7 Marriage counseling guidelines
Have you wondered if marriage counseling works after an affair?
I know it can be very hard to find a good marriage counselor after infidelity.
Our own story is one that we had 3 pretty bad marriage counselors.
2 of them were outright terrible, and they ended up hurting us more than helping.
We definitely had a setback of healing after seeing them.
Pretty shocking isn’t it?
But before you think I’m ‘anti-marriage counseling’; I’m not.
I just believe you have to be careful, ask questions,
and be diligent when choosing the right counselor.
Because I had an amazing personal counselor during this time,
I was able to see the benefits of counseling-
when done by someone who is good at it.
So, I still recommend counseling or coaching,
or at least a good program that’s proven to help couples heal, like Marriage Max,
so you’re not just floundering along in the dark- trying to find your way through the pain.
So choosing the right marriage counselor after infidelity,
that will truly help you both heal and not make things worse,
if really important.
Here are 7 marriage counseling guidelines after infidelity.
1. Don’t do individual counseling, and couples counseling,
with the same counselor.
I know this seems like a great idea, but the truth is, it’s not. Ultimately it becomes very hard for them to be objective.
Counselors are human, and they can experience a bias just like anyone,
no matter how much they try not to.
It’s just about impossible for anyone to not feel that sympathy toward one partner-
especially if they’ve been counseling them alone.
It also puts the counselor in a strange predicament when one spouse (usually an unfaithful spouse)
says things to the counselor in private, that they may not have revealed to their spouse yet.
This doesn’t mean it’s not helpful to have some individual time with your marriage counselor,
but that should be the exception and not the norm.
It’s just an ethical decision for a counselor too.
Listen, we’ve experienced this first hand-
and have heard from other couples who have as well;
that the marriage counselor thought it was fine to meet individually,
and then together as a couple.
Our counselor had a doctorate degree, we were an emotional mess,
I didn’t even think to question what she was recommending to us about this.
After a number of months like this- while I was in my most confused state of back and forth-
she had a very accusatory, shaming conversation with me of how terrible I was.
Adding shame on top of shame doesn’t really ever help anyone.
She’d developed a bias and sympathy only for my husband, and could no longer be a neutral 3rd party to help us any longer.
So the process of trying to find a new one after that experience was arduous to say the least.
It probably wasn’t even the right time for us to seek marriage counseling to restore our marriage,
when I was still so confused about whether I wanted to end the affair or stay married.
I also have had betrayed spouse’s write me telling me they are seeing a marriage counselor with their spouse- and each individually.
They like the arrangement because the counselor ‘will tell them if the unfaithful says anything that hints
about their lying about continuing in the affair.’
I was shocked and called into question how ethical of a decision that is for a counselor to do.
Lesson learned: Don’t go to the same marriage counselor together that
you each see separately…no matter what the counselor tells you.
This leads me to point #2.
2. If the affair is still ongoing then avoid typical couples counseling.
It won’t do much good honestly,
if one partner is still acting out in the affair and not fully committed to the marriage,
by not ending their affair.
Unless they’re going to a counselor to help them come to terms with making the right decision
and how to move forward with regards to separating etc..
Overall, Individual therapy is a better choice at this stage.
Now, knowing if your spouse is being honest about having ended their affair is another thing.
3. Find a marriage counselor experienced in affair recovery.
Hopefully helping many couples through infidelity a year, and not a general marriage counselor
with no knowledge or systems of handling a couple going through infidelity.
They might be great with relationship help and fixing communication issues,
but a general marriage counselor that’s not trained in the specialty of affair recovery
might try to get the couple to move onto issues that aren’t relevant to healing from the infidelity specifically.
They have to help the betrayed spouse deal with the trauma, forgiveness issues and the triggers that occur,
but general counselors won’t necessarily be aware of those huge roadblocks to be even able to help them navigate through them.
Ex. a betrayed needs to not be pushed toward getting over it so soon that issues aren’t dealt with.
And a unfaithful spouse needs guidance eventually to help them know why the affair happened,
and how they can make the changes necessary now (vulnerabilities, past trauma’s, stuffed emotions…)
As soon as the couple decides they’re both committed to trying to work on the marriage and restoration,
then affair recovery counseling would be helpful at that point.
Lesson: Affair Recovery requires an expert who knows how to help walk a couple through the
difficult process of reconnecting. There’s a lot to navigate like trust, forgiveness, sexual issues,
intrusive thoughts, how to stop fighting and start healing… you get the idea.
What to ask: Ask them what their experience is regarding affair recovery,
and how many couples they’ve helped through infidelity in the past year… not just general marriage issues.
4. Don’t give up because of cost or slower results.
Marriage counseling can be expensive, and a hardship, when things may be difficult financially as it is.
But if your marriage is going to survive, getting the right help is crucial.
And if it doesn’t survive, you as an individual gained insight and help to heal personally hopefully as a result of the counseling.
I know it might seem expensive, but think of it as an investment into the marriage itself.
The other temptation is to give up because it’s not working as fast as you hope. Affair recovery takes time,
patience and determination to keep going to fight for your marriage.
Think of it as an investment of both money and time, into the future of your marriage.
What to ask: How long they expect the process may take ( although every couple is different and it
may be hard for them to give a definitive answer. Ask if they take your insurance or offer discounts.
