INFLUENCE OF THERAPISTS' GENDER AND PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL
EXPERIENCE WITH INFIDELITY ON THE PROMOTION OF DISCLOSURE OF
AFFAIRS IN THERAPY
ROSARIA CARLONE UPCHURCH
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Rosaria Carlone Upchurch
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF
Stephen Julius Nittolo
April 9, 1955-December 18, 1991
Completing this dissertation, and receiving my doctoral degree, signifies for me
the achievement of what I perceive as one of my family's noblest dreams-one long
overdue-the one that reflects that, despite the many barriers created by life's challenges,
a person still has access to knowledge, opportunity, achievement, and acceptance. I have
very many people to thank.
First and foremost, I wish to acknowledge and thank the chair of my doctoral
committee, Dr. Silvia Echevarria-Doan. She retained her faith in me, despite all my
resistance. I thank her for her willingness to generously collaborate with me through
plans A, B, C, D, etc. She counseled me, supported me, and continued to remind me that
I could. She understands my struggles. To her, I wish to say: "Mughas Gragias
Next, I thank the other members of my committee who, in a fashion similar to my
chair, have been my mentors, my colleagues, and my friends. I have been fortunate to
have the most amazing committee of all time: Dr. Peter A. D. Sherrard, a soft place to
fall and a kindred spirit; Dr. Ellen Amatea, a pillar of strength and high standards; and
Dr. David Miller, a man of many talents and a generous heart. I thank Dr. Randall
Penfield for his part in my journey. I feel privileged.
I thank my fellow students who, by now, have either received their doctoral
degrees or soon will. I thank Lyn Goodwin, Erika Hollander, Ann Allen Rai,
Candy Hodgkins, David Marshall, Kitty Fallon, Ibrahim Keklik, and so many others who
crossed my path and enriched my life. It has been an honor to "run" with them.
There are many others at the University of Florida (UF) who offered me wisdom
and support. I thank faculty members Dr. Harry Daniels, Dr. Max Parker, Dr. Sondra
Smith, and Dr. Joe Wittmer. I thank UF staff members Patty Bruner and Candy Spires,
who made the process flow smoothly. Special thanks go to the UF librarians, especially
Damon Austin, who enthusiastically assisted me in navigating modem technology.
I am especially grateful for the work and support of Jeffrey Miller, a
psychometric specialist whose intelligence, knowledge, and diligence were beyond
expectations. I thank him for his hard work and, more importantly, for his friendship. I
also thank my editor, Mary Jane Schaer, for her dedication and support.
Next, I thank Beverly Colella, whose constant and caring attention to my
marriage and family therapy practice assured me that my clients were well cared for,
whether I was there or not. I thank my colleagues in my home community, Dr. R. J.
Parlade, Dr. Shirley Spooner, Dr. Susan Morey, and many others for encouraging me to
Special thanks go to Dr. George Lindenfeld, Dr. Mark Harter, Dr. Robert
Kennerley, and Dr. Peggy Kennerley, and to therapists Dr. Marie Bracciale, Karen
Spicer, Jane Devine, Jane Updyke, Cindy Newman, Buddy Jowers, and Sibel Guelseren,
for their time and their willingness to share their expert experience and wisdom. I am
blessed. I also thank my colleagues in the clinical field who gave their precious time and
participated in this study.
To my many clients (they know who they are), I send a special word of
appreciation, because their struggles inspire me to do better each day. Many pieces of
this dissertation are rooted in their stories. In fact, it was Fred's and Jane's (names have
been changed) courage to rebuild their marriage after the disclosure of infidelity in their
relationship that provided the impetus for me to pursue this topic for my research. I
thank my students for providing me with a venue for validation and affirmation. And, I
thank Dr. Patricia Crawford for her encouragement during a most serendipitous
I thank my many friends, with special emphasis on and acknowledgment of two.
To my fellow hens, Maureen Weiss and Patricia Whitsitt, words cannot describe the
gratitude I feel toward them. They drove my children places, made sure my children were
fed and entertained, and still found time to tell me how proud they were of me that I
would/could pursue this degree-they assuaged my guilt by reminding me that my
actions served as role modeling for our daughters-too powerful a statement to ignore. I
want them to know that I am in awe of them, and the work they do, each day, as mothers
I thank Dr. Richard Weiss for the many times, frequently late into the evening
after a very long day of work with cancer patients, that he was willing to patch up this
noncompliant patient, quickly-renewing me for the next leg of the race.
I also thank Steve and Lena Cieciura who, while I was growing up, watched from
afar to make sure that I stayed on the path to becoming educated. I have never forgotten
their caring and their financial assistance.
To Julie and Lucy Nittolo, I thank them for their special son Stephen, with whom
I was lucky enough to share a 25-year friendship before his untimely death at the age of
36. I want them to know that their son served as positive peer-pressure and helped me
create a vision for myself that included the pursuit of higher education, which has made it
possible for me to assist others. I want them to know that he was a good teacher to me
and that his life had purpose.
On the home front, I thank my brilliant parents, Fiorenzo Umberto Carlone and
Angelina Pepe in Carlone, who made major sacrifices to give me the opportunities in life
they themselves did not have. They instilled in me a strong sense of belonging and self-
pride. My father died in 1990, and I regret that he will not partake in this celebration.
His music, humor, and zest for life live in my heart. He taught me that I can be joyful
even when life is hard, and he showed me by example how to bring people together in
celebration. I especially thank my mother, a woman born before her time-determined,
strong, capable, innovative, and hard working. My mom always found a way. Despite
having only a fourth grade education, she championed me toward my intellectual
potential. I wish to honor her by writing in our native tongue and saying: "La mia
mamma, come tante altre donne della sua generazione, volevano e non potevano. lo sto'
eretta sulle loro spalle e le ringrazio per la bella vista" (My mom, like so many other
women of her generation, wanted to but could not. I stand on their shoulders and thank
them for the beautiful view).
To my sisters, Teresa Flora Scaturro and Elvira Olga Koury, and to my brother,
Antonio Carlone, I know I was the one that destiny placed at the front. I owe them much
for letting me have that spot. I want them to know that it is good to be their sister. Very
special thanks go to Elvira, for showing me that eyesight is not essential for seeing
beauty and goodness. She taught me that the heart is the core element for clear vision.
And to my nieces and nephews, I want them to know that the door is wide open now.
I also thank the Upchurch family, a family of champions, for their support,
especially my mother-in-law, Barbara Nehring MacLeod, whose expression of pride in
me over the years has made me feel like a true daughter. She was one of the pioneers of
women attending college, and, even though having attended a prestigious college, still
felt in her life the impact of traditional limits placed on women.
Last, but not least, I thank my immediate family, whose constant support cannot
be measured. To my magnificent, brilliant, powerful, talented, and beautiful daughter
Megan Maria Upchurch, I want her to know that I have learned much from her and that I
love and respect the person she is. It was through watching her grow that I have healed
and learned to rejoin with parts of myself. She makes me proud to be her mom, every
day. I started this program when she entered high school, and I will graduate just as she
completes her first semester at Wake Forest University.
To my amazing, witty, brilliant, sharp, and fun-loving son, Rockwell David
Upchurch, I thank him for the many times we laughed together, and the many times he
helped me relax by watching movies with me. He melts my heart with his sense of fair
play and with his ability to understand and care about others. I love and admire him.
To my husband, Paul Nehring Upchurch, the luckiest day of my life was June 17,
1977, when I walked into "a chance meeting of pure hearts"-his and mine-and found a
profound connection. I thank him for his contribution to the good life we have been able
to make together. I especially appreciate the way he never allowed his own impressive
success to hamper or overshadow mine. I envy his humility. I thank him for consistently
supporting my undertakings, frequently at his own expense. I remember fondly when I
signed up for the most demanding semester of the program and asked him if he was sure
he could/wanted to continue with the hardships it created for us. He simply took both my
hands in his, looked at me square in the eyes, and replied, "If you are willing to do it, I
am too. We are going the distance." I thank Paul for what he has given to help make this
endeavor possible for me-but then again, it is not much of a surprise to me because he
helps make everything possible.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ........................................... ... iv
LIST OF TABLES ..................................................... xiii
LIST OF FIGURES .................................................... xv
1 INTRODUCTION ................................................... 1
Opening Statement ................................................ 1
Factors Influencing Therapists' and Counselors' Stances in the Therapy Room .... 7
Need for the Study ...................... ..................... ...... 14
Purpose of the Study ............................................... 18
Promoting Disclosure ................................... .......... 19
Definition of Terms ........................ ......................... 20
Guiding Questions ................... .............. .................. 24
Organization of the Rest of the Study ....................................24
2 REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE ................................ 26
Introduction ..................................................... 26
Part I: Couples, Couples, and Couples ................................. 28
Part II: Love, Sex, and Betrayal ....................................... 46
3 METHODOLOGY ................................. ...................94
Introduction .................................... .................... 94
Scope and Limitations of the Study ............... .................... 95
Participants ................................................ ......... 98
Sampling Procedures .............................................. 100
Research Design ................. ................. ............... 101
Scale Development ................. ............................. 103
Final Version of Survey .............. .............................. 112
Data Analysis (Main Study) ................ ......................... 112
4 DATA ANALYSIS AND RESULTS ................................ 113
Introduction and Overview ................. ...................... 113
Descriptives (Sample Demography) ................................... 115
Independent and Dependent Variables ................................ .. 125
Final Version of Survey ............................................. 131
R results ................................ ................... ...... 136
Summary of Results ................... .......................... 145
5 DISCUSSION ..................................................149
Introduction .... ............. ............ .... .................... .149
Purpose of the Study Restated ...................................... 149
Guiding Questions Restated ......................................... 151
Expert Opinion ............................................ ....... 151
Pilot Study ........ .... ... .... ..................................... 154
M ain Study ......................................... ... .. ........... 155
Implications for Theory ............................................ 176
Implications for Practice ............................................. 178
Implications for Training ........................................... 180
Implications for Research and Ideas for Future Research ................... 182
Limitations of the Study ........................ ......... ........... 185
Conclusion and Closure ................................................ 187
A COVER LETTER/INVITATION TO PARTICIPATE .......... ............ 193
B INFIDELITY PERSPECTIVE SURVEY (IPS)-MAIN STUDY ............. 196
C INFIDELITY: CLINICIAN DEMOGRAPHIC QUESTIONNAIRE
(I-CDQ)-MAIN STUDY (EXCERPT) ................................206
D POSTCARD REMINDER ........................................ 209
E COVER LETTER TO EXPERT MEMBERS, PROJECT GOALS, AND
INSTRUCTIONS .......................... ....... ............... 211
F CONSENSUS GROUP WORKSHEET (EXCERPT) ........... .......... 215
G DILEMMA # 1: VERBATIM WRITTEN-IN RESPONSES ................. 216
H DILEMMA # 2: VERBATIM WRITTEN-IN RESPONSES ................. 217
I DILEMMA # 3: VERBATIM WRITTEN-IN RESPONSES ................. 219
J DILEMMA # 4: VERBATIM WRITTEN-IN RESPONSES ................. 221
K DILEMMA # 5: VERBATIM WRITTEN-IN RESPONSES ................. 223
L DILEMMA # 6: VERBATIM WRITTEN-IN RESPONSES ................. 225
M DILEMMA # 7: VERBATIM WRITTEN-IN RESPONSES ................. 227
N DILEMMA # 8: VERBATIM WRITTEN-IN RESPONSES ................. 229
O DILEMMA # 9: VERBATIM WRITTEN-IN RESPONSES ................. 231
P DILEMMA # 10: VERBATIM WRITTEN-IN RESPONSES ................ 233
Q DILEMMA # 11: VERBATIM WRITTEN-IN RESPONSES ................ 235
REFERENCES .................................................... 236
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................................ 262
LIST OF TABLES
3-1 Item-total statistics and reliability (pilot) ................... ...
3-2 Item analysis statistics-IPS (Pilot) ...........................
3-3 Item analysis statistics-CEI (pilot) ...........................
3-4 Item analysis statistics-PEI (pilot) ............... ...........
3-5 Item analysis statistics-FOHI (pilot) ..........................
4-1 Frequencies for gender and race ............................
4-2 Frequencies for highest degree earned ........................
4-3 Comparison of AAMFT population and main study sample .......
4-4 Frequencies for licensures held ..............................
4-5 Frequencies for professional affiliations ......................
4-6 Frequencies for specialized training and certifications ............
4-7 Frequencies for focus of work (approximate percent of time spent) .
4-8 Means and standard deviations for treatment model orientation ....
4-9 Frequencies for religious affiliations .........................
4-10 Frequencies for marital status ................. .............
4-11 Frequencies for religious/spiritual leaning ................... .
4-12 Frequencies for Political Party Affiliation .....................
4-13 Frequencies for political leaning ............................
4-14 Frequencies for self-description of religiosity and spirituality .....
..... .. 116
.... ... 117
.... ... 118
......... 12 1
.. ..... 122
....... .. 122
4-15 Frequencies for lifetime number of sexual partners ....................... 123
4-16 Frequencies for sexual orientation .................................... 123
4-17 Frequencies for approximate number of cases in career involving infidelity .... 124
4-18 W worked with populations ...................... . 124
4-19 Frequencies for number of couples treated in career ...................... 125
4-20 Descriptive statistics for scales ....................................... 125
4-21 Item-total statistics and reliability (final) .............................. 131
4-22 Item analysis statistics-IPS (final) .................................... 133
4-23 Item analysis statistics-CEI (final) .................................... 134
4-24 Item analysis statistics-PEI (final) .................................... 134
4-25 Item analysis statistics-FOHI (final) ................................... 135
4-26 Item-total statistics and reliability (pilot and final) ........................ 135
4-27 ANOVA summary table .......................................... 136
4-28 Descriptive statistics for males ....................................... 137
4-29 Descriptive statistics for females ..................................... 138
4-30 Descriptive statistics for both genders ................. ... ....... .. 139
LIST OF FIGURES
4-1 Histogram displaying the mean responses to the IPS across respondents. ....... 127
4-2 Histogram of the mean IPS response for all subjects ...................... 127
4-3 Histogram displaying the mean IPS responses for all items ................. 128
4-4 Histogram of the mean IPS response for all items ........................ 128
4-5 Frequency distribution of respondents with low and high CEI ............... 129
4-6 Frequency distribution of respondents with and without PEI ................ 130
4-7 Frequency distribution of respondents with and without FOHI .............. 131
4-8 Bar graph displaying interaction between IPS and gender .................. 140
4-9 Bar graph displaying interaction between IPS and CEI .................... 141
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
INFLUENCE OF THERAPISTS' GENDER AND PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL
EXPERIENCE WITH INFIDELITY ON THE PROMOTION OF DISCLOSURE OF
AFFAIRS IN THERAPY
Rosaria Carlone Upchurch
Chair: Silvia Echevarria-Doan
Major Department: Counselor Education
Infidelity is pervasive in the clinical population of couples. The Infidelity
Perspective Survey (IPS), and the Infidelity: Clinician Demographic Questionnaire
(ICD-Q), were developed. The IPS contains 11 hypothetical relationship dilemmas with
second-person items, and measures a clinician's tendency to promote disclosure. The
ICD-Q solicits demographic information, like gender, and items for three subscales-
Clinical/Professional Experience with Infidelity (CEI); Personal Experience with
Infidelity (PEI); and Family of Origin Experience with Infidelity (FOHI).
Clinical Members of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
(AAMFT) responded to the IPS' 62 items, and wrote-in additional responses. Both the
IPS and the ICD-Q were field tested for validity and reliability through expert opinion
(N = 11), piloting (N = 37), and the main study (N = 227).
Pilot and main study IPS' internal consistency was computed at .73 and .81
(Cronbach's Alpha), respectively. Pilot and main study internal consistency (Cronbach's
Alpha), respectively, of the CEI scale was .67 and .73, of the PEI scale was .56 and .61,
and of the FOHI scale was .94 and .97. The instruments proved sufficiently reliable.
The effects of the independent variables, and their two-way interactions, on
clinicians' tendencies to promote disclosure in therapy, were examined. A 2 x 2 x 2 x 2
between-subjects analysis of variance determined no influence when G, CEI, PEI, and
FOHI were examined for main effect. There was a small effect size when G and PEI
interact, male therapists with PEI showing a lower tendency to promote disclosure during
therapy than female therapists with PEI, and male therapists without PEI showing a
higher tendency to promote disclosure than female therapists without PEI.
There was a marginal effect size when CEI and PEI interact, clinicians with a
high level of CEI and with PEI showing greater tendency to promote disclosure than
respondents with a low level of CEI and with PEI. Additionally, respondents with a high
level of CEI and without PEI showed a lower tendency to promote disclosure than
respondents with a low level of CEI and without PEI. The study's limitations and future
implications, and a summary of written-in responses, are set forth.
Stories about love, passion, and betrayal make for interesting telling and listening.
For some, when love and/or commitment goes awry, they find their way into therapists'
and counselors' offices-angry, brokenhearted, crestfallen, and hopeless. For others,
their experiences in the therapist's office can create a new brand of pain, one that results
from learning previously unknown traumatic information about elements of their
partners' secret lives.
The discovery or the disclosure of an extramarital (outside of marriage), or of an
extradyadic or extrarelationship (outside of exclusive relationship), affair creates intense,
conflicted, inconsistent energy in clients, and typically precipitates a major crisis that can
put the individuals and/or the relationship at great risk (E. Brown, 1991, 1999; Glass,
2002, 2003b; Glass & Wright, 1988, 1992; Guerin, Fogarty, Fay, & Kautto, 1996;
Lusterman, 1995, 1998; Schneider, Corley, & Irons, 1998).
