Written by: Dr. Stephanie Bathurst, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Studies last year show between 20-40% of relationships will experience infidelity of some kind. With a U.S. divorce rate staying firm and steady just under 50%, infidelity is one, but not all, of the reasons for completing a relationship.
In my clinical practice, infidelity is very infrequently the core, primary wound articulated by each partner in our overview of the formal Repair Process. Rather, infidelity acts as a blinking red alarm that forces all parties to acknowledge and prioritize the underlying betrayals that have been festering.
13 types of betrayal
Coalitions against a partner, emotional affair, physical (or sexual) affair, lying, lack of follow through with promises, disrespect, conditional commitment, withdrawal of sex, absenteeism, neglect or abuse of any kind, selfishness, inequality, deprioritization.
Some of these terms can be a bit confusing, as they aren't used much in everyday conversation. What is an emotional aﬀair? As a Clinical Sexologist and Relationship Therapist, I define an emotional affair as "any outside entity that is draining critical life force away from the romantic structure, leading to its decline in health."
It's important for partners to remember that experience within a relationship is entirely subjective. One partner's truth and emotional reality experiencing a betrayal within the relationship may diﬀer from their respective partner. When a substantial narrative contrast exists, remember that intention differs from impact.
An action or inaction that you may have made in your relationship may have been neutral or well-intended yet have damaging impact. This does not make you a bad partner, What it does require is validation of your partner's pain. Acknowledging intent from impact separately oﬀers space to hold contrasting narratives to support through repair protocols.
3 phases of repair
Gottman structures infidelity repair into 3 important phases in Couples Therapy. Each phase oﬀers a unique foundation to build upon.
Atone: the first phase prioritizes accountability and change
Attune: the second stage focuses on emotional intimacy enhancement
Attach: the third phase encourages physical and sexual bonding
Something unique to my process is the division of responsibilities between the injured and the injuring narrative presentations. First, we filter through all the sources of betrayal to identify the primary source of pain, which is sometimes the initial wound that went ill-repaired. Without this step, clients can easily engage in multiple repair processes consuming weeks to months of therapy when sometimes we simply need to slow down and mindfully choose where to start. Next, I guide the injuring partner on the construction of a remorse narrative.
1. Remorse narrative
I encourage this to be a physical letter that contains all of the components of Gottman's Atone phase:
accountability of role in injury (should be specific and mention the situational source of pain)
validation of an injured partner's pain (i.e., active listening techniques)
acknowledgment of impact on partner and relationship
measurable and specific behavior changes to ensure this betrayal does not recur in the future
explains the underlying needs and function for the behavior itself so that we can ensure these are attended to in healthier ways in the future
When an injuring partner is presenting this completed narrative to their injured partner, the couple should have all 6 points facing each other (eyes, shoulders, hip points). The injured partner may choose what to do with the narrative itself depending on what feels most healing for them. Some prefer it to be a keepsake and others want to shred it to pieces.
2. Forgiveness narrative
The injured partner transitions through the phases of forgiveness. If we apply Dr. Enright's 4 stage process model of forgiveness, the injured partner Uncovers while receiving the injuring partner's remorse narrative. Introspection afterward may bring them through Decision to forgive and the Work of building compassion for the partner that has hurt them.
Once they begin processing Deepened Meaning for past pain moments, the injured partner is ready to solidify their forgiveness in a formal way. I encourage this to be some form of narration, as it provides sequential ordering of events and encloses the pain moment in the past, similar to the bookends that separate books on a bookshelf. After the forgiveness narrative is written, I empower the couple to ceremonialize this new chapter in their relationship. This ritual can present in many ways, all of which should include connection, celebration and future orientation;
Burn the narratives in a fire pit and dance around the fire to embrace rebirth
Create a keepsake box and fold the narratives inside, compartmentalizing the past
Tear the narratives into pieces and reform it into a piece of art
Write core wound phrases on glass plates and shatter them
It's a myth that trust is rebuilt over time. Time itself does not rebuild trust. The true formula of trust rebuilding is: Observable behavior change that matches Verbal promises made = Trust
The consistency of observable behavior change being matched with verbal promises given is what requires time in the relationship. During this consistency period of repair, the priority is emotional intimacy enhancement. Attunement is actually an acronym used to guide skill development and refinement for relationship partners.
