Affaires can feel overwhelmingly catastrophic in a relationship. It can seem like the only possible response is to separate or divorce. But affaires are never the cause of relationship problems. They are the ultimate, non ignorable evidence of problems in the relationship that have probably been growing over time. As such they provide an opportunity to really deal with these problems.
In her book, “Affaires’ , Emily Brown describes five types of affair;
1. The Conflict Avoidance affaire. The conflict avoiders are that nice couple down the road who never fight. In reality they are terrified of conflict so don’t have a way of resolving problems as they arise. The issues pile up and drive them apart.
2. The Intimacy Avoidance affaire. This couple looks like the opposite of the one above in that they seem always to be fighting. They use conflict to avoid intimacy, which they are both afraid of. The affaire is used as another excuse to fight and avoid intimacy.
3. The sexual addiction affaire. Sex addicts use sex to numb their inner pain and fill up the emptiness inside. The sexual addict will have had multiple affaires and has little or no relationship with the affaire partner. His or her spouse meanwhile, puts up with the affaires, puts a brave face on for the world and is willing to carry responsibility that is not rightly hers (sexual addicts are mostly but not exclusively men). This couple live largely separate lives.
4. The Split Self affaire. Both partners have sacrificed their feelings and needs to take care of others. The affaire is a rebellion against this self sacrifice and an attempt to feel alive again.
5. Exit affaires. This is a vehicle for ending the relationship. It is not the reason but it provides a justification to leave the relationship.
If you or your partner have had an affaire, the challenge is to look beyond the affaire at the underlying relationship issues. By doing so, probably with the help of a couples counsellor, you could end up closer and stronger together than you ever were before. The relationship that you had before the affaire is probably over but you have the opportunity to create a new one, based on greater honesty and therefore grater intimacy. Good luck!
What is the difference between a counsellor & a psychotherapist?
There is no clear cut answer to this question, as there is a great deal of overlap between the two. Generally speaking, a psychotherapist will have trained for longer and psychotherapists are qualified to treat more severe forms of mental distress. A psychotherapist will likely work at greater depth and be aiming for a more fundamental kind of change than a counsellor. Counsellor trainings are generally shorter although they vary greatly. They are likely to work for a briefer time and on specific, targeted problems. That said, it is also true that a psychotherapist may sometimes provide counselling where that seems appropriate and sometimes counsellors function more like psychotherapists.
In the UK the professions of counselling and psychotherapy are not regulated. This means in effect that it is possible for anyone, even those with no training whatever to call themselves counsellors or psychotherapists. To be reassured that your practitioner is qualified you should check that they are accredited or registered with a recognised professional body for example the (UKCP) or (BACP), among others (simply being a member of such a body is not equivalent to registration as anyone can become a member; membership is not registration).
You don't have to be ill to get better!
Some people think that you have to be mentally ill to go into therapy. Just as you would go to a doctor to treat a medical problem, so you would go to a therapist to treat a psychological problem. It is true that people seek therapy for treatment of psychological symptoms but some people also go to therapy to make a good life better. Here are some examples of how therapy can enhance your life, even if you are not ill.
You want to improve your relationships. You may have many friends and acquaintances but somehow still feel lonely much of the time. Your relationship with your partner may have grown stale and functional rather than passionate or fun. Therapy can help improve communication and enhance your capacity for closeness.
Learning to know and love yourself. Some people have difficulty with self esteem but are not necessarily suffering from depression or any other mental disorder. Therapy can help you build self esteem and make you a happier, more fulfilled person.
You can't get over a loss. They say that time heals. It doesn't necessarily. Sometimes we need help coming to terms with major losses. There are many losses during life. An obvious kind of loss is experienced when someone close dies. Less obvious is the sense of loss associated with aging, loss of health or the loss of cherished dreams and aspirations.
You find yourself stuck and unhappy but unable to make the changes that you know would help. Therapy can help you understand and change old established habits that keep you in a job, a relationship or some other life situation that you know is not good for you.
Your life has lost direction, focus and meaning. Modern life leaves no time for reflection. Therapy provides that time; an hour each week, simply to reflect on yourself. This can help you to get back in touch with what matters to you and help you to find ways to live in a more satisfying and meaningful way.
You want to be a better parent. It can be deeply disheartening to find yourself doing/ saying to your own children the same unhelpful or damaging things that your parents did or said to you. Therapy can help you to become the parent you want to be.
You want to let go and forgive. Holding onto resentment affects our relationships and our health and destroys contentment. Therapy can help you to move on.
I hope that this short list helps to show you that therapy is not just about illness. It can also be about getting the most out of life. You don’t have to be ill to get better. In our culture we tend to hold stoicism in high regard. But I think stoicism is only a virtue were a bad situation can't be changed. Why suffer stoically a situation which it is in your power to change? That is not weakness, its just good sense.