Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Treating Affair Couples: Clinical Considerations and Initial Findings

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Treating Affair Couples: Clinical Considerations and Initial Findings

Article excerpt

Infidelity can have devastating effects on couples' relationships. Not only are couples typically confused and uncertain about how to proceed, but couple therapists also report that treating infidelity is one of their greatest clinical challenges. In the current article, we present a conceptual model of response to infidelity with a corresponding infidelity-specific, couple-based intervention. This intervention incorporates interventions from cognitive-behavioral, insight-oriented, trauma-based, and forgiveness approaches to working with couples. In addition to this intervention created specifically for treating infidelity, we discuss how existing, empirically supported couple therapies such as traditional behavioral couple therapy (TBCT) and integrative behavioral couple therapy (IBCT) approach the treatment of infidelity. Finally, we present preliminary findings from two small treatment studies that provide initial, encouraging findings for the utility of the infidelity-specific intervention as well as TBCT and IBCT for treating infidelity.

Keywords: infidelity; couple therapy; marital therapy; cognitive-behavior therapy

Affairs are relatively frequent marital events in the United States. In recent studies with large representative samples, approximately 22% to 25% of men and 11% to 15% of women indicated that they had engaged in extramarital sex on at least one occasion (Lauman, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994). In any given year, it is estimated that between 1.5% and 4% of married individuals will engage in extramarital sex, with about twice as many men as women reporting extramarital sex in the past year (e.g., Laumann et al., 1994). Even more significant for understanding marital disruption, 40% of divorced women and 44% of divorced men reported more than one sexual contact during the course of their marriages (Janus & Janus, 1993). Infidelity is the most frequently cited cause of divorce and doubles the likelihood of divorce (Amato & Rogers, 1997; Atkins, Baucom, & Jacobson, 2001).

Despite the prevalence of this problem, many therapists are unable to adequately conceptualize infidelity or develop a treatment plan for this problem (Whisman, Dixon, & Johnson, 1997). At present, it is not clear whether the field needs an intervention specifically developed to treat infidelity or whether existing couple therapy approaches can adequately assist couples experiencing such problems. The purpose of this article is to discuss these two possible approaches to treating infidelity, along with presenting preliminary data regarding the efficacy of these types of interventions. Because it is a newer intervention developed specifically to treat infidelity, we will focus primarily on an approach developed by Gordon, Baucom, and Snyder (Baucom, Gordon, & Snyder, 2005; Gordon & Baucom, 1998; Gordon, Baucom, & Snyder, 2004) to help couples recover from an affair, integrating treatment strategies from cognitive-behavioral couple therapy, trauma interventions, forgiveness interventions, and insight-oriented couple therapy. In addition, we will discuss the application of behavioral and integrative behavioral couple therapy to this specific clinical problem. Initial findings will be presented regarding the utility of these two approaches for treating infidelity-an infidelity-specific treatment and general couple therapy.


Both clinical observations and empirical investigations demonstrate that the discovery of an affair can have an overwhelming and devastating impact on a couple. 1 Injured partners often report intense emotions that vacillate between rage toward the participating partner and inward feelings of shame, depression, overwhelming powerlessness, victimization, and abandonment (e.g., Abrahms Spring, 1996; Brown, 1991; Gordon et al., 2004; Lusterman, 1998; Pittman, 1989; Reibstein & Richards, 1993). …

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