How Can Therapists Help Couples Recover from Infidelity?: An Interview with Dr. Talal H. Alsaleem
Curt and Katie interview Dr. Talal H. Alsaleem, Psy.D, LMFT about System Affair Recovery Treatment (SART) and how therapists can better address infidelity in treatment. We discuss what therapists usually get wrong when working with infidelity, the difference between typical couples counseling and affair recovery, and why infidelity happens. We also look at the SART Model as well as tactics and treatment teaming.
Click here to scroll to the podcast transcript.
Click here to scroll to the podcast transcript.
An Interview with Dr. Talal H. Alsaleem, PsyD, LMFT
Award-winning marriage counselor and researcher, Dr. Talal H. Alsaleem is recognized as a leading expert in the field of infidelity counseling. He is the author of the acclaimed book, Infidelity: The Best Worst Thing that Could Happen to Your Marriage, and the founder of the Infidelity Counseling Center. His research interests and clinical work are focused on identifying the causes of infidelity and providing the best treatment for recovery from its impact. He developed Systematic Affair Recovery Therapy (SART) , a method of infidelity counseling that has helped hundreds of couples navigate the challenges of the healing journey from affairs. Dr. Alsaleem is an international lecturer and speaker. His engaging talks have helped many counselors broaden their understanding of infidelity and gain the necessary clinical tools to help their clients recover from affairs. Learn more at TalalAlsaleem.com.
In this podcast episode, we talk about Infidelity
We explore with Dr. Talal Alsaleem what good infidelity counseling can look like and what therapists often get wrong when approaching this type of therapy.
What do therapists get wrong when working with infidelity?
“Infidelity is really one of the most prevalent issues that couples face and it’s one of the most damaging, but it’s mind boggling to me that in this day and age as trained professionals, were so ill equipped to deal with it.” – Dr. Talal Alsaleem
- Not understanding the goal of infidelity counseling
- Lack of clear clinical expectations
- Getting too focused on the emotional expression
- Bias and lack of knowledge
- Lack of adequate training in graduate programs and internship sites
- Lack of understanding the etiology of the affair
What is different between couples counseling and affair recovery?
- Length of session
- Importance of each intervention
Why does infidelity happen?
- Can be either individual or relationship factors
- Unhappiness within the relationship is not the only reason
- Individual mental health issues, including personality disorders
- Addiction including hypersexuality
- Environmental factors, including jobs, gender ratios
- Differentiating polyamory from infidelity
- Social contracts and understanding and honoring the relationship
What is the Systemic Affair Recovery Treatment (SART) Model?
“So in their quest to understand why the infidelity happened, we have to accept that the unfaithful is 100% responsible for the decision that they make for being unfaithful. So even in the worst case scenario, whether there was a huge relationship deficit, and you have the worst partner in the universe, that doesn’t give you permission to cheat, you can take them to counseling, you can end the relationship before you cross those lines.” – Dr. Talal Alsaleem
- Seven milestones with clinical objectives and interventions
- Setting the stage for healing
- Getting the narrative of the affair
- Acknowledging the impact of the affair
- Choosing a path of recovery (individual or within the relationship)
- Creating an action plan
- Infidelity can be the “best worst thing” that happens because you directly address what has happened
What are some of the tactics for healing infidelity and rebuilding a relationship?
“I don’t think that transparency is only needed when somebody discovers infidelity. I really think in a healthy relationship, there shouldn’t be any secrets.” – Dr. Talal Alsaleem
- Transparency or surveillance does not equate to trust (it’s a tool or a means to an end)
- How much needs to change and how much will the unfaithful will agree to
- When the unfaithful can’t cut out the person with whom they’ve had an affair
- Helping the betrayed partner to stop rumination
Treatment teaming while working on affair recovery
- Informed consent and making sure there is full access to individual therapists
- Open lines of communication to make sure all therapists are on the same page
- EMDR and Brainspotting are recommended to address trauma response of the betrayed partner
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Talal’s website: http://www.TalalAlsaleem.com
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Who we are:
Curt Widhalm, LMFT
Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University and CSUN, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, former CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making “dad jokes” and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at: http://www.curtwidhalm.com
Katie Vernoy, LMFT
Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. Katie is also a former President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt’s youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at: http://www.katievernoy.com
A Quick Note:
Our opinions are our own. We are only speaking for ourselves – except when we speak for each other, or over each other. We’re working on it.
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Transcript for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide podcast (Autogenerated):
Curt Widhalm 0:00
This episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide is brought to you by Thrizer.