Despite her position on the importance of the disclosure of current and/or ancient
affairs during couples therapy, E. Brown (1991, 1999) cautions that the disclosure of
infidelity within a couple's relationship entails serious costs that must be evaluated in
advance of disclosure taking place, including the heightened probability of destructive
and violent behavior (Brown 1991; Kaslow, 1993). E. Brown urges therapists to
thoroughly think through the repercussions of disclosure before taking action. Others
take a similar position on the issue (Humphrey, 1987; Moultrup, 1990; Pittman, 1987;
Schneider, Corley, and Irons (1998) published a study (n = 82, 82 sex addicts and
their partners, respectively) reporting the results of their international survey of 164
recovering sex addicts and partners with respect to their "survival" of the disclosure of
infidelity in their relationships. They learned that disclosure tended to be a process and
not a one-time event; that disclosure was most conducive to healing when it included
only the major elements of the infidelity and not all the "gory details"; that despite half
the partners threatening to leave the relationship at the time of disclosure, only one
quarter of the partners actually left; that when slips and/or relapses occurred (more
infidelity), new decisions about disclosure had to be made; that neither disclosure nor
threats to leave prevented relapses; and that, with the passage of time, 96% of addicts and
93% of partners came to believe that disclosure had been the right thing to do (versus
58% and 81% of addicts and partners, respectively, when polled at the time of
Schneider, Corley, and Irons (1998) discovered that, following disclosure, the
betrayed partners tend to need a great deal of additional support from professionals and
from friends (beyond their needs preceding disclosure) and that honesty is a crucial
healing characteristic for couples in therapy.
To assist therapists working with couples in dealing with the disclosure of
extramarital sexual activity in their relationships, Corley and Schneider (2002) and
Schneider and Corley (2002) offer guidelines that enable the clinician to lead clients,
through the disclosure, and then through the aftermath of the disclosure. Additionally,
Schneider (1989) offers useful interventions to therapists working with clients as they
rebuild their marriages during recovery from compulsive sexual behavior.
Herring (2001) provides ethical guidelines for the treatment of compulsive sexual
behavior and suggests that therapists be skilled in the six core concepts (informed
consent; competence through a sound theoretical foundation; confidentiality including
the clear understanding of duty to warn/protect, HIV issues, family secrets and
involvement; maintenance of appropriate boundaries through clear understating of own
cultural and personal values, self-disclosure rules, touching, and sexual attraction to
clients; and appropriate supervision) when they attempt this work.
When therapists travel the terrain of couples counseling with the bewildered
couple or a member of that couple, they find themselves drained by the demands of the
work. It is especially important that clinicians be prepared for the roller-coaster, then the
moratorium, and then the rebuilding phases of the process that invariably ensues when
couples decide to stay together following the discovery or disclosure of an affair (Olson,
Russell, Higgins-Kessler, & Miller, 2002; Rhodes, 1984).
In addition to the couples grappling with infidelity, the third leg of this intense
relationship triangle (the other woman, the other man), who is also part of the web of
deceit (Guerin et al., 1996; Lusterman, 1998; Richardson, 1985, 1988; Staheli, 1995;
Tuch, 2000) and who also may be hurt as a function of an affair, often makes his/her way
into therapists' and counselors' offices in need of healing and repairing. Sometimes,
his/her individual therapy evolves into couples therapy and creates a dilemma for the
therapist, who now knows secret information that has not yet been disclosed to the other
partner. At this point, the therapist must decide if he/she is comfortable treating this
couple and must decide how to handle the secret information.
Sometimes, the other man or the other woman is involved in both a committed
relationship of his/her own and an extra-dyadic relationship as the third leg of a triangle
in someone else's committed relationship, and so can be a betrayed and/or betraying
partner of his/her own exclusive committed relationship. Although this dynamic can
provide more equality between and safety within the space of the two people in the extra-
relationship affair, it also creates a more complex therapy case (Moultrup, 1990;
When individuals and couples enter therapy of their own volition, they typically
intend to work on themselves and/or their relationships and indeed understand that
honesty is important to the process. Yet, despite their commitment to communicating
openly and candidly with their therapists and with their partners, they nonetheless hold
back information about their extramarital, extradyadic, or extrarelationship involvement.
Or, they might desire to keep this information secret from their partners) while sharing it
with the therapist, expecting the therapist to keep the information secret from the
unsuspecting other member of the couple.
Therapists and counselors must remember that, as times have evolved, the milieu
of sexual standards in society has shifted (Manji. 1996; Melton, 1968), as have the faces
of couples (Gurman & Jacobson, 2002; Jacobson & Gurman, 1995; Johnson & Lebow,
2000). The term "couple" is no longer reserved for people who are engaged or married.
Today, couple conjures up images that include many forms of attachments. Currently,
many people openly commit to exclusivity with each other by simply declaring their love
to one another, or by living together and ignoring the legalization of their relationships.
Young and Long (1998) observe that, as a culture, America endorses committed
relationships. The most current census (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2003) supports this
observation (N = 105.5 million households; 54.5 million married couples, plus 5.5
million couples living together, including gays, but not married).
Rathus, Navid, and Fichner-Rathus (2000) summarize studies on homosexuality
that reveal that, in the United States, France, and Denmark, between 3% and 11% of men
and between 2% and 12% of women identify themselves as gay or lesbian. They also
report that between 1% and 4% of the population is bisexual (sexually responsive to
either gender), and possesses an erotic attraction to and an interest in developing
romantic relationships with both males and females.
Despite the lack of widespread legal sanctioning, homosexual couples (males and
females) have become more visible within mainstream society and are considered to have
the same committed relationship status (especially emotionally) as do heterosexual
couples who are either cohabitating or dating seriously, but who are not legally married.
The Census Bureau (2003) reports, notably, that of the total 105.5 million
households in the United States, 1% belong to homosexual couples living together.
Infidelity is as much a therapeutic issue in these relationships as it is in heterosexual
couples (Green & Mitchell, 2002).
Sexual identity can play an important part in the life of families and couples
(Green & Michell, 2002; Johnson & Colucci, 1999; Laird, 2003; Green & Boyd-Franklin,
1996). Pittman (1987) points out that many people can heterosexually perform, maintain
a heterosexual relationship with the opposite sex (maybe a marriage), prefer the benefits
of a heterosexual lifestyle, but have greater sexual emotional and sexual comfort with
their own gender. They may in fact lead a double life in which they are heterosexually
married or committed and are also involved in a secret extramarital/extradyadic affair, or
might be in a committed relationship with a member of their own gender and be involved
in an extradyadic relationship with a member from the opposite gender. When this
dynamic is learned or acknowledged (either through disclosure or discovery) by the
unsuspecting partners) and the couple (either the heterosexual couple or the same gender
couple) goes to therapy, added layers of complications become part of the healing
process. Therapists and counselors can benefit from this awareness and must also
challenge their own belief systems so that moral judgment is minimized in the therapy
room (American Psychological Association [APA], 1992; Melton, 1968).
Malcolm (2000) conducted a study on the sexual identity development of
behaviorally bisexual married men. According to Malcolm (2000), it was originally
found that between 1.3% and 1.9% of heterosexually married men report homosexual
behaviors, and that, in most of those cases, the behaviors remain a secret from the wife.
Malcolm (2000) himself found that improved psychological adjustment followed marital
separation in those men in his sample (n = 355) who were more homosexually oriented
than the rest. Perhaps those men benefit from separation or divorce more than from
rebuilding the marriage. For the wife, the discovery of the existence of this lifestyle in
her husband's life can catapult her into a frenzy of negative emotions that, at best, might
be susceptible to being stabilized at an inconsolable level. There is much at stake when a
therapist encourages either the betrayer to disclose his affair, or the spouse to discover
her husband's affair.
It is not the legal attachment or the sexual orientation of the members of the
couple that determines the level of pain each feels when betrayed by the person he/she
loves. Rather, the depth of the attachment, the emotional expectations, and the beliefs
about exclusivity create the traumatic reaction in the partners.
Clinicians' offices are filled with clients who suffer from a wounded heart that
results from the advent of infidelity in their lives and from the unique interpretations
those clients make about the experiences in their lives (Walsh, 2003), irrespective of their
legal status or sexual orientation. Therapists are part of the process that leads clients to
new levels of being. How the therapist discharges this awesome responsibility and the
factors that influence his/her actions warrant examination.
Factors Influencing Therapists' and Counselors' Stances in the Therapy Room
The literature is prolific on the issue of gender as it pertains to infidelity, and
especially as it pertains to the gender of clients (Buunk & Bakker, 1995; Kinsey,
Pomeroy, Martin & Gebhart, 1953; Lawson & Samson, 1988; Sprecher, Regan, &
Mckinney, 1988; Wiederman, 1997).
The sex of a person (male or female) is typically genetically determined (Worden
& Worden, 1998). In the Postmodern tradition, Farganis (1994) points out that gender is
not something that is a given but rather is a "historical constellation of sex traits"
(p. 103), and socially constructed (Gergen, 1991, 1994; Faucault, 1995). In the
stereotypical sense, men tend to be seen as dominant, rational, objective, independent,
competitive, decisive, and aggressive (Worden & Worden, 1998). Women, on the other
hand, have traditionally been seen as submissive, caring, affectionate, cooperative,
emotional, relationship-centered, domestic, and nurturing.
Because gender is the most basic issue of diversity, Worden and Worden (1998)
point out that a therapist's role requires a range of behaviors that cross the stereotypes of
gender roles. Although this might be true, therapists are not always able to transcend
their own realities and are therefore likely to behave (male or female) according to the
social context of their life's experiences.
Newberry, Alexander, and Turner (1991) examined the effects of therapist and
client sex roles on the behaviors of participants in family therapy. Their research design
included examining two-parent families (n = 34), half of which received treatment from
male therapists-in-training (n = 17), and half from female therapists-in-training (n = 17).
After transcribing the sessions, and dividing the insession behaviors into units, they
concluded that, despite their initial finding that there were no gender differences, a
contingency analysis detected different gender-linked sequential dependencies of
therapist and client behavior. They suggest that female and male therapists may, due to
their gender, experience different types of difficulties in filling the role of therapist.
For example, they suggest that socialization patterns may encourage male
therapists to perform from positions of authority more often than would female
therapists. Female therapists may implicitly challenge the male's role or his behaviors in
the family and in the couple. Infidelity is especially at risk for this type of bias inasmuch
as more males than females engage in infidelity, and so a therapist would more
frequently treat clients where the male is the betrayer. Male clients may have more
difficulty accepting authority from the female therapist, and so if/when a female therapist
has a strong tendency to dictate to clients what should happen during therapy, the male
client might challenge her authority. If men tend to be more forceful than women, how
does gender influence the therapist's tendency to promote the disclosure of an affair
during couples therapy?
Clinical/Professional Experience with Infidelity (CEI)
Basic counselor training addresses the importance of therapists preparing to enter
their therapy rooms with some fundamental skills, and with cognizance of their own
biases and values (Ivey & Ivey, 1999). Some have gathered the opinions of expert
marriage and family therapists with regard to what specialized skills are believed to be
necessary to deem a therapist prepared for his/her work (Figley & Nelson, 1989, 1990;
Nelson & Figley, 1990; Nelson, Heilbrun, & Figley, 1993).
As therapists become seasoned, Jensen and Bergin (1988) and Keller, Huber, and
Hardy (1988) suggest that they focus on developing a personal theoretical orientation that
includes the exploration of values in family therapy theories, as well as the exploration of
the values and the stance the therapist exhibits during therapy sessions. This is especially
true with an issue as socially controversial as infidelity. If therapists are to position
themselves as suggested by the Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) profession's
guidelines and ethics (American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
[AAMFT], 2001), so as to "let" clients make decisions for themselves without exercising
undue influence, then therapists must become mindful, and remain so throughout the
therapeutic process, of those factors that influence him/her.
Hubble, Duncan, and Miller (2000) offer extensive insight into what works in
therapy. They point out that, typically, a therapist's level of experience does not enhance
the therapeutic relationship. Yet, at the same time, the more experienced and the more
intensely trained therapists are, the more they are able to understand their clients'
experiences with therapy. It follows then that the more exposure a therapist has with
those clients who participate in affairs (the betrayed, the betrayer, the other man, the
other woman), the more experience that therapist will have with the issue and the
dynamics of the work. Perhaps this suggests that the more seasoned therapists are, the
more they are able to appreciate the client's experience and, at the same time, the more
they are able to keep an open mind when controversial issues, such as infidelity, present
in their therapy rooms. It is logical to deduce that an experienced therapist might be
more likely to remain facilitative, and not forceful and/or domineering, as he/she plans
and executes interventions.
Clients, in their relationship with therapists, tend to attribute expertness to them;
and so clients may very well be willing to let their behaviors be overly influenced.
Because of this dynamic, therapists can often freely exert power over clients. Society
teaches its members that experience translates into expertness.
In view of the foregoing, if a client perceives a therapist as being experienced in
the area of infidelity, that client might attribute expertness to that therapist and might
relinquish his/her own right to make his/her own decisions about his/her life to that
therapist. If a therapist tends to be forceful (have a high tendency to promote disclosure),
then that therapist becomes the one to make the decision for that client. If the therapist
perceives himself/herself as an expert (having a great deal of knowledge and having
worked with a great many clients involved in infidelity), that therapist may feel powerful
and appoint himself/herself as the one who knows best what is good for those clients.
Raven (1993) revisits his earlier work (French & Raven, 1959; Raven, 1965) and
proposes a new model for conceptualizing power as it plays out in interpersonal
relationships, such as the one between client and therapist. He acknowledges, as he and
his colleagues had done earlier, that six forms of power are at play during relationships.
They are, specifically, (a) reward power; (b) coercive power; (c) legitimate power;
(d) referent power; (e) informational power; and (f) expert power. Expert power may
exist as a result of the position members of the relationship hold within the stage of their
association (e.g., teacher-student, therapist-client). When person B (the client in our
scenario) perceives person A (the therapist) as having certain knowledge or skills that are
necessary for person B to accomplish his/her goals, person B may subjugate his/her own
decision-making power to "the expert" member of the relationship.
Informational power (Raven, 1992) is very similar to expert power. When this
type of power is at play, if the client (person B) perceives the therapist (person A) as
possessing information that he/she (client) sees relevant to himself/herself, he/she will
attribute expert power to the therapist and once again might place himself/herself in the
one-down position in the relationship (Brown, Pryzwansky, & Shulte, 1998).
It follows that at any given time during the therapeutic process of couples
therapy, regardless of the presenting/evolving issue the client brings to therapy, he/she
will attribute expert power to the therapist and will place some or all of his/her fate under
that therapist's leadership, including his/her decision of whether or not to disclose his/her
secret affair to his/her partner.
How does the therapist's professional experience in the area of working with
clients involved in affairs affect his/her tendency to promote disclosure (exercise power)
over the clients, especially his/her expert power over someone (client) who might be
willing to submit?
Personal Experience and Family of Origin History with Infidelity (PEI & FOHI)
Glass and Wright (1988) take great care in pointing out that the empirical and
clinical literatures are separate, and that each suffers from a bias attributable to which
population is under observation. They underscore the importance of clinicians being able
to recognize that affairs, or extramarital sex (EMS) or extramarital involvement (EMI),
as they call them, do take place in "normal" men and women, in stable marriages, and not
just in people who suffer from interpersonal or relationship pathological processes.
Glass and Wright (1988) and others (Brown, 1989, 1991, 1999; Knapp, 1975)
declare that clinicians lack consensus on ways to address the prevalent rate of affairs and
that, frequently, they abandon an objective stance and project their own personal biases
when their clients present with issues of extra-relationship behavior.
Knapp (1975) boldly reported that the attitudes of therapists towards affairs are
directly related to their own affairs experiences. Specifically, she reported that almost
one-third of the marital counselors she surveyed had more accepting attitudes towards
their clients' affairs if they themselves had engaged in secret affairs. Those therapists
with no personal history of affairs in their own lives tended to judge clients engaging in
affairs as being neurotic, antisocial, or suffering from a personality disorder.
With regard to family-of-origin history with infidelity, rooted in the theoretical
framework of Bowenian Theory (Bowen, 1978), Eaker-Weil and Winter (1994),
Moultrup (1990), and Schnarch (1991) write of affairs as a family legacy handed down
from one generation to the next. They connect the affair legacy to the Bowenian concept
of the nuclear family emotional system, the concept of triangles as the emotional building
blocks of and the stabilizing forces of families, and to the concept of the
multigenerational transmission process that passes patterns from one generation to the
next within the larger family system.
In this vein of thinking, it can be deduced that therapists bring to the therapy
room their own inherited legacies from their own families of origin. The Bowenian
framework is rooted in the psychodynamic philosophy of psychology. In the
psychodynamic model, the idea that a therapist enters the therapy room with his/her own
agenda that may get in the way of the work to be done with clients was referred to as
countertransference. If the therapist does indeed have unresolved issues with his/her
inherited legacy around affairs, he/she might unknowingly project onto the clients)
his/her own unresolved past conflicts through the phenomenon of countertransference
(Freud, 1933/1965). Slipp (1984) suggests that, in fact, a therapist will project onto the
clients) his/her own biases if unresolved conflicts do indeed exist within himself/herself;
therefore, his/her own family of origin experience will play a part in the way he/she treats
clients. In the Bowenian model, the legacy of affairs inherited by clinicians from their
own family of origin and projected (countertransferred) onto the client would be
analyzed from the perspective of the concept of differentiation.
