214: Working with High Intensity after an Affair with Shane Birkel

Welcome back to The Couples Therapist Couch! This podcast is about the practice of Couples Therapy. Each week, Shane Birkel interviews an expert in the field of Couples Therapy to explore all about the world of relationships and how to be an amazing therapist.

In this solo episode, Shane breaks down how to work with high intensity after an affair. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast spots, and watch it on YouTube – follow and leave a 5-star review.

  • Episode Summary & Player
  • Show Notes
  • The Couples Therapist Couch Summary
  • Transcript

The Couples Therapist Couch 214: Working with High Intensity after an Affair with Shane Birkel

Learn more about the Couples Therapy 101 course: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/

Learn more about the Couples Therapist Inner Circle: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/inner-circle-new

In this solo episode, Shane breaks down how to work with high intensity after an affair. This topic stems from a question that came up in the Couples Therapist Inner Circle. Hear how to help clients recover after an affair, the emotions both partners are going through, how long it typically takes people to recover from an affair, how to get someone to stop having affairs, and how to help a client avoid getting into a shame spiral.

This episode covers everything from affairs to anger. Here’s a small sample of what you will hear in this episode:

  • How long does it take to recover from an affair?
  • What types of affairs are there?
  • How do you help clients recover from an affair?
  • Where does guilt come from in an affair?
  • How do you handle anger after an affair?
  • What causes shame spirals?
  • How do you work with high intensity after an affair?
  • What does it mean to be emotionally abusive?

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Check out the episode, show notes, and transcript below: 



 Show Notes


What is The Couples Therapist Couch?

This podcast is about the practice of Couples Therapy. Many of the episodes are interviews with leaders in the field of Relationships. The show is meant to help Therapists and Coaches learn how to help people to deepen their connection, but in the process it explores what is most needed for each of us to love, heal, and grow. Each week, Shane Birkel interviews an expert in the field of Couples Therapy to explore all about the world of relationships and how to be an amazing therapist.

Learn more about the Couples Therapy 101 course: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/

Find out more about the Couples Therapist Inner Circle: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/inner-circle-new


Please note: this transcript is not 100% accurate.

Shane Birkel 0:00
It's not just a matter of oops, I made a mistake. I'm sorry. It's so much deeper than that. And oftentimes they say that it takes two to five years to recover from an affair because of the traumatic experience of the person who's been betrayed.

Intro VO 0:21
Welcome to The Couples Therapist Couch, the podcast for couples therapists, marriage counselors, and relationship coaches to explore the practice of couples therapy. And now, your host, Shane Birkel.

