The Impact




The first phase is about the Betrayer partner (BP) acknowledging that they have hurt and betrayed their partner. They need to be willing to listen to their partner’s hurt and answer their questions about the affair. It is about accountability and transparency. In this phase, the therapist works to keep the process constructive. It is important to realize that, as a result of the betrayal, the Hurt partner (HP) may have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), such as: intrusive thoughts, intense emotional and/or physiological distress in reaction to trauma triggers, hyper-vigilance, and negative changes in mood, thoughts, and behavior (for the complete list see SKILL/ CONCEPT TO UNDERSTAND (A). Therefore, it is critical that the therapist keep the process constructive in order to avoid worsening the Hurt partner’s PTSD (e.g., by suggesting that the Hurt partner not ask questions about types of sex during the affair which could trigger traumatizing images in the mind of the HP). However, in contrast with other therapies, the therapist does not down-regulate or minimize emotions during this phase. Rather, they may need to differentiate negative emotions from criticism and contempt, and help the Hurt partner to express negative emotions without them.

In this phase, the couples do not talk about why the affair occurred. Marital dissatisfaction or loneliness and isolation prior to the affair are not discussed at this point. It is premature, and to do so at this point might lead to exonerating the Betraying Partner and to blaming the Hurt partner for the affair. Regardless of the marital circumstances, the Betrayer partner made a choice to violate trust and commitment and to have an affair and must take responsibility for his or her actions.

This phase may be quite prolonged and may involve the Hurt partner asking many questions about the affair (with the exclusion of questions regarding details about the types of sex during the affair, for reasons already mentioned). The Betrayer partner must be willing to answer the Hurt partner’s questions and to be more accountable and transparent in the present. Healing requires the Betrayer partner to hear the Hurt partner’s pain and understand what they are going through. Atonement is more than saying “I’m sorry”: it a long, slow process of showing remorse and willingness to make amends. It is only through that long, slow process that any healing can occur. Atonement can be a painful process, “but the couple can emerge with new understanding, acceptance, budding forgiveness, and hope” (Gottman & Gottman, 2016).

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