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January Quandary: Should I Keep One Partner’s Secret in Couples Therapy?

Five Clinicians Give Their Take

Chris Lyford • 3 Comments

By Chris Lyford - Mark and his wife, Nicole, have been in couples therapy for almost six months. But Mark recently requested an individual session, where he revealed he recently shared a kiss with an old girlfriend and has plans to rekindle their friendship. He's asked his therapist to keep the whole thing a secret. Here's how five clinicians say they'd tackle the situation.

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The Liberating Power of Honesty

What People Don't Know Can Hurt Them. What They Don't Reveal Can Hurt Even More

Frank Pittman • No Comments

By Frank Pittman - When we therapists believe a secret's revelations would be dangerous, the client receives a frightening message about him- or herself and about the world. We may accept our patients and make psychodynamic, systemic or sociological excuses for them, while still conveying that their secret is unacceptable. Thus, while explicitly "supporting" them, we implicitly undermine their sense that they are fundamentally decent, acceptable people.

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Keeping Secrets When Everyone Already Knows Them

A Therapist in Small-Town America Struggles with New Ethical Dilemmas

Jan Michael Sherman • No Comments

By Jan Michael Sherman - When my wife and I moved to a place in the Yukon so small that when someone sneezed at one end of town, someone at the other end reached for the Kleenex, I quickly found that practicing therapy could get pretty tricky. Not only did everyone know everyone else's business, everyone was in everyone else's business.

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After an Affair, How Much Should Be Shared?

How to Have an Honest Discussion Without Accusations and Defensiveness

Shirley Glass • 1 Comment

By Shirley Glass - How much to share and when to share are issues that confront every couple trying to recover from the discovery of infidelity. I actively structure the timing and the process of disclosure because I've found that revealing the details of an affair is seldom constructive in the presence of uncontrolled emotional intensity or unresolved ambivalence about the future of the marriage.

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Why Do We Find Sexuality Scary?

Uncovering the Sexual Secrets We Keep from Ourselves

Michael Ventura • No Comments

By Michael Ventura - Sexuality is scary because it's where we meet ourselves most directly, without filters, without verbiage, and, if we go far enough, without fixed roles. It's where we meet ourselves with and through the Other—this Other with whom we journey into the realm; this Other, a partner as fluid we are.

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Affair Repair

Two Contradictions That Can Help Couples on the Brink Restore Connection

Michele Weiner-Davis • 1 Comment

By Michele Weiner-Davis - Couples therapy can be difficult and dicey, especially when there’s an affair in the mix. To keep afloat in the emotional tumult, most therapists cling to certain hard-and-fast rules that form the foundation of their work. One therapist learns some surprising lessons when she reevaluates those tenets.

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How to Overcome Your Fear of Couples Therapy

What's at Stake When We Only Treat One Partner

Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson • 2 Comments

By Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson - Many clients avoid couples therapy, and many clinicians themselves prefer not getting involved in it. Sometimes clients fear the unpleasant things their partners might say about them. And for us, a one-on-one relationship can be pretty rewarding. Being an effective couples therapist requires us to develop skills we may not come by naturally. Here's how to do it.

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So Your Client Is Having an Affair . . .

Should Therapists Be Secret-Keepers, or is Honesty the Best Policy?

Michele Scheinkman • 5 Comments

By Michele Scheinkman - Underlying the perceived magnitude of an affair is an idealized view of marriage as the "shelter" in our lives, with a primary function of providing emotional security and attunement. I've found it perplexing that, although we live in a pluralistic society, ostensibly liberal and sexually permissive, therapists typically have one-track minds regarding how to approach the range of infidelities that inundate our therapy practices.

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The Case for Porn

Can Pornography Actually Help our Relationships?

Ian Kerner • 2 Comments

Porn is polarizing. Porn is confusing. Porn can be alarming. For therapists, porn can push us out of our comfort zone and trigger negative countertransference. One thing is for sure: porn is everywhere, and it’s here to stay. So what do therapists have to say about it?

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American Therapy's Cultural Standards on Disclosure in Affairs

Why Not Disclosing in the Aftermath of an Affair Could Save Marriages

Michele Scheinkman • 3 Comments

I was born overseas and practice therapy in the United States. Since the early days of my life in America, I've felt a sense of cultural dissonance with colleagues and friends about how infidelity is approached here, both in the culture and in the therapy profession. Many American therapists proclaim total honesty as the ideal for all marriages and the unearthing of the secrecy and lies at the heart of infidelity as a primary therapeutic consideration. Maybe it's time for a two-way exchange, so that we can learn from the wisdom of other cultures when it comes to disclosure about an affair.

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