According to Bowen (1978), differentiation is the degree of fusion or lack of
individuation between emotional and intellectual functioning at both the intrapsychic and
the interpersonal levels. People who tend to be "fused" are dominated by their automatic
emotional system and/or by the pull they feel from the lack of emotional separation from
their family system. If the therapist is not well differentiated from his/her family of
origin, he/she may not be able to separate well his/her thoughts from his/her feelings, and
might approach a client with automatic responses, and not with deliberate, rational
interventions. Rational interventions occur best when a clinician is able to place his/her
intellect over his/her feelings, to delineate his/her own feelings from his/her personal
beliefs/preferences, and then to contain the feelings/preferences so that he/she can remain
facilitative and not inappropriately directive or impulsive.
Brown (1991) suggests a list of behaviors that tend to indicate that a therapist has
not separated his/her own issues from those of the clients. She also warns therapists that
if they are treating many couples, and they are not seeing a high proportion of affairs
among their clients, perhaps the reason is that the therapist is obstructing the view.
Specifically, she lists
* Colluding with one partner to keep the secret affair secret because the therapist
wants to avoid the discomfort that comes with dealing with affairs.
* Being over-responsible towards the clients so to create unrealistic goals for the
treatment-for example, wanting the issue resolved and the marriage rebuilt more
than the clients do.
* Imposing moral (right/wrong, good/bad) instead of professional judgment while
working with the couple.
* Being intolerant of one member of the triangle.
* Being fearful of intense feelings and muffling them in therapy sessions.
* Exhibiting more obligation towards marital/relationship fidelity than to the client.
She especially cautions those therapists who are ministers or pastoral counselors and who
might have gone into the ministry as a means of helping themselves control their own
issues of sexuality.
This study attempts to determine how clinicians' own personal and family history
with infidelity influences their clinical actions and their tendency to promote disclosure
when they are working with clients who are involved in affairs.
Need for the Study
The literature indicates that between 40% and 66% of men, and between 18% and
36% of women, become involved in affairs (Athanasiou, Shaver, & Travis, 1970; Hite,
1981; Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948; Kinsey et al., 1953; Pietropinto & Simenauer,
1976; Yablonsky, 1979).
In the clinical population, 25% to 30 % of couples arrive at therapy with infidelity
as the presenting problem, while 30% to 35% more disclose a problem of infidelity
during the course of therapy (Glass & Wright, 1997).
According to Weiner-Davis (1992), although infidelity leads to feelings of
betrayal, mistrust, anger, and hurt, it does not necessarily have to lead to divorce. For the
betraying partner, feelings of guilt over the pain he/she has caused can be too much to
bear and he/she might decide to leave the marriage. Or, feelings of shame may be so
deep that he/she decides to end his/her life.
The work of recovery is lengthy and requires much patience from both partners.
(Humphrey, 1987). The recovery period can vary from 2 to many years and, for some,
recovery is never attained, leaving them to live lives filled with disappointment and
bitterness (Brown, 1991).
The disclosure or discovery of an affair invariably leads to a lengthy period of
deep pain. The decision of whether or not to disclose should not be taken lightly and
should never be made in haste. Clinicians need to be clear about what their policies on
The existence and subsequent discovery of infidelity in a marriage and/or in a
committed relationship is a devastating occurrence. In a national study, Whisman,
Dixon, and Johnson (1997) surveyed couples therapists (N = 122) regarding their
perspectives on which problems present most frequently in therapy, which are most
difficult to treat, and which create the most damaging impact on the clients' lives. They
concluded that infidelity is the second most devastating problem to families (second to
physical abuse) and the third most difficult to treat (behind detachment and dysfunctional
Theorists such as Glass (2003b); Glass & Wright (1988, 1992) and Lusterman
(1998) have determined that learning about a partner's affair creates a psychic injury that
leads to an aftermath that includes the same effects and behaviors as those described in
the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-R, American Psychiatric
Association [APA], 1994) for the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Stabilization and recuperation from the trauma can take a minimum of one year and
possibly much longer (Brown, 1991). Lack of trust can remain an issue in the
relationship for as long as three years and longer from the time of disclosure/discovery.
Based on observing his own clients, Pittman (1987) purports that 90% of divorces
involve infidelity. R. Brown (1999) claims that 35% of couples recover from infidelity
and continue their relationship. Through a multiple regression analysis, Stack (1980)
found that in the 50 American states, the incidence of divorce is closely associated with
the rate of suicide (while controlling for age, race, interstate migration, and income). He
reports that a 1% increase in divorce is associated with a 0.54 % increase in the suicide
rate. This finding supports other's opinions that divorce can be a devastating outcome of
marital unhappiness (Ahrons, 1994; Wallerstein, Lewis, & Blakely, 2000). If the
occurrence of divorce is associated with a higher rate of suicide, and if infidelity is
present in 90% of divorces (as Pittman proposes), then it would follow that assisting
people in keeping their relationships intact or in carefully planning the best clinical
interventions for treating infidelity (ones that do not simply cause clients to run to
divorce court) might be best at minimizing the damage done in the process of disclosure,
especially at the hands of the therapist.
Patterns of infidelity become legacies that continue to create devastation from one
generation to the next in family systems (Eaker-Weil & Winter, 1994; Moultrup, 1990).
For those couples that prefer working through their difficulties to pursuing divorce,
meeting up with well prepared, competent clinicians who are familiar with productive
interventions when working with infidelity will optimize the prospect of achieving their
desire to stay together.
If what Pittman (1987) says about infidelity being present in 90% of divorcing
couples approximates truth, and given that infidelity creates deep scars, then helping
clients who go to therapy create a better marriage or a better divorce post-infidelity can
yield a more favorable outcome for the couple, their children, their families, and society
in general, and possibly reduce the number of suicides. The issue of secrets and
confidentiality is especially relevant when the treatment unit consists of more than one
person, as is the case with couples therapy. Clinicians are frequently faced with clinical
dilemmas they must resolve as they attempt to help their clients during therapy (Scaturo,
When clinicians are faced with avoiding collusion with one member of the couple
against the other; knowing information that, if disclosed, could hurt (emotionally or
physically) one or both members) of that couple; or needing to share information in a
conjoint session that was thought to be private by the member who disclosed it, a careful
approach is essential.
Learning what other clinicians do, and how other clinicians handle the dynamic of
disclosure, can be empowering to the clinician who is constructing his/her own careful
approach to facilitate "telling."
Given the plethora of painful activity that can follow the discovery or disclosure
of an affair, the questions remain:
What are therapists' perspectives on the disclosure of affairs during couples
What is happening in the therapy rooms regarding affairs disclosure?
* Who is deciding if the affair is to be disclosed-the client or the therapist-if it
falls on the client to suffer the pain to do the reparation work?
S How is it currently being decided who, what, when, and how much is disclosed of
the affair during couples therapy?
S What factors influence therapists' positions regarding the disclosure of affairs
during couples therapy?
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this investigation is to determine the actions clinicians take when
they learn or suspect that a secret affair exists in the lives of the couples they treat or are
about to treat, and how those clinicians' gender, and clinical/professional, personal, and
family of origin experiences with infidelity, influence the actions they take. Three goals
To develop a valid and reliable scale that measures a clinician's level of tendency
to promote disclosure when faced with the suspicion or the knowledge of the existence of
an affair in the relationship of couples in his/her care.
To identify and report those actions therapists and counselors take when faced
with the suspicion or the knowledge of the existence of a secret affair in the relationship
of couples whom those clinicians are treating, or are considering treating.
To analyze, determine, and report how a clinician's gender, and
clinical/professional experience with infidelity (CEI), personal experience with infidelity
(PEI); and family of origin history with infidelity (FOHI), influence his/her position on
whether or not an affair must be unearthed or disclosed as part of couples therapy.
In addition to the above goals, it is the hope of this researcher/clinician that the
following objectives also be accomplished as a by-product of this initiative:
To expose clinicians to real-life scenarios that are part of the treatment of
infidelity so that the scenarios will stimulate their thinking as they consider their
actions when faced with each dilemma presented in the questionnaire.
To encourage clinicians to think about whether or not they tend to come to their
therapy rooms with unproductive biases and actions based on moralistic attitudes
or rigid posturing.
To disseminate the study's results into the public domain of the clinical
community so that it might be used for treatment-planning, teaching, training,
writing, personal development, and further research.
To augment the academic dialogue that places infidelity on higher ground within
the identified clinician training needs-and perhaps be seen as an issue with the
same need for focus in couples work as domestic violence and substance abuse.
To assist clinicians in entering their therapy rooms with less bias and judgmental
attitude by beginning the cognitive restructuring process necessary to enable them
to conceptualize infidelity (for clinical purposes) as a neutral phenomenon,
socially constructed, and viewed in the context of the evolution of love and
committed relationships over time.
To identify research ideas for future studies on infidelity.
Although they may differ on the amount of information to be shared during
disclosure/discovery of an extra-relationship affair, many clinicians recommend that
secret affairs be brought to the surface during couples therapy (Brown, E., 1991, 1999;
Glass, 2002, 2003b; Glass & Wright, 1988, 1997; Pittman, 1985, 1987). Young and
Long (1998) believe that novice therapists make the mistake of keeping confidential the
existence of an affair and therefore conduct therapy on a stage of deceit.
Some (Humphrey, 1987) propose that it is the client who should decide if an
affair is to be disclosed because it is that client who takes the intrinsic risks of disclosure.
He remains somewhat neutral on the subject because he also believes that clients have
the exclusive right to decide whether on not an affair is to be disclosed because the
clients need to decide for themselves whether or not they are willing to do the intense and
extensive work necessary to rebuild the relationship after the affair has been revealed.
Others (Moultrup, 1990) caution therapists not to be overly zealous so as to
imbalance the triangle that the couple has created with the other man/woman and to be
especially slow at promoting that the affair end immediately. He points out that the
triangle has a function in the family and the marital relationship and that disrupting that
balance too quickly can be detrimental to the family system of that couple.
Promoting that an affair be disclosed in therapy requires a clinician who is very
clear on where he/she stands on whether telling/disclosing is a must. It requires a
therapist to exercise a willingness to be active, assertive, directive, and somewhat
authoritarian in his/her approach. In order to dictate what must happen, the clinician
must be willing to exercise authority over his/her clients.
The notion of level of directiveness in promoting the telling of an affair was
formulated from the concept of authoritarian behavior. The more authority a clinician
exhibits, the more direct that clinician will be in his/her requests of the clients. When a
clinicians insists on disclosure-he/she is directly requesting that the action be taken or a
consequence will ensue (termination of conjoint therapy)-that clinician is showing a
high tendency to promote disclosure.
Definition of Terms
Affair is a relationship that can be short-term or long-term and is defined by the
presence of an emotional and/or physical attachment/behaviors between two people, one
or both of whom are involved in an exclusive relationship with someone else. The affair
relationship may include some or all of the following: secrecy; emotional intimacy;
sexual chemistry; flirtatious or passionate kissing; petting; sexual intercourse; anal sex;
oral sex; mutual masturbation; masturbation using the affair partner for visual and/or in-
person stimulation; or using pornographic materials, chat rooms, or exchanging erotic
pictures of self, without the primary partner's knowledge or agreement/endorsement.
The key to defining the relationship an affair is the fact that all or parts of the affair
relationship remain a secret from the committed partnerss. The relationship is an affair
if it violates the contract/agreement for exclusivity and openness of communication
(truthfulness) made by the committed relationship partners to one another. Affairs may
take place over the Internet, on the telephone, and in the workplace.
American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) is the
professional organization for Marriage and Family Therapists. AAMFT represents the
interests of, and provides training for, it's clinical community (the members).
Couples therapy is the treatment of couples. It is used in two psychotherapeutic
domains. It applies certain treatment methods to problems that are reliably seen as
interactive and interpersonal. It is used also as a first-line treatment of choice for
problems that have been traditionally seen as individual mental health issues. Couples
therapy seeks to help couples resolve conflicts that involve deeply felt values in areas
such as gender, religion, race, and ethnicity. It also seeks to help couples better negotiate
their sex-role identity and culture identification issues as they emerge in the self and in
their marital/committed relationship (Jacobson & Gurman, 1995).
CEI is an anachronism created here to represent the concept of
Clinical/Professional Experience with Infidelity. In this investigation, it is one of the
independent variables of the study and is derived from the responses to the corresponding
questions on the demographic questionnaire in this study. The information it summarizes
pertains to a clinician's responses to the questionnaire vis-a-vis the types of clients he/she
has worked with during his/her work with infidelity (the betraying partner, the betrayed
partner, or the other man/the other woman).
Clinician/therapist/counselor are terms pertaining to members of the American
Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). The terms are used
interchangeably in this study.
Combination emotional-sexual affair is a secret, extramarital or extradyadic
relationship that includes elements of both emotional and sexual affairs. It encompasses
secrecy, intimacy, sexual chemistry, emotional attachment, caring (sharing life-events,
exchanging family photos, and spending time nurturing each other), and sexual contact
(kissing, petting, sexual intercourse, oral sex, and exchanging erotic pictures of self.).
Disclosing is bringing into the open something that is secret. The disclosure of a
secret extra-dyadic affair involves addressing all relevant questions about the infidelity,
setting limits that promote healthy functioning and minimize unhealthy behaviors (such
as sleep deprivation), avoiding the escalation of destructive arguments that can lead to
physical or verbal abuse, and minimizing the traumatic response in the partners (Glass,
Emotional affair is a relationship that is primarily defined by the presence of an
emotional attachment between two people, one or both of whom are involved in an
exclusive relationship with someone else. The affair relationship includes secrecy,
emotional intimacy, and sexual chemistry, but excludes contact and communication of a
sexual/physical nature. The affair can take place in person, over the Internet, or on the
telephone. Even when the relationship (friendship) is known to the excluded committed
partnerss, some aspect of the "friendship" remains secret.
Family of origin refers to the family to which one is born or adopted.
FOHI is an anachronism created here to represent the concept of Family of
Origin History with Infidelity. In this study, it is one of the independent variables and it
summarizes the clinician's responses to whether he/she believes, suspects, or knows
whether his/her female caregiver, and/or his/her male caregiver, and/or his/her maternal
grandmother, and/or his/her paternal grandmother, and/or his/her maternal grandfather,
and/or his/her paternal grandfather, was/has been a betraying partner, and/or a betrayed
partner, and/or the other man/woman. FOHI was conceptualized using the family
systems model of three generations-self, parents/caregivers, and grandparents (Sauber,
L'Abale, & Weeks, 1985).
Gender (G) is one of the independent variables in this study, containing two
levels, male and female.
Infidelity: Clinician Demographic Questionnaire (ICD-Q) is the questionnaire
developed and used in this study that contains questions designed to collect demographic
information about the participants, including the CEI, PEI, and FOHI scales.
Infidelity Perspective Survey (IPS) is the questionnaire developed and used in
this study that contains the scale that measures a clinician's tendency to promote
disclosure of affairs during couples therapy. The IPS includes 11 typical dilemmas
encountered by therapists when they work with couples affected by affairs and also
includes a set of personal belief systems particular to clinicians.
PEI is an anachronism created here to represent the concept of Personal
Experience with Infidelity. In this investigation, PEI is one of the independent variables
in the study and is derived from the responses to the corresponding questions on the ICD-
Q. The information it summarizes pertains to a clinician's responses to the questionnaire
vis-A-vis if he/she or his/her partner is/are now or has/have been in the past a betraying
partner, a betrayed partner, or the other man/the other woman.
Sexual affair is a relationship that is primarily of a sexual nature and that can
take place in person, over the Internet, or on the telephone. It may be a short-term or a
long-term secret relationship unknown to the excluded committed partnerss. It involves
sexual behaviors, such as kissing, petting, sexual intercourse, oral sex, masturbation,
exchanging of erotic pictures of self, and exchanging erotic stories, but excludes
emotional attachment and caring.
The following guiding questions framed this study:
* Does the IPS validly and reliably measure therapists' and counselors' tendencies
to promote the disclosure of affairs as part of couples therapy?
* In couples therapy, what is the effect of clinicians' gender (G) on their tendency
to promote the disclosure of affairs
* In couples therapy, what is the effect of clinicians' clinical/professional
experiences with infidelity (CEI) on their tendency to promote the disclosure of
* In couples therapy, what is the effect of clinicians' personal experiences with
infidelity (PEI) on their tendency to promote the disclosure of affairs?
* In couples therapy, what is the effect of clinicians' family of origin experience
with infidelity (FOHI) on their tendency to promote the disclosure of affairs?
* In couples therapy, what is/are the effects) of two-way interactions involving the
combinations of gender and levels of CEI, PEI, and FOHI, on clinicians'
tendencies to promote the disclosure of affairs?
Organization of the Rest of the Study
The rest of the study is contained within the next four chapters. Chapter 2
contains a review of the body of literature related to the issue of infidelity and disclosure.
Chapter 3 presents the methodology that is used in the study, including the data collected
(expert opinion and pilot study) as part of the process that led to the main phase of this
study. Chapter 4 contains the results of the main study, including the qualitative data
obtained as part of the IPS completion. Chapter 5 includes the discussion, conclusion,
and limitations of the study, as well as recommendations for further research.
REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE
To best understand the subject matter involved in the "disclosure of affairs"
dynamic in the therapy room, affairs and infidelity must be considered in the context of
the practice of psychotherapy in general and in the social context of the times. When
clinicians enter their therapy rooms to treat clients, they bring with them all the elements
that make them who they are and therefore many of the elements that influence the
decisions they make in that room.
As clinicians are called upon by clients to provide specialized treatment, the
clinicians must not only utilize the special knowledge they possess about the subject
matter, the generic clinical skills they have integrated into their modus operandi, and the
special skills required to handle the special problem, they must also call upon their
understanding of the subject matter in the context of the bigger picture-the field of
families and relationship science. Additionally, the clinicians must be cognizant of their
own beliefs, biases, and moral standards, so that they can remain facilitative and not
become shaming or controlling. This is especially important when the issue is a
controversial one like infidelity.
Much has changed since the late 1800s and early 1900s, the days of Sigmund
Freud and Carl Jung, when psychological and psychiatric intervention included only
Psychoanalytic thought and practice (Campbell, 1971; Strachey, 1965), mostly in a male
dominated society in the back wards of mental institutions (Geller & Harris, 1994; Lamb,
Presently, both male and female clinicians have at their disposal a myriad of
clinical models and a variety of approaches with which to practice their art. Sharing with
each other what they do in their therapy rooms can serve as an empowering source of
new learning for the whole clinical community. This chapter describes many of the
facets of clinical practice in the work of navigating infidelity with the couples in therapy.
This literature review is divided into two parts that together create the foundation
for what happens in the therapy room, each day, as the therapist makes important
decisions while assisting his/her clients navigate their ship in the murky waters of the
wake from infidelity and betrayal. Clinicians have a part in setting sail to that ship when
they make the decision to promote the position that a secret affair must be disclosed
during therapy, or else (Brown, E., 1991, 1999; Glass, 2003b; Lusterman, 1998;
Moultrup, 1990; Pittman, 1989; and Schneider, 1988).
Part I of the literature review describes the context within which much treatment
of infidelity occurs--couples. This part, entitled "Couples, Couples and Couples,"
includes seven subsections:
Couples and Family Therapy in Social Context
Transitioning from Modem to Post-Modern Thought
Indications for Couples Therapy
Contraindications for Couples Therapy
Problems in Committed Relationships
Characteristics of Healthy Couples
Common Issues in Committed Relationships
Part II addresses the core of the information most closely pertaining to the subject
matter in this study. Named Love, Sex, and Betrayal," it includes 13 sections:
* Love and Exclusive Commitment, the Big Picture
* Monogamy in the Social Context
* Sex and Human Nature
* Religion, Christianity, and Sexuality
* Infidelity, Adultery and Other Names
* Prevalence Rates of Infidelity
* Attitudes and Gender--Differences Among People
* Theoretical Typologies and Patterns of Infidelity
(divided into 11 subsections: Shirley Glass and Thomas Wright; Frank
Pittman; Emily Brown; Sexual Addiction; David Moulthrop; Imago
Relationship Therapy; Don-David Lusterman; Lana Staheli and Florence
Kaslow; Eaker-Weil and Winter; Subotnik and Harris; Cyber-Infidelity; and
Open Marriage and Swinging)
* Discovery and/or Disclosure
* Clinical Dilemmas in Treatment
* Dilemmas Encountered by Clinicians Working with Infidelity
* The Professional Community Speaks Directly on Infidelity Dilemmas
* A closing statement.
Part I: Couples, Couples, and Couples
Couples and Family Therapy in Social Context
What occurs in the therapy room is the synergistic culmination of many years of
psychotherapeutic evolution that each clinician has internalized and utilizes. The
therapeutic session leans on influences from the past, from the Modernism era, and from
the more contemporary philosophy called Postmodernism.
Gergen (1991) describes the Moder period as a time when the self resided
primarily in a person's ability to reason, to have beliefs and opinions, and to act on
conscious intentions. The Modernists approach advocates for a stable family life, moral
training, and a rational choice of marriage partner. Additionally, assumptions about
reality include the idea that reality is certain, that it is true or false, and that creating
change is a task done from outside of the problem.
The Postmodern movement proposes that the self is surrounded by many truths
(Anderson, 1995) and that the truth is "made up" instead of "found." Reality is socially
constructed within the four covers of society (the evolving self-concept, the moral and
ethical dialogue, the free-styles of art and culture, and the globalization of the world)
through personal perceptions, language usage, and varied worldviews.
Therapy within the Postmodern approach is a collaborative process that includes
the influence of the therapist's presence and the externalizing of problems as existing
outside of the person, as a separate entity, and resolved through the accessing of personal
power and innovations.
Common themes include diversity, inclusivity, collage, and choice. The issue of
equitable power distribution is paramount (Foucault, 1991). This is especially important
to the way gender roles play out in committed relationships. Morality and religion are
important to the context of infidelity because, for many people, morality and religion
guide their behaviors.
Transitioning from Modern to Postmodern Thought
As mentioned before, the Postmodern movement (Anderson, 1995; Foucault,
1991; Gergen, 1991) in society created a new way to conceptualize families-in the
context of their culture and in the context of their unique experience.
The new ways of thinking change the perception of the self (as mates, as females)
and the roles each self plays in life's tasks (Walters, Carter, Pap, & Silverstein, 1988).
With regard to infidelity, as a woman achieved a more powerful status, her role as
subservient (sexually) to males changed. Now, she could refuse sex, and perhaps even
engage in extramarital sex and affairs in her own right, and maybe even enjoy the support
Feminism (Haddock, Zimmerman, & MacPhee, 2000; Rampage, 1995) focused
on the power differential of males and females and criticized many of the premises of
family therapy for their male conceptualized and male dominated foundation. For
example, one major issue that emerged was the need to begin seeing families in their
social-political context (Avis, 1988).
In the family therapy field (which includes couples), an emergence of interest and
focus on power differentials caused by gender issues, ethnic/racial concerns, economic
factors, and sexual identity, occurred (Carter & McGoldrick, 1999; McGoldrick & Preto,
In couples therapy, Boyd-Franklin (1989, 1993) and Boyd-Franklin and Franklin
(1998) voiced the challenges encountered by Black couples. They emphasized the even
more difficult challenges that African-American lesbian couples encounter as a result of
being marginalized twice in society. .. once for being black and once for being gay.
Without a new foundational worldview, the therapist may never be able to place
infidelity in the larger context experienced by the couple.
Falicov (1988, 1995) shed new light on the traditional view of family triangles
(Ackerman, 1966; Bowen, 1978; Haley, 1967, 1976; Minuchin, 1974) by proposing
that-when revisioning family triangles, instead of having as a goal the American
middle-class vision of the family where therapy focuses on restoring boundaries around
the marital couple-the clinician take into account that families from other ethnicities,
races, and social classes may benefit from using other family ties to help resolve the
conflict. A clinician's focusing strictly on placing strong boundaries around a conflicted
couple can block important participation by other family members that would enhance
the resolution of the conflict. Clinicians should refrain from the temptation to
indoctrinate ethnically diverse clients with the dogmas of the dominant white middle-
class culture, including those pertaining to relationship infidelity (Falicov, 1998).
The topic of crimes against women was broached (Bograd, 1999; Goldner, 1999;
Jacobson, 1999). The focus on domestic violence (physical abuse, sexual abuse) became
central in the psychotherapy dialogue following a formal call to action by feminist
clinicians (Avis, 1992; Erikson, 1992). Infidelity is at times a core advent in couples that
engage in abusive and/or violent behaviors.
The advent of the depathologizing of homosexuality and other sexual identity
issues (APA, 1994) rendered as "normal" or "acceptable" a great deal of what was once
considered pathological, and the study of Gay and Lesbian Issues and Models for therapy
emerged (Cass, 1979; Clunis & Green, 1988; Coleman, 1982; Levine & Troiden, 1986,
1988; Liddle, 1995). Sometimes, the extrarelationship affair is with a member of the
same sex, or the primary relationship is a gay or lesbian one and the affair relationship is
heterosexual. When infidelity is due to a sexual addiction, preparing clients to enter
recovery requires their willingness and commitment (Miller & Rollnick, 1991).
New models with a positive focus have been developed. Walsh (1993, 1998,
2003) brought to bare the importance of family strengths and resilience. Walsh (1993)
underscores the anxious effects that come from the tension between the idealized
expectations in our culture and the actual experience of contemporary family life. New
perspectives that can replace the old ideas of what is normal must include the
demystification of myths such as the belief that there is one proper gender role, and the
belief that the melting pot is equitable for both the white dominant culture and minority
cultures. Perhaps, if expectations were different, some of the stressors that contribute to
the high rate of infidelity would be reduced, resulting in a lower rate of infidelity
incidence, and, perhaps, a lower rate of divorce (Pittman, 1989).
Walters, Carter, Pap, and Silverstein (1988) attempted to inspire women to access
their ability to redefine their roles and to access their very unique abilities to recreate
their world within the family and within the larger social context, including ways that
involve their sexuality.
When couples divorce, and many do following the disclosure of an affair,
children's lives change drastically. Braver and Griffin (2000) note the importance of
engaging fathers in the post-divorce family. Marsiglio, Day and Lamb (2000) explore
the diversity of thought involved in researching and creating proper ways to involve
fathers in the postmodern family.
Waters and Lawrence (1993) incorporate the use of competence and courage in
their model for therapy. They note that family therapists have been better at mocking the
medical model than they have been at replacing it. Echevarria-Doan (2001) has proposed
a Resource-based Reflective Consultation model that assists therapists to help their
clients access their own resources and strengths.
A new phenomenon has been infiltrating family life. The invention of the
Internet, cell phones, and digital technology has created new challenges for therapists as
they conduct therapy. Many affairs take place over the Internet, and, because they do not
meet the "traditional" criteria for an affair, are frequently minimized with regard to their
significance and impact on the marriage (Neuman, 2001). New models are underway
and many books have been published as theoretical frameworks for dealing with this
issue (Collins, 1999, Maheu, 2003; Neuman, 2001; Schneider, 2000; Young, Griffin-
Shelley, Cooper, O'Mara, & Buchanan, 2000).
The crisis of infidelity can create a need for the exploration of spiritual issues in
therapy. It is an individualized process for each client, with unique forms of
understanding and practices. It is incumbent on the therapist to prepare himself/herself to
meet whatever challenges the client brings to therapy, without imposing undue moral,
spiritual, or religious doctrine on the client. When the therapist insists on the disclosure
of an affair, he/she must be prepared to help the clients manage the aftermath of
disclosure. Pastors, Christian Counselors, Rabbis, and other clerics must be made
Issues of spirituality and religiosity emerge in therapy on a frequent basis.
Clients present at therapy conflicted by their beliefs vis-a-vis their lifestyles, and may
live in a constant state of guilt and dis-equilibrium. This is especially true when secret
affairs are ongoing, so that life consists of many lies.
The counseling relationship can be a crucible for the creation and enhancement of
spiritual awareness in clients (Hendrix, 19898; Schnarch, 1995, 1997). Several theorists
(Frame, 2000; Hodge, 2000; Patterson, Hayworth, & Turner, 2000) have emphasized the
importance of therapists understanding their own spirituality as a means of understanding
spirituality in diverse forms in clients, and as a means of more holistically responding to
what clients want and need in counseling, including the exploration of spiritual issues.
Traditionally, therapists are trained to clarify their own values, biases, and
perspectives on life, and to develop a theoretical framework from which to draw as they
practice. This is especially true as therapists help clients navigate the murky waters of
the aftermath of betrayal. It is especially important for therapists to be clear as to where
their space ends and the client's begins, and for therapists to commit to ongoing personal
development designed to help them stay ahead of their clients as a way of remaining
facilitative to the clients' growth. All this is with the goal of serving clients well and
meeting them where they are, in their own life's context, within the realm of their
individualized social, psychological and intellectual needs, including those related to
their spiritual and religious beliefs.
Calling on one's spirituality is especially important for some whose coping
mechanisms during a time of extreme trauma or stress (as in the crisis of infidelity) are
weakened. Even therapists who are not trained in religious dogma must be prepared to
give spiritual support to clients whose hearts are so broken (as is often the case with
betrayal) that their ability to think clearly is suspended.
Indications for Couples Therapy
That professional approaches, beliefs, and social contexts change as they evolve
over time has been established in the previous sections. Alan Gurman and Neil Jacobson
(1995) write that one of the most notable changes in relationship therapy is the
supplanting of the word "marriage" with one that is more universal and less value-laden
as a descriptor for committed relationships-"couples."
Beavers (1985) made a case for couples therapy as it began to evolve in the
context of family systems therapy. Beavers suggested that couples therapy is especially
indicated when, in a family, the couple (a) requests couples therapy, (b) neither member
of the couple is psychotic or severely depressed, (c) both members of the couple wish for
the relationship to continue, (d) individual psychotherapy reaches an impasse, and (e)
when, in the therapy room, issues related to individual client's relationship with his/her
partner consistently appears within his/her individual therapy session (that individual's
projection of power, control and responsibility for problems on the spouse) and should be
directly addressed with the spouse's collaboration.
Contraindications for Couples Therapy
The criterion for when couples therapy is indicated has both remained the same
and changed over time-depending on the model of intervention preferred by the
therapist. For example, Harville Hendrix (1988), in his Imago Relationship Therapy
Model (IRT), suggests the suspension of decisions by couples regarding divorce or
separation until the couple has undergone 12 sessions of therapy. The processes
experienced during the sessions will clarify whether a commitment to the relationship
journey is still possible for that couple after each member considers closing the exits that
sabotage the achievement of intimacy and joyful living. An affair is one such exit
according to IRT.
On the other hand, some therapists caution that unless both spouses are
committed to the relationship and its well-being, conjoint couples therapy may be
ineffective (Greenspun, 2000). When couples are divorcing, or when one member of the
couple is coming out as gay or lesbian, they sometimes seek couples therapy. In this
context, it is especially important to establish clear goals for the therapy that reflect the
wishes of both members of the couple. Conjoint therapy might not be appropriate.
Some possible contraindications to couples therapy (conjoint or otherwise)
include the presence of domestic violence or substance abuse, or the existence of a secret
affair. Therapists should be very clear about their policies for approaching therapy in
therapeutic circumstances that can present danger to one or both partners. Greenspun
(2000) proposes that conjoint therapy with couples that engage in violence should be
considered only if and when the abuser (usually the man) takes full responsibility for his
violence, for his capacity to tolerate hearing the woman's description of being victimized
by him, and for his willingness to work towards stopping his abusive behavior. This
must take precedence over any other intervention in couples therapy-including the
disclosure of an affair.
Feminist therapist Bograd (1992) challenges family therapists to approach the
issue of violence in a more rigorous manner during therapy. Bograd and Mederos (1999)
proposed a comprehensive model for screening couples for the purpose of determining
the appropriateness of conjoint therapy if violence is present.
A clinician's professional orientation influences couples work. It is important to
remember that no theoretical model should ever supersede sound, clinical intuition and
judgment. The dilemma that clinicians must resolve here is whether or not it is safe to
facilitate the disclosure or the unearthing of a secret affair in a relationship that is or can
become dangerous-especially if the betrayer is the possible victim of the danger.
Problems in the Couples/Committed Relationship Paradigm
Committed relationships can be challenging and often difficult to manage.
Couples therapists must be aware of and prepared to treat the many presenting problems
that coexist with infidelity and may be brought by couples to therapy. Young and Long
(1998) claim that one in seven marriages are considered unhappy.
Divorce plagues the American family (Gottman, 1994a, 1999a; Wallerstein,
Lewis, & Blakeslee, 2000; Young & Long, 1998). Half of all marriages end up in
divorce, which typically is the result of a relationship laden with conflict. Some theorists
claim that infidelity is the leading cause of divorce (Gottman, 1994b; Pittman, 1987).
Given the bleak picture of committed relationships, the evaluation and treatment
of marital/committed relationship conflict is an essential skill for therapists to master
(Guerin, Fay, Burden, & Kautto, 1987). When assessing couples for treatment planning,
Young and Long (1998) suggest that it be done on an ongoing basis and that, perhaps, the
idea that assessment and treatment are intertwined should be remembered.
In the assessment process, some clinicians believe the individuals must be
assessed first to assure that conjoint therapy is indicated (Bograd, 1992; Bograd &
Mederos, 1999; Rosenbaum & O'Leary, 1986), while others encourage seeing couples
conjointly exclusively (Hendrix, 1988).
Next, the therapist should focus on the problems with the relationships. There are
many ways to accomplish this, with or without formal, structured measuring instruments
(Christiansen, Jacobson, & Babcock, 1995; Gottman, 1976, 1979, 1999b; Hendrix, 1988;
Jacobson, 1977; Jacobson & Christiansen, 1996; Straus, 1979).
One of the most widely used tools is the marital satisfaction inventory (Spanier &
Lewis, 1980). Fredman and Sherman (1987) published a book on assessment tools for
couples and families. During a crisis, the focus of assessment should remain on safety
and the interventions on safety measures (Bograd & Mederos, 1999). Genograms may be
used as an assessment tool to place the couple in its family system context (McGoldrick
& Gerson, 1985; McGoldrick, Gerson & Shellenberger, 1999).
