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Icebergs – Affairs

Despite our backgrounds or expectations for attachments, we may hit icebergs and endure the trembling waters of affairs.


In various cultures or religions, there are different views on how couples are supposed to form their attachments with their partners. Considering research surrounding these findings, we really get to understand the emotional lens of how couples share their underlying feels and attachment needs with their loved ones. The biggest take away I’d like you to receive from this post is the various manners in which couples experience affairs in their attachment bonds.

Despite our backgrounds or expectations for attachments, we may hit icebergs and endure the trembling waters of affairs.

There are various forms of affairs that one can experience in their attachment with their loved ones. In many ways, we hear different stories from clients who have experience infidelity in previous or current relationships.

For ex.

1. “the one-night stand”—a partner goes on a business trip and ends up sleeping with a coworker.

2. An alternate relationship— a partner increasingly forms an emotional attachment with another person(s) while embedded in their current relationship.

3. “The Jump”—a partner struggles to open up about wanting to leave their partner, so they sleep with someone else to leave their relationship.

4. “Open relationship”—at times, our partner expresses happiness with their relationship, but they want to have an “occasional” sexual encounter.

These are a few circumstances that couples may face when working with a couple or family counselor. In the midst of these circumstances, it is the perceived infidelity that leads to icebergs in the water. The immediate threat response might come from a certain intuition from one partner or another. We might find some form of evidence that something is happening that forms a rip in the attachment with our partner.

In research, what we find is so valuable about Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy is the ability for the therapist to help the client(s) understand underlying needs in repairing this injury. When a partner reaches out in session and communicates, “I wasn’t even in your mind when you were doing this,” “how can I ever trust you again?”, “Why didn’t you think about how this would make me feel?” or “There’s no safety here,” etc.—this is when we want to drive home the value of secure attachment. We want couples to understand that we want our partner to treasure and value us, so much so that they’ll help us when we’re struggling to reach to one another for comfort or support (Johnson, 2005).

When one partner feels so shocked and questions the relationship after an affair, they’re likely to have experienced some form of emotional neglect, where they must turn into their own head to question if they’re safe to stay in their relationship. On the other hand, affairs are also attributed to various forms of responses when we open up to our partners when there is a roadblock in the relationship.

To shed further light on this, take a look at this segment of an article from Dr. Sue Johnson (2005):

“…if the threat is manageable, if the extramarital involvement was minimal, and if the offending spouse takes responsibility and offers caring, the injured one can often reach out in the open manner typical of more secure attachment and the threat can be reduced by soothing contact and reassurance. If the threat is perceived as more serious however, or if the relationship has not offered a safe haven or secure base before the injury, then the injured spouse will either hyperactivate attachment anxieties and protests, or try to deactivate needs and fears–this results in numbing out and defensive avoidance. If injured partners are extremely fearful of both depending on and of losing their partner, these partners may swing between anxious clinging and avoidant responses.”

We must understand the driving force of our connections. If we aren’t able to power enough vulnerability, we can collide with icebergs along the way. Our responsibility lies in acknowledging the cycle in how we communicate with our partners, even prior to an attachment injury, like that of an affair.

How we communicate our emotions sheds a light on overcoming these types of attachment injuries. If our pattern of sharing emotion relies solely on tuning to logic, or remaining in our head, we can push our partner away when they try to tune into how we’re feeling. We can miss out on understanding their attachment needs and create wedges that drive us further apart. If we pick or pry open our partners when they’re struggling to articulate or push past fear or shame about opening up, we may lose them even more. Vulnerability, expressing our emotions and needs, is the core of secure attachment.

We can create accessibility and responsiveness from our partners by understanding this cycle. When unmet emotional needs are brought to light, we can understand where distance can create neglect that leads to such circumstances as these. While there is definitely validity around resentment or anger towards partners when they have an affair in a relationship, we must understand that each partner plays a vital role in the cycle of vulnerability. Helping each partner tread the waters is very beneficial when we look at the success of Emotionally-Focused therapy.

Forgiveness, while it plays a role in overcoming infidelity, also centers on softening these events through expressing underlying emotions and needs. We have to create safe havens in one another, so that we can feel that our partner understands the cycle and needs or emotions that haven’t been heard or met.

We have to accept our partners vulnerability and be open to engaging in this manner when it comes to facing difficult attachment injuries. Affairs can be destructive, but partners who are open to managing this cycle and working through building that vulnerability and attunement with one another can face the challenge with someone else willing to attune and validate these experiences.

If you’re facing challenges with any such affair, we’re hear to listen and provide this support for you and your relationship. If you’re wanting to take this time to work through the injury together, please reach out and schedule an appointment.



Johnson, S. M. (2005). Broken Bonds: An Emotionally Focused Approach to Infidelity. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 4(2/3), 17–29.

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