1. CRISIS MANAGEMENT
COMMUNICATION FOR US
The Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw wrote,
"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place".
Communication is not just "talking". Instead, it can be understood in a more expansive way:
"Successful communication is when the intention of the speaker matches the impact on the listener".
More often than not, what betrayed partners AND unfaithful partners meant to say doesn't actually get "heard". This experience of the message getting hijacked by emotions is the most common problem for partners on the recovery journey.
WHY COMMUNICATION IS SO IMPORTANT
It doesn't take much for a recovering couple to go from a calm talk to cross-talk, yelling, screaming, and ultimately crying and stomping off.
And this is where communication plays a vital role. If a couple does not know how to navigate peacefully through their issues, and rather tends to avoid it or perhaps gets into heated power struggles, nothing gets resolved, resentment builds, and repairs are never made.
The main approach we use for Communication Counseling is the "Imago Dialogue", a three-step process for connection developed by Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD. Although it looks simple, the process was formulated through extensive study of psychological theories of relationship, and clinical work with couples. The three steps in the process are mirroring, validation and empathy.
As part of this process, we will look at communication from the point of what is expressed, and from the point of what is heard. Your therapist will help you manage your own narrative, which is hard because it often radically differs from your partner's. Listening doesn't mean that you agree, it just means that you care enough to put yourself in her or his shoes for the moment. It means that the relationship is not only about your experience but rather you can appreciate each other's experience without invalidating your own.
We will also help you connect emotionally by using Emotion-Focused Therapy. With this approach, you will learn how to tune into the emotional message of your partner, even when words are not spoke. Consider this example:
Suppose you (Sam, the unfaithful spouse) drive by a restaurant where you would rendezvous with the affair partner. Your betrayed spouse (Sue) pulls away and starts crying.
Do not say, “Sue, why are you so upset? I’ve told you a million times, I’m not seeing her any more. It's over. Stop crying”.
Instead say, “I see that you are really hurt and triggered by my actions. I am so very sorry. I'm wondering if you can tell me what you're feeling right now.”.
The first response minimizes Sue's feelings, causing her to feel alone and not valued. In the second response, When Sam chooses to recognize and validate Sue's emotions, Sam is relieving distress and helping Sue heal. By validating feelings, Sue feels understood, and starting seeing Sam you in a new light, as someone who cares.
Pulling this off can be tremendously challenging in the moment. There will be times when you (the unfaithful partner) will feel attacked by your partner and unappreciated for your recovery efforts. We will support you as you learn to respond in this new way in spite of the perceived attack. Doing so will show your partner how much you have changed and how much you care!
MORE COMMUNICATION TOOLS
Your therapist may offer additional communicate tools. One approach never works with every couple. Some other tools that you may consider are:
Sometimes a couple simply can't tolerate a back-and-forth conversation. Instead, you will set a fixed time when only one person talks. The other listens, takes notes, and then takes a short break or may even resumes the next day. This can allow a partner to feel fully heard without interruption.
Keeping a diary or journal is a helpful way to capture your feelings about the affair. This is still considered communication, but only to yourself! The good news is that it enables you to gain some healthy distance from what happened to you.
As you write to capture your experiences, you will have the opportunity to reflect, slow yourself down, and gain valuable insight into who you are and what you want in life. Most people who keep journals feel that their thoughts and feelings are clearer when we get them out of our heads and down on paper.
Please be careful to make sure that your diary is kept private and secure. Real damage can be done with an intrusion on this intimate information.
Writing letters to your partner is helpful at several stages of recovery. Partners will be asked to write a Disclosure Letter, an Impact Letter, and a Restitution Letter. This allows the writer to be very thoughtful about what he/she wants to communicate. The letters are usually prepared with the support of a therapist and then read to the partner with the therapist present. Usually, tremendous healing occurs during the preparation of the letter and when the letter is read.
Formal Recovery Check-ins