Katie Vernoy 0:03
Thrizer is a modern billing platform for private pay therapists. Their platform automatically gets clients reimbursed by their insurance after every session. Just by billing your clients through Thrizer you can potentially save them hundreds every month with no extra work on your end. The best part is you don’t have to give up your rates they charge a standard 3% processing fee.
Curt Widhalm 0:23
Listen at the end of the episode for more information on a special offer from Thrizer.
You’re listening to the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide where therapists live, breathe and practice as human beings. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, here are your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy.
Curt Widhalm 0:45
Welcome back modern therapists. This is the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. I’m Curt Widhalm, with Katie Vernoy. And this is the podcast for therapists where we talk about the things that make us therapists and things come up in our lives, things show up in our offices. And we are really happy to be joined by one of our former Therapy Reimagined speakers. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve really got to hang out with today’s guest, but Dr. Talal Alsaleem MFT and one of the great people that I’ve come across in my career and has some really good ideas that change the way that I looked at treating infidelity and affairs when it comes up in families. And really excited to have a chance to talk with you today. So thank you very much for joining us.
Talal Alsaleem 1:33
Well, thanks for having me on the podcast.
Katie Vernoy 1:35
We’re so excited to have you here. And just so good to see you. It’s been so long, but I definitely am glad to see your face, have a conversation, all that good stuff. The first question we asked all of our guests is who are you and what are you putting out into the world?
Talal Alsaleem 1:52
Well, my name is Dr. Talal al Saleem, I’m the creator of systematic affair recovery therapy, and the founder of the infidelity Counseling Center. And what I’m trying to put in the world is a new way for us to look at infidelity, a new framework to help us understand: What it is. Why does it happen? How do we prevent it? And what is the best way for us to treat it?
Curt Widhalm 2:13
For a lot of our episodes, we start with kind of this idea as far as a teaching moment of what kinds of mistakes have other therapists made about working with affairs, that maybe if those are mistakes, from your vantage point that we can save some of our audience from making some of those same mistakes?
Talal Alsaleem 2:34
Great question. So we’re not going to have time to cover all the mistakes. The three common ones that I witness when I do my trainings. Te first common mistake therapists make is not really understanding what is the goal of infidelity counseling. The goal of infidelity counseling is not always to repair the relationship. The purpose of infidelity counseling is to give clients the opportunity to understand: what happened, why it happened, assess the damage, and figure out what’s the best way to heal from this. Because some people can heal by rebuilding the relationship and making the relationship better, stronger than it was prior to the discovery of the affair. But some people have to consider healing individually, because not everybody is going to be able and willing to do what it takes to rebuild trust. So I always tell folks that the goal of infidelity counseling is to make sure that this traumatic event does not define the rest of your life. You can use this trauma as a catalyst for change. Whether this is a change for new healthy relationship, or change to move on to a healthier relationship. A second mistake that I have seen is the therapist failing in setting clear clinical expectation for the clients. And I believe that is the case with any kind of therapy, not just infidelity counseling. There are a lot of times where clients drop out of therapy or they think of therapy is not working not because the therapist is bad or the treatment modality is not efficient. That’s because they don’t really know how the process is supposed to look like. And I think that kind of reflects the fact that most therapists don’t really know what the steps that they need to take to help their clients heal from infidelity. So if you as the guide don’t know what those milestones are, is going to be ambiguous for clients and sometimes people drop out too soon. Another common mistake is fixating on processing that emotional expression of the clients and getting sidetracked from addressing the core issues. And this has to do with the fact that after the discovery, people are hurting. And yes, there needs to be a lot of time spent on process. But also you need to help your clients navigate the obstacles that they’re facing so they can make a decision about the future of the relationship. So these are the three common mistakes that I have seen when I trained therapists.
Katie Vernoy 4:47
It seems like there’s additional clinical challenges. All those mistakes make sense. And it seems like there’s additional clinical challenges for therapists because to me, there is bias and a lot of societal opinions about affairs, about infidelity. And to me, it seems like therapists can get really caught in that because there’s so little, I certainly didn’t learn about affair recovery. You know, it was it’s one of those things where I feel like this is something that’s very taboo. It’s very judged. And so maybe you can talk a little bit about how therapists are kind of impacted by societal bias in an affair recovery.
Talal Alsaleem 5:28
Absolutely. So I’ll tell you some of the clinical challenges therapists face. And for me, so infidelity is really one of the most prevalent issues that couples face and it’s one of the most damaging. But it’s mind boggling to me that in this day and age as trained professionals, were so ill equipped to deal with it. So the first challenge is the lack of adequate training for treating infidelity. You know, when I do my trainings, I was ask people, you know, show hands in this room, how do people recall taking a graduate level course to help you deal with infidelity? And it’s either zero hand or maybe I get lucky and I see one hand or two.
