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Updated: Mar 30, 2022

The surprising similarity and reflections on what is needed to move beyond infidelity.

Much like coming for couples counselling, especially after infidelity, the COP26 conference is a step forward. This conference, involved sovereign nation states coming together with shared ideals with a view to walking the same path together. Just like Couples in Counselling, the hope of these nations is to achieve these lofty goals through the use of clear communication and well established boundaries.

I was struck particularly by a subtle analogy. The various nation states at COP26 are recognising that to achieve their goals the time has come for all of them to put aside their historical positions of ‘collective denial’ on the issue of climate change. They are in sense seeking to atone for past indiscretions in order to reach an agreement about “who has done what” and what they require to do to rectify the position in which they now find themselves.

I would anticipate that fellow Counsellors and clients alike may see analogies to these common themes following the breakdown of a relationship, as a consequence of infidelity. Couples when they attend Counselling after infidelity are in a sense very much sovereign nation states coming together with a view to reaching a shared common goal – the restoration of their damaged relationship. The obstacles to overcome cannot be understated:

“The pain of betrayal reaches deep, triggering the inner wounded child. If your nearest and dearest is dishonourable, who can you ever trust? In the case of the climate emergency, I feel like the betrayer and the betrayed. Can I ever trust myself or my own species again?”[1]

At the same time when Couples coming together at Counselling–even as a consequence of infidelity–it is not generally to be viewed solely as a mechanism for the person guilty of the indiscretion to atone to the other for their transgression. Obviously this is part of the process. However, infidelity is not only a cause but a consequence of a fractured relationship.[2] Therefore, when Couples come together at Counselling following infidelity it is helpful for there to be recognition of their ‘collective responsibility’ for the state of their relationship.

When Couples first come together in Counselling it can feel clunky and awkward to sit in a room together and share long held deepest darkest vulnerabilities but to share like this brings a closeness like no other. This closeness is when we stand shoulder to shoulder knowing that we have ‘got each other’s back’. Like the climate protester who wants politicians and world leaders to stand together for the benefit of their citizens and the bigger world picture, the Counsellor or Therapist has similar hopes for their clients in Counselling. At first glance the latter goal of the therapist may seem inconsequential in relation to the goal of the former, the climate protester. However, I would argue that for the Couples involved the stakes are equally as high. By sharing their vulnerabilities and fears in Counselling Couples are aiming to develop or to perhaps rediscover the fondness they once had for each other. Striving towards repairing, what is to them, often one of the most– if not the most–significant relationship in their lives.

COP26 was the product of extensive negotiations between key nation states coming together to reflect their shared ideals into a workable agreement. The complexities behind reaching these agreements cannot be understated. There is no– international police force–to intervene to enforce any breach of the agreement or to compel compliance with it. For this reason in order to reach workable agreements it is critical for all parties to set out at the earliest possible stage what each nation is willing to negotiate upon by way of terms, what expectations each has of the other, and what each nation believes to be reasonable and realistic. Without this degree of specificity it is unlikely that an agreement–or at least a workable one–will ever be achieved. To Counsellors I would ask…sound familiar?

To clients considering Couples Counselling it is worthwhile bearing in mind when going into Counselling that you have to agree things like what you are willing to negotiate about, the expectations you have, and what you feel can reasonably and realistically be achieved in the short, medium and long term. Taking the time out to learn how to communicate our individual expectations, wants and desires will inevitably lead to better quality relationships whereby everyone knows what to do, what the other needs, and what we have agreed is reasonable to expect of ourselves and other. In coming together to reach a resolution on the important issues we make steps to reinforce the foundations that already exist in our relationships with a view to making them stronger.

Listening to each speech of the opening days of the COP26 I notice an urgency and finality in the way each speaker addressed the issues of climate change however, there was an ‘it’s not too late’ tone and message–otherwise what would be the point. After all an end of the world party is nigh akin to a divorce party!!!

Like low vibrations causing rice sprinkled across a loud speaker to become animated and continuously move in a forward direction, the past reverberation caused by committed resolve at the international level has led to ripple effects which surprise in their strength of feeling and actual effect. The non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the adherence to the Geneva Convention, and the absence of the use of chemical and biological weapons from the battlefield, by the majority of nation states, serve as potent examples.

For the nations at COP26 Sitting back and doing nothing is no longer an option–otherwise the outcome can come as no surprise. We may say we want to help the environment but do we try to reduce, reuse or recycle? Similarly it is often said that marriages and other close relationships take work but do we actually put in any real valuable effort? Honest appraisals are needed in all facets of life. They are in fact the starting blocks for new ways forward in what we do and say as individuals and groups of people together.

Change is often necessary but rarely easy.Technological enhancements such as shifting from ‘our comfort zone’ of gas central heating by updating to a heat pump could assist in saving the planet.The delay in adapting seems to be due to a lack of effort, cost and practicality. However, all of these are critical to saving the planet.It would possibly be naive to assume that fractured relationships can be repaired in the absence of similar effort to change.Big changes like that are scary but once made we often wonder why we didn’t do it sooner!

[1] Therapy Today, 2021, BACP, November 2021, Volume 32, Issue 9 at p.23.

[2] D. Previti & P. Amato “Is infidelity a cause or a consequence of poor marital quality?” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships ol. 21(2): 217–230. (2004) available at

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