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Infidelity: A Blueprint for Recovery Part 3 – Apologizer versus Rebuilder

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

In the last blog, I talked about triggers and grief, especially over the holidays. Emotions can be surprisingly intense due to the anniversary effect and the pressure to have a ‘perfect’ holiday for family and in-laws despite the disharmony. The final steps in our blueprint for recovery for couples surviving betrayal, infidelity, and cheating is understanding and explaining the difference between an Apologizer and a Rebuilder.

When an affair is discovered or revealed in a committed relationship and the couple decides to stay together, the betrayed *partner will probably expect an apology from the betrayer. What *she may not know, however, is it is much more powerful if her apologizing spouse becomes a rebuilding spouse. An apologizer does just that; he apologizes. A rebuilder not only apologizes, he makes a conscious, visible effort to change.

I’ll give you an example. I live in a part of the country where the freeways are enormous and overcrowded. When there is a lull in traffic, or lots of empty space, or the traffic is free to move, it is not uncommon for me to speed. Yes I will put the pedal to the metal and push my little Jeep over the posted speed limit. I don’t feel like I am being dangerous, I only do it once in a while, and usually it is because even though I planned ahead, there is a wreck so I am running late. But yes I speed. And I am sorry.

So let’s see what just happened. I admitted wrongdoing (I broke the law) and I apologized. That puts me in the category of ‘Apologizer.’ I am not a ‘Rebuilder’ though because I justified my actions by explaining I’m not dangerous, I blamed a wreck, and I minimized my actions by saying ‘I only do it once in a while.’ Justifying minimizing and blaming are relationship killers and they can derail affair recovery efforts. I could have continued by saying things like, “I said I was sorry. Can’t you drop it?” or, “Why can’t you trust me? I’m not speeding right now!”

Rebuilding takes apologizing to another level. First, Rebuilders are quiet. They apologize and then stop talking. They don’t justify, minimize, and blame and they leave lots of empty conversation space. Second, Rebuilders are busy. They are going to therapy (or in my case defensive driving), meeting with healthy peers, reading books, and generally working on themselves, without pressure from the betrayed spouse, so they don’t ever do the behavior again. Finally, Rebuilders are humble. In most of the literature on affair recovery, this is the most important quality. They don’t fight for their rights in arguments and they allow the betrayed partner to grieve.

If you betrayed (or broke the law) remember, apologizing is not the same as rebuilding a relationship. If you have been betrayed, don’t settle for an apologizer.

*Genders and the words ‘partner’ and ‘spouse’ will be interchanged throughout these articles.


After an Affair: Affair Recovery for Couples After Infidelity has Occurred

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

The tough work after an affair starts with the revelation. Once both the partners are aware of the infidelity and the choice is made to stay married then it’s time to dive into the recovery process. In my experience helping people survive an affair I’ve been taught there’s almost no bounds to the desire to try to save the marriage. My job is to help couples divide the work and work smarter.

The partner who had the affair must work on humility. Frequently I call this staying low. Humility means there’s never any push back when the betrayed partner makes a request never any editing when replying to a direct inquiry and never any exhibiting hostility when responding to the deceived partner’s hostility.

Humility can be very tough for the partner who had the affair for a few reasons. First and foremost she most likely has anger she never dealt with that let her excuse or rationalize her affair. She may feel like she isn’t permitted to exhibit her unmet needs in the restoration process and so the process of stuffing the emotion may begin all over again leading to bitterness and possibly acting out.

The partner who was deceived has very well the hardest task of all in counseling. He must choose to offer forgiveness after infidelity has happened. If recovering couples decide they do not want counseling forgiveness may never be addressed or it may be ignored in favor of punishment. In treatment the marriage counselor helps the deceived partner release the frustration which leaves room for forgiving if he decides. The counselor also helps the deceived partner understand that forgiveness is not for the partner who had the affair it is for him and his well-being.

Working diligently during affair recovery isn’t enough. Both partners must divide the work and focus their energy on working smart. The result will be contented individuals and a marriage on its way to recovery.

Managing Anger during Infidelity Recovery: Coping with Anger and Anger Outbursts

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

When couples struggle to survive an affair, they may select treatment as a choice. Initially there is relief because they feel just like the specialist understands their heartache and can sincerely assist them. What may very well surprise them nonetheless, is the sensation that they’re moving two steps forward and one step back.