Katie Vernoy 6:02
Talal Alsaleem 6:02
So that’s, that’s a problem. There is lack of adequate training in graduate programs as well as an internship sites. But also there aren’t, and they haven’t been tailor made treatment modalities for infidelity. Then I developed a SART model. Another challenge is the lack of understanding of the etiology. Because remember, if you’re trying to prevent relapse, regardless of whether or not people are going to stay in this relationship or move on, you need to understand why the infidelity happened and need to be able to address all the different factors that have contributed to that affair. Another challenge is the fact when you work with infidelity recovery, you’re dealing in a highly explosive therapeutic environment. People are fragile. And I always give the analogy that the difference between doing regular couples counseling versus infidelity recovery, that’s like the difference between outpatient services or a surgery. And when you’re doing infidelity counseling, if you’re doing surgery, you know that length of the sessions are longer, every mistake counts. And you need to be very strategic about your interventions. But also infidelity is one of those issues that we all have either a direct experience with in our relationship or indirect through the relationship of others that we care about. So there’s high potential for transference and countertransference. And I always tell my trainees, if you don’t work on those issues, prior to work in infidelity recovery, you’re going to struggle because it’s going to push your buttons.
Katie Vernoy 7:29
What is the kind of reasons that infidelity happens? Because I think for me, my clearest way to get past countertransference or bias is to understand why it’s happening. So what are some of the big reasons why?
Talal Alsaleem 7:43
Well, this gives me an opportunity to actually to clarify a myth that people have about infidelity. If you ask the average person, why does infidelity happen? Most people will say it’s because they’re not happy with their partner or relationship deficits. Now, granted, relationship deficit is one of the leading causes of infidelity. But it’s not the only one. We all have seen those relationships, whether in therapy or in personal life, where we look at the couple and we just don’t get it. Like, you know, they seem to have the right partner or they seem to be compatible. Their partner is wonderful and great and meeting their own needs. But despite that, they are still dealing with infidelity. Well, sometimes infidelity happens because of individual issue that the unfaithful is struggling with something that they brought into the relationship. A lot of it has to do with some mental health issues. I’ll give you some common examples of mental health issues that has higher correlation with affairs discovery, as well as engagement and affairs, personality disorders. And a common thing that I see is narcissistic personality disorder. And this has to do with the narcissist need for constant attention. So they might be with a partner who’s giving them the attention that they need, but it’s not adequate. They need it from multiple resources. Or that sense of I’m special, and I don’t have to play the same rules of exclusivity that I expect of you. Another common individual issue that could lead to infidelity is addiction, sex addiction, or hypersexuality. Depending on what terminology you want to use. When people struggle with hypersexuality they tend to have higher prevalence rates of sexual affairs. This is just the nature of their symptoms. And these are just two of the individual mental health issues that can lead to infidelity. But in addition to the individual and the relationship factors, there is environmental factors that could lead to infidelity. And this is the most ignored aspect in research as well in training. Believe it or not, the sociological environmental environment that we live in can actually increase or decrease one’s likelihood we’re engaging in fidelity. And I’ll just use one example to highlight this piece. Have you guys heard about a website named Ashley Madison?
Curt Widhalm 9:47
Katie Vernoy 9:48
Talal Alsaleem 9:48
Okay. For the folks who don’t know what that is, it’s a website for people who want to have affairs. Their tagline is “Life is short, have an affair.” So a few years ago…
Katie Vernoy 9:57
Talal Alsaleem 9:57
It’s awful. A few years ago there was a data breach to the site. And it gave researchers a golden opportunity to analyze a large set of data, socio economical data about the people around this website. And one of the things that they found out people occupation might actually can be a risk or protective factor against infidelity. They saw that there are specific types of jobs tend to be highly represented on the website. And again, I’ll give this disclaimer. Just because you or your partner have this job doesn’t mean that you’re unfaithful, it just means that you have higher potential for inviting infidelity. And I’ll just choose one category of jobs that they have discovered in that research. And this is actually consistent with I with what I see in clinical practice. They found that there is a higher presentation of people who are in the military. So why is this the case? One, being in the military means that you have frequent deployment, and that puts a lot of pressure on the individual mental health as well as strain on the relationship. Being in the military means that oftentimes, you’re going to be deployed to different state or different country, which means that if you have fantasies about infidelity, your level of anonymity is going to be higher. Which means it’s going to be easier for you to cross those lines, because the risk of discovery is minimal. Who’s going to know different state, different country? Another reason that folks in the military have higher prevalence rates of infidelity is the ratio disparity between males and females. As you already know that, you know, there are more males than females in the military. Why does this lead to infidelity? Well, when you are in a location where you’re have some kind of geographical isolation, and there is a huge disparities between males and females, they’re not going to be enough partners to go around. So create this sense of competition over available partners. Now, historically, you know, prior to the world shrinking and being a village, and we, you know, we’re able to travel. When people were having those situation of geographical isolation, societies came up with creative solutions to fix the disparity between males and females. And that’s why they invented polygamy and polyandry. Like a socially sanctioned solution to solve those problems. So we have a similar echo of that problem, now, in the military, at least for the folks who are stationed in places where they have limited off base privilege. The last piece related to the military is cultural norms. So sociologists believe that if you are part of a cultural group, macro, or micro, and this cultural group have a cultural norm that advocate for infidelity, or doesn’t frown upon it, you’re more likely going to engage in it because it’s kind of socially sanctioned. And this is a common cultural norm that folks in the military will report that this is what you do when you’re away. It’s kind of like what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. So that’s just one way to highlight how environmental factors can increase the likelihood for engaging in fidelity.
