Sunday, April 10, 2011

Marital Therapy and Infidelity

On April 9, 2011, I gave a presentation on marital therapy of infidelity, as part of a series of presentations on couples therapy sponsored by the Illinois Psychological Association. A presentation by Carol Cradock, Ph.D., on counseling couples who are in the process of divorcing, preceded mine. Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism student Helen Adamopoulos was there and wrote an article on our presentations. I've copied the text here. You can access the article itself, with a great picture of Carol in action, at:

Here's the text:

Therapists learn how to counsel couples on divorce, cheating
APRIL 08, 2011

Dr. Jay Einhorn scanned the small classroom, where about 30 psychologists and therapists sat watching him.

“It would be fun to ask for a show of hands,” he said with a grin. “How many people have been unfaithful?”

The room erupted with laughter as people glanced around at each other. No one raised his or her hand.

Although no one in that classroom was willing to admit it, Einhorn said most people have probably been affected by infidelity in some way, whether they have been unfaithful themselves, been cheated on or known about someone else’s affair.

He spoke Friday morning about approaching infidelity from a therapist’s perspective as part of a workshop series on couples counseling hosted by the Illinois Psychological Association. The workshop was the fourth in a series of six sessions the association is holding on the second Friday of each month through June at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

Einhorn, a consulting psychologist at Roycemore School in Evanston and an independent practitioner, said there aren’t reliable statistics on the instance of infidelity, but it is evidently a common problem.

“We can estimate that many if not most divorces have to do with infidelity,” he said.

Einhorn said therapists should consider the couple’s developmental history (did they grow up in a family where infidelity was common?) as well as evaluating the relationship according to a concept called the “identity union.” The identity union refers to how the couple view themselves as one entity, rather than two separate people. They view their union as something unique and special.

“That’s what the infidelity hurts most,” Einhorn said.

Whether the couple can stay together depends on reconstructing the identity union. This cannot take place if there is ongoing infidelity, physical violence or ongoing verbal and emotional attacks, he said. The betrayed or “hurt” partner needs to realize that the couple’s former identity union was partly an illusion; the relationship wasn’t what the betrayed spouse thought it was. If the hurt partner can come to terms with that, there is a better chance of healing the marriage, Einhorn said.

In turn, the unfaithful partner should examine how the identity union wasn’t meeting his or her needs. Integrating those needs into the framework of the marriage is a key part of couples therapy, he said.

If a couple decides they can’t or don’t want to salvage their relationship, therapists can employ strategies to try to minimize the personal damage for both people. Chicago psychologist Dr. Carroll Cradock, who has worked extensively with couples in the process of separating, also spoke at the workshop about improving divorce outcomes.

“Divorce is a life transition, one of life’s most difficult transitions,” Cradock said.

She compared the process to “trying to steer a boat across Lake Michigan during a storm.” However, therapists can guide couples and their children through those dangerous waters.

Cradock staged a mock therapy session to demonstrate how to deal with a separating couple. First, she showed a clip from “The Squid and the Whale,” a movie centering on a family dealing with divorce. Then two workshop participants pretended to be the parents from the film, while Cradock counseled them.

She asked them what they wanted for their family, such as both parents maintaining strong attachments with their children. Cradock said that she would also speak to the children alone to find out what they wanted, and then combine that with the parents’ wishes to form a family mission statement.

“It’s a road map for them,” she said.

Rita Guertin, a therapist at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in Hoffman Estates, said she found the workshop useful and engaging.

“I liked doing this little vignette here,” she said of Cradock’s role-playing exercise. “I’m a really visual person.”

Guertin said she was attending the entire workshop series because she wants to open her own practice one day and needs to learn about working with couples first. Clinicians can earn a maximum of 39 continuing education credits (6.5 each day) by participating in the series.

For more information on the workshop series, visit

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