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|Foreign Affairs - Page 11|
I was curious about why Karina had decided to look into his messages at that point, given that while she was in New York, she'd had plenty of opportunities to do so, but hadn't. "Looking back, sure, it's obvious now that Marcos was having an affair," she said. "He was totally absent emotionally and physically, and we were nothing more than roommates during those years. But it's clear now that I wasn't ready to see the truth. I was feeling so vulnerable and alone—a new mother, so far away from everything I knew. If I'd found out that Marcos was having an affair then, I'd have packed my bags and left to go home to my family. I'm angry with him right now, but I'm also grateful that we're still together. I know that we're going to have some rough months ahead, but I'm sure that we'll get over this hump."
When I teach here in the United States, I frequently encounter bewilderment at my willingness to sit with secrets, especially about affairs, despite my acknowledgement that it's indeed a difficult position for the therapist. "Doesn't your approach ever backfire? Don't you feel deceitful?" students ask. I usually explain that, because of my confidentiality policy, I haven't had any problems, and that I feel OK about it. But I've often felt less than persuasive when answering such questions.
Then last week, as I was about to discuss the complexities of keeping secrets in couples therapy to a group of 140 experienced Mexican family therapists, I said, "If you have difficulties—ethical and otherwise—about holding secrets in couples therapy, please raise your hand." No one did, so I tried again: "It's very common for therapists to find this dual position of the therapist to be uncomfortable and unsavory." After a few minutes of silence, one woman raised her hand and explained, "Here in Mexico, we don't have any illusions that partners in a marriage need to, or should, tell everything for them to be close and feel intimate with each other. We assume that individuals have private domains, and that we therapists just have to find ways to deal with that aspect of the relationship. But even more important, talking about affairs can lead to violence and, therefore, be very dangerous, especially for women."