An Interview with Dr. Janis Spring by Lili Vasileff
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Dr. Janis Spring about her work with couples who have experienced the event of an affair in their relationships. I was curious how this may play out in financial behaviors between the spouses, and what if any, financial measures become part of the aftermath of an affair.
Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., ABPP, is a board certified clinical psychologist and nationally acclaimed expert on issues of trust, intimacy, and forgiveness. Her first book, “After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful,” has sold more than a half million copies and was a Books for a Better Life Award finalist in the categories of Best First Book and Best Relationship Book. She is author also of “How Can I Forgive You? The Courage to Forgive, The Freedom Not To” and “Life with Pop: Lessons on Caring for an Aging Parent.”
In private practice for more than 40 years in Westport, Connecticut, Dr. Spring is a recipient of the Connecticut Psychological Association’s Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Practice of Psychology and the Connecticut Marriage and Family Therapy’s Award for Distinguished Service to Families. Her website is http://janisaspring.com.
Working with couples both as a financial mediator and as a financial specialist in divorce, I asked Janis how an affair may affect a couples’ financial relationship in addition to their emotional relationship. I wondered if the subject of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements were an item of discussion in therapy. Not surprisingly, the answer was “it depends because each situation is unique.”
Janis: When one partner is unfaithful, the other partner (the hurt partner) experiences not just a shattering of trust, but a psychological trauma – a shattering of self. No matter what they do, they can’t recapture the way they’re used to knowing themselves – attractive, fun, zesty, steady. They’re bombarded with images of their partner and this other person, even while they sleep.
Lili: Does this loss of sense of self and the relationship require some atonement by the hurt partner from the unfaithful partner?
Janis: If unfaithful partners want to rebuild trust, earn forgiveness, and perhaps, reconcile, yes, they need to make the hurt partner feel safe and cherished. This is accomplished through concrete acts of atonement and caring. For some hurt partners, it may mean the unfaithful partner gives up alcohol and joins a 12-step program; for others, it may mean getting into couples therapy and working to understand what created space between them that made room for someone else to come in between them.
Lili: What are some tangible means of providing assurances or measures of protection?
Janis: It depends on the circumstances surrounding the affair and what the hurt spouse needs as a concrete gesture from the unfaithful spouse.
I have what I call “low” and “high” cost trust-building behaviors. An example of a “high” cost trust building behavior is that the hurt partner is allowed to hire a private investigator (which the unfaithful partner pays for), and the hurt party can contact that person to track the unfaithful partner whenever they feel suspicious. (Often the unfaithful partner’s willingness to do this is all that is needed. It shows an intention to be faithful, an intention to be accountable and to help the hurt party heal).
For others, a concrete gesture or act of atonement may be to secure finances in the hurt spouse’s name. As part of earning forgiveness and making the hurt party feel secure, the unfaithful partner may be asked to sign a postnuptial agreement that spells out how the financial assets will be divided if the couple divorces. Or, alternatively, certain assets, such as the family home, may be re-titled in the name of the hurt spouse.
Everything is subject to negotiation, but the hurt spouse may feel that these concrete acts are necessary if they’re going to reinvest themselves in the marriage.
Lili: What happens if these negotiations fall part or if the unfaithful spouse feels they are being manipulated and coerced into something just to have their pound of flesh extracted for a sense of justice?
Janis: Sometimes the unfaithful partner feels this way and the conditions of repair have to be negotiated, but other times, the unfaithful partner wants to rebuild trust and earn forgiveness, and is grateful to be given concrete steps they can take to rebuild the marriage.
I should say, often, even with affairs, there isn’t one hurt partner and one offender. Often, both partners have felt hurt over the life of the marriage, and both have offended the other in some significant way.
Lili: Looking back over the decades of couples you have helped in therapy, what are your impressions about the lasting impact of an affair?
Janis: I am very impressed with how couples can take responsibility for what went wrong in their marriage and how they go on to rebuild a new marriage – often with the same person.
Genuine forgiveness is reframed as an intimate dance, a hard-won transaction, which asks as much of the offender as it does of the hurt party. Offenders learn how to perform bold, humble, heartfelt acts of repair to earn forgiveness, such as bearing witness to the pain they caused, delivering a meaningful apology, and taking responsibility for their offense. Hurt parties learn to release their obsessive preoccupation with the injury, accept a fair share of responsibility for what went wrong, and create opportunities for the offender to make good.” — from Janis’ bestselling book, “How Can I Forgive You.”