Getting Past an Affair: When Your Counselor Tells You Not to Read

The role reading can play in Getting Past an Affair

Situation #1

Dear Anne… about counselors – after my last two sessions, I came away feeling not only emotionally depleted (which I think is normal) but also very uncertain about my marriage… when I thought that I had already made a decision to stay in the marriage and work on it. In fact, although my counselor is a great listener, he really made me feel extremely doubtful and untrusting of my husband and of the way he has dealt with this whole thing…just when I felt like I could start to trust him a little more and when I thought that we were making progress (him answering my questions and not “getting his back up” when the affair was brought up). I just came away feeling that my husband was cruel and heartless and not really making any effort to help me through it – when in fact his behaviour has (with the exception of the first little while).

The counsellor says that he thinks that I’ve misunderstood what “getting past an affair” will mean for me – I personally think that it is this: I feel that what I need is help getting through this (with the support of my family friends and my husband) and to a point where I can feel no more pain about the affair and get to a place where I can forgive him…because leaving is the last thing that I want to do… He on the other hand, thinks that me “getting past it” is actually making a choice…to stay or to leave. But I thought I already made that decision…?

Earlier on, I also asked him about some relevant reading material – he said that he does not usually recommend reading for his clients because it generally stirs up more questions and emotions… In your experience with counselors, is this the way that they usually approach this with someone – make one face the plain and simple facts…as grim as they may be…and make the situation as grim as it could be?

Situation #2

The following is a letter a man wrote to his counselor after making the decision to discontinue therapy:

To quote Shirley Glass, “How should we handle the moments of pain that continue to intrude months and years after these events are over?” 

My understanding of what is happening is that the affair has not been worked through completely for either of us.  I have been told several times to “just get over it”.  My interpretation is that she becomes defensive … I am looking for my wife to take responsibility for her choices and express regret. 

You have told me that I should quit reading about affairs, but I am not convinced.  When I have a problem, my nature is to research for information to better understand and deal with the situation.  The bigger the problem, the more research and study I do.  With the internet, there is a wealth of information available from people like Peggy Vaughn, Shirley Glass, Willard Harley, Dave Carder and others.  There is no doubt in my mind that I would be in a much worse state today if not for these resources.

The counseling from you has been of considerable help.  Your counseling taught us skills in the relationship, and me coping skills. However, as far as I am concerned, that still leaves the affair largely unresolved. 

I very much believe you are sincerely doing what your training and experience has taught you on a very difficult subject.  At the same time I ask you to give consideration to Peggy Vaughn’s “Help for Therapists (and their clients) in Dealing with Affairs”, and her stressing the need to address the affair.  Shirley Glass also makes this point.

At this time, I do not see it as productive for my wife and me to explore counseling anymore because of where my wife is at.   I believe she got started wrong with the first counselor we went to.  After 6 sessions together for marriage counseling, my wife went back on her own and confided to the counselor that she had been involved in a physical affair and basically was continuing the emotional affair.  According to what my wife has told me, they agreed it was best not to tell me, resulting in continued contact, lies and deception.  …To me, the answer is obvious:  It is far better to take responsibility and confess rather than continuing the deception with the harm it does to the marriage until the spouse has to face the reality, investigate and really force the issue. 

Answer:

While there are some very good counselors out there, there are also counselors who are not helpful and do more damage than good. This does not make them bad  people, but is reflective of the training that they receive in University. For years few people have been willing to share their honest experiences with affairs, so University professors have been stuck teaching psychology that relates to other areas of life and not specifically to the intricate nature of affairs.

Most counselors are trained to treat the individual and not see the marriage as an intricate part of a person’s emotional, spiritual and physical health. Contrary to these “against marriage” approaches to counseling, Linda Waite of the University of Chicago has done extensive research proving that people who work out their differences in their first marriages and stay married to their first partner for a life time, experience the greatest happiness and physical health in life by far. Her book is titled “The Case for Marriage.” (I heard her speak in person at the Smart Marriage Conference in Dallas in June 2005.

Luckily there are a whole contingent of counselors that have discovered that this is true, and there is an excellent website called
http://www.marriagefriendlytherapists.com/

Also Brian and I do couples/individual relationship coaching. We are not people with masters degrees in counseling, yet we’ve helped many on their healing journey from affairs. Some prefer our approach. We tell it like it is, and don’t waste your time.

It’s outrageous that your counselor is telling you not to read books! This is wrong. Reading is one of the main keys to healing that EVERY person I know whose healed from affairs has used. It’s as if he’s afraid he doesn’t know enough and he’s afraid you might become more informed than he is.

Knowledge and education are always keys to empowerment and personal growth.  Anyone who tells you to stop your quest for personal learning is undermining your ability to think for yourself. They are indirectly trying to control you by limiting your outside input. This is what they do in cults, tell you to stop educating yourself because outside education, they say, is harmful.

You heal from affairs by asking questions and gaining greater understanding of why this affair happened and what’s going to be different so it doesn’t happen again, and by processing your emotions, which are very valid. You also heal by learning to understand affairs in the wider perspective of our culture, instead of seeing your situation as one of few unlucky ones.

Emotions like anger and sadness are healthy and normal and are given to you naturally to help you get through difficult times. Trying to avoid or suppress your emotions and questions is like trying to heal by putting a band aid on a heart attack. You treat the disease. You don’t try to deny it exists. You do have questions and emotions. I healed by processing them, not by trying to suppress or limit them.

A good counselor should:
1. Encourage you to read.
2. Inform you, but not undermine your decision to stay married.

Only you will live with the outcome of the decisions you make right now, not your counselor. I’ve seen more counselors unnecessarily destroy marriages that could be healed.

Think for yourself. This is your life. Follow your own intuition, your inner voice, your inner sense of right and wrong.

Sincerely,

Anne

PS – It has been 9 months since I first received the letter in situation #1. This marriage is doing very well today as a result of reading and talking about the affair. Both marriages are well on their way to healing.

©Copyright 2005 Anne and Brian Bercht. All rights reserved.