Curt Widhalm 12:49
And yet nowhere on that list, is it because people in the military wear camouflage, and they think that they’re not going to be seen.
Talal Alsaleem 13:00
No, but you know what, Curt? That actually might be the appeal of the uniform. So, there you just highlighted a new one.
Curt Widhalm 13:05
Sure. But it does. Your last point here does lead me to ask is, if there is this sanction about it, is it actually in fact, infidelity? Because I remember, when you were first out with your book, having a conversation around kind of like, infidelity really kind of starts with this idea of the social contract in a relationship? And if there is kind of this agreement, whether it’s spoken or not about this contract in a marriage of like, Yeah, as long as I don’t, you know, you don’t come back with a disease or kids like, that’s fine. Is that in fact, infidelity?
Talal Alsaleem 13:43
For sure. And actually, this brings up the issue of, you know, how do we define infidelity? And I’ll share that because this was the first obstacle that I had to kind of overcome and fix. Because, you know, my clients that I work with come from different background, different types of relationship. And their idea for infidelity is going to vary person to person and based on the type of relationship they have and their cultural background and spiritual belief system. So I truly believe that relationships should operate like business partnerships, in the sense that there should be a contract that explains how many people we have in this relationship. Is it one, is it two? Is it 20? What are the emotional and sexual needs that we are expecting our partners to fulfill in this relationship? And to what extent the fulfillment of those needs is exclusive only to the partners in this relationship? So infidelity from the SART model becomes a conscious breach of contract of exclusivity that you have with your partners. It’s whenever you engage in any kind of need fulfillment, emotional or sexual that was supposed to be fulfilled exclusively by the partners that you have in the relationship. When you outsource those needs without their consent, you’re violating the contract exclusivity and the breach of contract in itself becomes that of infidelity. So that’s the threshold of defining it.
Katie Vernoy 14:08
So what you’re saying though, is for folks in kind of whether it’s called ethical non-monogamy or whatever it is, that still falls within that contract. And so it would be going outside of whatever has been agreed within the partnerships that are available within that contract.
Talal Alsaleem 15:22
Correct. And, and bringing this back to the point that Curt highlighted, like, you know, if it’s socially sanctioned, then is it really infidelity? Now again, it becomes an issue of which social contract the person is operating under. So we’re talking about somebody who’s operating from a cultural norm of, you know, I know my partner expecting exclusivity, but in my society, it’s okay to, you know, not be exclusive. Then this person is, you know, not honoring the relationship contract. So just because society says it’s okay, or your peer says it’s okay, it does not mean it’s going to be aligned with what your partner expecting of you. So for me really what guides that is the social contract that you have with your partner versus what your cultural. Because you know, even regardless of whatever cultural group that we all belong to, we’re not always going to adhere 100% to all of these cultural norms, we might cherry pick what’s, you know, useful for us.
Katie Vernoy 16:12
So, you’ve talked a little bit about the SART Model that you’ve created, maybe we can kind of start there as we start to explore what we should be doing in sessions with our clients and the families that we serve that are in these situations with infidelity. What’s the SART model?
