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For decades, clinicians working with couples whose relationships have been damaged by infidelity – everything from porn use to affairs to full-on sexual addiction – have struggled with the process of creating a truthful baseline from which the couple can heal. The unfaithful party wants to keep some things secret because telling the full truth will hurt the betrayed partner and possibly end the relationship. The betrayed partner wants the entire truth because without that, the process of rebuilding trust can’t fully begin, and the relationship can’t reach its full potential.
Many therapists, even Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs), are not properly trained on managing the process of disclosure in ways that will help a couple heal and couples themselves are often completely in the dark. Enter Courageous Love: A Couples Guide to Conquering Betrayal, the latest offering from addiction and relationships expert Dr. Stefanie Carnes. In this book, Dr. Carnes teaches couples how to respond with compassion and empathy to their partner’s emotions, how to understand their partner’s reactive behaviors, and how to undertake the process of healing in the safest way possible from the standpoint of healing the relationship.
Dr. Carnes opens with information about the traumatic nature of betrayal. And she could hardly start anywhere else, given the fact that sexual betrayal is devastating to both the betrayed partner and the relationship. It shatters trust and intimacy, damages self-esteem, and creates doubt about everything that has ever happened in the relationship. Dr. Carnes also knows that shortly after a betrayal is discovered – when the wound is still fresh (and many more wounds have yet to be uncovered) – the situation often appears hopeless.
Dr. Carnes teaches couples how to respond with compassion and empathy to their partner’s emotions…
“It may be hard to imagine how you and your partner are ever going to put the pieces of the puzzle back together,” she writes. But that is exactly what this book teaches couples (and the therapists who work with them) to do.
The process of healing both individually and as a couple begins and ends with the repair of relationship trust. Trust is the foundation of vulnerability, which is the foundation of intimacy, which is the foundation of a healthy relationship. If trust cannot be repaired, the relationship cannot be restored.
Relying on research, clinical experience, and considerable interaction with her colleagues at and individuals trained by the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP), Dr. Carnes has developed highly a detailed process for therapeutically supervised disclosure, which is, without question, the most necessary groundwork for becoming honest, rebuilding relationship trust, and repairing damaged intimacy.
For struggling couples, this book should be read and worked through with assistance from a therapist or, preferably, a team of therapists – one for the participating partner (the betrayer), one for the betrayed partner, and one for the couple. In fact, having a team of therapists is a necessity for proper therapeutic disclosure, as readers will learn as they progress through the book. Both partners need individual support and advocacy, as does the relationship itself.
Probably the biggest misconception about getting honest about betrayal is that disclosure is a single event and all the participating partner needs to do is tell the truth as best he or she can. However, as any therapist who’s ever worked with a couple that attempted this type of unstructured, unsupervised disclosure can tell you, this is a recipe for relationship disaster. This type of disclosure will almost certainly be incomplete, leading to more trauma later when undisclosed behaviors come to light. This type of disclosure will probably be too graphic, creating images in the betrayed partner’s mind that can never be dispelled. The type of disclosure will also be unsupported, leading to painful fights, arguments, threats, and maybe the end of the relationship.
Formal therapeutic disclosure, as described by Dr. Carnes in Courageous Love, is a highly supervised and controlled process, replete with checks and balances. And it is not conducted until both parties are emotionally and psychologically prepared to give and receive full honesty, whatever the cost, in the hopes that the process of disclosure will lead to a better, stronger, more intimately connected bond.
A proper therapeutic disclosure involves much more than the participating partner spewing information about what happened. First, the cheating partner must become clear about what he or she has done – all of it, not just the parts that don’t seem so bad. If sexual addiction is in play, this can take quite a bit of time and effort by the addict, who’s been living in denial for so long that he or she may not even know what’s true. Then there is a therapist-facilitated back and forth about what the betrayed partner wants to know, the level of detail that will work best, and how the parties will find support after the formal disclosure occurs.
Whatever it is that you’re currently thinking, feeling, and fearing, you should know right now that if you’re willing to try to heal yourself and your relationship, you can succeed in that endeavor.
And that’s hardly the end of the process. Formal therapeutic disclosure involves not only honesty about what happened, but learning about the impact of the betrayal, grieving what is lost both individually and in the relationship, developing empathy, accepting responsibility, and creating a plan to move forward in a healthier, more intimate way. Fortunately, Dr. Carnes outlines the entire process in detail, using illustrative stories and providing tasks that bring the information to life and give readers hope as they work their way through the often-arduous process of repairing their relationship.
And make no mistake, there is hope, even for the most damaged of relationships. As Dr. Carnes writes in the opening pages:
Whatever it is that you’re currently thinking, feeling, and fearing, you should know right now that if you’re willing to try to heal yourself and your relationship, you can succeed in that endeavor. If you and your partner are hurting but still truly love each other and want to make it work, that type of healing and restoration is possible. This book can take you on that healing journey.
Courageous Love is a must-read for all couples whose relationships have been damaged by infidelity, with or without the presence of sexual addiction. It is also highly recommended reading for therapists who work with sex/porn addicts, infidelity, betrayed partners, and couples. The process of disclosure and relationship repair is complex and, if improperly managed, can go awry in a hundred different ways with disastrous consequences. This book is the definitive guide to keeping this process on track. No couple should attempt disclosure before they read and work through this volume.
June 8th, 2020
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