5. Be sure the counselor doesn’t have their own agenda.
If your goal is to restore the marriage, their view shouldn’t be to push separation or divorce.
The other side is a counselor that’s so focused only on telling you to stay together at whatever costs,
when you’ve tried to hang in there, as a betrayed spouse, for well past the time you gave yourself –
but feel like your unfaithful spouse sees no reason to stop their affair.
Sometimes there comes a time when you realize they don’t want to end their affair or commit.
Knowing their philosophies on how long to stay and how long to wait will help you know
if they’re in alignment with your own.
This was our second counselor’s failings.
She definitely felt we should be separated and instead of respecting our feelings at that point
(we’d already been separated, and felt we wanted to move past that option),
she actually got angry with us for not continuing to seek separation beyond the short time we tried.
She had her own agenda and that’s never great when seeking counsel,
especially if it’s contrary to you working at saving the marriage.
Lesson learned: To ask more questions on their philosophy and approach to helping
you through this. Are they going to recommend divorce at some point or tell either of you to give up?
What will their reaction be if you don’t agree with a method they’re encouraging?
Is their approach to dig up the past regarding all the past issues from before the affair, right away?
Or do they believe in helping you get stabilized from the betrayal and work on that first?
(the second one is best).
What to ask: see the ‘lesson learned’ above.
6. Don’t try to go into counseling with
the expectation of changing your spouse.
Obviously as a betrayed spouse, you know your spouse has a lot of areas to work on,
and the obvious one is their infidelity.
But we forfeit the help we might receive too, when we’re not open to other areas in the marriage
that may need changing, and were left vulnerable or exposed.
Although a betrayed spouse can’t be blamed for their spouse choosing to have an affair, and there should be no guilt about that.
You are both part of the marriage and therefore, both have a role of finding answers to help the marriage heal as a team-
even if you didn’t ‘start this’ by having an affair.
Being humble and willing to address any issues in the marriage is often the best way
to approach marriage counseling for both the betrayed and unfaithful.
7. Seek a counselor with similar belief systems.
If you’re a christian, you’d probably be best served with a Christian marriage counselor.
There can be some exceptions but particularly when dealing with a couple in the vulnerable time after infidelity-
hearing advice contrary to biblical beliefs- if that’s the perspective a couple comes from- can be confusing and dividing.
I know there’s some great secular counselors, and my husband was even helped by one in individual counseling,
(or at least she didn’t advertise being ‘christian’).
But why start with someone who doesn’t share your core beliefs?
They may find it too easy to advise you to do something that’s not in alignment with what God would tell you.
Now that being said, I’ll also say- just because they’re “christian” doesn’t make them a ‘good counselor’.
When I first started having feelings before my affair actually started,
I was seeing a particular christian counselor and told her about my concerning emotions.
Unfortunately, she really didn’t take it seriously, and just told me to pray about it.
I wish she’d also told me to tell my husband, just to diffuse the secret-
that ultimately made the affair too easy to occur.
Here are a few good questions to ask:
1. Are you a Christian counselor? How do you incorporate Christian beliefs and advice into your counseling?
Or, if that’s not necessarily your goal, then just make sure their values align with your values.
2. What is your plan to help us through this?
3. What’s your philosophy on how a marriage works through infidelity (or whatever your current issue is)?
4. Will you honor our feelings if we disagree with your recommendations?
There you have it.
My 7 Marriage counseling guidelines after infidelity.
You might still wonder: “Does marriage counseling work after infidelity?”
I think it’s definitely worth the effort to try to find one that specializes in affair recovery,
as I mentioned.
Ultimately, working with a good marital therapist,
or counselor, will help you:
-Listen until your partner feels heard.
-Help you both to not rush past the affair recovery process and trauma.
-De-escalate those repetitive arguments and be a mediator when talking about the affair.
-Help shift your focus to create better ways of communicating.
-Show both how to stop obsessive thoughts, triggers and un-forgiveness in productive ways.
-Help guide you both into those activities that will help you feel reconnected.
If you know our story, you know we survived the affair- against all odds and against all hope that it could be saved.
In spite of having terrible marriage counselors, we made it.
And I firmly believe if you both are willing- you can overcome this too!
We ultimately had to figure out how to heal step by step on our own.
That set us back.
But we did both have individual counselors that helped both of us and I attribute their counsel
being one piece of our healing.
If you need help finding a good counselor in your area-
check out Focus on the Family’s link to finding good counselors, here.
More blog posts you might like:
If you’ve been an unfaithful wife only,
I’d love to have you join my private facebook group;
it’s called AMA WOMEN found in private groups.
You’ll find support and encouragement to move forward in healing and honor from a wonderful
group of women who’ve become a sisterhood.
Just please answer my 3 questions to help me validate,
& be prepared to have me private message you on facebook if I have any questions,
and don’t have a brand new facebook profile…
Unless we’ve spoken on the phone first and I understand why.
(sorry, this group is only for the wife who was unfaithful– not betrayed and only women.)
I’m sure you’re wondering about the privacy of my facebook group:
It’s a private group with no words of “affair” or “infidelity” in there.
Nobody but members can see who’s in the group either.
Also, you can uncheck the box in your fb profile that says “groups”
and no one will see which groups you belong to.
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