Talal Alsaleem 16:30
So Systematic Affair Recovery Therapy, it’s a practice based treatment method for treating infidelity that has developed to address the glaring gaps and the evidence based models that we’ve been using to treat infidelity. So it’s the best of both worlds. It was designed to give clinicians of all levels, not just a seasoned ones and I would also say students would benefit from doing this training, to help give them a blueprint to understand what are the milestones of recovery that they need to help their clients navigate. So there is seven milestones of recovery. Each one of those milestones have a specific clinical objective to achieve, as well as their specific intervention that you need to do. There’s do’s and don’ts. The first milestone of recovery is setting the stage for healing. And the purpose is really to make sure that you create the best environment for recovery. There are a lot of steps to kind of achieve that objective. But a lot of it has to do with helping clients to agree on some logistics to make sure that they have the best environment of care. One of those logistics is that we have to make an agreement that we keep the discovery to us as well as the professionals that we’re hiring versus putting this on Facebook and the public. Because a lot of times when people you know, try to recover in the public eye, the decision that they make about the future of the relationship is going to be influenced by external pressure. That’s just one example of one of the things that needs to be accomplished and the first milestone. The second milestone, which is the most important one is getting the narrative of the affair. And clinicians are split on that one. A lot of people say, you know, I feel that the narrative doesn’t matter. Or some people say every detail matters. And some says, you know, just the main points. So for me, this is what’s going to make or break the process. Because as you said, Katie, if somebody wants to make a decision, they have to understand, why does this happen. So this is the opportunity to really uncover what type of infidelity took place, as well as the factors that led to it because this is going to help both partners make an informed decision, how they’re going to heal it together or as individuals. The third milestone of recovery is going to be acknowledging the impact of infidelity. And this is really crucial. A lot of times, you know, the betrayed doesn’t recover because they don’t feel that the unfaithful truly express that they understand the damage that they have caused, or they’re not showcasing the right emotional expression that they’re expecting them to have as a result of this discovery. So it’s an opportunity to be able to highlight whether or not the unfaithful understand the damage. An opportunity to assess the damage and to see if the unfaithful actually have the right emotional expression needed for that. As if I’m a betrayed, why would I want to rebuild with somebody who is not willing to take acknowledgement for the damage that they have caused?
Katie Vernoy 19:15
So in the telling of the story, to me, it seems like there is a lot and then also in the acknowledging of the damage, it seems that the unfaithful has a lot of opportunity for defensiveness, blaming the relationship, especially given the bias or the myth that it’s caused by deficiencies in the partner or in the relationship. How do you navigate that because that to me, I feel like before we even get past this, I’m, I’m gonna be thinking about this until we, until I understand kind of how do you, how do you support a good helpful story and an acknowledgement of the impact?
Talal Alsaleem 19:52
Great question, Katie. Because again, that’s another thing that therapists kind of shy away from or get wrong. Before we even begin the process. I always highlight to my clients how I view infidelity. I always tell folks, infidelity, everything we do good or bad happened for a reason, right? Even the bad things that we do. So in their quest to understand why the infidelity happened, we have to accept that the unfaithful is 100% responsible for the decision that they make for being unfaithful. So even in the worst case scenario, whether a relationship, there was a huge relationship deficit, and you have the worst partner in the universe, that doesn’t give you permission to cheat. You can take them to counseling, you can end the relationship before you cross those lines. So that the mantra that I always kind of repeat, you know, these are explanation versus excuses or justifications, right? Because we have to understand that ala to be able to see, I think that’s a good way to kind of find that balance by highlighting the relationship deficit, but also without blaming the betrayed to say it’s your fault that they cheated. Back to the milestones of recovery. So I said, we have setting the stage for healing, we have, you know, getting the narrative and acknowledging the impact, then the fourth milestone is choosing a path of recovery and going through various assessment that people need to go through to make an informed decision whether we heal together or heal as individuals. And then we have the milestones of creating an action plan. And this would be whether we create an action plan for rebuilding the relationship, that action plan will have to entail addressing all the different factors that lead to infidelity. The individual, relational, as well as the environmental factors. And that would entail having concrete steps to how are we going to fix those issues? Action Plan for separation would be really how do we separate in an amicable way and redefine our roles, if and especially important for the folks who have kids together and they have to be in each other’s life. And how do we do that with the least damage possible for everybody? And after we create the action plan, the next milestone would be the implementation and the healing pains. And at this point of time, we’re talking about the folks who decided to rebuild the relationship, how do they implement those changes and deal with the, you know, residual symptoms of the trauma. And the last milestone is the sustainability. And now you know, if everybody does their job, clients are gonna end up with a better stronger relationship than they ever had, which sounds like a crazy thing to say. Because even you know, a lot of people get confused by the title of my book, when I say infidelity is the best worst thing that could happen to your marriage. I’ll say like, think of it this way. Most people usually know about the individual and the relationship and environmental deficit that they have in their life. But oftentimes, they don’t address it, whether it’s atime issue, resources, or they don’t think it’s serious enough. Or sometimes they think this is what a marriage rut is. But when something like infidelity happens, it’s like a heart attack to that relationship. You can no longer afford to sweep things under the rug. So it’s a golden opportunity for people to seriously take a look at those issues. And if they actually fix those issues, they going to be better by this experience, because now they’re going to have a healthier relationship with themselves and a healthier relationship with one another. Which means that the sustainability piece, if you’re going to reach to this new healthy baseline, you need to make sure that you prevent relapse, and make sure that this new healthy baseline is being actually maintained and growing.
