When Intimate Betrayal Shatters a Relationship
by Alexandra Katehakis
With all of the sexual options and online menus for finding sexual experiences or partners, it’s no wonder that an increasing number of coupled people experience infidelity. Whether a single-incident affair or long-time sexual addiction, the couple is in a compromised situation filled with emotional pain and difficult decisions that require patience, hard work, and commitment to a change process.
A couple’s resilience and recovery together is dependent upon the individual efforts of each person. While it is assumed that the betrayer or the sex addict will follow a protocol for healing, it can often come as a surprise to the one who’s been betrayed that their own commitment to a healing process is of paramount importance – both to themselves and for the mending and health of the relationship.
Whether to stay in the relationship, or whether to leave the relationship is up to each individual. As therapists working with infidelity or with sex addiction, it is our task to help those who have suffered the intimate betrayal to learn to live in the present moment, as well as to access their inner wisdom for answers to what the best choices are for them. Our directives should guide our clients toward the key tasks of learning to focus on themselves (and on keeping their children stable) and what they need to feel safe and secure in the relationship. Assisting them with regulating their autonomic arousal states in session and recommending mindfulness practices in between sessions helps to modulate their obsession with the betrayer’s behaviors. These obsessions, when unchecked, only serve to keep the partner out of their painful feelings and their current reality. Finally, encouraging and mapping out self-care regimens to assist with proper rest, nutrition and moral support from trusted others help to keep clients out of isolation, a natural tendency for those (in particular for women) who have been betrayed.
Trusting again after being caught in the web of lies borne of betrayal or of sex addiction can seem impossible. However, with time and consistency, it is possible to create a healthy relationship. Remember that this process takes time, hard work, accountability and ultimately, forgiveness. The couple must risk being vulnerable and grieve together, as well as nurture one another and respect boundaries so they can build the foundation for a new, often stronger, relationship.
Alexandra Katehakis, Ph.D., LMFT is the Clinical Director of Center for Healthy Sex, a certified sex therapist and certified sex addiction therapist who speaks and teaches internationally. Alex is the author of Erotic Intelligence, Sex Addiction as Affect Dysregulation and co-author of Mirror of Intimacy and contributor to numerous book chapters on human sexuality. She can be reached at alexk@CenterForHealthySex.com