Leaving a session may make them feel as though they have the tools and are headed straight for success, only to be sidelined for days by unexpected emotional turmoil. This phenomenon has been called a roller coaster, but might be more accurately described as a dance with anger. When the partners arrive for treatment, what they might not get is that three people actually show up for the appointment. Just two wear skin, but the third is just as real and influential: anger.

Analysts are only now spotting the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, including anger, which the betrayed better half experiences following the discovery of an affair. The wrath could be displayed through anger outbursts or concealed away, but it is almost always at work impacting the direction therapy will take. Will the specialist help the partners talk about the factors that made the marriage ready for the affair, or will the focus be on the stress experienced by the deceived partner? Anger will decide.

The betraying spouse may be unable to identify her very own anger in the primary sessions as she may be working awfully tough to continue handling her wrath and not further offend the partner she betrayed. By ignoring her anger however, she is not coping with anger. In ignoring anger, she ignores the frustration, discontent, and antagonism that led to her to justifying, minimizing, and executing a successful affair. If the consultant fails to recognize her outrage in session, he may leave her in the same emotionally charged situation.

In infidelity recovery, angriness must be identified and met head on by all participators in therapy. Ignoring angriness doesn’t make it go away; it only makes it a much more powerful dance partner.

The Very Best You

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Everyone has buddies and relatives whom we love. Not only do we care deeply about them, we think a lot about what we will be able to give them. These emotions and thoughts are crucial! There’s a point, nevertheless, when giving might be negative.

The best thing you can give your loved ones is the very best you. What does that suggest? It means that you learn about yourself, how you are feeling in different situations, how your family of origin affected you for good (or not so good), how you deal with conflict, and what your wishes are. When you find out about yourself you begin to change. You can discover you are becoming as important as your mother or father. Maybe you never learned to request what you need and now you’re getting depressed due to resentment. You might even discover your intense wrath is a cover-up for your hurt. The result is that you may be good at going through the motions of giving, but the internal attitude is not so charitable because it consequently diminishes the value of your good works, thus leaving you feeling sad and alone inside. But it does not have to stay that way.

Consider Wayne* and Sandy*. Wayne and Sandy came to see me because Sandy was depressed and Wayne didn’t think he could handle it any more. As we conversed, Sandy discovered that in 27 years of marriage, she never asked for what she needed. She thought that her role as wife and mom was to only do for others!

Wayne spotted that, while he was fond of having Sandy take care of him and the children, he had become self-absorbed and disconnected from Sandy. As they gained understanding of themselves and one another, Sandy started listening to her feelings and wishes and Wayne started listening and responding. Sandy’s depression lifted and Wayne found out he was married to an interesting woman!

This is what I mean by becoming the very best you. Start today: invest in yourself, learn to love yourself, and begin making the changes you need so you can love yourself more. When you learn to love yourself more and love yourself first, everything falls into place. So the gift you can give is the gift of loving yourself. Everybody will be happy with that as a gift!


* Wayne and Sandy are pseudonyms and represent a host of couples who have received solutions in their marriage for matters surrounding this kind of issue.

Sue Watkins is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Sue can be found at


How to Define Betrayal

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Imagine this:

An individual walks toward a park filled with family and friends. From a safe distance and without warning, he takes a grenade out of his pocket, pulls the pin, and tosses it into the crowd. The explosion is devastating. He rushes to his car, pulls out a paramedic’s uniform, and rushes back to the scene where he earnestly tries to administer first aid. He is shocked when his loved ones react with anger and confusion at his attempts to comfort and heal their pain.

If something like this really happened it would make the headlines, right? In reality, it happens every day but it remains a secret, it is confined to private homes, or it is exposed in the offices of marriage counselors. The scenario describes  the confusion and pain of infidelity, and implies the difficult, betrayed meaning for the spouse.

As a marriage counselor specializing in infidelity I try to help recovering couples understand the confusion behind this cycle and how to define betrayal. We know the pain experienced by the betrayed can be similar to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder experienced by soldiers wounded in battle. The injured spouse may experience anxiety and depression, insomnia and intrusive thoughts, hyper-vigilance and an inability to maintain daily activities.