Curt Widhalm 23:15
So, in this process, I have seen some couples where, in practicality, what they’re negotiating is, you know, things like being able to check phone messages, check, you know, cutting people out of lives, you know, not just the person that the affair was done with, but also maybe some of the other people that knew about it, friends, colleagues, those kinds of things. How do you navigate those conversations in the therapy room as far as what ends up feeling good enough to the person who has been cheated on along with the person who did cheat and isn’t feeling just like, suddenly trapped all of a sudden?
Talal Alsaleem 23:59
Sure. So you know, people have to accept that if they want to heal via rebuilding the relationship, then some major changes need to happen. But I always highlight: don’t make those changes unless you believe that they are in the right and healthy one for you to do. And this specifically for them faithful one may struggle with some of those changes. Because I’ve seen enough people who do just enough work to get out of the doghouse. And then they go back and kind of repeat those same patterns. So I’m not interested in somebody just doing what I say is the right thing to do. They have to actually be able to see the value in that. This bring up the piece about transparency. So I think people sometimes conflate transparency with rebuilding trust. So transparency and surveillance, I could say like, you could have somebody watch you 24/7 and if you want to be unfaithful, you still find ways, right? So transparency by itself does not guarantee not having relapse. I see it as a rehabilitative tool. Really more of a crutch that you need until you see actual signs of those factors that have led to infidelity to be fixed, right. So it’s a meantime, and because really the only way for the betrayed to rebuild trust by really, truly understanding why this happened and seeing actual change of those factors that have led to it. Anything short of that is just really wishful thinking. And again, it just really depends on which couple that you work with. Some unfaithful, understand that there is some changes that needs to happen and okay with it. And for some folks, they feel like no, I don’t want to make those changes. And that can be actually part of the assessment of whether or not you should be built together or, you know, individually. The piece about changing interaction with others. The part that’s important for me clinically, is the relationship with the third party, which is the term that I use for the other person in the affair. People cannot heal if the third party is still in the unfaithful life. And I don’t speak in absolutes, I don’t like that. Because there’s always exceptions. In a perfect world, if you don’t have to see the third party or you’re cross paths with them, then great, that’s what we want to shoot for. But it’s not a perfect world, there are some situation where the third party have to be in your life. Let’s say that, you know, you work in the same place, and you can just quit your job, right? Or that, you know, the affair maybe lead to pregnancy. And now we have an offspring with this third party. And those situation, transparency is absolute. And we also have to agree on what are the appropriate level of interaction so that the betrayed doesn’t have to worry about, you know, those relationships leading back to relapse into affairs.
Katie Vernoy 26:28
You talk about it as a kind of means to an end, and that there are other indicators that we’ll move back from that 100% transparency. And I might be oversimplifying, so please feel free to clarify, but it seems like it’s something where it continues. It’s that kind of immediate reassurance that doesn’t actually build real trust. How do you, I just, I guess why want a little bit more clarification on it.
Talal Alsaleem 26:53
Sure. So when I say it’s mean and end, I don’t think that transparency is only needed when somebody discovered infidelity. I really think in a healthy relationship, there shouldn’t be any secrets. If I’m not doing anything fishy. You know, I always do the analogy, like you know, you live in a big house with all these rooms with doors that you can lock, you know, I can keep the door closed, right? I don’t have to lock it. If you’re my partner, you want to see what’s behind door number one. Number two, ask me and I’ll show you because I don’t really have anything to hide. So really transparency in a relationship should be just, you know, a standard basic that should come with any relationship. Now in the terms of infidelity, it’s even more needed. Because now I don’t really trust you, I don’t really know those factors that lead to infidelity have disappeared. So I need this extra level of it until they actually see those actual changes. And I think sometimes people struggle with that. Because then I don’t know if it says social trend or some kind of a way of we’re being programmed now in terms of you know, you can’t have autonomy with without transparency. I think there is room for the two to coexist, right? Because when you’re in a healthy relationship, you have a partner, everything you do big or small is going to impact your partner. There is no such thing that this is going to impact me all week. Even the type of salad dressing that I look to have if I have I’m diabetic or whatever, right? That’s not just my choice. My wife, Rena loves me, she doesn’t want me to die. So that’s going to impact her too.
