Many years ago, in the Clinton era, I was asked to do an interview on whether Hillary and Bill would make it through Bill’s affair. Responding psychologically rather than politically, my answer was to say, “If couples didn’t make it through affairs, the divorce rate would be even higher than it is now.”
Working through an affair is tough. It takes tremendous energy and vulnerability on both sides. Drs. John and Julie Gottman have developed the Trust Revival Method, with three defined stages of treatment: Atonement, Attunement, and Attachment. The effectiveness of this model is being studied in a randomized clinical trial.
I’ve watched hundreds of couples try this method, and I’ve learned a few practical things about effective treatment along the way. To provide clarity, let’s use names: Jennifer and Sam are married, and Jennifer had an affair with Anthony.
Seek couples therapy, not just individual counseling
Trust is an obvious issue, and is vital to regain. But if both partners are committed to reconciling the marriage, or at least to try, then seeing a couples therapist together is most helpful. Individual therapy doesn’t help regain this trust and may only make healing more complicated. Enough secrets have been kept. Even if Jennifer is talking about the love she had for Anthony, it’s important that Sam regain his role as confidante, and it’s even more important that Jennifer be completely transparent about what happened.