Today we have another guest article for you. This one is from Dr. Jim Hutt, Ph.D., MFT and deals with how punishing the cheater can possibly stall infidelity recovery.
Dr. Hutt is a therapist in the San Francisco area and specializes in couples therapy, marriage counseling, individual counseling and parenting. His website is http://www.counselorlink.com/.
Though I never purposefully tried to punish Doug for his emotional affair (though I at times sure wanted to), there were times that he felt I was. I found that when his frustration surfaced it would help if I explained to him that I was not trying to punish him, but that I was hurting and that I needed him to be sympathetic rather than defensive or frustrated.
Eventually he was able to become more aware of his actions – or reactions – and the negative effect they had on both of us. By being aware, he was better able to control his emotions and better able to give me what I needed.
Infidelity Recovery – Consequences of Punishing the Offending Partner
By Jim Hutt, Ph.D.
In this article I want to focus on one particular aspect of recovering from an affair: punishing the offending partner.
I am frequently asked: “How long is this pain going to last!?” That’s impossible to answer, but I can give you one way to shorten the life span of your pain, and perhaps shorten the recovery process: If you’re punishing your partner, stop. Why? Because punishment can slow the recovery process, thereby extending the pain you are working so hard to reduce.
Frequently in my office the injured party will tell their partner, “I want you to hurt for as long as possible, just like I do, so you’re just going to have to take this punishment and deal with it!” And the punishment begins, in a wide variety of forms which, in the end, prolong the injured party’s pain. In the early stages of recovery dishing out punishment seems to provide the injured party SOME semblance of control after feeling profoundly powerless, helpless, deeply wounded, and out of control.
However, punishment has some downsides: It can lead to bitterness in one or both partners. Bitterness is swallowing a poison pill hoping the other party will die.
Second, it delays recovery due to the need for more repair. Punishment causes additional pain to a relationship already suffering on several levels. More pain means more recovery work. More recovery work takes more time. Inflicting emotional pain in someone else seldom leads to relief from our own pain because our brains are simply not wired to do that.
Punishing the offending partner means the injured party is working at cross purposes, and here is what that looks like: Part of you wants to stop feeling so terrible and get your life back, perhaps save the relationship, or try to figure out whether or not the relationship even CAN be saved. Another part of you wants your partner to suffer, so you punish them. But, punishing your partner, although understandable, only adds MORE pain to the relationship.
The pain you feel as a result of the affair is real, it’s deep, and it’s pervasive. Adding pain to one side of the relationship while simultaneously trying to reduce it on the other side of the relationship simply will not work. It is impossible to repair something that is simultaneously being damaged.
Try these alternatives to punishing your partner:
First, realize that your desire to punish is normal, but it’s the consequence of your own pain.
Second, understand that purposely causing pain for pains sake in your partner will not relieve your pain in the long run, even if it seems to provide a short-lived sense of satisfaction.
Third, talk with your partner in detail about YOUR PAIN! Expressing your pain gives you a greater likelihood of being heard and understood. It also provides an opportunity for your partner to experience their own pain derived from losing your TRUST, damaging their CREDIBILITY, and losing their INTEGRITY, not to mention the realization that the relationship is in jeopardy. Punishment may divert them from facing those all-important issues.
Fourth, remember, bitterness and punishment are damaging.
So think about it. If punishing the offending party must play a role, try to make it short lived and limited. For when it persists, bitterness may take over, individual and couple repair is stalled, and your pain and recovery will be prolonged.
Recovery from an affair for many couples is a long, arduous process, but if the punishment stops, you can shorten the recovery process. If need be, find a good counselor to help out.
How do you find a counselor who has an understanding of infidelity recovery? Ask if they have read Peggy Vaughan’s book The Monogamy Myth. If not, look until you find a counselor who has. And if you haven’t read it, do so.
Limit the punishment, reduce your pain, shorten the recovery process.
Please share your views on Dr. Hutt’s article and his opinion on this aspect of infidelity recovery. Also, we’d like to know whether or not this has been an issue in your own situation. You can share your views in the comment section below.