Understanding WHAT happened (Step 2 - Getting The Story) in an affair and WHY it happened (Step 3 - Learning from the Affair) are tremendously helpful but it will never be enough. Expressing true empathy and giving comfort must accompany these steps.
PURPOSE OF EMPATHY
Practicing genuine empathy serves two purposes:
it allows the betrayed partner to FEEL better, not just think it.
it rebuilds the emotional bond that was broken by the affair (and may have been weak before hand).
Yet, showing empathy can be difficult. You may have the impulse to rescue, minimize, say it will be OK, avoid, or gloss over the feelings. This may lead your partner to feel completely invalidated.
HOW TO EXPRESS EMPATHY
Instead, your therapist will support you as you learn to allow your partner to feel how they are feeling. Even though some partners may doubt that they (or there partners) are capable of expressing empathy, in the vast majority of cases, partners are completely are capable of expressing empathy and eventually enjoy doing so. You will realize that empathy is a skill that you will be able to employ all your relationships.
This empathy training will occur as you practice your communication exercises. As part of this training you will learn how to:
listen carefully to a story,
repeat back exactly what was said,
identify the emotion(s), and
find a time you had a similar experience with similar emotions,
validate your partner's story and emotions and share your common experience.
SLOWING DOWN AND LOOKING PAST THE CONTENT
We often get caught up in content of the story, especially if we played a hurtful role in the narrative. Your history may block your ability to fully listen and connect with the emotions of your partner. By slowing down the discussion and being mindful of your own reactions, you can follow the steps above and begin expressing empathy.
MANAGING YOUR EMOTIONS AS YOU LISTEN
To be clear, this is risky business. When you actually hear the pain in your partner’s story, you may be overwhelmed with shame and guilt. You will feel pulled to physically or emotionally withdraw or lash out. This is when a skilled therapist can help you stay in the process and keep building your ability to offer true empathy to each other. We will offer you some concrete exercises that will give you the training that you need.
STEPS TO SUPPORT EMPATHY
Our process includes several concrete steps to increase empathy. This includes:
writing an Impact Letter
learning the stages of grief and how to navigate them
prioritizing feelings over facts