Awareness of partner's negative emotional cues (and ability to oﬀer them the support they need)
Tolerance for imperfection
Turning toward your partner to resolve conflict and share the positive moments
Understanding, holding respectful space for diﬀering truths
Non-defensive responses (eliminating Contempt, Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling)
Remember, over 80% of communication between human beings is exchanged non-verbally. When we sit in heavy emotions for extended periods of time, our non-verbal communication cues can begin to habituate into feedback loops of reactivity that keep us, and our partner stuck in the past. Posture, smiling, volume and tone of voice, eyebrow position, eye movements; these all shape the trajectory of our conversation and the probability of a moment oﬀering intimacy or distance between a couple.
Once positive change has been habituated in the system and emotional intimacy has been re-affirmed, it is now time to prioritize physical and sexual intimacy. The loss of aﬀectionate touch in a relationship is all too often a secondary symptom to a more core primary problem. Once we have healed the primary wound that was driving a partner's physical distance, closeness and touch often has to be re-integrated as "normal" in a relationship that has adapted to its absence.
Apply attunement skills into the physical expression of love by communicating what makes physical aﬀection and sex feel intimate and special for each partner
Boost Oxytocin levels to strengthen your attachment bonds by exchanging massages, cuddling, helping your partner achieve orgasm, embracing a full-depth hug, sustained eye-contact
Recondition negatively-associated physical environments
Create sacred space that is conducive to safety, vulnerability, playfulness and sensuality
Practice mindfulness during sex and quality time to enhance fulfillment and amplify intimacy bonding
It is my hope that sharing this 3-phase reparative process, and it's critical steps help partners know how to heal wounds eﬀectively and efficiently. The quicker this protocol is activated from onset of the first betrayal, the less damage that is done to the attachment tethers.
We are all human. Imperfection is a natural part of our relationships. What's most important is to prevent the 13 core wounds from presenting and if any do present that their healing be prioritized over everything else.
A note of thanks to line editor Kellie Supplee
Dr. Stephanie Bathurst, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Dr. Stephanie Bathurst is an expert Clinical Sexologist, Relationship Therapist, and Holistic Healer who applies evidence-based techniques that blend holistic and traditional therapies. As a provider, she aims to energize relationships, unblock barriers in the 8 forms of intimacy, and treat the whole system for clients to see long-lasting effects. Acknowledging the heaviness in our world, Dr. Bathurst strives to lead unhappy partners toward better sex, effective communication, and release of resentment so that together we can create a more loving, more stable connection. With her primary office in Oahu, HI, Dr. Bathurst offers coaching to clients across the globe, couples retreats, and hybrid relationship programs for immersive healing. Dr. Bathurst is the CEO of Bathurst Family Therapy, LLC., and has won numerous awards of excellence in her fields. Her integration of degrees in counseling and sexology combined with certifications as an Integrative Medicine Specialist for Mental Health and Pelvic Floor PFilates instructor makes Dr. Bathurst a truly unparalleled provider.
How much of communication is nonverbal?: UT permian basin online. The University of Texas Permian Basin. (2023, May 15). https://online.utpb.edu/about-us/articles/communication/how-much-of-communication-is- nonverbal/
Davoodvandi, M., Nejad,S. N., & Farzad, V. (2018, April).Examining the Eﬀectiveness of Gottman Couple Therapy on Improving Marital Adjustment and Couples’ Intimacy. Iranian Journal of Psychiatry, 13(2).
LeWine, H. E. (2023, June 13). Oxytocin: The love hormone. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/oxytocin-the-love-hormone