John Gottman (1979, 1980, 1993a, 1993b, 1994a, 1994b, 1999b, 2001) has been
working with couples for many years. In his research, he has been able to predict divorce
with an accuracy rate of 97%. His concept of the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse of
Marriage" (criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling [1999, pp. 41-47]) can
be helpful in designing interventions with couples. The "Sound Marital House" therapy
model (Gottman, 1999a) is his effort that specifically targets these relationships
dynamics. He has also produced a self-help workshop that couples can buy and self-
administer (Gottman, 2001).
Characteristics of Healthy Couples
According to Olson (1993), healthy, strong, resilient couples, like families, are
those who achieve a balance among proper levels of cohesion (emotional bonding,
boundaries, coalitions, time, space, friends, decision-making, interests, and recreation),
flexibility (equitable control, negotiation, roles, and rules), and communication (listening,
speaking, self-disclosure, clarity, respect, and regard). When couples find themselves out
of balance in any or all of the three dimensions, they experience stress and
dissatisfaction. They sometimes turn to people outside their marriage relationship for
comfort and validation.
Wallerstein and Blakeslee (1995), with the intent of learning what is meant by a
"happy" marriage/relationship, conducted a study of couples. They categorized their
information within four patterns of marriage (romantic, rescue, companionate, and
traditional). They discovered that strong, happy, resilient couples are those that
successfully negotiate the nine marriage tasks (separating from family of origin, building
together and creating autonomy, becoming parents, coping with crisis, making a safe
place for conflict, exploring sexual love and intimacy, sharing laughter and keeping
interest alive, providing emotional nurturance, and preserving double vision) while
holding on to me.
In a comprehensive review article of the last decade of empirical research on
marital satisfaction, Bradbury, Finchham, and Beach (2000) conclude that the literature
on the subject shows enhanced understanding of couples vis-a-vis the complex
environments they must adapt to.
The focus of their review includes studies that emphasize the understanding of
(a) interpersonal processes that operate in marriage (cognition, affect, physiology,
behavioral patterns, social support, and violence; (b) marital satisfaction as a function of
the milieus of which the couple are part (presence of children, life stressors, transitions,
economic factors, and perceived mate availability); and (c) ways to conceptualize and
measure marital satisfaction (measuring instruments and self-reports).
Gurman and Jacobson (1995) first declared, and now Johnson and Lebow (2000)
declare, that couples therapy has finally "come of age." In their review of the marriage
and family therapy research over the last 10 years, Johnson and Lebow (2000) establish
the premise that, through couples therapy, distressed, at-risk-for-divorce couples can be
redirected towards wholeness again by enhancing healthy emotional engagement and
connection, enhancing gender equity, and minimizing inhibiting factors.
As the authors review the efficacy of couples therapy, they examine closely
Gottman's work (1994a) and report his findings related to negative emotions and the way
they interface with the presence of criticism, contempt, distancing, and stonewalling in
relationships. When these behaviors become pervasive in a relationship, emotional
engagement (an essential component of healthy, strong, resilient relationships) becomes
impossible. In examining Beavers and Hampson's work (1993), the authors point out the
importance of therapy's fostering responsiveness, fruitful negotiation, and skills for
dealing with conflict.
The groundbreaking work of Jacobson (1985) has brought attention to the
importance of including as essential outcomes in research and therapy not only statistical
significance but clinical meaningfulness. For therapy to be effective, it must move
clients into the satisfied, healthy range of functioning.
Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT) (Hendrix, 1988, 1992) offers a comprehensive
model for addressing relationship needs in couples. Despite the maturation of this model,
little research has been undertaken to determine its efficacy. The primary goals of the
therapy include assisting couples to achieve relaxed joyfulness through the healing of
childhood wounds that tend to play a key part in mate selection and that tend to show up
in a disguised form in the conflict couples experience during the power struggle of the
Patricia Love (2001) proposed 12 steps within four stages (infatuation, post-
rapture, discovery, and connection) to making love last forever. She cautions couples to
recognize that relationships are evolutionary and that couples must be willing to go on
the journey from beginning to end. By first feeling the attraction, then settling into the
more mundane, spending time gathering information about each other, clarifying roles,
defining love, building trust, expanding commitment, deepening connection, forging
friendship, creating a haven, providing support, and, finally, claiming love, will assure a
happy, satisfying couplehood and the minimization of psychological pain.
Many types of marriages/relationship have been identified. Schnarch (1997,
2002) promotes the concept of the passionate marriage. To achieve passion and true
intimacy, couples must work on differentiating from each other.
Schnarch (1997) suggests accomplishing differientation through five activities.
Each member must work at
maintaining a clear sense of who he/she is as intimacy increased
maintaining a sense of perspective about anxieties and other shortcomings about
keeping alive the willingness to engage in self-confrontation to maximize growth
remaining intellectually honest about one's own projections and distortions and
especially being willing to admit being wrong
recognizing and accepting that pain must be tolerated in order for growing to
occur. (p. 324);
Other typologies for relationships also inform the way therapists conceptualize
committed partnerships. Schwartz (1994) promotes the idea of peer marriage and the
importance of equality in love. Thoele (1996) uses a transpersonal model for
relationships in her focus of spirituality in marriage, as she promotes the creation of the
Although not considered a scholar, John Gray (1992) has proposed that men and
women can get along best if they recognize that they are as different as two different
planets (Mars and Venus), and that, as such, they must work on adapting to each other's
cultures and on learning each other's language and worldviews.
Common Issues in Marital/Couples/Committed Relationships Therapy
In couples therapy, many issues emerge that interfere with the achievement of
healthy committed relationships. Some of the most prominent issues are those related to
psychiatric disorders in one or both spouses (Jacobson & Gurman, 1995a). For example,
when alcohol problems are present in one or both spouses, the relationship can become
focused on the addiction (McCrady & Epstein, 1995). The couple's therapy must focus
on the teaching of individual coping skills, on the behaviors of the nonalcoholic partner,
on the interactions between the partners, on the management of the social system outside
the relationship, and, finally, on the teaching of techniques that can help generalize to the
natural environment and that will help maintain the new behaviors. Once the addiction is
under control, the couple can begin working on the other issues in their relationship.
Substance use and abuse has been linked to higher prevalence rates of infidelity, marital
and family violence, and divorce.
The assessment and treatment of marital violence presents with some very special
concerns, not the least of which is whether to see couples in conjoint therapy or each
member of the couple individually (Avis, 1992; Bograd, 1992, 1999; Bograd & Mederos,
1999; Holzwoth-Munroe, Beaty, & Anglin, 1995; Jacobson & Gottman, 1998; Stith &
The existence of undisclosed violence can place partners at a higher risk if
personal disclosures occur in the therapy room. A batterer can be angered during therapy
and then act out his/her anger later at home when the victim is vulnerable and
unprotected. The therapist must remain cognizant of this covert risk and take appropriate
steps to assure the safety of all clients.
Violence (emotional and physical) in couples can increase when the disclosure or
the discovery of an affair/extra-dyadic sex comes to light (Brown, E., 1999). In this case,
the therapist must be prepared to first protect and to then stabilize the situation, and
finally must realign the therapeutic approach with the facts at hand.
Other psychiatric disorders that can be present in couples work are anxiety
disorders (Craske & Zoeller, 1995); depression (Gotlib & Beach, 1995); eating disorders
(Root, 1995), personality disorders (Slipp, 1995) and sexual disorders (Heiman, Epps, &
Ellis, 1995). Grief reactions resulting form loss and other addictions, such as gambling
or overspending, can create havoc in a relationship.
Although, theoretically, divorce ends the existence of the marital dyad in a
family, couples frequently remain connected through conflict, which is then displaced
and projected on the children (Ahrons, 1994). In relationship therapy, saying goodbye
(Hendrix, 1988) in a friendly manner that achieves closure can facilitate a quicker
stabilization of the family, post-divorce (Ahrons, 1994).
When infidelity is the catalyst for divorce, anger and resentment can linger on for
years. Therapists must be sure to assess for any unresolved emotional turmoil that is due
to lack of closure from life's past events. Helping couples create a good divorce can
make a huge difference in their quality of life postdivorce and can help create a happier
environment for the children.
Walsh, Jacob, and Simons (1995) encourage a developmental model that begins
with the evolution of the decision to divorce and proceeds to the management of the
emotional turmoil in the immediate aftermath, the realigning with families and social
support systems, the adjustment of new parenting roles, the adjustment to the resulting
economic distress, and the disruption of the physical and structural dislocation.
Eventually, issues of remarriage and step parenting emerge and must be dealt with
(Visher & Visher, 1993).
Kaslow (1984) noted that each member of the couple (and the children, too) will,
at his/her pace, go through the process of denial, anger, depression, and, finally,
acceptance, within a two to three year period. The couple will experience feelings,
behaviors, and thoughts, through three phases-predivorce decision making, divorce
restructuring, and postdivorce recovery.
Kaslow and Swartz (1987) propose a dialectic model of divorce that
comprehensively lays out feelings, actions, tasks, and therapeutic interventions that
correspond to each of the three stages. Mediation can be used to assist couples through a
more peaceful divorce (Neuman, 1989).
Although the political and social climate couples exist in is quickly changing, gay
and lesbian couples still face special issues when separating because of the lack of legal
status in most of the gay and lesbian relationships. Laird (1993), Sanders (2000), and
Marvin and Miller (2000) point out that gays and lesbians face the issues of losing
children that are not biologically related to them. In couples therapy, gay and lesbian
couples face many challenges that heterosexual couples do not.
Medical conditions can also create the need for specialized therapy. Issues of
death and dying have contributed greatly to the emergence of spirituality counseling.
Spirituality counselors aim to mitigate the transpersonal and the personal.
Rapoport and Rapoport (1971) describe the dual-career couple. Stoltz-Loike
(1992) underscores that this type of couple has become the dominant lifestyle in
America. The dual-career couple has many external stressors that place a burden on the
relationship. Sometimes the members escape into an extramarital affair.
Until 1967, it was illegal in some states for interracial couples to marry.
Intermarriage refers to a committed relationship that includes the added dimensions of
one partner's racial, cultural, and/or religious background as different from his or her
Ho (1990) suggests that intermarriages are like any other union and that although
they may enjoy the added advantages of greater vitality in family living due to the
diversity in the family, the barriers are many at the ecological level and at the spousal
According to Ho (1990), the ecological barriers that can add much conflict to the
lives of intermarried include racism, prejudice, discrimination, social class, immigration
and cultural adjustment, language and physical diversity, extended family problems, and
greater difficulty at adjusting to family life cycles.
Within the realm of spousal interaction, arguments may arise out of conflict due
to food and dining etiquette, festivities and observances, friendships and social network,
financial management, religion, sexual adjustment, childrearing practices, and gender
role expectations. Identifying the couples' values regarding marital fidelity is essential
for best therapeutic outcomes.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI), especially HIV and AIDS, have created a
new awareness in the area of sexuality counseling. Couples who must contend with
infectious disorders require a great deal of psycho-education as part of their therapy
(Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2000). The issue of STIs is a special topic of focus in
couples and individuals who are working through the effects of an affair and/or betrayal.
Many spouses learn of his/her partner's infidelity when they themselves are diagnosed
with an STI.
Irrespective of the presenting issues by couples, the typical interventions include
the teaching of combinations of several of the following skills: communication, conflict-
resolution, self and couple assessment, understanding family of origin, negotiation, role-
playing, behavioral contracts, modeling, paradoxes, giving information, spiritual
reflection, group process, behavioral rehearsals, fun enhancement, mentoring,
restructuring expectations, problem-solving, self-instructions, behavioral tasks, and
giving and receiving nurturing. The therapists or facilitators include both professional
therapists/clinicians and para-professionals.
Many models exist that are designed for the treatment of relationship dysfunction.
Dattilio and Bevilacqua (2000), Jacobson and Gurman (1995a), and Gurman and
Jacobson (2002) have assembled three books that include the major theoretical
framework for couple's therapy.
The prolific work of John Gottman has become a staple in marriage counseling
classes. His model of the Marriage Clinic (1999a) has been packaged not only for
clinicians, but for the community at large. The Acceptance and Change in Couple
Therapy (Jacobson & Christiansen, 1996) has provided an integrated model that is
applicable and useful in many circumstances.
Whatever model of therapy a clinician adopts, the desired outcomes remain the
same: marital/relationship happiness and good quality of life that includes emotional,
physical and spiritual connection.
Part II: Love, Sex, and Betrayal
Love and Exclusive Commitment: The Big Picture
A relationship model that includes romantic love, sex, affection, friendship, and
family roles, all in one single relationship, is a relatively new phenomenon. A glimpse at
the evolution of love and sex throughout time provides a useful perspective for present
views on love, sex, exclusive commitment, and monogamy in relationships.
Taylor (1970) describes the evolution of man-woman relationships over a 3200-
year span. His work, similar to that of the social constructivists (Anderson, 1995;
Dickens & Fontana, 1994; Gergen, 1991, 1994), underscores the idea that reality is
contextually created and that humans must be understood in light of the times they live
in, and in light of their experiences, values, attitudes, worldviews, and culture.
The History of Love (www.noe-tech.com/pleasures/history.html, 2004)
summarizes the evolution of love in the following way. In the Grecian Era, we discover
that, in Ancient Greece (450 BC 1300 AD), a sexual double standard existed between
men and women. Women were expected to remain virtuous while men were free to
enjoy sex. In the Golden Age of Greece (450 BC 27 BC), high-class prostitutes were
considered superior to wives and to other virtuous women. Men expected faithful love
from their women-but earned it through gifts and tricks. Men in love were considered
ill. Love was not connected to marriage.
In the Roman Empire (27 BC 385 AD), love was lusty, guilt-free, deceitful, and
unfaithful. In 2 BC, Ovid wrote a manual for sex and adultery that contained items such
as descriptions of sexual positions and how to achieve mutual orgasm. During the
decline of the Roman Empire, as Christianity was emerging, all evils were linked to sex
In the Dark Ages (385 AD 1000 AD), Christians promoted sex as a guilty and
sinful act. Eroticism increased as sex became more forbidden. In the fifth century,
marriage came under clerical domination and sex was viewed as unromantic, harsh, ugly,
and punishable. Women became sexual property of men. Christian marital sex was
performed only in one position and never during holy days. Sex without values
(prostitutes, orgy, rape, or sadistic) was not a serious offense. Sex with value (loving or
valuing a woman) was a high sin.
Courtly love arrived in the pre-Renaissance era (1000 1300), when the romantic
ideal began to emerge. Courtly love was a clandestine, bittersweet relationship that,
although spiritually uplifting, was highly frustrating because it was unrequited. Courtly
love also introduced the elements of an emotional relationship between men and women
for the first time (primarily in the noble class).
The Renaissance period reintroduced physical love into the culture. Women were
viewed as "evil" if they engaged in sex. Love and marriage were combined for the first
time when Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn. Mind and body began to be associated.
The middle class began associating sex and love in the same way that the upper class had
In the Puritan period (1500-1700), two factions of society existed. Those
following Martin Luther underscored the value-oriented meaning of love, sex, and
romance, while those following John Calvin could not dance, or wear jewelry or fancy
clothes. Adultery carried the death penalty. Legitimate love was regulated and was
intended only for reproduction and to eliminate incontinence.
The Age of Reason (1700-1800) brought a de-emphasis of sex; women of
intellect were pursued. Men were deemed Don Juans (wanting to make sexual
conquests) who used love to seduce women. The culture of the Victorian period (1800-
1900) required women to be shy and virginal. Women had to be morally spotless and, at
the same time, a love partner for their husbands and not just "housemaids." The Surgeon
General declared that decent women should feel no pleasure during intercourse and that,
if she did, she was pathological and at risk for sterility. This period resulted in much
fantasy about sex (the popularity of prostitution and pornography rose dramatically).
The emancipation of women began during the Capitalism era (1850-1900). As
the 20th century emerged (1900-1930), so did the idea that romantic love was the basis
for choosing a life-long partner. The sexual desires of both partners could be satisfied.
Lovemaking was separated from procreation, and the sexual revolution began.
The Modem and Postmodern periods (1930-2004) brought the concept of open
marriages, progressive polygamy and sexual enjoyment. Psychological aspects of self
(esteem and happiness) were (and are) acknowledged to be important to quality of life.
Today, romantic love is part of everyone's goal. Its value is that it fulfills emotional
needs and promotes happiness.
Monogamy in Social Context
Sociologist Sanderson (2001) explores monogamy and polygamy within the
context of Evolutionary Psychology. He proposes that polygamy results primarily from
male rather than female choice, as suggested by Kanazawa and Still (1999), because it
flows out of the male sexual desire for variety. Monogamy, on the other hand, is
imposed by nations on their men in order to equalize reproductive opportunities. He
describes women from poor areas as more likely to choose polygamy because poor
women would rather be the last wife of a rich man than the only wife of a poor man.
Sanders (2001) presents a study conducted by Murdock and White (1969) and
later examined by White (1981), which studied 186 societies in the Ethnographic Atlas
(Murdock, 1967) using a cross-cultural sample. He reported that between 20% and 49%
of males in the sample were polygamously married in 32% of societies, and half or more
of the male population was involved in polygamous marriages in 9% of the societies
under review. He applied a five-point scale (monogamy prescribed, monogamy preferred
but some polygamy, polygamy preferred by leaders, polygamy preferred by men of
wealth and rank, and polygamy preferred and attained by most men) to find that
polygamy was moderately correlated with the contribution made by women to
agriculture. He concluded that men are more motivated toward polygamous marriages
when women's economic value is high and that men in all societies desire sexual variety
and will take advantage of opportunities for it when they present themselves.