Shane Birkel 0:37
Everybody welcome back to The Couples Therapist Couch. This is Shane Birkel, and this is the podcast that's all about the practice of couples therapy. Thank you so much for tuning in. I often am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and I often interview experts in the world of couples therapy to bring you the best information possible about what works in relationships, what works for couples. And today, I'm going to talk about a question when there has been an affair, and you're doing the affair recovery process when one partner is bringing a lot of anger into that situation. And before I do that, if you haven't joined the Couples Therapist Couch Facebook group, push pause on listening to the podcast, open up Facebook, go to the search bar, type in couples therapist couch. And you can find the group where there's over 6,000 other therapists having conversations about the practice of couples therapy. So if that is something you're you might be interested in checking out, push pause right now go join the Couples Therapist Couch Facebook group. I look forward to seeing you in there. So back to the topic for today. This was a question that came up in the Couples Therapist Inner Circle. That was about a specific case, but I'm just going to speak about it generally, because I've seen a lot of cases like this. And, you know, in some ways that I think it's good to normalize the anger that someone experiences. Because what we're talking about is a long term committed couples, whether they're married or not, let's say it, let's say they are married, usually they're married, who has made the commitment to this other person. And when you break a commitment like that, it's a huge betrayal. And when you break a commitment like that, it is, you know, I hesitate to use the term abusive when I'm working with couples, I use it oftentimes when I'm teaching because I think it's a useful way of describing something, anything that's less than nurturing to another human being is abusive to them. That's the way I'm using it. And so I think that, you know, when somebody makes a commitment and tell somebody the reality that I am committed to you, it's just the two of us, we're the only ones who do this thing together. And you're the most important person to me, and and, you know, the trust that we have together is the most important thing. And then they go out, and they do this thing with another person in secret. It's it's incredibly damaging to the relationship. And it's not just, it's not just a matter of oops, I made a mistake. I'm sorry. I mean that that's part of it, the accountable. I'll talk about the accountability a little bit. But it's so much deeper than that. And oftentimes they say that it takes two to five years to recover from an affair because of the traumatic experience of the person who's been betrayed. And it is really a trauma. It is like everything that you thought you could count on in the world. The floor being underneath your feet, the walls, being able to stay standing, you can't count on anymore, right? Everything you imagined you're planning for your life, everything every decision you were making, about what you were doing that day was based on a lie that you were counting on that this person would be a trustworthy person in my life. The extent of that is dependent on the type of affair right? There's all types of different affairs. I mean, if it's a one night stand that's different than you know, I've heard people who were in like a 10-year relationship with someone on the side. And their partner didn't find out for 10 years. And this was going on all along. So those are very different situations. There's also emotional affairs. There's obviously different types of sexual affairs. There are times when people find out that their partner has had multiple part, other partners. I'm not going to get into every single situation. But what I wanted to focus on today is when there has been this affair, and a couple is coming into the office for couples therapy. Oftentimes, the person who's been betrayed is showing a huge amount of anger. And sometimes they're not. And that's a different topic for another day, you can let me know if you want to hear more about that. One of the first things that I often say or say or do is to validate their anger, and to let them know that it makes sense that you would be this angry right now. And I want to give them permission to feel the anger and anger is a healthy, it can be a healthy emotion when someone has violated your boundaries, which is exactly what's happened in this. You know, that's another way to, to describe abusive behavior is that when somebody violates your boundaries, right, so if you make a commitment to be in a monogamous relationship, and somebody has an affair, that's a violation of the boundaries that were agreed upon in the relationship. So the betrayed partner has had their boundaries violated. And the anger is a protective energy, right, that there's a healthy part of that anger, which is to protect the person from getting hurt again. And so I think it's important, you know, sometimes I'll tell people, I'll say, I want you to take your time, I want you to take as much time as you need to recover from this affair, I don't want you to rush into trusting this other person. And it's, I think, it's very, a very validating thing to tell people, that they should be protecting themselves, they should be taking their time, they should be feeling angry, that makes perfect sense. And part of the work is to help their partner be accepting of the anger. Now, in the best case scenario, in these types of affair situations, their partner is really sorry for what's happened, their partner is really willing to do the work their partner is understanding about how damaging this is, and they're willing to bend over backwards because they want to save the relationship. That's not always the case. But let's say that, in this example, the partner is relatively cooperative. Even in those cases where the partner is very sorry for what's happened. Oftentimes, what happens is, the partner just wants to kind of sweep it under the rug, and move on and say, Let's just be positive. Again, I'm not never going to do that, again, can we just get back to being relaxed and happy and positive. And anytime the person who has been betrayed has strong emotions, the other person just tries to fix it or explain it away, or make them feel better. And that's coming from good intentions, they're probably trying to