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Treating Affair Couples: An Integrative Approach Kristina Coop Gordon University of Tennessee In collaboration with: Donald H. Baucom University of North Carolina Douglas K. Snyder Texas A&M University. Why Study Affairs?.

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Treating Affair Couples: An Integrative ApproachKristina Coop GordonUniversity of TennesseeIn collaboration with:Donald H. BaucomUniversity of North CarolinaDouglas K. SnyderTexas A&M University
why study affairs
Why Study Affairs?
  • Lifetime occurrence in oldest cohort: 37% men; 19% women (Laumann et al., 1994)
  • 40% of divorced men/44% of divorced women report extramarital sexual contact during marriage
  • 2nd leading cause of divorce for women and 3rd leading cause for men (Janus & Janus, 1993)
  • Therapists report as 3rd most difficult issue to treat (Whisman, Dixon, & Johnson, 1997)
what is an affair
What Is An Affair?
  • Physical non-monogamy: Occurs along a continuum of physical involvement
  • Emotional non-monogamy: Characterized by emotional intimacy, secrecy, or sexual chemistry
  • Betrayal: Violation of relational standard (implicit or explicit) regarding physical or emotional exclusivity
infidelity a trauma perspective
Infidelity: A Trauma Perspective
  • Violation of important standards or assumptions about the world or relationship (safety, commitment, trust, well-being of the individual) (Janoff-Bulman, 1992)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    • Recurrent, intrusive, and distressing thoughts
    • Avoidance of activities, places, or persons associated with the trauma
    • Increased arousal (disturbances in sleep and concentration; hypervigilance)
characteristics of successful process
Characteristics of Successful Process
  • Gaining a fuller and balanced understanding of event
  • Not remaining preoccupied with the traumatic events
  • Giving up the right to continuously punish the person who has “wronged” you
  • Deciding whether to maintain or terminate the relationship
overview of stage i absorbing the blow
Overview of Stage I: Absorbing the Blow
  • Thoughts
    • Assumptions about partner/self/relationship disrupted
    • Extreme, negative attributions
    • Perceptions of loss of control in the relationship
  • Emotions
    • Strong, overwhelming emotions such as anger, depression, and anxiety
    • May change daily or hourly
  • Behaviors
    • Strong need to question partner about his/her behavior - e.g., Why did he/she do it? What was he/she thinking?
    • Refuge -- or acts of revenge
overview of stage ii giving meaning
Overview of Stage II: Giving Meaning
  • Thoughts
    • Gain a deeper understanding of what contributed to the affair and subsequent reactions
    • Explanations for the affair may change
  • Emotions
    • Intensity decreases
    • Control increases
    • Affected by changing explanations of the affair and response
  • Behaviors
    • Retributions by injured partner diminish
    • Restitution by participating partner may continue
    • Vacillations between retreat vs. engagement
overview of stage iii moving forward
Overview of Stage III: Moving Forward
  • Thoughts
    • More realistic perceptions of partner/self/relationship
    • More realistic expectations for the future
  • Emotions
    • May experience compassion for partner and ability to wish her/him well
    • Regain a sense of emotional safety which allows you to give up some of the anger and anxiety
  • Behaviors
    • Relinquish the right to punish partner further
    • Decision about future of the relationship
    • Enacting the actions needed to improve the relationship or to terminate it
preliminary outcome findings
Preliminary Outcome Findings
  • How does this intervention impact:
    • Symptoms of trauma and related individual distress?
    • Empathy and assumptions about one’s partner?
    • Relationship distress and commitment?
study method
Study Method

Participants: Six married couples having had sexual affair in past year; not ongoing