Sex and Human Nature
Barash and Lipton (2001), a zoologist and a psychiatrist, teamed up to examine at
length the concept of monogamy. They note that within the natural universe, there is
powerful evidence that human beings are not "naturally" monogamous. Whether humans
should be monogamous is not their pursuit, but they caution their readers that monogamy
is unusual and difficult despite the fact that humans can be monogamous. They
acknowledge that for many people, monogamy is synonymous with morality and that for
many, even desire-at-a-glance is considered a sin. They offer the idea that social
monogamy (learned through training) is different than genetic monogamy (which is more
Many theories of sex exist (Karlem, 1971). May (1988) proposes that sex
manifests itself in our lives through four theories that are concurrent, conflicting, and
mischievous in all of us. He states that we view sex as demonic, divine, casual, or
nuisance, and that each of these theories has its roots in a different cultural tradition and
context. He suggests that the demonic theory is rooted in the Victorian era, the divine in
the Romantic era, and the casual in the Liberal era, and that the nuisance theory is part of
the British/Satirist tradition of formality. He concludes that consciously acknowledging
this reality will enable us to better enjoy and participate in sexual pleasure.
LeVay (1994) believes that there are two contrasting ideas regarding sex. The
first holds that all people are born with very similar brains and that everything (sexual
lives, inner desires, inhibitions, fulfillment, and external life of sexual and reproductive
activity) is shaped by the environment. The second declares that each person's brain is
preprogrammed to function in a certain way-male or female, gay or straight,
promiscuous or celibate-and that these characteristics will emerge without regard to
Religion, Christianity and Sexuality
Exploring human sexuality within the context of religion can shed light on the
positions clinicians trained in various areas of pastoral/religious counseling take in their
therapy rooms. Some clients prefer a therapist who shares their religious worldviews and
guides them accordingly.
Balswick and Balswick (1999) present the idea of authentic-human-sexuality. By
this, they propose that Christians should consider living an authentic life that includes a
commitment to God and to clean living. Homosexuality is suspect for people of God.
Sexuality is seen as a gift from God that should be expressed in the context of
spirituality. Balswick and Balswick propose that human sexuality has many facets
existing as a result of biological and socio-cultural contributors, and that human sexuality
has four dimensions: natal sex, identity, gender role, and sexual orientation.
In theology, sexual relationships can exist only within commitment, grace, and
the desire to serve and be served. Despite the fact that the four dimensions of human
sexuality are innate and natural, any sexual expression that violates these boundaries is,
according to the mandates of churches, sinful.
Historically, churches have tried to channel sexuality towards heterosexual
marriage or celibacy, and have banned all other forms of sexual expression. This can
have very serious ramifications to couples that are sexually unconventional.
Ellingson, Tebbe, Van Haitsma, and Laumann (2002) conducted a study that
analyzed religion vis-a-vis the politics of sexuality. They used data from open-ended
interviews with religious leaders and other area residents in three Chicago neighborhoods
to determine how sexual norms and practices tend to shape the way congregations
respond to sexuality issues.
According to Ellingson et al. (2002), the challenges faced by most churches are
two: effectively responding to environmental trends and successfully integrating the
members of the congregation. The constraints that churches face include the canons of
beliefs and practices that they must follow, and responding effectively and efficiently to
the dynamics of the neighborhoods they serve, especially to the sexual culture of their
constituents. Many churches, such as the Roman Catholic Church and most of the
Protestant denominations, have specific prescriptions that must be advanced. When this
is the case, a therapist whose training includes these rules will more than likely try to
integrate them into his/her approach to his/her work.
The key informants who were most tentative with their responses in this study
were the African-American clergy and members of the gay and lesbian communities,
who feared political fallout. Interestingly, the authors conclude that religious leaders
address sexuality issues more as a reaction to local culture, composition of membership
pools, and identity of their mission, and less on policy, doctrine, and theological
orientation. This is good news for those clients who wish to retain their connection to
their places of worship and yet lead a life that might not be congruent with all of its
It appears that church leaders negotiate among the many constraints they face and
control, accommodate, and tolerate. This has many implications for clinicians who are
trained in the context of religious dogmas, and lends credence to the idea that pastoral
counselors must use their clinical and spiritual judgment when counseling their clients
and not simply the dogmas they study.
Scholars are working toward improving the way religion responds to human
needs. Steensland et al. (2000) ambitiously embarked on the task of measuring American
religion. They recognize that Americans are more religious than other citizens in most
other industrialized countries.
According to the authors, religious worldviews shape social and political attitudes
more than social class, educational achievement, and other sociological factors. This
notion has great implication for counseling, especially in the area of sexuality counseling,
gender identity, and extramarital sex. Slowinski (2002) urges therapists to develop a
willingness to interface religious issues (conscience, sexual scripts, worldview, moral
values, the role of scriptures, and religious tradition) in the therapy room. Gamson
(2001) cautions against embracing sex scandals within institutions as "normal sins." His
concern is that normalizing sexual scandals will create new, acceptable social norms that
have the potential to normalize antisocial behaviors.
The work of Thomas Moore (1990), a former Roman Catholic monk, advances
Carl Jung's and Robert Bly's philosophy of the human shadow and the dark side of
womana. Moore's work points out the dichotomy of human nature-the Libertine
(wild/evil) side and the Justine (pure/angelic) side, and their role in sexual dynamics.
The perspective one brings to the table will determine the approach one takes
when evaluating the quality of his/her conduct, morals, and ideas. As counselors and
therapists, the perspective one embraces strongly influences the types of interventions
one employs with clients. Knowing one's own convictions and biases about religion, as
well as other aspects of the human condition vis-a-vis one's own existence and the
existence of others, can make one a more effective therapist. Knowing how one's gender
and one's professional and personal experiences with infidelity impact the work he/she
does, can assist the clinician to be more cautious and honest with himself/herself and
with the clientss.
Infidelity, Adultery, and Other Names
Thompson (1983), in his review of the literature on extramarital sex, clarifies the
difference between infidelity and adultery. Adultery is a legal term that is appropriate in
referring to sexual relations with anyone other than one's spouse. Infidelity, on the other
hand, is the violation of a promise or vow. Thompson cites Bernard (1974) as pointing
out that, in the strictest sense, infidelity occurs not only when extra marital sexual
relations occur but when one or both spouses cease to love, honor, cherish, or comfort
one another. This is an interesting idea and gives credence to some of the theoretical
models that view infidelity as resulting from the collective interactions between both
spouses (Beavers, 1985; Cashdan, 1988; Hendrix, 1988; Wallerstein & Blakeslee, 1995).
In this sense, any time a mate slacks off in his/her focus on the partner, he/she is
committing an infidelity.
Boylan (as cited in Thompson, 1983) includes the fulfillment of emotional and
psychological needs outside the primary relationship as part of the definition of infidelity.
When couples are not married but are dating or cohabiting instead, the parallel behaviors
have different nomenclature. The term used is "extradyadic relationship" (Thompson,
1982). Extramarital or extradyadic relationships usually take place without the
knowledge of the other partner (Hite, 1981) and are usually secretive.
Other types of "extra" relationships involve the knowledge of both partners.
Comarital sex (Knapp, 1975, 1976; Rubin & Adams, 1986), and swinging, mate
swapping, group sex, group marriage, and multilateral relations (Jenks, 1998) fall under
this umbrella. Other terms encountered in the literature are intimate friendships (Ramey,
1977b) and affair (Whitehurst, 1969).
Thompson (1983) also includes extramarital intercourse, extramarital sex, and
cheating as part of the list. He points out the need for operationalizing all the various
definitions. Buunk (1980) introduced a continuum composed of behaviors that pertain to
the lack of loyalty in couples' behaviors. He proposed a list that includes flirting, light
petting, falling in love, sexual intercourse, and prolonged sexual relationship.
In his desire to provide clarity to the topic, Thompson (1983) created three
conditions to consider when organizing information about extra relationship behaviors.
The first is the nature of the behaviors (consensual/sanctioned vs. secretive/nonconsensual).
The second is the nature of the relationship that the behaviors violate (extramarital,
extracohabiting, extramultilateral). And the third condition is the description of the
actual behaviors (intercourse, petting, kissing, and homosexual genital contact).
Prevalence Rate of Infidelity
The prevalence of extramarital/extradyadic relationships has been the question for
many researchers over time (Athanasiou et al., 1970; Bell, Turner, & Rosen, 1975; Billy,
Tanfer, Grady, and Klepinger, 1993; Buunk, 1980; Forste & Tanfer, 1996; Hite, 1981;
Hunt, 1974; Johnson, 1970a, 1970b; Kinsey et al., 1948, 1953; Laumann, Gagnon,
Michael, & Michaels, 1994; Leigh, Temple, & Trocki, 1993; Maykovich, 1986;
Pietropinto & Simenauer, 1977; Wiederman, 1997; Yablonsky, 1979). The most widely
cited research project on prevalence is that of Kinsey et al. (1948, 1953). In this national
study, 3088 men of all ages and 2000 women under 40 years of age were surveyed on
their extramarital intercourse habits. The analysis of the data showed that 50% of men
and 26% of women were engaging in extramarital coitus.
Wiederman (1999a) is a critic of this study. He points out that the sample used in
the study, which was massive, was not representative of the United States population, and
that, nonetheless, researchers have adopted what Wiederman calls "the myth" of the 50%
rule and have used it as an assumption in much research.
Other prevalence outcome studies include findings similar to those of Kinsey et
al. (1948, 1953). For example, Athanasiou et al. (1970), who surveyed 8000 married
men and women of all ages (3/4 of them under 35 years old), found that 40% of men and
36% of women engaged in extramarital relationship; Johnson (1970a, 1970b), who
surveyed 100 middle aged, reporting strong stability couples, found that 20% of the men
and 10% of the women had engaged in extramarital relations.
Similarly, Hunt (1974), whose sample included 982 males and 1044 females,
found a prevalence rate of 41% for males and 18% for females. Some, using only
females in their samples-Bell et al. (1975) (N = 2262); and Maykovich (1986) (N = 100
white-middle class American women aged 35-40, and N = 100 middle class Japanese
women aged 35-40)-found that 26%, 32%, and 27% of the women, respectively, were
involved in extramarital intercourse.
Interestingly, those using only males in their samples-Pietropinto and
Simenauer (1977) (N=4066); Yablonsky (1979) (N=771); and Hite (1981)
(N=7239)-found that 47%, 47%, and 66%, respectively, of the men cheated on their
spouse or girlfriend. Buunk (1980) surveyed 125 Dutch males and females and found
that 43% of the males and 32% of the females were involved outside their relationship.
Contrary to the findings of the earlier studies, Billy et al. (1993), who surveyed a
national sample of males aged 20-39 years, found an incidence rate of only 4%, and
Forste and Tanfer (1996), who surveyed a national sample of women aged 20-37 years,
also found only a 4% prevalence rate. Similarly, Leigh et al. (1993) found a prevalence
rate of 3.6% to 6.4%. Slightly higher percentages were found by Laumann et al. (1994),
where research shows that 3.8% of males and females combined had an extramarital
partner in the past year, while 24.5% of ever-married men and 15% of ever-married
women had cheated on their mates.
Although the sex research has yielded a myriad of data, the literature indicates
that research on the topic of extramarital sexual behavior is problematic because of the
inhibiting nature of the subject (Bullough, 1986; Catania, 1999; Catania, McDermott, &
Pollack, 1986; Morokoff, 1986; Ochs & Binik, 1999). Some of the problems with the
research include nonrepresentative samples, poor reliability of responses due to self-
report inhibitors, volunteer bias, and social desirability problems-attributable in large
part to the sensitivity of the topic of sexuality (Bullough, 1986).
Some researchers endorse further work on the use of theory in sexuality research
and point out in their publications that theory is the missing piece in that field (Edwards,
1973; Weis, 1998). Carballo, Cleland, Carael and Albrecht (1989) propose a fully
developed research agenda for further studies that address conceptual frameworks and
content of interview schedule. There are many articles on current ways of measuring
human sexuality in research (Gribble, Miller, Rogers, & Turner, 1999; Lundervold &
Belwood, 2000; Pinney, Gerrard, & Denney, 1987). Wiederman (1999b) proposes that
"policy capturing" methodology be utilized when conducting sexuality research. He
believes that this is a more direct way of quantifying the factors that influence
respondents' judgment when they participate in studies. They affirmed what Rosenblatt
(1966) found earlier-that societies that allow premarital and extramarital sex for both
males and females rate romantic love much higher than societies that have a double
standard between males and females.
Widmer, Treas, and Newcomb (1998) studied the attitudes towards nonmarital
sex in 24 countries. A cluster analysis revealed the existence of 6 groupings for the 24
countries vis-a-vis similarities towards moral beliefs. The overall results of the 24
countries (Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, East Germany, West
Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New
Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Spain,
Sweden, and USA) were the following: 66% said that extramarital sex is always wrong;
21% said that it is almost always wrong; 9% said it is wrong only sometimes; and 4% felt
that it is not wrong at all. Interestingly, when asked about their attitudes towards
homosexual sex, 59% of the same group responded that it is wrong all the time, 9% said
almost all of the time, 9% said some of the time, and 24% said that it is not wrong at all.
In reviewing three decades of trends in sexual permissiveness in the Netherlands,
Kraaykamp (2001) concluded that the most important influence on whether attitudes
change or not is the trend related to structural developments (time periods) in which
everybody in society is affected. It was interesting to note in his findings that churches
have been able to keep their members from developing more permissive attitudes over
time and that with the exception of sex before marriage where there was a convergence in
the gap between men and women, gender differences in attitudes remained constant.
In this longitudinal study that utilized 8 surveys, Kraaykamp (2001) indicates that
since 1960 tolerance for extramarital sex has increased and that the most notable jump in
permissiveness was from 1965 to 1970. Forty-eight percent of his sample (N = 15,490)
felt that unfaithfulness does not indicate a bad marriage, 19.45% said that a single affair
does no harm to a good marriage, and 39.1% said that it is acceptable for a married man
to have an affair.
Hunt (1974) studied the range of sexual behaviors (N = 2026) experienced by
adults in the United States. His results support the idea that greater sexual experience is
alive and well in contemporary times. People, in general, are experimenting more,
demanding more from their sexual experiences, and enjoying more.
Attitudes and Gender Differences Among People
deMunck and Andrey (1999) propose that when romantic love is the basis for
marriage in a society, it reflects a culture that allows both males and females to give or
not give love freely. For them, romantic love is nothing more than the result of sexual
attraction and passion. Romantic love is an indicator of sexual equality between the
Glass and Wright (1988) and Rodgers (2001) report that the literature reflects that
males experience more extramarital sex than do women and have more extramarital
partners than do women. Men also tend to be more approving of extramarital sex (Glass
& Wright, 1992; Wiederman & LeMar, 1998).
Schackelfold and Buss (1997b) studied cues that might pertain to infidelity
(physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, and behavioral). They asked participants (N = 230,
114 men and 116 women, college age) to pick out information from four vignettes that
indicated to them the presence of an affair in the relationship of the protagonists in the
vignettes, and concluded that women have a lower threshold for inferring infidelity than
Men are more prone to be unfaithful (Fisher, 1987; Hite, 1987). Spanier and
Margolin (1983) found that men experience less guilt when unfaithful and feel more
justified in their behavior.
Glass and Wright (1992) report that more people disapprove of extramarital
involvement than engage in it. They observe that men and women seem to follow
different codes of extra marital behaviors. Their findings indicate that the primary
justifications for an affair are three: sex, romantic love, and emotional intimacy needs.
With regard to gender differences and justifications, they found that men are more
approving of sexual justification (for themselves), while women are more approving of
emotional justification (for themselves).
When an extra relationship affair is present, a women is more pained by her
mate's emotional involvement with the third party, while a man tends to be more pained
by his mate's sexual involvement with the third party (Glass & Wright, 1992; Mongeau,
Hale & Alles, 1994; Wiederman & LaMar, 1998). Interestingly, Wiederman and LaMar
also found that men were most upset by male-female sexual infidelity, whereas women
found male-male sexual infidelity most upsetting. The study controlled for religiosity,
sex-love-marriage association beliefs, erotophobialerotophilia, and erotization of same-
gender sexual contact. Their conclusion remained that both genders are most upset by
the third party of an affair being male.
Scott and Sprecher (2000) reviewed a decade of literature pertaining to sexuality
in marriage, dating, and other relationships. They discovered that 70% to 80% of
Americans express complete disapproval of extramarital involvement. Thompson (1983)
found that permissive attitudes towards extramarital sex are mostly associated with a
person's premarital sexual permissiveness, high education, low religiosity, and being
male. This finding seems to suggest that the same attitudes described by Hunt (1994)
and Taylor (1970) in their study of the historical evolution of love, sex, and marriage,
persist in today's society.
Liu (2000) applied the law of diminishing marginal utility and human capital
theory to explain that, in marriage, the decline in a couple's interest in marital sex is
linked to the length of the relationship.
Theoretical Typologies, Patterns of Infidelity and Relationship Dynamics
Dante Alighieri's metaphor for hell, purgatory, and paradise in his Divine
Comedy, translated and presented by Mandelbaum (1980, 1982, 1984) can be used to
describe the journey experienced by clients as they fall into the pit (hell), slowly ascend
towards atonement (purgatory), and, ultimately, through forgiveness, proceed to trust and
rebirth (heaven). The therapist or counselor is the guide (Virgil) and must be a skilled
navigator to assist clients in reaching their desired destination.
