We see affairs and their aftermath depicted on television shows and film practically every day. It’s a favorite ‘conflict’ for many shows to mine, and can present some truly inspiring storylines. However, a lot of the times — TV just gets it wrong.
1. “Once a cheater, always a cheater!”
The mentality behind this phrase is really that there is no hope and no chance of recovery for a couple that suffers an affair, because the offending parting is sure to cheat again (or maybe just not take ownership of it, as we see in the clip above!). But the reality is that simply isn’t true. Of course, there are instances of couples having multiple affairs — but that doesn’t make it a universal law. Eric and I are living proof that there is hope for recovery after something like this. It does take humility, grace, forgiveness, and continual work — real work — toward healing. It’s not easy. But with the couple who’s willing to do that work, it’s very possible. We see it in our practice every day.
2. You don’t need counseling.
Counseling, in film and television, is rarely depicted well (we’re trying to be nice here, but that is the understatement of the century). In many instances it is treated as a joke, as the scene above — which, to be fair, is objectively hilarious, but it does belie many of the tropes and discomfort that those without counseling experience have come to expect from talk therapy. In other films, therapy is treated as a throwaway line — a last-ditch effort the couple tried before giving up and splitting up. But in even more shows, therapy or counseling of any kind is not depicted at all. It’s not even considered as a couple goes through a split. Unfortunately, all these depictions reinstate the false beliefs that many people hold about counseling: that it’s ridiculous, that it’s pointless, or that it’s not something they’d ever even consider.
3. The Betrayed Partner Deserves Some Blame
If you happened to catch the ‘Gilmore Girls’ reboot, you’ll probably remember Paul, Rory’s fiance — although no one on the show did. Rory’s is engaged to him, and has supposedly been dating him for three years, but keeps forgetting about him. He is very ‘forgettable,’ and therefore, she has no problem having an affair on a regular basis with Logan in Vegas. Now, this bit is played out as a joke, I realize, but it does depict something all-too-common in modern media: that people often cheat for a ‘good’ reason, and that you can’t put all the blame on the cheater for a relationship gone wrong. Now, while it’s true that as you navigate an affair, both partners do have to take various levels of responsibility for the relationship, what isn’t true is that the offended partner should take some level of responsibility for the affair. All relationships have problems; choosing to respond to those problems with an affair is the choice of one party only. It isn’t fair to say the offended partner ‘caused’ it by being withholding, or too busy, or any other number of reasons. That doesn’t mean their behavior was okay, or that they don’t have things to work on — it just means that we don’t blame them for the affair. The cheating partner must own their actions.