Infidelity Counselling

What Counts as Infidelity?

This is a great question and one that does not have a “cookie-cutter” answer to it! How couples define what constitutes infidelity/an affair has similarities and differences depending upon their religious, cultural, educational, and social influences. There are the obvious affairs and infidelity, yes. When a partner seeks sexual intimacy outside of a committed monogamous marriage, that’s infidelity and affair.

Other types of infidelity can take many forms and the one thing that all of them have in common is that something that is a ‘3rd’ to the relationship is being treated emotionally, socially, physically, psychologically, or spiritually, as if it is the primary relationship – often leaving the partner feeling insecure, abandoned, betrayed and alone. The partner engaging in the affair may feel shame and avoid that through structures of defending, denying, dismissing, or distracting from the impact of the affair on the health of the relationship.

What Causes Infidelity?

Some of the common causes or precursors of infidelity are:

Low Self-esteem

A partner who suffers from low self-esteem may project their unconscious feelings of unworthiness onto their partner and be hypervigilant to find evidence in their partner’s behaviour toward them. To put it simply a partner who feels unworthy will find evidence that this is true and selectively ignore evidence to the contrary. Is this rational? Nope! ….it is however real and a potent fuel to infidelity.

To End The Relationship

Some partners will seek an affair as an ‘exit card’ from their current relationship because they are consciously and/or unconsciously unable to face the uncertainty and multi-layered losses of leaving a relationship that they are no longer willing to commit to. It is their way of avoiding the conflicts in their relationship and testing the waters in another relationship. For some partners, an affair is a way of ‘leaving in place’. They have made a conscious decision in isolation from their partner that having an affair or multiple affairs is better for everyone (the kids, their extended families, their friends, social and community networks, and sometimes even their careers.

Lack of Intamacy

Partners who experience a lack of intimacy in their primary relationship and do not know how to express the impact of this lack of intimacy in ways that invite and nurture growth in the relationship and who do not see their part in the lack of intimacy may feel justified in engaging in an affair or multiple affairs.

Sex Addiction

Partners who struggle with an intimacy disorder that is expressed as compulsive, obsessive or addictive relationship to sex, romance/love, porn or cyber relationships will find reasons to justify betraying the trust of their partner and breaking their agreements about the common intimate boundaries of their relationship. These partners struggling with sex/love addiction are riddled with shame and unresolved relational/developmental traumas that drive them to feel perpetually dissatisfied with themselves, and their partner. (for more on the treatment of sex addiction as an intimacy disorder see my specialty page, ‘Sex and Love Addiction Recovery

Avoidance of Problems

Avoidance of problems in a relationship is a fertile ground for building a case over time that the relationship cannot meet a partner’s needs and can fuel justification for engaging in an affair or multiple affairs. What we resist persists and partners and couples who do not know how to “clear the air”, face conflicts, acknowledge their part in the conflict and seek not only solutions but emotional repair of the harm the conflict has caused the relationship to leave themselves vulnerable to infidelity, affairs and/or isolated marriages devoid of real intimacy and contact.


Whether a partner’s depression (contextual or clinical), and I will include here anxiety or other mental health issues such as addiction or mood disorder, can be treated effectively. If these mental health conditions in one or both partners are not effectively treated they can be a powerful driver of engaging in an affair or multiple affairs/infidelities by the partner suffering from untreated mental illness (their best attempt to self-medicate and feel whole). The partner living with a partner who has an untreated mental health issue that is significantly impairing their ability to be in a healthy intimate relationship may turn to an affair or multiple affairs as their best attempt to cope without leaving the relationship entirely.

Often times the causes of infidelity are more complex and intertwined in the relationship than we can do justice here….there will be more to be discovered.

Therapy Techniques for Infidelity

The techniques that we use in couple’s counselling to heal the impacts of infidelity/affair(s) are structured to create a safe container for both the betrayed partner and the partner who has engaged in an affair. We look together at each partner’s historical and current mental health experience to understand underlying patterns of unhealthy attachment that contributed to the rupture of the relationship in order to rebuild trust and discern what is possible for a new relationship. If both partners want to create a new relationship together we safely illuminate the impacts of the affair on each partner’s mental health and sense of self and on the relationship. In a couple’s counselling session I empower both partners to heal by truthfully expressing how bad things are right now and stay connected to the long-term goal of rebuilding trust and recovering a new secure functioning relationship. The overarching goal is to learn how to protect the coupleship so that relational choices are good for each partner and good for the coupleship.

How Infidelity Counselling Helps

Couples therapy helps by providing a safe container in which each partner can experience in real-time new ways of relating to each other that support and protect the relationship. Couples’ counselling helps by providing guidance and structured skills practice to implement with each other in between sessions and to identify unaddressed mental health issues that have been sabotaging the relationship and providing a treatment path to mental health recovery.

The process of recovery begins with acceptance. One of the difficult truths for couples that are committed to healing the wounds of infidelity is that the relationship that you had or believed that you had, is over. Our goal is not to go back to that relationship because it didn’t work in protecting the coupleship as a safe sanctuary for both partners to be intimate. Through couples counselling we will face the grief, anger/rage, guilt, shame, disappointment, and feelings of helplessness in order to “divorce” past patterns and embrace new ways of relating that help each other heal.

Ending Relationships

Determining if you should end your relationship is a complex and difficult process. By exploring together all of the implications of separating (emotional, psychological, spiritual, financial, social, and communal) we can discover a new relationship that may be healthiest by separating. To promise that every relationship will heal from infidelity is selling ‘snake oil’ and you both deserve authentic intimacy whether it is with each other or not.