  • Excluded based on psychoticism, alcohol abuse, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder
  • Recruited based on television stories, radio interviews, newspaper ads
treatment success
Treatment Success
  • Injured partners’ forgiveness levels increased overall; their global marital distress and symptoms of individual distress decreased.
  • Across the four treatment periods, injured partners reported decreases in negative assumptions about their partners, consistent with predictions based on a forgiveness model.
  • Over time, injured partners reported less withdrawal from their partners.
initial assessment process
Initial Assessment Process
  • Interview both partners together
  • Interview each partner separately
    • Injured partner
    • Participating partner
  • Provide initial tentative formulation to both partners together
goals of the initial interview
Goals of the Initial Interview
  • Establish an atmosphere of safety
  • Establish an atmosphere of trust
  • Establish an atmosphere of competence
    • Expertise regarding affairs and recovery process
  • Prepare for subsequent sessions
domains of the initial interview
Domains of the Initial Interview
  • Brief marital history
  • Current marital functioning
  • Individual functioning (screening only)
  • Immediate decisions and subjective timeline
  • Crisis containment
domains of the initial interview1
Domains of the Initial Interview

Current marital functioning

  • Content and regulation of marital affect
  • Conflict engagement and level of containment
  • Intramarital boundaries
  • Extramarital boundaries
domains of the initial interview2
Domains of the Initial Interview

Immediate decisions and subjective timeline

  • Whose decision to pursue couple therapy
  • Initial goals of couple therapy
    • Containment of negative exchanges
    • Evaluate potential for restoration
    • Work toward reconciliation
  • Beliefs about recovery process
    • How recoverable? How long? By what process?
domains of the initial interview3
Domains of the Initial Interview

Contain immediate crises

  • Verbal or physical aggression
  • Immediate decisions regarding boundaries
  • Immediate self-care needs
goals of individual interviews
Goals of Individual Interviews
  • Strengthen therapeutic alliances
  • Provide opportunity for self-disclosures
  • Obtain additional information:
    • Individual and marital histories
    • Current understanding of affair and recovery
    • Current individual functioning and needs
  • Individual crisis intervention and support
domains of individual interviews
Domains of Individual Interviews

Understanding of affair and recovery process

  • Beliefs about why the affair occurred
  • Expectancies regarding a recurrence
  • Attributions regarding affair:
    • Own behavior prior to and following disclosure
    • Partner’s behavior prior to and following disclosure
  • Expectancies regarding potential for recovery
    • Partners’ responsibilities in recovery process
domains of individual interviews1
Domains of Individual Interviews

Follow-up on individual functioning

  • Affect: Content, intensity, lability
  • Cognitions: Content, intensity, consistency
  • Coping strategies:
    • Intrapersonal
    • Interpersonal
  • Additional attention to flashbacks
  • Individual crisis intervention and support
goals of follow up interview
Goals of Follow-Up Interview

Provide tentative formulation based on:

  • Marital history: Attachment and conflict
  • Situational stressors
  • Individual histories:
    • Potential vulnerabilities prior to the affair
    • Individual challenges following disclosure of affair
    • Resources for coping and recovering from affair
  • Summary of immediate challenges
  • Summary of overall strategy and next phase
treatment goals for stage i
Treatment Goals for Stage I
  • Re-establish some form of “equilibrium” for the couple and individuals
    • Minimize emotional upset and dysregulation
    • 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
treatment strategies for stage i
Treatment Strategies for Stage I

Re-establishing equilibrium

  • Couple
    • Set boundaries regarding 3rd person
    • Decide on new behavioral patterns (e.g., who sleeps where)
    • Discuss impact of affair
  • Individual
    • Deal with flashback-type phenomena
    • Use self-care strategies (e.g., exercise, diet, prayer, minimizing sexually-transmitted diseases)
flashback guidelines
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
treatment strategies for stage i1
Treatment Strategies for Stage I

