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Rebuilding Intimacy After an Affair Douglas K. Snyder, Ph.D. Texas A&M University Rebuilding Intimacy After an Affair Douglas K. Snyder, Ph.D. Texas A&M.

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Presentation on theme: "Rebuilding Intimacy After an Affair Douglas K. Snyder, Ph.D. Texas A&M University Rebuilding Intimacy After an Affair Douglas K. Snyder, Ph.D. Texas A&M."— Presentation transcript:

1 Rebuilding Intimacy After an Affair Douglas K. Snyder, Ph.D. Texas A&M University Rebuilding Intimacy After an Affair Douglas K. Snyder, Ph.D. Texas A&M University In collaboration with: Donald Baucom, Ph.D., University of North Carolina Kristina Gordon, Ph.D., University of Tennessee

2 How Prevalent Are Affairs? Lifetime occurrence of sexual infidelity: 21% men; 11% women Rates of emotional infidelity are double: 44% men; 25% women 2nd leading cause of divorce for women and 3rd leading cause for men Therapists report as 3rd most difficult issue to treat

3 What Defines An Affair? Physical non-monogamy: Occurs along a continuum of physical involvement Emotional non-monogamy: Characterized by emotional intimacy, secrecy, and sexual chemistry Betrayal: Violation of relational standard (implicit or explicit) regarding physical or emotional exclusivity

4 Three Stage Model of Recovery Stage I - Absorbing the blow Stage II - Giving meaning, establishing new assumptions Stage III - Moving forward

5 Characteristics of Successful Process Gaining a fuller and balanced understanding of event(s) Not remaining preoccupied with the traumatic events Giving up the right to continuously punish the person who has “wronged” you Reaching informed decision whether to maintain or terminate the relationship

6 PTSD Symptoms

7 Empathy

8 Global Commitment

9 Goals of the Initial Session Establish safety and trust Demonstrate competence –Expertise regarding affairs and recovery process –Obtaining relevant information Prepare for future sessions

10 Addressing Initial Crises Contain immediate crises: Verbal or physical aggression Immediate decisions regarding boundaries Immediate self-care needs

11 Brian and Angela – Summary Brian 29, injured partner; Angela 26, participating partner Married 6 years; sons ages 3 and 1 Affair – two months’ duration. Marital history and shared work history. Individual histories: –Angela: Adopted, mother died age 18 –Brian: Oldest of 3 siblings; college drop-out

12 Video – Initial Session Emphasis on: –Current status of couple relationship –Status of outside relationship –Efforts to set boundaries

13 Treatment Goals for Stage I Re-establish some form of “equilibrium” for the couple and individuals –Reduce emotional upset –Establish behavioral routines Minimize additional damage to either individual or the couple– “damage control” –Minimize hurtful behaviors between the partners –Minimize either partner creating problems with the outside world

14 Discussing Impact of the Affair What assumptions have been violated about who your partner is and what to expect from your relationship? What standards for your marriage (how partners should behave) have been violated? What does the affair mean about your partner, the relationship, and you? What emotions are you experiencing, and what ideas go with those feelings? Given these thoughts and feelings, what behaviors have changed or have been disrupted?

15 Flashback Guidelines Clarify whether emotional upset is due to something currently upsetting or re-experiencing feelings from past Let your partner know what is happening (e.g., driving by the hotel triggered old feelings) Let your partner know what you need at present (e.g., being held; being left alone; talking about it) Balance how much you talk with partner about flashbacks with other ways to handle on your own

16 Treatment Goals for Stage II Identify factors that potentially contributed to “vulnerability” or “risk” of affair Prepare groundwork for additional change

17 Treatment Strategies for Stage II Present rationale –Potential benefits and risks of doing this Examine potential factors successively –Relationship factors –Stressors from outside the marriage –Individual susceptibilities or contributions Participating partner Injured partner Develop shared, comprehensive formulation

18 Rationale for Exploring Context For injured partner –Restores predictability –Potentially “softens” view of participating partner –Contributes to appropriate self-awareness For participating partner –Broadens explanations for hurtful behavior –Contributes to appropriate self-awareness For couple –May facilitate collaborative efforts at addressing relationship and outside factors

19 Conceptual Model Prior to Affair During/After Affair Prior to Affair During/After Affair Negative influences High conflict; Pursuit by outsider; and stressors low intimacy retributions Positive qualities Warmth of PP; Responsible increasing risk trust from IP “caring” for OP Absence of Inadequate Lack of couple protective factors attention to friends relationship relationship

20 Challenges to Stage II Confusing “understanding” with “excusing” Reactivity of injured partner –Reluctance to examine relationship or own factors –Preoccupation with “why” Reactivity of participating partner –Reluctance to hurt injured partner further –Intolerance for sustained distress Differences in time-lines for two partners

21 Preparing a Formulation: What to Include Emphasize multiple contributing factors –Vulnerabilities or risks from multiple domains –Both historical (developmental) and recent Different factors at different stages of affair Cite reductions in risk already achieved Propose additional steps to be pursued

22 Preparing a Formulation: How to Create It Formulations from each partner individually Formulations developed jointly –By couple together at home –With therapist during treatment session Regardless of how developed, share and discuss during treatment session

23 Video – Formulation Session Formulation for Brian and Angela emphasizes: –Individual and relationship strengths –Exposure to normative and unique stressors –Interaction of stressors with partner vulnerabilities Implications for moving forward –Communication challenges for both partners –Steps toward balancing relational needs

24 Treatment Goals for Stage III Strengthening progress from Stages I and II Discussing forgiveness and blocks to forgiving or “moving on” Deciding whether or not to continue the relationship Either making the necessary changes to rebuild the relationship or working on a healthy termination

25 Treatment Strategies for Stage III Strengthening work from Stages I and II Partners discuss how their understanding has changed since they began treatment Couple identifies what needs to change in the relationship, based on what they have learned Therapist summarizes and gives feedback

26 Common Beliefs about Forgiveness Forgiveness means staying together Forgiveness means excusing the partner or saying what happened does not matter Forgiveness means forgetting or no longer feeling any anger about what has happened Forgiveness is weak or approving what happened Forgiveness must be granted immediately, particularly if person has apologized One should not/must not forgive one’s partner for certain types of betrayals: affairs, violence, lies...

27 Our Model of Forgiveness Forgiveness is not: –Excusing or forgetting the affair –Reconciling or staying together –An immediate or one-time event Forgiveness is: –A process –An opportunity to gain in understanding about your partner, your relationship, and yourself –A release from being controlled by negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors

28 Treatment Strategies for Stage III Deciding whether to continue relationship Discuss changes that would need to occur for relationship to continue Discuss evidence supporting their ability to make the desired changes Discuss partner’s motivation and willingness to make the changes Help them think through what they wish to do

29 Questions for Evaluating the Relationship Is the affair isolated event or ongoing pattern? Has participating partner been able to make difficult changes in the past? Has the injured partner been able to make similar changes? Has participating partner accepted responsibility for his/her own actions? Are both partners willing to make the necessary changes? In themselves? In the relationship?

30 Video – Forgiveness Session Emphasis on: –Brian reads his letter of forgiveness –Angela responds to letter –Partners exchange pledges to move on

31 Available at: Self-Esteem Shop Available at: Self-Esteem Shop Douglas K. Snyder, Ph.D., Department of Psychology Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4235 Email: Email:

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