There are fewer things in life harder to understand, let alone deal with in a healthy way, than finding out a spouse has been unfaithful, says Chuck Sugar. But, there is hope and help for those willing to take the time and make the effort to heal and stabilize the relationship. Here, therapist Chuck Sugar opens up about affair recovery and offers advice for those facing this unthinkable challenge.
Q: What are some common feelings a betrayed spouse experiences after learning of his or her partner’s infidelity?
Chuck Sugar: I think the first response is horror, shock, or misbelief. Then, they experience feelings of hurt, anger, fear, shame, and often an overwhelming sense of abandonment and betrayal. I think the message they often hear is, “what is so wrong with me or our family that you would have an affair?” or “What were you thinking when you did this?”
Q: In your opinion, is it best to hear all of the lurid details of the affair?
Chuck Sugar: This is an important question! I cover this on an individual basis with my clients. It’s important to balance which information is productive and which is destructive to the relationship. Often, the details can hurt more than they can help. But, being honest about some details about the affair is essential. The offended spouse needs to know who it was (a friend, a co-worker, etc.), how long it lasted, when it started, how it started, how often did you meet, and was there sex involved. I think the sordid details about the sex encounters are difficult to get out of the mind and are usually more harmful than helpful.
Q: Is affair recovery counseling the same as marriage counseling?
Chuck Sugar: Though there are many similarities, affair recovery begins as a very different process. An affair is a crisis or trauma in the marriage that should be addressed as such before starting a more typical type of marriage counseling.
Q: What type of affair recovery process is used at Chuck Sugar Counseling, PLLC?
Chuck Sugar: I use a hybrid process partially based on information from the book Torn Asunder, written by Pastor Dave Carder and partially based on my assessment of the particular needs of each couple. There is no “one way” to do therapy after an affair as each couple is unique and I tailor the style of counseling to fit each couple individually.
Q: How does the process work?
Chuck Sugar: It starts with several sessions that are structured to help the couple figure out what caused the marriage to deteriorate. It’s critical to ensure the affair is completely over before anything else can happen. It’s also important to make sure each of them are motivated to do the work it takes to make the marriage work again. Once that is established, sessions begin to focus on making the unhealthy areas of their marriage healthier, thus, building a healthy and meaningful relationship.
Q: What do couples get out of the Torn Asunder program?
Chuck Sugar: They take home an understanding of why the affair happened and an idea of what caused the vulnerability in the first place. I find Dave Carder’s concepts and tools very helpful in affair recovery. His Marital Satisfaction Timeline is extremely helpful. Also, he has a “Contributions/Forgiveness” exercise that I find very helpful, too. We also start working through the areas that we identify as unhealthy in the relationship.
Q: Does it teach how to build a faithful marriage?
Chuck Sugar: Yes. A faithful marriage comes from staying connected physically and/or emotionally. Teaching a couple how to recognize when they start getting disconnected and how to proactively do things to regain their connection is critical! It is especially important to have a way to get connected when work, schedules, kids, travel, sickness, etc., are working against maintaining a healthy connection. Learning how to connect and doing the “work” of marriage is paramount in keeping a marriage healthy and faithful.
Q: How can a couple get a copy of Torn Asunder?
Chuck Sugar: It is available on Amazon or through Dave Carder’s website: davecarder.com.
Q: Is there really hope for a marriage that has suffered this type of damage?
Chuck Sugar: Yes. I see healing and healed marriages all the time! A marriage can absolutely thrive after a major blow like this. Seeing marriages heal from this trauma is one of the most rewarding aspects of my vocation. Surprisingly, it’s a large percentage of couples that not only survive an affair, but say their marriage is better than it was before the affair happened!
Q: Do you teach couples to ignore that the infidelity happened?
Chuck Sugar: No. There is no use pretending that your spouse has always been faithful. What I teach is how to forgive past infidelities and learn how to peacefully and safely resolve issues as they come up; not holding them in and pretending that they aren’t causing a growing distance between them. Working through conflicts peacefully and respectfully builds intimacy, safety, trust, and connection.
Q: What are some reasons that spouses cheat?
Chuck Sugar: Often, a sense of disconnection or not feeling valued and special to their spouse leads to it. Marriages get caught up in the day-to-day mundane details and fail to focus on growing and maintaining the relationship. And often someone comes along and “notices” or “listens” to them and the process to an affair begins and is a very powerful force.
Q: Does an affair usually fill a void?
Chuck Sugar: They fill a void like alcohol or heroin fill a void… Poorly and Temporarily. It’s only an illusion that the affair is a “real” relationship and that they have finally found someone that really “gets” them and listens to them without criticism! Without having the “commitment” part of the relationship, just having passion and intimacy is what builds the illusion of “The perfect relationship.” Sadly, realizing the damage they have done to their children and spouse is usually a much greater horror than the relief they temporarily feel from the affair relationship.