G. Scott Sparrow, EdD, LPC, LMFT

Counseling and Mentoring Services

Resolving Affairs in Marriage Relationships
Dr. Sparrow, UTPA Ed 6393

 

Problems

            1. The personal shadow
            We accept our parents’ (and to some exent, societys’) prescription for how to be a good person, and suppress those qualities that are not acceptable to our parents. This “bad deal” continues as along as stability can be sustained, but the pressure from the unconscious continues to build until a crisis precipitates the surfacing of the shadow.
            2. The marital shadow
            Unwittingly, we tend to be attracted to people who will allow us to remain who we are; that is, half a person. We tacitly engage in a conspiracy of denial: I will tolerate your bad-deals-with-your parents if you’ll tolerate mine. That way, we can keep things from falling apart.
            3. Affair as the symptom of unconscious outbreak of shadow/unrequited need
            Crisis precipitates surfacing of shadow. Examples of typical marital crisis: Spouse is away taking care of dying parent; spouse is unavailable due to work or educational demands, children deprive spouses of quality time, etc.
            Debt to self comes due, and betrayor falls for someone who awakens his/her own repressed self. Lover is likely to be the shadow of the spouse, that is, an opposite type
            4. Triangulation occurs as a substitute for direct communication of needs, and renegotiation of relationship.
            The presence of the lover serves a two-fold function, which goes nowhere unless the truth is acknowledged. The betrayor is saying, “This is how you’ve never been, and now I want it,” and the betrayed says, “This person is terrible, a threat to me.” 
           

Solutions
 

            1. Reframing the problem as a relationship problem
            The therapist must walk a fine line between supporting the betrayed, and confronting both persons with a more meaningful assessment: that the marriage has a problem. 
            The betrayor has wounded the betrayed, yes, but he/she was also the first to respond to a need that was being suppressed by both parties. He/she is the “canary in the mine” who was the first to succumb to the growing pressure for change.
            The betrayor must see that he has been dishonest about his/her needs, and has instead turned to a third party to fulfill those needs. Not only has he/she lacked courage to tell his spouse about what he/she needs, but he has failed to provide some of those needs for him/herself.
            The lover, meanwhile, is seen as someone who provides a valuable mirror to the betrayed: How does this person represent parts of you that you’ve denied? How can honor those aspects in yourself?
            2. Withdrawal of Projections
            It takes a lot of courage for the couple to realize that two deeper realizations are the keys to growth. The betrayor must conclude: “This person represents what I’ve refused to give to myself, and now I need to provide that, so no one is burdened by that responsibility.” The betrayed must realize: “This person represents all that I’ve rejected in myself, and if I’m going to grow -- and preserve my marriage -- I have to come to terms with this part of myself.”
            2.  De-triangulating
            Depending on the courage of the two persons, the therapist may engage them in various forms of detriangulating. Examples are as follows:
                        *having the betrayor focus on ways that he/she can pursue needs independent of both spouse and lover. This is inner child/shadow work of the highest order, and often resolves the affair all by itself.
                        *having the betrayed begin to meet his/her own needs, partly by acting more like her own shadow self.
                        *having the betrayed call the lover and introduce him/herself. The principle here is the betrayed feels powerless, and is usually living in a fantasy about the lover. By making direct contact, the power of a triangle subsides, and the betrayed assumes a position of power. Even if the lover refuses to talk or meet with the betrayed, and/or the betrayor objects, the effort bears tremendous fruit.
                        *inviting the lover into the couple’s home for coffee, or a therapy session, etc. This is rarely possible, at first, but as positive momentum gathers, and the betrayed starts to see that the relationship had a problem, and it wasn’t the lover, then it’s a conceivable option.  I call it “bringing the affair into the marital relationship,” and it often has the paradoxical effect of weakening the bond between betrayor and lover.