In reviewing the theoretical information relating to patterns of infidelity, this
writer identified several typology models in the literature (Brown, 1989, 1991; R. Brown,
1999; Collins, 1999; Glass & Wright, 1985, 1988, 1992; Hendrix 1988; Lusterman, 1998;
Kaslow, 1993; Maheu, 2003; Moultrup, 1990; Pittman, 1987, 1989; Staheli 1995).
Additionally, literature on alternative lifestyles (open marriages and swinging) also exist
(Jenks, 1985; Knapp, 1976; O'Neill & O'Neill, 1972; Rubin & Adams, 1986). And
finally, literature on sexual addiction provides insight into the life of compulsive sexual
activity that frequently translates into extramarital sex (Carnes, 1991, 1992; Schneider,
Corley, & Irons, 1998).
Shirley Glass and Thomas Wright
In the sex research literature, the work of Glass (2003b) and Glass and Wright
(1985) is frequently cited. Glass and Wright (1988) oppose the assumption many
researchers make when they define affairs as exclusively extramarital sex. They point
out that the term extramarital involvement and extramarital sex are not interchangeable
descriptors when referring to "extra" relationships. In their own work (1985, 1992), they
identified three types of affairs: (a) emotional involvement; (b) sexual involvement; and
(c) sexual and emotional combination involvement.
They differentiate between emotional and sexual affairs by the types of behaviors
included in the relationship. In an emotional affair (unlike in a friendship), secrecy,
intimacy and sexual chemistry are present. Even when spouses are aware of the
relationship, there is a part of that relationship that remains secret. In their earlier study
of extramarital sex (EMS), Glass and Wright (1985) noted a variety of intimate behaviors
that can be part of a secret relationship and that can cause marital distress if discovered.
They propose that the "extra" relationship exists on a continuum from "slight" to
"extremely deep." The sexual intimacies they observed include kissing, petting, sexual
intimacy without intercourse, and intercourse. The intensity of the "extra" relationship
changes, depending on what constitutes the relationship (e.g., one-night stand, long
term). Glass and Wright (1988) urge therapists to conceptualize affairs within a broad
range of emotional and sexual experience.
Frank Pittman, in his work alone (1987, 1989) and in work with a colleague
(Pittman & Wagers, 1995), has proposed that affairs are not necessarily the result of a
problem filled marriage. He believes that affairs sometimes happen simply because the
person wanted to have an affair. Pittman drew on extensive work with couples over three
decades to conclude and propose that there are four types of affairs: (a) accidental
infidelity; (b) philandering; (c) romantic affairs; and (d) marital arrangements.
In accidental infidelity, the person finds himself/herself in an unplanned
involvement. This type of affair does not include love and usually occurs when one is
alone, when his/her partner is not available due to medical problems, pregnancy, or other
reasons. Usually, these affairs are the result of bad judgment and pass as quickly as they
Philandering refers to the circumstance of a person making a career of
participating in affairs. In these affairs, Pittman (1987, 1989, 1991) believes that if the
person is male, he is fearful of women and works at avoiding intimacy and being
controlled. If the person is female, she is looking for Mr. Perfect. The affairs are
exciting to the participants and have a certain dangerousness associated with them.
Romantics engage in romantic affairs. It is not uncommon for people involved in
romantic affairs to be trying to escape a boring life. Frequently, one person will be "in
love" while the other is simply involved for the sex. Two romantics together might leave
their other relationships in pursuit of a better life. These affairs usually cause a great deal
of pain to everyone involved.
Marital arrangements suit those people who openly or discreetly have agreed to
see other people outside their marriages. The goal is to establish distance while
maintaining some connection (perhaps because of children). Also a part of this pattern
are behaviors designed to arouse the partner (e.g., flirtation, jealousy, revenge affairs).
Emily Brown (1989, 1991) offers a five-pattern typology for conceptualizing
affairs: (a) conflict avoidance affairs; (b) empty nest affairs; (c) out-of-the-door affairs;
(d) intimacy avoidance affairs; and (e) sexual addict's affairs. Each of these patterns
serves a different purpose in the primary relationship.
A conflict-avoidance affair usually presents itself because the couple is frustrated
and does not know how to address and resolve conflict. This type of affair involves the
male or female-typically aged 20 to 30 years and having been in the marriage for fewer
than 12 years. The affair is usually brief and includes only a minimal level of emotional
The empty-nest affair is one where a person, usually male around the age of 40
years or more who has been in a long-term marriage (usually 20 years and up), finds
himself unfulfilled in his relationship after the children leave home. During this time,
when the couple's developmental impulse mandates (Rock, 1986) reorganizing around
one another now that the children no longer live at home, a person may find
himself/herself unable to reconnect with his/her partner and, instead, becomes involved
in an affair.
The out-of-the-door affairs usually take place in marriages that are younger than
15 years and are created to prompt the other partner to end the relationship. The
betrayer, who is conflicted over family should and his/her own wants, is unwilling to
take responsibility for ending the relationship and, unable to face ending the marriage,
banks on his/her partner to do so when he/she learns about the affair.
The purpose of an intimacy-avoidance affair is to create distance between the two
marital partners. Usually, after the first 5 or 6 years of marriage, when the couple has
jelled and become very intimate, the 20- to 30-year-old male or female will get involved
in a brief fling that will put some distance between himself/herself and his/her partner.
Either or both members of the couple might have an affair during this time in their
The purpose of the sexual addict's affairs is to make conquests and to engage in
some daring and dangerous behaviors. This'affair is prevalent among males of all ages
and is not associated with length of the primary relationship. Usually, the addict feels
empty inside and tries to fill the void by jumping from relationship to relationship
without any emotional involvement. This type of affair causes much damage and
humiliation to everyone involved.
E. Brown (1999) revised her typology and replaced the empty-nest and the out-of-
the-door affairs with the split-self and the exit affairs. The split-self affair is one that
typically takes place in midlife and tends to be serious, long-term, and passionate. It is
rooted in childhood. The betrayer struggles between choosing the affair or the marriage.
The exit affair occurs when the marriage has deteriorated and the situation is
unclear as to how it should be ended. The affair provides a viable reason to leave the
marriage and typically, one spouse has already decided to leave. The members of the
couple tend to blame the affair for the breakup of the marriage in lieu of looking to the
problems in the marriage prior to the affair as the cause of the breakup.
Other theorists and therapists who have studied sexual addiction include
Bradshaw (1988, 1990, 1992), Carnes (1991, 1992), Levine and Troiden (1988),
Schneider, Corley, and Irons (1998) and Woititz (1989). Carnes' work on sexual
addiction conceptualizes sexual addiction as a progressive disease that intensifies in
involvement over time.
This four-step cycle starts with preoccupation, the first stage, wherein the addict's
mind is completely engrossed in thoughts of sex that create an obsessive search for
sexual stimulation. Next the addict progresses to creating patterns (ritualization-the
second stage), which lead to sexual behaviors and additional obsessive thinking. As the
addict becomes more engrossed in his addiction, he/she moves to the next phase,
compulsive sexual behavior. Here, the actual sex act is ritualized and the obsessive
search for new partners intensifies. In the last phase, despair, the addict feels
overwhelming hopelessness and powerlessness.
Schneider (1988), Schneider, Corley, and Irons (1998), and Schneider and
Schneider (1989, 1990, 1996) have made major contributions to the field of sexual
addictions and its treatment. Bradshaw (1988, 1990, 1992) and Woititz (1989) link
sexual addiction to shame, resulting from the individual having grown up in a
dysfunctional addictive family.
Not all theorists support the idea of sexual addiction. Levine and Troiden (1988)
argue against the whole premise on which sexual compulsivity is based. They believe
that what appears like sexual compulsion is in fact the result of cultural relativity
(construct) similar to other constructs that describe mental illness. In their work, they
point out that the nomenclature and criteria for describing sexual addiction behavior(s)
are flawed and value laden. They proclaim that sexual compulsivity is not inherently
pathological and that it is the result of learned patterns that are stigmatized by dominant
institutions and so are judged as bad. They urge mental health professionals to remain
cautious about "endorsing concepts which may serve as 'billy clubs' for driving the
erotically unconventional into the traditional sexual fold" (p. 361).
Moultrup's (1990) conceptualization of affairs is rooted in Bowenian theory
(1987) and includes the concepts of differentiation, triangulation, multigenerational
patterns and systemic regulation of anxiety. This framework in endorsed by other
theorists and clinicians (Schnarch, 1991). Moultrup emphasizes the systemic and
strategic significance of affairs in relationships and underscores the idea that inequitable
power hierarchies and alliances are present in the affected relationships. These
hierarchies and alliances must be reconfigured in the treatment of affairs. The less
powerful (the betrayed) partner must be willing to stand on his/her own two feet and
make independent requests (with consequences) of his/her partner.
IMAGO Relationship Therapy (IRT) Model
In IRT (Hendrix, 1988, 1992; Hendrix & Hunt, 1997), affairs are conceptualized
as exits (violations of relationship boundaries) that will greatly damage a relationship.
Affairs, along with addictions and insanity, are considered overly open boundaries that
must be closed so that the couple can use the energy that escapes out of these apertures to
work on the relationship with each other.
R. Brown (1999) points out that 60% of couples who are afflicted with an affair
will end up in divorce. He further asserts that affairs take place because there is an
unmet need from childhood that is longing to be filled. He also proposes that affairs do
not happen in relationships that are experienced as safe and passionate. This notion is
not supported by all those who theorize about affairs (Levine & Troiden, 1988; Pittman,
The IRT typology is proposed by Hendrix (1988). R. Brown (1999) describes the
IRT typology in detail. In IRT, affairs are conceptualized as a response to wounding that
occurred during the individual's psychological and social journey of his/her
development. This concept is rooted in depth psychology (Jung, 1971), and separation-
individuation object-relations theory (Mahler, Pine, & Bergman, 1975). The actual IRT
developmental paradigm (Hendrix, 1988) is made up of seven stages. The model for
addressing affairs utilizes only four of those seven stages (attachment, exploratory,
identity, and concern). The four types of affairs serve to meet the unmet needs of
childhood that remain unmet in the primary relationship (the marriage).
The first type is the attachment affair. This affair, which is an exit from an
avoider/clinger relationship dynamic, is for the purpose of being held close and being
touched. The second type of affair, the exploratory affair, which is part of the
distancer/pursuer dynamic, serves as the tool to manage closeness between the couple.
The identity affair is one that involves a couple who tend to be diffuse/rigid, respectively.
In this affair, the members of the couple seek to feel more in control or to become more
visible through the relationship with the lover. In the competence affair, where the
couple is made up of a competitor and a passive compromiser, the infidel seeks to soothe
insecurities stemming from feelings of incompetence or helplessness and uselessness in
Lusterman (1998) defines infidelity as the breaking of trust and states that it
occurs "when one partner in a relationship continues to believe that the agreement to be
faithful is still in force while the other partner is secretly violating it" (p. 3). His
theoretical typology includes eight conceptualizations for infidelity: one night stands;
philandering; sexual identity affairs; sexual addiction or Don Juanism; exploratory
affairs; tripod affairs; retaliatory affairs; and exit affairs.
One night stands are extra-relationship sexual encounters that occur due to
unusual circumstances or convenience. They happen one time only as a result of
someone finding himself/herself in a unique situation. Typically, the person feels remorse
and learns from his/her experience. He/she may or may not tell his/her partner about it.
Philandering involves the systemized, consistent pursuit of sexual conquests that
are typically impersonal and compulsive. If remorse exists on the part of the betrayer, it
is usually because the person regrets having been discovered. He/she might stop his/her
behavior if the stakes are great enough.
Sexual identity affairs are the result of conflicted feelings regarding ones own
sexuality. Thoughts of being gay, lesbian, or bisexual remain so deeply buried and
repressed from adolescence that eventually they emerge later in life. The person may
now be ready to explore those old impulses repressed from earlier stages of development
that he/she finds himself/herself involved in a secret life that includes betraying his/her
Sexual addition or Don Juanism refers to the compulsive need to engage in sexual
activity. The affairs are nonemotional, nonromantic, and nonrelational. Sexual addicts
tend to constantly remind themselves of their inadequacies, hold distorted beliefs about
themselves and the world around them, tend to want to escape painful and suppressed
emotions, deny they have a problem, and have difficulty coping with stress.
Exploratory affairs tend to occur when a person becomes aware that his/her
marriage is in deep trouble and has not yet decided whether to stay or leave. Some
exploratory affairs end when the betrayer realizes that the marriage can improve. Others
become the precursor for divorce. This type of affair can provide the betrayer with the
courage to leave inasmuch as some of what the affair teaches is that he/she can be a
viable partner to someone other than the spouse.
Tripod affairs occur when the marriage is unhappy but the person chooses to
remain in it for a variety of reasons, such as economic, fear, and children. The tripod
affair helps the marriage that cannot stand on its own two feet stay erect. The third party
is added to the relationship for support and to provide for some of what the marriage
A retaliatory affair is one that occurs when the betrayed responds to the pain of
having been betrayed by having an affair of his/her own. Women tend to engage in these
types of affairs more frequently than men do because they might feel less able to leave
the marriage than the man does. This type of affair is usually not intended to end the
marriage but simply to even the score.
Exit affairs typically offer the betrayer the avenue to leave his/her primary
relationship. By the time the person is in this affair, he/she has already decided to leave
the marriage. The couple may enter therapy at the coaxing of the betrayer. He/she
sometimes wants to procure support for the spouse he/she is about to leave. When the
betrayed partner discovers the affair, the rage that the betrayed partner experiences and
expresses is used as further proof that he/she is not the partner the betrayer wants to be
Lusterman (1989, 1998) offers a treatment model he calls Protracted Marital
Infidelity (PMI). He points out that at the core of the work to be done is the need to
navigate through a web of lies and deceit. The effects on the couple are similar to the
effects of Post Traumatic Stress Reaction (APA, 1994) and as such can make therapy a
very intense process.
Eaker-Weil and Winter
Eaker-Weil (Eaker-Weil & Winter, 1994) is an Imago relationship therapist
trained in the Bowenian tradition. She suggests that adultery is a forgivable sin and
offers a typology of affairs that she calls 'states of the affair' (p. 21): the pseudo-
intimacy affair; the peacekeeping affair; the escape hatch affair; the love-seeking affair;
the compulsion-driven affair; and the affair caused by physical or psychological
The pseudo-intimacy affair occurs when people have not properly separated or
individuated from their caregivers. When proper individuation does not occur, persons
tend to be fugitives from intimacy and often create a triangle to use as a wedge to drive
between themselves and their partners.
The peacekeeping affair is a desperate, dysfunctional effort to keep a marriage or
relationship going. Couples who find themselves in this type of affair tend to be those
who try to avoid conflict at any cost. In their view, a polite marriage is a happy one.
Talking about the buried anger is most important for the recovery of this type of
relationship after the infidelity is discovered.
The escape hatch affair is one used when a person finds himself/herself trapped in
a marriage or relationship that is loveless or abusive. Unable to leave the primary
relationship, he/she will become involved in this type of affair so that it will be
discovered and his/her partner will end the relationship. Sometimes, this type of affair
takes place when latent homosexual drives emerge.
The love-seeking affair is one where the betrayer may find the love he/she did not
find earlier when he/she married his/her partner. Once they become involved in this type
of affair, they will more than likely leave the marriage. This type of affair includes
feelings of elation and sexual excitement and is most likely to take place at the end of a
decade of the person's age.
The compulsion-driven affair is one in which the Don Juan or vamp is ducking
intimacy altogether. Some of these betrayers are sexual addicts who use promiscuity for
a quick fix to numb their pain. The person is obsessed with the pursuit of sexual
encounters/partners and frequently will suffer the loss of his/her job, family, and/or
The affair caused by physical or psychological problems is one where a medical
condition, substance abuse, or psychic disorder, such as depression or manic-depression,
may spur partners to affairs or promiscuity. Sometimes, the inability to control the
spouse's condition makes the affair difficult to stop. The person may suffer great losses
in his/her life.
Subotnik and Harris
Subotnik and Harris (1994) offer a typology of affairs that exists on a continuum
based on the degree of emotional involvement in the affair. The continuum spans from
the least amount of emotional involvement to the most. At the extreme of least amount
of emotional involvement is the serial affair, then flings, then romantic love, and then
In the serial affair, the person lacks total emotional investment. Typically, this is
a series of one-night stands or a series of short term involvements. In the fling affair, the
person does not make an emotional investment. It is a one-time event. Sex, like in the
serial affair, is part of the equation. It typically does not pose a threat to the marriage but
does cause pain when discovered.
The romantic love affair involves a high degree of emotional investment and is
central to the romantic partners. They spend time together planning how to integrate
their affair into their regular lives. There is stress around thoughts of leaving the
marriage for the affair partner.
The long-term affair spans years or even a lifetime. In this type of affair, the
affair partners feel very emotionally involved with each other. When this type of affair
exists in the marriage of two people, it is conceivable that the betrayed is aware of the
affair either covertly or overtly and may have quietly agreed to this type of lifestyle. For
most betrayed partners, it is an arrangement agreed to by default.