As the betrayer rushes in to comfort the damage he has caused, his partner vacillates between wanting intense closeness and insisting he get away or leave the home. Couples in this stage may actually experience great sex, intimate conversations, and open emotional expression. Just as quickly, however, their closeness can turn to confusion, anger, and even violence because of the blurred lines between trust and betrayal. This initial roller coaster is normal but it may be difficult for family and friends to be supportive (remember they were part of the collateral damage too).

Couples struggling to find equilibrium may discover they need the help of a professional who understands the cycle of infidelity recovery and who can offer the hope the couple needs.

Dr. Kate Walker, Ph.D. is the Owner and CEO of© and the non-profit counseling center Ann’s Place. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Supervisor.

Understanding Infidelity: a Sexual Affair, an Emotional Affair, an Affair Online

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

When counseling couples who are trying to survive infidelity, one of the first tasks for the therapist helping the couple through affair recovery is to help the couple define what exactly happened, and what is meant by uttering the word, “affair?”

Was it an affair if the offending partner only had sex with the paramour one time and there are no lingering affectionate feelings?

Was it an affair if the offending partner shared intimate details about the relationship, kept meetings and communications a secret from the non-offending partner, but never had sex (usually coined as an emotional affair)?

Was it an affair online, where the offending partner never actually met the paramour face to face? Affairs are the cause of anywhere between 50% and 60% of divorces yet a commonly accepted definition for the term “affair” is elusive.

Like a disease that can only be accurately diagnosed post mortem, one way to diagnose an affair is to examine the resulting damage. In almost all cases the non-offending partner reports feelings of betrayal, trauma, and insecurity. Diseases are common due to unprotected sex. Divorce can follow.

Another way to determine whether or not a relationship qualifies as an affair by definition is to determine the level of secrecy. Were instant messages from the paramour deleted? Were the passwords to Facebook and email accounts kept a secret from the non-offending partner? Were meetings with the paramour conveniently omitted when describing daily activities? If a relationship outside the committed relationship elicits overt lies or lies of omission, then with or without sex the relationship has the trappings of an affair.

A commonly accepted definition for infidelity is difficult because the feelings and post-discovery reactions are so personal. Regardless of the definition one assigns to an affair, if an outside relationship has the potential for trauma, disease, and emotional damage to the partner in the committed relationship, or, if lies are necessary to maintain it, it is probably wise to avoid it.

Infidelity, however defined, is a destructive force. Never the less, when faced with the reality of it, what is done is done. Yet affair recovery is possible if the couple is determined to build strong roads of trust and faithfulness once more. A licensed and certified therapist in marital counseling will be an invaluable assistant in the process.

Dr. Kate Walker Ph.D. is owner and CEO of found in The Woodlands TX.  A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Supervisor, she is trained as a marriage and family expert. Dr. Walker specializes in couples and families, especially those struggling to survive addictions and infidelity.

Marriage After an Affair: Ending an Affair and Beginning Marriage and Family Counseling

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

An affair is survivable. Millions of couples choose to stay together for many reasons. More often than not there is still love and a longing for the marriage to continue and this is what brings couples to marriage and family counseling. Therapy, along with the couple’s determination, can help a marriage after an affair not only survive the affair but also thrive and become the marriage for which both have always longed.

Therapy following an affair consists of helping the couple through three phases: ending the affair, complete transparency, and forgiveness.

First, the affair must end. Ending an affair has to be not only an ending for the partner who conducted the affair, but also an ending that satisfies the partner who did not have the affair. Because of this it is important that both partners have a role. For example the partner who had the affair may write an ending letter to the person he or she became involved with and the partner who did not have the affair will mail it. This display of togetherness may help them become a team again.

In order for the marriage to begin the journey toward the couple becoming united again after ending an affair, the partner who had the affair must commit to complete transparency. Nothing can be off limits. Cell phones, computer passwords, and email accounts must always be available without hesitation for inspection when requested. Every question, no matter how painful, must be answered with humility.

The final step the couple must take is forgiveness. The betrayed partner must forgive the betraying partner, and the betraying partner must forgive him/herself. This last step is not something that happens on a particular date. Rather it is a journey that the couple will travel every day, and a journey where having access to the guidance of a marriage and family counseling therapist can be most helpful. With the help of marriage and family counseling couples can execute these three steps, survive the affair, and achieve the marriage of their dreams.

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