Should I go to couples counseling with my partner if he hasn’t ended the affair yet?

couples counselingBy Linda & Doug

There is a question that comes up often from betrayed spouses after discovering an affair and that is, “Should I go to therapy with my partner if he (she) hasn’t ended his (her) affair yet?”

In our opinion, the short answer is no.

There are many different aspects of what makes for good therapy and two of those aspects are commitment and focus. So if you have a situation where the affair has not ended, it’s questionable as to the level of commitment and focus of both parties, especially the unfaithful partner.

Featured Download: “The Top 10 Reasons to Leave Your Affair Partner Now”

If you’re the unfaithful, get it, read it and carefully consider the advice. If you’re the betrayed, give it to your unfaithful spouse.

There are a myriad of questions and issues that come to mind in this scenario:

How in the world can the unfaithful be committed to fixing their marriage if he/she is still involved in an affair? Is the unfaithful partner using therapy to compare the betrayed partner with the affair partner

Certainly, wondering what’s really going on in the unfaithful partner’s mind when he or she has not yet made the decision to end the affair raises considerable problems in therapy if it were to continue that way.

If the affair has not ended there can be a power imbalance in therapy. What we mean by that is if the cheater has not ended the affair, he or she believes that they are desired by both their spouse and the affair partner (whether true or not) and this creates a power imbalance in terms of the way that person will conduct himself or herself in therapy. An imbalance in the distribution of power can create disrespect and passive-aggressive behavior.

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The betrayed spouse and the unfaithful spouse may have different goals which are not compatible with one another. If the affair has not ended, the unfaithful partner may agree to therapy solely to show the betrayed partner “Hey, I tried. It’s not working, and we have to end the relationship.” So in their mind…at least they tried, when in effect, are they really trying if they haven’t ended the affair?

Meanwhile, the betrayed has completely different goals for therapy. Therapy may provide a safe setting where he/she can air their grievances and express how they’ve been hurt by the affair. They can explore what went wrong in the relationship and what emotional and psychological dynamics were at play that led to the affair. And ultimately, their goal may be to save the marriage or at least determine if it can be saved.

The therapy may provide a smokescreen of sorts for the unfaithful partner. In other words, it can be a deceptive tactic on the part of the unfaithful to make the betrayed partner think that the affair is over and he/she now wants to work on the relationship.

So these are just a few reasons why we say proceeding with couple therapy in most cases is probably not a good thing if the affair has not ended. If it has not ended, what is the couple working towards?

Recovering from an Affair and My First Visit with a Therapist

Seek Individual Therapy Instead of Couples Counseling

A better avenue might be to instead look towards individual therapy. The betrayed should consider individual therapy at the very least to help them get a handle on the painful emotions and feelings and to come up with a plan for personal healing. 

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For the unfaithful spouse, individual therapy can help them get to a point where he or she has worked through all the issues and is able to make a very definite decision that “Yes. I want to end the affair and work on this relationship” or “I want to continue the affair.”  In this case the couple should really start to consider the possibility of ending the relationship.

Once the decision is made about what to do with the affair – end it or continue it – things become a lot clearer. So if the decision is to end it, then of course they can proceed to couples counseling to deal with all the aspects required for recovery, healing and rebuilding of the marital relationship.

If the decision is not to end the affair, then the individual therapy should probably continue so as to help the betrayed partner (it’s doubtful the cheater would want to continue individual therapy at that point) to address their own personal issues and work towards their own recovery and healing.

Although there is value in the cheater attending more therapy as well, they’re very often in the fog and of the mind that they believe the reason for their affair is best explained in terms of what the betrayed partner didn’t do to meet their needs instead of looking at themselves and asking “What’s wrong with me? Why did I have an affair?”

At this point, looking at themselves and understanding themselves, and understanding their behavior and the choices they make absolutely would be fantastic, but not necessarily likely to happen.