Lana Staheli and Florence Kaslow
Staheli (1995) focuses on the triangularity of affairs. She proposes that people
can be successful at affair-proofing their relationships (Staheli, 1999). In her work, she
proposes a typology that includes seven types of affairs: loving affairs (are used for
friendship and for a refuge from everyday responsibility); bridge affairs (occur during
transitioning times or tough times in life); hate affairs (are used to hurt and deceive the
affair partner or the spouse); sex affairs (are for physical contact without emotional
attachment); sexual adventure affairs (are used for sport and driven by experimentation,
challenge or rebellion); sexual conquest affairs (are used when the betrayer is trying to
prove something-typically lacks emotional involvement); and cyber affairs (takes place
over the computer and may be physical or emotional). Staheli urges couples to focus on
their relationships so that an affair does not have to create the end of the marriage or
Kaslow (1993) writes of another type of affair-the one that turns fatal. She
points out that, during extramarital liaisons, people experience such strong feelings that
they sometimes act impulsively. The common feelings during an affair include hot
desire, irresistible urges, and claustrophobia in the marriage. Affairs can produce
children, which can serve as a constant reminder of the affair long after it is over. In the
worst-case scenario, the affair can turn fatal.
Sometimes, spouses are left bewildered when they learn of their mate's affair
after the death of the mate. Kaslow (1993) suggests that couples in therapy must be sure
that they achieve the necessary tasks to assure a full closure after the affair. Through the
therapy process, the infidel must have apologized and asked for forgiveness, and must
have made restitution to achieve atonement through good behavior. Therapists must be
aware of their own feelings and attitudes surrounding affairs and infidels.
Staheli (1995) defines cyber-infidelity as "an intimate or sexually explicit
communication between a married person and someone other than their spouse that takes
place on the computer or the Internet" (p. 73).
Collins (1999) introduces the notion of"practical fidelity" (p. 243), a term that
emphasizes interaction between individuals conducted in physical space. She proposes
that virtual relationships should not be regarded as having the same importance as "body
based" relationships (p. 243).
Collins (1999) describes two types of cyber affairs-the on-line erotic affair (also
called the affair of the cyberloins) and the on-line romantic affair (or the affair of the
cyber heart). Collins points out that if society removed all the obstacles that make
infidelity such a bad concept, she believes that although some people would want to build
fidelity into their relationships, feminists would have no real reason to recommend it.
Maheu (2003) offers an elaborate typology for cyber-infidelity. She delineates
the many issues facing practitioners who try to ethically approach treatment either face-
to-face or in a virtual environment. The typology she proposes includes: the covert
cyber-affair, which is a secret relationship where communication occurs electronically in
secrecy from partners; the overt cyber-affair, which exists with the knowledge of the
primary partners) who either may approve or disapprove of the communication; the
menage-a-trois cyber-affair, which is the type of affair where the couple engages in
sexual communication with another person in the virtual world; and, lastly, the group
cyber-affair, which is the type of affair where the infidel meets others in a virtual
community with the intention of erotic exchanges.
Maheu (2003) cautions therapists that the issues they will have to address with
clients that enter therapy to work on the effects of cyber-affairs include coming to terms
with the damage to the self and with the deception that are associated with cyber-affairs.
Open Marriage and Swinging
Although there has been a decline in the prevalence of open marriages (Rubin &
Adams, 2001) and of swinging (Jenks, 1998), the practices still exist. Knapp (1976)
conducted an exploratory study of marriages that were sexually open and Rubin and
Adams (1986) studied outcomes of sexually open marriages.
Knapp found that the 17 sexually open marriages she examined had clear-cut
rules about ways to conduct their relationships. When entering therapy, these couples
tend to look for therapists with liberal attitudes because when they present for therapy, it
is usually not due to the open relationship.
Knapp (1976) found that when the ground rules of (a) honesty with the spouse;
(b) acceptance of emotional involvement with outside partners as long as the relationship
with the spouse was kept primary and the outside partner was aware of this rule; and
(c) pursuit of each spouse's own outside interests separately were preserved, the couples
reported benefits to their primary relationships that they attributed to their sexually open
marriages. In fact, those couples reported better fulfillment of personal needs, social and
sexual excitement about the new experiences, increased communication and enjoyment
of sex with the spouse, a lessening of jealousy and possessiveness, enhanced feelings of
freedom and security in their relationship, and an increase in each of their ability to be
himself/herself fully while minimizing role-playing and games.
Rubin and Adams (1986) conducted a follow-up study to a 1978 study on
sexually open marriages (with a matched sample of 82 couples). In this study, they
sought to determine if, as was found in the earlier study, there is no statistically
significant difference in marital stability between the sexually open marriages and the
monogamous ones, and to review if couples in a sexually open marriage divorce at a
greater rate than exclusive couples.
Of the original samples, 68% of the sexually open marriages couples and 82% of
the originally exclusive couples responded (new N = 23 and 32, respectively). They
discovered that, of the 82 couples studied earlier (55 of whom were in the new sample),
of the 23 that had been sexually open, two couples had changed to a contract of
exclusivity. Of the 32 couples that had been exclusive, one couple had changed to an
Marital stability was discovered to remain the same over time. Of the couples
that reported marital dissatisfaction, the associated variables were identified to be (a)
higher education in women; and (b) women working outside the home, irrespective of
group. The data also indicated that couples in sexually open marriages do not divorce at
a greater rate than do couples in monogamous exclusive marriages.
Rubin (2001) revisited the alternative lifestyles of swingers, group married, and
communes. He reported that the North American Swing Club Association was then
made up of 310 affiliates having, grown from 150 in the past 5 years. He cites Gould and
Zabol (1998) as noting that there are 3 million married, middle-aged, middle-class
swingers or, as the new language calls them, "lifestyle practitioners" (p.721). Group sex
is now called polyamory and that there are 250 polyamory support groups (mostly
through the internet). Citing W. L. Smith (1999), Rubin (2001) reports that there are
3000 to 4000 communes in existence and that according to Newsweek (Murr, 2000),
there are between 20,000 and 50,000 Mormon splinter groups that live in polygamous
In the research related to the practice of swinging, Jenks (1985) points out that
over the last 20 years, reviews on this issue have been dormant. His article's purpose is
to update the literature. He clarifies the fact that words such as comarital sex and mate
swapping are also used when describing this population of couples. Jenks offers a profile
of a typical couple that "swings." He reports that swingers tend to vote Republican but,
overall, hold a liberal sexual predisposition and have low degrees of jealousy.
In addressing the reasons couples tend to give when discussing their involvement
in this lifestyle, Jenks (1985) lists need for variety in sexual partners and experiences,
pleasure and excitement for the "forbidden fruit," meeting new people, voyeurism, and
recapturing one's youth. Additionally, he offers a process model that tends to apply to
the lifestyle of those who engage in swinging: passive (just learning); active (making
contact); and commitment (actual involvement).
Couples report that the typical problems associated with swinging that also serve
as reasons to stop swinging include (a) sexually transmitted infections (VD, AIDS);
(b) finding people; and (c) high time demands. Although no studies exist on the negative
impacts of swinging on marriages, Jenks (1985, 1998), referring to a study he conducted
(unpublished) in 1986, claims that 91% of males and 82% of females indicated that
swinging improved their marriage. Less than 1% of the females reported displeasure
Disclosure and Discovery Process
Disclosure will offset a crisis (Glass, 2003a, 2003b). The process should be
guided by and begin as a quest for truth and information seeking a healing exploration
with understanding and mutual empathy as a goal (Glass & Wright, 1997). The betraying
partner should offer information openly. Secrecy and a tendency to want to protect the
other womann will rewound the betrayed partner.
Typically, when the couple is in the process of disclosure, the interaction will
most likely appear adversarial. The betrayed partner may appear like an interrogating
prosecutor in a trial (Staheli, 1995). The process should begin with simple questions like
who, what, when, where, how, and why. Glass and Wright propose giving the betrayed
partner index cards on which to write all other questions, with the promise that they will
all be answered in due time. Initially, instructions are given that they not discuss the
affair at home, reserving the discussion for therapy sessions. Working through the
disclosure phase should be achieved slowly, with impeccable honesty, and a great deal of
empathy. Disclosure is a more structured process than discovery.
When a partner discovers that his/her mate has been unfaithful, she/she
immediately begins the traumatic response. Frequently, the betraying partner will deny
the existence of the affair and more secrecy is piled on top of an already established web
of deceit. When more lies are told, recovery is even more complicated (Schneider,
Corley, & Irons, 1998).
Glass (2003b) offers advice on how partners should confront their suspicions.
Her advice can be helpful to clinicians as they prepare clients to confront their partners.
She suggests that partners know what they hope to gain through the confrontation, that
partners not set up "truth traps," that partners give themselves time to cool down and
become calm before confronting, and that the partners consider writing down their
thoughts first. With regard to the confrontation itself, Schneider, Corley, and Irons
(1998) suggest that partners share as much information as possible and that the
suspicious partner understand that disclosure is a process and not a task and as such, be
prepared to learn more information with the passage of time.
Glass (2003b) emphasizes the importance of the three stages of disclosure-truth
seeking, information seeking, and mutual understanding-during the disclosure process
(which is evolutionary by nature). She encourages betrayed partners to control
destructive outbursts, remain silent during the disclosure so that information will flow
more easily, and curtail interpretations. Sometimes, these suggestions are difficult to
implement because shortly following learning that an affair exists, the betrayed partner
will begin to experience posttraumatic stress symptoms.
Glass (2003b) cautions betraying partners to avoid certain behaviors during the
disclosure process. She points out that when the betraying partner either avoids telling
the truth (when asked or when the opportunity is present), continues to deny that he/she
is/was involved in the affairss, stonewalls by refusing to talk about what he/she now may
consider bad and wrong behavior, and discounts the severity of the impact his/her affair
has on the committed relationship, it will be very difficult to make progress towards the
next phase of recovery. If these actions persist, then the betrayer may have little to no
willingness to end the affair and/or to return to the marriage.
Sometimes, the betraying partner may also exhibit posttraumatic stress symptoms.
Therapists must prepare themselves to be available to their clients when they agree to
provide clinical treatment-if not, a referral may be in order.
The Clinical Treatment of Infidelity/Betrayal
The literature on the treatment of affairs is primarily anecdotal and the result of
clinicians and philosophers making observations within their own caseloads or worlds
(Belson, 1989; Brown, 1989, 1991; Eaker-Weil & Winter, 1994; Finzi, 1989; Greenwalt,
2000; Lusterman, 1989; Pittman, 1987, 1989a, 1989b; Taylor, 1997). The majority of the
research is focused on attitudes, opinions, and prevalence (Glenn & Weaver, 1979; Glass
& Wright, 1992; Shackelford & Buss, 1997a, 1997b; Shackelford, Buss, & Bennett,
2002; Shackelford, LeBlanc, & Drass, 2000, Wiederman & LaMar, 1998). There are
some qualitative studies that have examined client stories of infidelity (Gordon, Baucom
& Snyder, 2004). There are many self-help books on ways to survive and work through
affairs (e.g., Glass, 2003b; Staheli, 1999), in addition to the many Internet chat rooms
and websites (not included in this literature review).
Barnes (1999) published a book on how a person can best manage his/her affair
passionately, with discretion and dignity, a most helpful publication for those engaged in
open relationships, swinging, or simply embracing the worldview that extradyadic
relationships are appropriate. The plight of "the other woman" has also received some
attention in the literature (Richardson, 1985; Tuch, 2000).
Working through an affair is a difficult and lengthy process that takes at least one
year to stabilize and longer to complete (Young & Long, 1998). The standard of care is
based on the idea that once the crisis is stabilized, then the work of the couple focuses on
the underlying issues of the relationship (Brown, 1991; Pittman, 1987, 1989; Glass &
Wright, 1988; Hendrix, 1988). Research has shown that 30% of couples present with or
openly acknowledge an affair at the onset of therapy (Glass, 1999a; Thompson, 1984),
while 30% more reveal an affair during the course of therapy.
Most therapists endorse the disclosure of affairs (Brown, 1991; Glass & Wright,
1988; Pittman, 1987, 1989). Once the affair is open for discussion, the couple must focus
on whether or not to continue the relationship (Bellafiori, 1999; Brown, 1991; Glass,
1999a, 1999b; Glass & Wright, 1992; Lusterman, 1998; Moultrup, 1990; Pittman, 1987,
1989; Schnarch, 1991; Abrahms-Spring, 1996; Staheli, 1995; Subotniik & Harris, 1994;
Young & Long, 1998) and decide whether or not to stay together. Imago relationship
therapists strongly support the couple's remaining together and working through the
wounds that motivated the affair to begin with (R. Brown, 1999; Eaker-Weil & Winter,
1994; Eaker-Weil & Tuttle, 1998; Hendrix, 1988; Hendrix & Hunt, 1999; Love &
Robinson, 1994; Luquet, 1996).
A summary of treatment issues presented and addressed by the authors cited in
the above paragraph include the following:
* Revealing the affair and/or crisis support. Some researchers (Cottone, 1996;
Glass & Wright, 1988; Schneider, Irons & Corley, 1999) point out that the
therapist's own experience with extramarital affairs will influence whether or not
he/she encourages clients to disclose the affairs. (Their findings indicate that
those therapists whose own backgrounds include affairs will be more liberal in
attitude towards affairs and will also be more tolerant towards keeping some
* Suspending the decision to continue or end the marriage until stability is regained
(depending on the type of affair and/or if the decision is already made in therapy).
Imago therapists ask clients to commit to 12 sessions without deciding. The
underlying treatment belief is that when the clients begin to improve
communication and to achieve safe intimacy with one another, they will be able
to validate and forgive each other (Eaker-Weil & Winter, 1994; Eaker-Weil &
Tuttle, 1998) and resume with an enhanced relationship.
When working with either member of the couple (the infidel and the spouse),
teach patience, perseverance, communication skills, self-care, problem-solving
and teamwork. Schnarch (1991, 1997) encourages clinicians to help couples
differentiate and mature so that their relationship can become passionate and a
crucible for intimacy.
Glass and Wright (1997) and Lusterman (1995) term infidelity as a trauma and
work on reconstructing the marriage using the trauma model (Janoff-Bulman, 1992).
Glass and Wright (1997) describe the traumatic reaction following the discovery or
disclosure of an affair as similar to that of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (APA, 1994).
The symptoms include intrusion (recounting and reexperiencing the trauma);
constriction (avoidance and numbing behaviors); and hyperarousal (physiological
arousal) and extreme hypervigilance. Lusterman (1995) includes the idea of protracted
marital infidelity to his assessment practices and believes that the stress reaction will
depend on the duration and depth of the affair. The traumatic reaction takes place as a
result of shattered assumptions about physical, emotional, psychological safety in the
Glass and Wright (1997) treat couples by the following:
* Creating safety and hope in the therapy.
* Clarifying the contract the couple has with each other about their relationship.
* Normalizing the traumatic reactions due to betrayal.
* Reversing walls and window (a detriangulation technique called "stop and
* Promoting positivity and caring in the couple.
* Balancing affect and crisis.
* Utilizing individual sessions.
* Assessing suicidal and homicidal ideation.
* Anticipating crises and relapses.
* Managing the traumatic reactions (intrusion, obsessive ruminating, flashbacks,
Teaching the betrayed spouse to be a detective.
Utilizing the therapist's deception detectors.
Developing constructive communication patterns.
Exploring the content of the affair (individual stories of the partners, extramarital
attitudes and values, psychodynamic aspects, the needs of the individuals, tell the
story of the marriage, discuss marital and sexual satisfaction, tell the history of
the marriage, discuss equity issues, and explore dysfunctional patterns in the
Building the narratives of the affair.
Creating meaning in the relationship (forget the pain but remember the lesson,
achieve forgiveness, recommitment and reclaim lost territory).
In her clinical work with couples, E. Brown (1991, 1999) observed that therapy
outcomes differ with the various types of affairs. The prognosis for couples in conflict
avoidance and intimacy avoidance affairs is excellent and the probability of divorce is
low. At best, the couple can emerge from therapy with a solid marriage and newfound
hope in their relationship. At worst, other affairs or divorce may take place.
With sexual addiction affairs, although the probability of divorce is low, the best
result from therapy is that the family is now in recovery. The prognosis for resolving the
couple's issues is poor. With empty nest affairs, the probability of divorce is above
average, but if diligent, the couple can emerge with a revived marriage. Divorce or
empty-shell marriages are also common. Lastly, in the out-of-the-door affair the
prognosis for resolving the issues is very good because the couple can come to terms
with the ending of the marriage and the grieving of its loss.
Pittman (1987) proposes a series of seven steps in his treatment program for
* Respond to the emergency.
* Bring everyone together.
* Define the problem.
* Calm everyone down.
* Find a solution.
* Negotiate the resistance.
When couples suspect or know that an affair is present in their relationship, they
frequently engage in either self-prescribed or therapist prescribed bibliotherapy. Some
authors who have contributed books useful in this endeavor include Botwin (1988),
Hajcak & Garwood (1987), Hein (2000), Kirshenbaum (1997), Lerner (1993),
Lusterman, (1998), Maslin (1994), Pearsall (1987), Robbins (1998), Schneider (1988),
Staheli (1999), and Subotnik and Harris (1994), among many others.
Carnes (1991) and Bradshaw (1992) endorse 12 step programs for the recovery of
sexual addiction. The models of codependent (Woititz, 1989), in addition to individual,
couple, and family therapy, promote self-help groups to address the spouse's own
dysfunctional behaviors and boundary setting.
Clinical Dilemmas in Treatment
As with any traumatic situation that creates "emotional distress" and a disruption
that might even include danger in the clients' lives, therapists must intervene and decide
when faced with the following classical clinical decisions:
* Whether a client needs to be hospitalized or whether an alternative intervention to
hospitalization can be created.