styles and skills, they will do well. In fact, these couples may define their relationship as "perfect" because they are able to manage agreements and disagreements in a manner that strengthens the relationship and one another at the same time.

With the exception of Parallel Path couples, when group characteristics are extremely entrenched, relationships sometimes come to an end. Fortunately, there is hope for couples with all these combinations. Skilled therapy, coaching or mediation can help them collaboratively define the type of relationship they wish to create together and the means to do it.

Advice For Each Group

Whichever group you represent, you can take steps to strengthen your marriage.

Recommendations for Single Path Partners
* Expect your spouse’s needs and desires to differ from yours.
* Practice viewing the differences in your partner as the very things that make the relationship interesting.
* Seek complementarities with your spouse rather than similarities.
* Grant your spouse the freedom to be themselves to the extent that it does not harm you.
* Seek help from trusted advisors (therapist, coach, mediator, etc.) in defining your unique identity and boundaries.
* Recognize that expecting him or her to satisfy your needs is unreasonable. Neither you nor your spouse can satisfy all the needs in a marriage.

Recommendations for Parallel Path Partners
* Develop practices that test and reinforce your motivations and boundaries.
* Learn communication skills to help negotiate your interests with your spouse in a way that puts the least stress on the relationship.
* If your partner is in another group, consider whether a trusted advisor (therapist, coach, mediator, etc.) might help the two of you collaboratively define how your relationship will be.

Recommendations for My Path Partners
* Recognize that truly loving another means understanding that person’s needs and desires. You may not choose to fulfill them, but you should respect them just as you expect your needs and desires to be treated with respect.
* Consider how you can provide leadership by collaborating.
* When you sense ongoing resistance, consider whether a trusted advisor (therapist, coach, mediator, etc.) can help the two of you adapt to one another’s styles.
* Brainstorm the conflicts you are likely to face. Together, plan ahead on how you will handle them in a manner that makes you both comfortable.

Relationships take a great deal of attention. We all tend to believe that our significant other sees things as we do… or should . In fact, each of us sees the world through different eyes. We define good relationships in different ways.

Challenging? Yes. Worth the effort? Most definitely.




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