What to do after an affair in marriage

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD explains the steps to take after infidelity has occurred in a marriage
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What to do after an affair in marriage

So one of the reasons people commonly come to couples therapy is because they have been an affair and affairs can be devastating to a marital relationship. It makes people feel ashamed, they can feel humiliated, makes them feel like they're unattractive. They feel hurt, devalued, rejected and couples need a lot of advice at that point. And, from my perspective, the person who had the affair has to start and have a lot of leadership by way of amends. They have to take responsibility, they have to show their dedication, they have to be willing to make a lot of changes in order to win back the trust of their partner. They have to be able to take and hear their partner's anger and hurt for a while. I typically say you have to assume it's going to take a year or two years sometimes. It's not infrequent if there's been an affair for somebody in the marriage to be triggered by something on the TV or a movie several years after the fact and you have to remain in an empathic position. Now that said, it seems to work the best in terms of healing a marriage when the person who is cheated on can actually acknowledge some degree of responsibility. Now I'm not saying that every time somebody has an affair it's because the other person caused them to have it. The person who has the affair has to take 100% responsibility. They can say, "I felt dejected, devalued, unloved. I was seeking that elsewhere," but that ultimately isn't a complete excuse because they could have done other things with those feelings than to have an affair. But that said, the person who was cheated on, it goes much better if he or she can say, "I understand. I did make it hard on you. I could see how you didn't feel loved or appreciated or I did shut down the sex. Or I was devaluing of you. You were being rejected in the marriage." That's if that's true. I don't think people should make it up. Sometimes people have affairs because they just want to have an affair because they think it's fun. Or they're trying to reclaim something important about their own identify or self-esteem that actually has nothing to do with their partner. It isn't like people only cheat in bad marriages. Sometimes people cheat in good marriage. So I don’t feel like in that situation the person who is cheated on really is obligated to do that but in many cases when an affair happens, that is the reason.

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD explains the steps to take after infidelity has occurred in a marriage


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Joshua Coleman, PhD

Author & Psychologist

Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization composed of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. He has lectured at Harvard University and The University of California at Berkeley and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine, the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, PBS, AARP,  America Online Coaches,  and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice appears often in The New York Times, The Times of London, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun and many others.

He has served on the clinical faculties of The University of California at San Francisco, The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology, and the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written four books:  When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along (HarperCollins) The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin's Press); The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin's Press); and Married with Twins: Life, Love and the Pursuit of Marital Harmony. His books have been translated into Chinese, Croatian, and Korean, and are also available in the U.K., Canada, and Australia. He is formerly a contributing editor to Twins Magazine.

 Dr. Coleman is a sought-after public speaker on topics related to the family. He is also co-editor, along with historian Stephanie Coontz of the yearly online volume, Unconventional Wisdom: News You Can Use, a compendium of noteworthy research on the contemporary family, gender, sexuality, poverty, and work-family issues.  He runs a popular webinar series for estranged parents and a free newsletter for parents, The Coleman Report.

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