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How can codependency in one partner contribute to infidelity in another?

Why do codependents sometimes forgive infidelity so easily…and at what cost?

How can an unfaithful partner become codependent on the “other person,” and thus, hesitate to end their affair?

In this podcast episode, Marissa speaks with Dr. Talal Alsaleem, PsyD, LMFT about the interconnection between codependency and infidelity. We tackle how one codependent partner can contribute to the straying of the other. Dr. Talal shares his observations as a therapist working with couples healing from infidelity and how a codependent partner will have a “pseudo-repair” where they will try to “forgive and forget” in order to avoid being alone–but at what cost. We also discuss how the unfaithful partner sometimes feels guilty and extends their affairs out of codependent patterns with the third party. Codependency can really complicate complicated relationships, right?

Thanks for listening!

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Meet Dr. Talal H. Alsaleem, the creator of Systematic Affair Recovery Therapy (SART). He is an award-winning marriage counselor, researcher, and author of the acclaimed book, Infidelity: The Best Worst Thing that Could Happen to Your Marriage. Dr. Alsaleem also is the founder of The Infidelity Counseling Center.

Dr. Alsaleem’s information: (for counseling) (for training)

More deets on this week’s episode:

First question (as always): How does Dr. Alsaleem define codependency? “I see codependency as a symbiotic relationship in which both partners are imprisoned by the desire to avoid growth and change.” HOT DAMN DR. ALSALEEM, RIGHT? He spells out how in codependent relationships both partners seem to “benefit,” but they truly aren’t: there is over-reliance, unconditional love, and accepting a partner’s behavior that is not acceptable. Marissa asks for an example and Dr. Alsaleem describes someone who “takes, takes, takes” while the other “gives, gives, gives.”

Second question: Marissa asks what happens when codependency exists in a relationship and it contributes to a partner cheating? Dr. Alsaleem shares how “at one point, the scales tip” in the relationship since codependent relationships are not sustainable. Dr. Alsaleem shares how, in codependent relationships, one partner’s needs are not being met so they will eventually find another outlet to meet those needs. He also discusses “burnout” where having a partner who is so reliant can lead another to stray.

Third question: How can codependents challenge or obstruct the healing post-infidelity by forgiving too soon? Dr. Alsaleem shares how some couples can heal post-infidelity or decide to be apart. BUT, with codependents, they do not hold the unfaithful accountable. Without accountability, it sets the stage for not being introspective and making significant changes in the relationship. Dr. Alsaleem does not blame the codependent for the partner cheating but he wants them to hold them accountable. He sees issues most often when a codependent partner makes excuses for their partner who cheated, forgives too soon, and then makes no room for repair.

Fourth question: How can the partner who was unfaithful be codependent on the third party? Dr. Alsaleem shares about how a partner can be codependent because they feel guilty about entangling them into an affair. They also put that person on a pedestal and will be more considerate, compassionate, and cautious with the third party’s feelings, wants, and needs.

Fifth question: How can codependents “forgive” but are really doing whatever they can to keep their partner around? Dr. Alsaleem emphasizes the need to see actual change! Codependents tend to forgive too soon without seeing the signs of change out of fear that their partner will leave them.

Sixth question: Marissa reflects on how it sounds like it’s a lot of work to repair after infidelity. Why, Dr. Alsaleem, is the work worth it? He gives us a metaphor of sustainable energy and unsustainable energy: one leads to long-term security and the other never gives you what you want. “Why not do the work and do something that is sustainable?” Grow and maintain versus always having to fix.

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Again, thanks for listening!

Follow me on IG @codependummy for reminders, refreshers, and reframes to help you along your healing journey from codependency!