See also  31 Survivors Share Their Lessons Learned, Mistakes Made and Affair Advice

If you can think of any additional reasons why couples counseling is not a good idea while the affair continues – or, if you feel therapy is indeed a good idea even if the affair is still going on – please share your thoughts in the comment section below. Please also feel free to share any relevant personal experiences. Thanks!



    15 replies to "4 Reasons Why Couples Counseling is Not a Good Idea if the Affair Has Not Ended"

    • exercisegrace

      Great post! I agree with each point. I am thankful I never had to deal with this issue. For me the two biggest issues would be the manipulation factor and giving up too much information. Counseling is incredibly emotionally draining and soul-baring hard work. Even my remorseful husband often feels like he is in the principal’s office when we are in MC and he has to face up to some of his bad behavior. For a spouse still IN the affair, the OP is just going to ridicule the process and foster the feeling in the cheating spouse that they are being “punished”. I imagine the OP would find MC very threatening to the affair relationship and would pull out all stops to sabotage it. Secondly, if my spouse was still in the affair I would worry about giving him too much information were we to eventually head to divorce court. Again, therapy only works if you are willing to have total transparency with your therapist and trust all parties in that room. You have to explore your thoughts, feelings and needs openly because sometimes we don’t even realize what those ARE. How on earth can you do that if you know your spouse is going to be reporting your every insecurity and fear to their affair partner and maybe their attorney? I would not want my “junk” exploited at the hands of a cunning divorce attorney!

      • Doug

        EG, good point about the divorce court angle. We hadn’t thought of that. Anymore, you have to be concerned about everything you say, write, text, etc. Just ask the owner of the LA Clippers!

        • exercisegrace

          ha ha yes. Whatever by-laws Sterling broke, he deserves to answer for. But in my book, freedom of speech means just that. Even if you are a pompous, arrogant, bigot. You still get to have freedom of speech. I don’t see anyone jumping all over the “reverend” Al Sharpton, and he has most CERTAINLY said some bigoted, ignorant things.

    • theresa

      There are no coincidences. How often have I grappled with an issue, only to come here and find the help I needed, the empathy of someone who knows, the absolute trust I have, knowing we are here to help and be helped, unconditionally, without malice.
      I had been thinking yesterday about the help that is available for the cheater. (Doug and Linda your program
      “Healing from an Affair – A cheater’s guide for helping your spouse heal from your affair”
      is a magnificent piece of work.)
      Since any attempt at reconciliation should be based in honesty, willingness to do the work that will be so hard for BOTH of you, how do I know? Can he be trusted?
      There are some viscous bastards out there. Is he taking the information and twisting it, like an anti help? This is what I can do to hurt, humiliate, make it her fault.
      I haven’t done any counseling and I assume that in doing this you are making yourself vulnerable. It’s all out there. It’s you.
      And if he has not stopped the affair, he will use this as an opportunity not to repair the damage but to inflict more.
      You trusted him.

    • JennyN

      Guess my question is though as the betrayed spouse “How do you know the affair has ended?”

      The data is strong that at least initially the affair does not stop for a bit.

      We started counseling almost immediately after the affair broke (I was already in IC for some time prior). My hubby started individual and marriage.

      During at least part of the MC the affair started back up again.

      I got a lot out of it, and continued to see the MC for some time indivdually, after the fact…..her focus was on relationships and she helped me to put mine (and the affair) into perspective. It was from her that I got a lot of the support and resources to heal from an affair…..

      My ex stopped going soon after the affair came to light again. As you mentioned it was pretty hard for him to probably look at his stuff….and it was easier to stay in the good feelings the affair brought.

      The years of IC I had had allowed me to want to be truthful, and upfront and honest. The affair stopped me from people pleasing and starting to look out for me. MC gave me a safe place to do that, even if it was for only a short time.

      It also in retrospect allowed me to see that ALL of our problems prior to the affair were not my fault. Not that my ex was a bad guy…..but that like everyone he came with baggage. I don’t know if that would have been as clear to me if we had not done MC….as I am sure he would have continued the affair, and we would have ended up split up. For example I got to witness how he was not capable of having a hard discussion without flooding (where he wanted to fight, flight, freeze). It had NOTHING to do with how I said it, how gentle I brought it up etc.