be a nice person, and they don't want to see their partner suffer. But it can be extremely invalidating for the betrayed partners experience. The betrayed partner is feeling the hurt, and the anger and the sadness and the violation. And it's very important to teach the other partner how to sit with those really strong emotions in a way that is accepting in a way that allows the betrayed partner to work through them in process them. The person who had the affair is giving them the signal that it's okay to feel whatever you're feeling. That's a very validating thing, right? And I teach people to say things like, of course, you're feeling angry. Of course, you're upset, I completely betrayed your trust. It makes sense that it would take a long time for you to heal from this because that's what's actually going to help them get through the process of recovering from the That's a fair much more quickly than them saying, let's just not think about it, let's just go for a walk and be happy and not even think about what happened. Because that's going to feel for the betrayed partner, that's going to feel like you're just pushing it down, stuffing it down, and not really dealing with the seriousness of what happened. And they're not getting any validation that the person who had the affair is actually feeling the depth of the emotions. Because that's part of what I hear people asking for, when they've been betrayed. Oftentimes, they want to see that their partner has depth of emotion about what's happened, because it lets them know, it gives them the the signal or the information that my partner is taking in the seriousness of what's happened. And part of seeing them like if they would get to the point, the person who had the affair gets to the point where they're having really strong emotions, and they're feeling the sadness, and they're feeling so terrible about what they've done. They're feeling the guilt and the shame, and they're feeling the compassion for the other person, then, that is the strongest motivating force for them not to have an affair again, in the future. It's like, why would I want to put somebody through this, again, I'm feeling terrible, about what happened. And I don't ever want to feel this again. And I don't ever want my partner to feel this again. And so sometimes I'll say, the reason that you're feeling so much guilt after having the affair is because you're a good person, is because you care, good. People feel guilty, when they hurt someone else. Sit with that, let your partner see that. Don't try to fix it, and get away from it. So a lot of times it involves slowing down. Both people being able to sit with whatever emotion emotions are coming up. Now, back to the topic, if you are meeting with a couple they're coming in, the person has been betrayed is just furious. And they're yelling and screaming and angry. There's a difference between the emotion that they're feeling and the behavior, right, the expression, the way that they're expressing that emotion. So I validate the emotion, as I said, as I mentioned, but with the behavior. I tell people that abusive behavior is never okay. Right, yelling and screaming in someone's face, I would characterize as abusive. So no matter how much someone has been abusive to you, it doesn't justify you being abusive back to them. Unless you're just trying to punish them. And I tell people that like if you don't want to be with this person anymore, and you just want to let them have it, and you want to punish them, and then say, goodbye, I'm done. I mean, if that's your goal, I guess go ahead. Because this isn't going to lead to anything more relational, this isn't going to lead to the two of you feeling better about the situation, I think oftentimes, unconsciously, what the betrayed person is seeking is some sort of that emotional connection that I was talking about. It's like, if I can just beat this person up verbally, then they'll feel the intensity of what I'm feeling. And what I would tell you in this moment, is that it's not going to work. Because they're going to go into their protective place. And, you know, it's just a vicious cycle. Right that well, I'm only yelling at you because you did this right? Well, well, I'm only call it Nick calling you names because you're yelling at me. Well, I'm only not talking to you for a week because you called me names. And it's just like, this vicious cycle of I am justifying my behaviors because of what you did to me, and this is why the tit for tat back and forth. It just doesn't work. It doesn't make the relationship better. And so, when somebody is so upset, so angry, I tell the You know, again, I'm validating the AMC, of course, you're angry, you have every right to be angry, and you have every right to talk about that anger. But there's a way, there's a respectful way of doing that. There's a way that you can be furious. And talk about it, you know, in a way, that's, that's not violating someone's boundaries, your partner's boundaries, that is staying with the conversation. And part of what I think is important is that it's including the other person in the conversation, if someone's just going off for 30 minutes, on and on and on about how angry they are and how terrible the other person is. They're not really including them in the conversation. It's not a back and forth, it's not looking at them and seeing if they're taking in the information. It's just venting. And that's not it's not going to feel relational in the situation. I don't know if you've seen situations like this. But when you start slowing down the person, when you tell them, absolutely, you can talk about your anger, but you have to do it in a respectful way. You know, and just really quick, you know, I've done other episodes on how to do that. But when I'm when I'm saying respectful, I'm simply saying that they need to speak from the first person that they could use some sort of framework, which talks about, you know, like the feedback wheel, for example, like, what happened was, you had an affair. What I mean, the story I tell myself is that you didn't care about me, when you were doing that you didn't care about our relationship. I'm feeling really angry and sad about that. Right. So all of these are just the different steps of the feedback wheel that I'm going through. But it's about keeping it in my perspective, my experience, this is what's going on for me, this is what's coming up for me, this is how I feel. And you know, I'm I'm really forgiving. If people kind of slip up