by Guest Blogger, Joanna Hardis, LISW (originally published on joannahardis.com)
Are you suffering from the pain of infidelity? Do you feel lost? Unanchored? Confused? Like you’re just not good enough? Well, you’re not alone. And there is hope.
Last month, I attended an all-day workshop with psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author Esther Perel, entitled “Healing from Infidelity.” Perel is recognized as one of today’s most insightful and original voices on modern relationships. She helms a therapy practice in New York City and serves as an organizational consultant for Fortune 500 companies around the world. Not only is her voice mesmerizing, but she’s also very witty, incredibly smart and generous with her knowledge.
When Perel asked how many of us in the audience had been touched by infidelity, hands shot up across the entire room. This closely mirrors my clinical experience working with men and women in all different settings – from an HIV clinic to, more recently, my private practice.
Perel responded by outlining three distinct phases of healing that each individual must navigate to move on and rebuild after infidelity:
The initial stage of affair recovery, the “crisis phase,” occurs when an affair is disclosed or discovered. This phase is marked by intense emotion – a tremendous feeling of uncertainty and (for the one who was betrayed) the sense that his or her entire reality has just collapsed. It’s often accompanied by up-and-down feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, denial, loss and, eventually, acceptance.
The “meaning-making phase” is about understanding what the affair meant to the person who had it and how it impacts the betrayed person. By exploring the core meaning of the affair, you may gain a clearer picture of what led to it – where the roots of the infidelity began. It’s not about assigning blame, but getting answers. Answers that may help relieve some frustration, and prepare you to make healthy decisions about the relationship moving forward.
This final stage of recovery, what Perel calls the “vision phase,” is about looking toward the future, whether together or alone. With professional help, you may be ready to commit to staying in the marriage – learn new skills and work toward creating a relationship that’s better than before. Or you may realize that the relationship was never stable or that values and beliefs have changed. While challenging, this acceptance of reality helps to truly process the pain.
Wherever you see yourself in this process, Perel agrees that it’s never too late to seek help. Yes, friends and family are invaluable supports. But the goal of a professional therapist is to use extensive training and experience to guide you in making decisions that will help you emerge from infidelity as a stronger, happier person. One that, in time, can learn to trust – and even love – again.
Bio: Joanna Hardis is a Licensed Independent Social Worker with over 20 years of experience helping people find meaning through complicated situations. She's worked with individuals and families in different settings (hospitals, treatment centers, outpatient settings) through physical and mental illnesses. Joanna is passionate about empowering people to do more than they think they can to break through whatever barriers hold them back.
To learn more about her and her practice, please visit joannahardis.com