      In my case only if I had waited until the affair was finished and fully over I would have missed out on an opportunity for healing and resolution….because in my case I never would have gotten there.

      • exercisegrace

        Jenny, I agree this is a great question. My answer is……the same way I knew it began. That is to say, primarily his BEHAVIOR. If he were to become distant, critical, overly-sensitive to immediately having his every want and need attended to, the red flags would fly. If he were to start picking fights with me over ridiculous crap, become super-demanding of the kids and berate them for not leaping up to do a chore the very second he asked them, I would KNOW in my gut. If he were to start hoarding his phone, taking it everywhere with him (even into the bathroom) and not letting me near it? Dead give-away.

        The signs were all there when he was having his affair. I just didn’t know what they meant, and attributed them to all the stress we had in our lives at the time. Primarily because that’s what he TOLD ME was going on. Because I trusted him completely, blindly, unfailingly….I believed every word he said.

        • exercisegrace

          DUH. I guess I should have added that my situation was different. I (fortunately? unfortunately??) did not “catch” them out. He had ended it a year and a half before the bunny boiling whore outed it in a fit of rage.

    • Strengthrequired

      Jenny, that question is a good one, how do you know when the affair has really ended?
      Well I think once the cs starts to truly open up and wants to make the marriage work and is willing to do the work to do it.
      With my experience, my h kept up his ea for a year after dday, so I know for any sort of marriage counselling during that time would have been mostly lies and omitting the truth. My h did speak to a pastor one in a meeting at the beginning of his ea, before moving back home, and a could of times once he moved back home, yet his ea still continued. He did not admit to the pastor that he was inlove with his ow, told him he didn’t know what he was feeling. He was told to work on his marriage and to stay away from the ow, that is why he omitted the truth, so the pastor would think he was not doing anything wrong.
      Yet the day he spoke to the pastor on the phone, he and his ow met down the park, I had caught them, I had told him that we needed to speak with the pastor, the ow cracked up laughing, so of course may h lol too. The ow, turned to him and said, what does she want to do? He said speak to the pastor? What the hell for she said, sarcastically. Once my h mocked me in front of her, that was when I turned to him and told him I was leaving with his kids, and that he could have his whore, I told him enjoy your happy life together, you deserve each other.
      As soon as I was home, started packing, he was behind me, stopping me from leaving. He left whorebags down the park crying.
      He spoke to the pastor again, that day. Yet his ea continued for another 9 mths.
      Nothing was going to help, until he chose to wash his hands of her, he had to be ready and willing to do the work. Unless he did, no counselling of any sort was going to be any use.

    • Trying Hard

      Boy did I have a major trigger after reading this post. I still get so pissed off when I think about the first 8 weeks of MC.

      We started MC the first week of June. He had been telling me the affair was over since May 1. He wasn’t living at home. I had my suspicions and he was still talking divorce and so was I but we were also “talking” just that divorce was always on the table.

      We started MC with what I thought was the intention to try and save our marriage. I could tell he really didn’t want to talk openly so I suggested he come by himself, which he did. I decided I would continue with my IC and he could go talk to the MC by himself until he felt comfortable enough for me to be there. I know this will sound shocking, but my H isn’t much of an emotional talker—BWAHAHAHA. Anyway so he’s going and we have a big blow up 3 weeks into it which is when I suggested he go by himself. I leave to go hiking in the mountains for a week. I wanted away from him. He was devastated that I would leave and he didn’t think I would, but I did. So I come back from my hiking trip big blow up, he says he wants a divorce and I said good because I do too. I was sick of his back and forth and how could we work on our marriage with him living with his sister?? Told him I was sick of him and didn’t want to see him again and that he had better GIRD HIS LOINS!!!! I was pissed. What’s he do but the next day comes back begging to move home. He loves me he wants to make our marriage work. Sheeesh, talk about a roller coaster. OK he can come back but we are going to MC together. Which we do BUT he is still lying.