Katie Vernoy 28:12
I guess. I mean, for me, I feel like I agree. I think in healthy relationships, transparency is key. But it’s not active. It’s not I’m constantly checking my partner’s messages all the time. I’m not constantly needing to know exactly where he is at every moment of every day. Like I think, for me getting from this active transparency, and as well as that kind of constant communication that is checking versus connecting. How does that look in practice? When it actually goes from that? I don’t trust you. So I’m watching your every move to now we’re just kind of transparent, because there’s nothing to hide.
Talal Alsaleem 28:52
For sure. And I think what you’re highlighting here is that you want to avoid having the betrayed to get stuck in this trap of rumination, right? Because that can be a full time job. And I’m just watching everything. And that’s not what we want to do. So the way I present it to my clients, too, is that what we all agree that we want transparency. Transparency doesn’t mean that I have to look behind your back. I always say let’s present it as an opportunity for proving if somebody’s actually being successful or not. So rather than saying, hey, go behind my back, look at my phone, look at my email. Ask me in the moment, hey, I have concerned about this. I’m feeling triggered, can you please show me your phone? Can you please show me your emails, right? And this gives me an opportunity if I’m the unfaithful to say, Okay, I’m either going to say, hey, I’ll show you this, right? And thank you for not going behind my back. And I can address the you know, the triggers that you’re dealing with, or I could fail by saying no, I don’t want to show you, right? Because why would I want to do that and be secretive unless I’m doing something. Well, so really seeing it more of an opportunity to test drive whether or not we are actually implementing this action plan and we’re facing those factors but also, again, emphasizing and that’s why the action plan is very important. I was telling people like the sucess should not be off how transparent the person is and how often you’ll look at their phone and you don’t find anything. Because when people actually make that mistake, they get more creative. So somebody can cover their track. And I will say transparency doesn’t have as much value as you think it does. It’s just a crutch that you need. But I’m also expecting you not to rely on it. And also, I asked my clients, again, to measure how often they are relying on this transparency versus focusing on the relationship issue. Because once we get to the implementation phase, and we’re actually putting the action plan into play. A couple are supposed to be having a minimum of one weekly meeting with one another looking at this action plan. Are we following through with the steps that we set to address those factors? And if we are great, this is healthier, clear indicator off repaired versus just looking at somebody’s phone and checking behind them.
Curt Widhalm 30:50
I tend to see people after the affairs in kind of individual factors and working as part of a team in this that there usually ends up being kind of the individual therapist, couples therapists that are in this. What do you recommend as far as treatment teams as far as getting clarity on these goals together when there might be very competing needs, and especially if nobody’s trained to to how to do the infidelity work in the first place, let alone in working with just kind of the emotional processes of only one partner or the other in this?
Talal Alsaleem 31:26
And this is what I love about the value of informed consent. And it’s funny because you know, if you think about when we were learning about informed consent, we just think of it it just really more of a paperwork, just basic ethical stuff, right? But actually have a tremendous clinical value. So so before I take clients on, I always tell them that if you’re seeing an individual therapist, right, or you’re probably going to see an individual therapist in the future, I need to make sure that we have full access so that we’re working together as a team, and we’re not undermining each other’s work. That is especially true when you have a client who have an individual therapist who have their own bias about infidelity. And they’re undermining all the work that you’re doing, right? So you know, if we’re working in a team, we all have to be going in the same direction. That doesn’t mean that we overstep on each other’s toes. It just really making sure that we all are okay with this process, so that we can work together as a team and make sure that everybody’s following. Because like I said, if somebody goes to individual therapy, and they don’t really know what was discovered in the couples counseling, you’re really not addressing those issues. And also we kind of tend to have blind spots. So I’m only going to report to my individual therapist what I see, right? And that’s the value of really having those open lines of communication to make sure that we’re all working together as a team to address the individual issues and the relationship issues that we’re trying to fix.
Katie Vernoy 32:45
Yeah, I think that’s so important. I know for myself, I don’t do couples work. But I have worked with a number of folks who have couples therapists, and when I actually am able to talk with a couples therapist, and it’s not been specifically infidelity, it’s been other things. But regardless of the couples work, I feel like as an individual therapist, I am bound to get in the way of the couples therapist, if I don’t understand what’s actually happening, in the whole picture. Specifically, I’m now thinking about the betrayed partner and and how traumatic that can be and how coming to terms with that and kind of empowering that client. Theoretically, if it’s not informed by this process could mean that this client is saying in couples therapy, that they want to repair the relationship, but an individual therapy, they’re working to heal individually and mistrust the process.
