Me: Hi There.
Dr. Trahan: Hi.
Me: So, you all are watching today as I interview Dr. Mark Trahan who is an assistant professor at Texas State University, and he has special training with the Gottman Institute and Sue Johnson’s course in counseling and Emotion-Focused Therapy, and he also has a private practice where he focuses on working with infidelity cases. And thank you Mark for joining us today because I think there are some questions some of my clients or potential clients would like to know the answer to as far as being in a couples situation and how you reconcile certain issues…and the first one is ‘How long does it take to rebuild trust after a partner has been unfaithful?’
Dr. Trahan: Well, I think it’s important to understand what trust is, so most people don’t know how to conceptualize trust other than fidelity, and fidelity is a part of trust; but it’s not the only part of trust. Fidelity is one part of trust where you feel your partner’s going to be loyal to you, but there’s other kinds of trust, too. Another kind of trust is character trust where you believe your partner is the kind of person that would tell you the truth, or potentially has a set of values around integrity. Sometimes when you feel like your partner’s lied to you or isn’t a trustworthy person, it not only impacts the issue of fidelity; it also impacts your belief in their character. Another kind of trust is what we call ‘Sliding Door Moments.’ This is a term that was coined by the Gottman Institute, and the idea is it missed opportunities for emotional connection. And so when couples have had missed opportunities to connect with each other emotionally over periods of time they often times are further apart- or feel further apart- from each other, and that’s a certain kind of trust. And so when trust is breached, particularly with fidelity there are lots of issues that play into these kinds of trust that determine the level of the breach, levels of disconnection. Sue Johnson would call them attachment injuries; Dr. Gottman would talk about it as a breach of trust and these things can range from a double betrayal, which would be a situation where a person not only broke fidelity, but also lied about the infidelity as well. So a double-betrayal would be an even greater significant breach of trust, or a greater attachment wound. And there’s also situations where drugs and alcohol may be involved…maybe where there’s a history of sex addiction or sex and love addiction where there’s a pattern of infidelity that’s occurred where it’s not one event…it’s multiple events that have happened. And there’s also situations where one partner might not be ready to sit down and have the conversation about it and they might feel like they don’t want to engage with this person. They’ve already stepped out of the relationship and it might be even more challenging to mend this breach and so it really depends on a range of issues related to the infidelity for trying to rebuild the relationship from the ground up. So it’s a really complex question. I think it’s one that requires a professional to be overseeing the process… to know these different kinds of problems that can contribute to the mistrust. So it can be anywhere from…in my experience…it could be on the lower end anywhere from 9 months to a year to 3 years in terms of length of time to really reestablish a relationship again. Trust takes a long time to rebuild and so…so it takes time.
Me: Definitely not an overnight thing.
Dr. Trahan: No. And some people it takes years you know. Fortunately, when you see a professional and you go into that environment…if they’ve been trained to have some idea of all these different issues that might come into play they might assist in making that process more focused so that you don’t spend years and years in turmoil.
Me: Yeah…yeah, because I can see that really harming relationships over the long haul if they don’t have some professional guidance. Then my other question…the second question was ‘How transparent does a partner need to be after a breach of trust, and how soon should a disclosure occur, assuming that it is going to happen?’
Dr. Trahan: So I think there are a lot of nuances around the philosophies of this, but I think that if you take a look at the way in which most institutes…most training provides a context for this. The most important establishment is that of honesty. Right? You can’t rebuild trust without honesty. The problem with honesty is that it hurts, and the problem with honesty and it hurting is that sometimes when there’s information that’s provided to the betrayed partner that’s detail oriented related to the interactions this person had with the affair partner…it can be even more hurtful. And it can establish hurtful memories that are very difficult to change over time. So I think it’s very important to have a professional guide the process, assisting with where the line is between what is too much information and what is needed for honest communication about what has happened, because details around sexual encounters, details around romantic encounters are not necessary for the recovery process. However, there are questions the betrayed partner needs to ask and get the answers to in order to learn about the situation and to diminish their anxiety because they are having extremely high levels of hypervigilance as a response to the fact that they don’t know all the information. I think that’s why a professional again is really important because in that process of disclosing that information, sometimes things can get hostile…and in that hostile environment a professional needs to assist with deescalating and creating a conversation that’s going to be helpful, not hurtful.
Me: Thank you. I appreciate you being able to put a focus on how structured that really ideally needs to be to be beneficial at least in the long run for both partners. And one thing I also get is ‘I hope the relationship can be the same coming out of this.’ I never know exactly how to answer that question, but maybe you can put a spotlight on what one or both partners need to know about the relationship. Can it be the same coming out of these kinds of experiences?
Dr. Trahan: Well, I think it depends…it depends on the healing process. With the help of a trained professional, my experience has been that the relationships can be better than they were prior to the infidelity, but that requires several elements. A re-laying of trust, like the foundation of trust: it takes a reestablishment of the attachment in a relationship…a re-understanding of how this attachment will be…how you will recreate the safety and the barriers around it to protect from future situations that might arise and then taking the event and creating new meaning around it. What does this mean for our future? And kind of making a recommitment to that relationship for the long-term: what the couple wants out of their relationship. It can be really healing, it can create a really beautiful relationship. It can also be extremely destructive, and it can go down the route where people end up having really terrible relationships if the healing process doesn’t flow…does not occur in a way that establishes that foundation.
Me: Well put, and it’s really good to know that people can have really beneficial relationships after something like this…maybe even better…although I think that would probably be dependent on having some professional help through the process.
Dr. Trahan: Absolutely.
Me: Alright. Well, thanks so much for being with me Dr. Trahan and I’ll look forward to possibly talking to you again in the future.
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