a little bit, especially in those first weeks after the if they found out about the affair and the first couple sessions of affair recovery. That, you know, people are going to say some things that are a little bit sideways and not very nice. And I get right I understand I try, I try to encourage their partner to be to be understanding and accepting of that and be like, Look, this is how most people respond when there's been an affair. If it's not too over the top, I try not to focus on it or call them out or anything like that. But I just keep trying to encourage them to stay speaking from the first person about their feelings, their reality, what's going on for them. And what happens is, eventually, and this could take several sessions, but eventually what happens is they'll start moving into more vulnerable emotions, they'll start with the anger, the anger is much more present on the surface. But then if you kind of slow it down, if they start talking about their experience, they will begin to move into the sadness and the hurt and the more vulnerable emotions. And the on the other side of that, we have to be teaching the partner how to receive that we have to be teaching the partner how to listen. And part of that is back to what I was saying earlier about, we have to help them be accepting and understanding of what's going on for their partner. Stay in compassion. Teach them how to validate what's going on for their partner, teach them how to not be defensive, not fix, not explain it away, not brushed it under the rug, all of those things that I've seen 100 times when people try to do in these situations. The other thing you want to make sure of as you know, and I said, it's often good for the betrayed partner to see the person who had the affair to see them experienced some strong emotion, what you don't want to happen is that it becomes their own short sort of shame spiral. Because that's sucking the energy out of the room into being about them. We want to keep the energy of the conversation on the person who's been betrayed in the beginning of the work, especially in the beginning, that what I've seen happen is the person who had the affair will sometimes will go into this thing where they're they start saying I'm such a terrible person. I can't believe what I've done. Oh, I'm just so awful. You don't I don't deserve to ever have you back bla bla bla and That's not the same thing as emotion and, and tears and compassion for their partner. That is them going into a shame spiral. When they were having the affair, they were making it all about them. And now we're talking about the affair. And if they're doing that, they're again making it all about them. And so we want to keep the energy, you know, making it about the person who's been betrayed. This is really important. And it's sometimes it's hard to see. And it's hard to notice the, you know, where, what is the difference between them sort of sucking the energy onto them and making it about them, versus them showing up for their partner and feeling emotions in a healthy way. That's about the compassion that they feel for their partner. But for the for that betrayed partner, it's so incredibly difficult to become vulnerable, right, it's easier to stay in the anger, the vote, the vote, the anger feels protected, the vulnerability doesn't feel as protected. And it feels like this is the person who hurt me more than I've ever been hurt before I've gone through this trauma, traumatic experience, this trauma. And now I'm supposed to open up and tell them, you know, depend on them for emotional support, it's one of the hardest things that a human being could possibly ever have to do. That being said, I've seen a huge majority of people I work with be able to do it eventually, successfully. But you have to validate that experience of the person who's been betrayed along the way validate for them, that it makes sense that you're that you need to protect yourself, it's going to take a long time to open up and make sure that they understand that that's okay, make sure they're not feeling the pressure either from you as a therapist or from their partner. So those are some of the things I wanted to say, as I said, you know, I believe that somebody come anytime someone's coming into the office for whatever reason, that I might observe the behavior that I see going on, whether it's the you know, when the heightened emotions turn into attacking, and shaming and being emotionally abusive toward the other person, I just want to bring that to people's attention. And again, when I say when I use the term abusive, for the sake of teaching, I don't know if I would use it with people, right? If I do, oftentimes, I'll say, you know, I can be emotionally abusive to sometimes anytime, you know, I say something less than nurturing to my wife, then I want to acknowledge that I'm doing something hurtful. And that's a more effective way of saying it when you're teaching people how to communicate about this, I feel hurt, right? Not you're abusing me. Or if I'm letting my partner know that what they're doing is hurtful to me. I say I feel hurt. If I'm if I'm being accountable and acknowledging what I've done, I say, I understand. I've been hurtful to you. I can't you know, I feel terrible, because I've been so hurtful. So that's the kind of language that I would teach people how to use with each other because I just, I hear I've heard too many times where people weaponize that abuse kind of language. So let me know if you have any other questions specifically about affair situations, you can go to CouplesTherapistCouch.com. And, I have some resources on the website. I've had some other episodes on affairs. I've done - well, in the Couples Therapist Inner Circle, which is the paid thing that where I teach, I have a five-hour training course on working with affairs. But if you want, I can do other podcast episodes on this topic, but just shoot me an email you can find a way to reach out to me on my website, and let me know specific questions you would have about this topic. And as I said at the beginning, definitely join the Couples Therapist Couch Facebook group. Just go into Facebook. In the search bar, type Couples Therapist Couch and hopefully you can find the Facebook group but I hope this was helpful to you. I hope all of you have a great week. I'm Shane Birkel, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and this is The Couples Therapist Couch. Thanks, everybody!

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