Minimizing additional damage

  • Between partners
    • Problem-solve on issues such as physical violence or saying hurtful things
    • Discuss limits of what to discuss about affair (e.g., details of sexual behavior)
  • Between couple and outside world
    • Discuss limits of what to tell other people
discussing impact of the affair
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?
brian and angela summary
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
treatment goals for stage ii
Treatment Goals for Stage II
  • Identify factors that potentially contributed to “vulnerability” or “risk” of affair
  • For injured partner: Restore predictability and soften view of participating partner
  • For participating partner: Expand explanatory context while promoting responsibility for decision
  • Prepare groundwork for additional change
treatment strategies for stage ii
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
rationale for exploring context
Rationale for Exploring Context
  • For injured partner
    • Restores predictability
    • Potentially “softens” view of participating partner
    • Contributes to appropriate self-view
  • For participating partner
    • Broadens explanations for hurtful behavior
    • Contributes to appropriate self-view
  • For couple
    • May facilitate collaborative efforts at addressing marital and outside factors
challenges to stage ii
Challenges to Stage II
  • Confusing “understanding” with “excusing”
  • Reactivity of injured partner
    • Reluctance to examine marital or own factors
    • Preoccupation with “why”
  • Reactivity of participating partner
    • Reluctance to hurt injured partner further
    • Intolerance for sustained distress
  • Differences in subjective time-lines
preparing a formulation
Preparing a Formulation
  • 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
treatment goals for stage iii
Treatment Goals for Stage III
  • Consolidating work done in Stage 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 an amicable termination
treatment strategies for stage iii
Treatment Strategies for Stage III

Consolidating work from Stage II

  • Each partner writes a “narrative” of the affair
  • Discuss the narrative in session
  • 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
treatment strategies for stage iii1
Treatment Strategies for Stage III

Discussing “forgiveness,” “letting go,”

or “moving on”

  • Assess/discuss couple’s beliefs about forgiveness
  • Discuss how forgiveness fits with work done in previous sessions
  • Discuss whether they feel ready to move on and to forgive and what that means to them
  • If not ready, discuss “blocks” to forgiveness
  • Address pro/cons of forgiving/not forgiving
common beliefs about forgiveness
Common Beliefs about Forgiveness
  • Forgiveness means reconciliation
  • 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 condoning 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 ...
our model of forgiveness
Our Model of Forgiveness
  • Forgiveness is not:
    • Excusing or forgetting the affair
    • Reconciling
    • 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 dominated by negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
treatment strategies for stage iii2
Treatment Strategies for Stage III

Deciding whether to continue relationship

  • Again 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
preparing a formulation1
Preparing a Formulation
  • 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
formulation for brian and angela
Formulation for Brian and Angela
  • Relationship strengths
  • Basis of attraction, initial maintenance
  • Initial stressors and responses to these
  • Escalation of tensions, relationship erosion
  • Additional contributing factors
  • Implications for reducing vulnerability
    • Communication changes
    • Balance of relational roles
questions for evaluating the relationship
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 appropriate responsibility for actions?
  • Are both partners willing to make the necessary changes? In themselves? In the relationship?
  • Baucom, D. H., Snyder, D. K., & Gordon, K. C. (in press). Treating couples recovering from affairs. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  • Snyder, D. K., Baucom, D. H., & Gordon, K. C. (2007). Getting past the affair: A program to help you cope, heal, and move on – together or apart. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  • Gordon, K.C., Baucom. D.H., Snyder, D. K., & Dixon, L. J. (2008). Treating affair couples. A. Gurman (Ed.), Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy (pp. 429-458). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Gordon, K. C., Baucom, D. H., & Snyder, D. K. (2004). An integrative intervention for promoting recovery from extramarital affairs. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 30, 213-231.
  • Allen, E. S., Atkins, D. C., Baucom, D. H., Snyder, D. K., Gordon, K. C., & Glass, S. (2005). Intrapersonal, interpersonal, and contextual factors in engaging in and responding to infidelity. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 12, 101-130.
contact information
Contact Information

Kristina Coop Gordon

University of Tennessee

[email protected]

Douglas Snyder

Texas A&M University

[email protected]

Donald H. Baucom

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

[email protected]