      At one point I wonder if the MC would want to see me individually as well since we were going to go back to seeing her together. She says no. OK I’m fine with that. She does however suggest to me that she does divorce mediation and if I was interested in that she could help. I told her under no uncertain circumstances would I ever need her for any kind of divorce mediation that I had a great lawyer thank you very much and if she didn’t want to be a MC to both us I would look for another MC and my H could use her as his IC. Yeah, he was pretty much telling her he wanted a divorce and of course she couldn’t tell me. I had no idea he was going to a MC under that pretext.

      I was so confused, total gaslight. We are going to MC to see if we can work things out right?? OH HELL NO, as you said here he had a different agenda and that was for the MC to say we should get divorced. He believed no way would a MC give us and especially me any hope. He was wanting her to tell me that I should divorce him. He was still seeing the OW. She even posted on her FB page the day we started MC how pissed she was!!! I was blind-sided AGAIN!!!

      We went 3 times in July and then we left for a 2 week road trip to CO where I got the whole story. DDay2.

      So no do not go if the affair is still going on. It’s a total waste of time and money. Better money spent is with a good attorney or private investigator. Do not ever trust them the first time or even the 20th time they tell you it’s over. LOL I had even told a friend of mine on the day before we left for our trip that when I got back I was going to hire a PI because I just didn’t believe he was telling the truth! Sure enough next day I found out I didn’t need a PI because he finally came clean.

      Everyone thinks MC is going to fix everything. It does just the opposite in fact if all the cards aren’t on the table. It was a big fat waste of time and money. But he was good at wasting time and money by that point!

      Boy was he nervous going back the MC once all was out and we returned home from CO because he lied to her too. He told me he had to get me out of town away from everyone and everything so he could have me all alone with no where to run or make him leave. He knew he would need all that time to tell the story and to try to show me how much he wanted to make it work but there was no way he felt comfortable enough telling me at home. NO we do not own a gun:))) THANK GOD! Well when the story came out back at the MC she sort of smiled and said I didn’t think everything was out yet. Wasn’t her first Rodeo!

      What a freaking mess that summer was. Nothing buy lies, gaslighting, agendas, OW, crying, panic attacks, tempers, you name it. No way an unsuspecting MC could have helped in any way.

      UGH—thanks for the trigger 🙂 Now I’m pissed all over again. Think I’ll go shopping 🙂

    • Strengthrequired

      Th, I was pissed and upset all day yesterday too. Hope you enjoyed shopping.

    • Nancy

      It is now Feb. 2018. My husband met the OW in Oct. 2016. I found about the affair in Mar. 2017 and began the fight of my life for my marriage. He showed remorse and shock upon disocery of the affair and willingly went to MC. After 6-7 sessions, I felt he wasn’t really invested. Much later learned he was in contact with OW. He spent the summer and early fall boomeranging in and out of the house. In October he committed to the marriage, attended a couple’s therapy weekend and started a few more MC sessions. In December he announced he was leaving for good and got a place for Jan. 1st. He spent new years with the OW. I discovered emails he wrote to the OW that detailed his attempt to apply all the prinicples of marriage counselling to how to make their relationship work so they can beat the odds of affair relationships surviving. No, MC does not work if the affair partner is transferring it to his other relationship. The kicker is that his emails present the relationship information as his enlightenment from IC that he never attended. He’s lying to her about how he learned his “relationship wisdom.” He also attempts to play off his return to the marriage in Oct as what he needed to do to exit the marriage once and for all. Yet, he plead with me to come back, apologied to members of the family for the hurt he caused me and prompted the MC. He’s a confused mess and she has no idea. Midlife crises 101.

    • Innovative Counselling

      The best gift you can give to a newly engaged couple-send them to marriage counselling. Some Churches make this mandatory. All of the above mentioned can help to learn what your partner is expecting, your expectations, how to handle important issues, if you are compatible or if the marriage is not ideal.

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