Shared Responsibility Does Not Mean Equal Responsibility: An Approach to Infidelity Treatment
Updated: Dec 12, 2022
Dr. Butch Losey
Author of Managing the Aftermath of Infidelity
Many systemic therapist believe that there is circular reciprocity in relationships. In other words, in the context of the relationship, each partner shares responsibility in how they create the dynamics of the relationship. I am certainly a therapist that believes in circular reciprocity and I will routinely help couples see the "patterns of their ways". Sometimes, that requires both partners to look at how they are contributing both to the problem and how they may contribute to potential solutions.
With infidelity treatment, shared responsibility does not mean equal responsibility. Therapists who specialize in infidelity treatment recognize that it is frequently necessary for the person who had the affair to be fully accountable for betraying the relationship and causing the breach of trust. When this accountability occurs early in treatment, new boundaries can be set and a new sense of integrity can be created. As treatment continues, the therapist can help the couple to explore how each may have contributed to the vulnerability in the relationship that led to the affair. However, when the therapist moves too quickly to shared responsibility, the therapist is neglecting singular responsibility of the partner who had the affair and the specific damage that they have personally caused to the relationship.
If you are reading this because you have betrayed your partner, it is important for you to understand that early work in therapy will depend on your diligent efforts to be honest-and honest as early as possible, expansive in your responses, and accessible with both your heart and your mind, which in turn will help you to reset integrity and trust. As therapy continues, the therapist will balance the focus of responsibility by helping the two of you to consider the context of your relationship prior to the affair.
Contextual considerations include individual issues with each partner that may have weakened the relationship, patterns in the relationship that did not serve the relationship well, and external influences that created stress for the relationship.
If you have just learned that your partner has had an affair, early strategies that you do- or don't do- can make a big difference in the outcome of your relationship. Please check out my article Calming the Storm or feel free to call to set up a consultation session.
Recovery from infidelity is hard work and the early work is incredibly important.