Talal Alsaleem 33:37
That’s a very valid point. And that’s why I’m saying that really, and again, it’s hard to it because you cannot force individual therapists to say you have to believe in this model. But if those two models don’t go together, right, then it becomes really a conflict of interest that’s not going to benefit the client.
Katie Vernoy 33:51
The question I guess I was trying to lead to is for the betrayed partner within the SART Model. I’ve seen a lot of folks who feel very traumatized by this type of betrayal. How does that fit into the work? How do we support the betrayed partner?
Talal Alsaleem 34:06
So one thing that I always recommend for the betrayed is to engage in individual counseling, specifically your toward the trauma piece dealing with the PTSD, residual symptoms, EMDR and brainspotting have been phenomenal for the betrayed. So that’s always something that are services for the betrayed that I highly recommend. And this can actually help the therapeutic outcome of a couple session significantly. It’s make or break for the people who actually consider doing individual counseling versus just focusing on the couple’s aspect.
Curt Widhalm 34:40
Where can people find out more about you and the model that you’re working on as well as find out some of the things that you’ve written in books that you’re working on?
Talal Alsaleem 34:51
So folks can find me on my main website, talalalsaleem.com. They can learn about my clinical practice, they can actually see a link to the Systematic Affair Recovery Therapy training. Right now actually, there is our level one certification course and the SART model, and it’s 100% online. You can take it at your own pace. This is not just theoretical knowledge, you can actually see the model in action with clinical vignettes, seeing my work with the clients through the milestones of recovery. And even though it’s online, you actually have access to live q&a virtually once a month to actually make sure that you are understanding those concepts. Also, you can find me on YouTube: The Infidelity Doctor: Affair Recovery Support. And that channel, you actually going to see season one of my Docu series, and the Docu series was designed to showcase the SART model working with challenging cases of infidelity. So you get to see the journey of a real couple beginning to an end. This is you know, no script, no crew…
Katie Vernoy 35:50
Talal Alsaleem 35:50
…real therapy, and you see bits and pieces of me giving my clinical insight about what you say.
Curt Widhalm 35:56
And you also have a giveaway for our listeners.
Talal Alsaleem 35:59
Absolutely two signed books, Infidelity: The Best Worst Thing that Could Happen to Your Marriage. And also stay tuned for a second book that’s going to be coming out next year. It’s called Unfaithful and Unrepentant: Affiars Beyond the Hopes of Repair. And this book is going to be discussing some of the challenging cases where healing together as a couple is not attainable.
Katie Vernoy 36:22
And we’ll make sure to set up a place for you to sign up to go into a drawing that we’ll put together to get those books so that you can have an opportunity to get a signed copy. Very cool.
Curt Widhalm 36:34
And you can find that over in our show notes at mtsgpodcast.com. We’ll also link to Talal’s website and all of the other super cool stuff that he is putting out there. So find those over at mtsgpodcast.com. Follow us on our social media, join our Facebook group, the Modern Therapists group. And until next time, I’m Curt Widhalm, with Katie Vernoy and Dr. Talal Alsaleem.
Talal Alsaleem 36:59
Thanks for having me.
Katie Vernoy 37:02
Thanks again to our sponsor, Thrizer.
Curt Widhalm 37:05
Thrizer is a new billing platform for therapists that was built on the belief that therapy should be accessible and clinician should earn what they are worth. Every time you bill a client through Thrizer an insurance claim is automatically generated and sent directly to the clients insurance. From there Thrizer provides concierge support to ensure clients get their reimbursement quickly and directly into their bank account. By eliminating reimbursement by cheque, confusion around benefits and obscurity with reimbursement status they allow your clients to focus on what actually matters rather than worrying about their money. It is very quick and easy to get set up and it works great with EHR systems.
Katie Vernoy 37:45
Their team is super helpful and responsive and the founder is actually a longtime therapy client who grew frustrated with his reimbursement times. Thrizer lets you become more accessible while remaining in complete control of your practice. Better experience for your clients during therapy means higher retention. Money won’t be the reason they quit on therapy. Sign up using bit.ly/moderntherapists and use the code ‘moderntherapists’ if you want to test Thrizer completely risk free. You will get one month of no payment processing fees meaning you earn 100% of your cash rate during that time.
Curt Widhalm 38:19
Once again, sign up at bit.ly/moderntherapists and use the code ‘moderntherapists’ if you want to test Thrizer completely risk free.
Thank you for listening to the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. Learn more about who we are and what we do at mtsgpodcast.com. You can also join us on Facebook and Twitter. And please don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any of our episodes.