Yvonne Filler started the Affair Clinic after she noticed a huge rise in the number of individuals coming in who were in the midst of an affair not knowing what to do.
We talk to her about how her she switched careers to retrain and create a service for people struggling with relationships affected by an affair.
What made you leave your career in marketing to train as a relationship therapist?
I was running an IT marketing company and as much as I loved marketing I wasn’t interested in the wires and pipes piece! I was also pregnant with my first child so decided to re-train whilst pregnant and with a newborn and see how I felt about it. IT events had tended to be male dominated and I found that much of the time the conversation was about relationships rather than IT – I think I was moving the conversation to something I found interesting! Some colleagues remarked that if I can get men to talk about relationships at an IT event I should do it full time!
What are the common themes in the couples/clients you saw? (I.e. communication problems?)
I found there were themes with the types of couples I saw. Those with young families had drifted apart through lack of sex, tiredness and annoyance with the other one for not sharing the load. I was also certainly seeing a rise in the number of people who were using online porn. Many older couples had 20-30 years of issues that had built up and come to a head – which takes a lot of unpicking. Lots of individuals in their 40s were wondering if this was it in terms of life and love and wanted some help in deciding if they wanted to carry on with a relationship. Very young couples were beginning to come in to talk through life plans in the presence of a third party who could ask the right questions.
What advice would you give to couples who are struggling to connect with one another?
An emotional connection is key to any relationship. Connecting sexually, talking openly and expressing your emotions freely can only happen when you’re emotionally connected. The key to connection is the ability to be vulnerable with one another. If you are unable to be vulnerable then you lose trust and build barriers. The barriers inhibit sexual attraction and stop us wanting to open up verbally too.
If you’re struggling to connect, the first place to start is talking. You may feel that even a conversation is beyond the relationship right now but once you start it should get easier. Try allocating a set 30 mins now and again (sticking strictly to time and without using criticising language) and try and talk about how you feel about the relationship, what is missing and what you want. Perhaps take it in turns and without interrupting each other. If you’re able to express any vulnerability you may feel that’s a big step forward. Further talking and closeness should follow and feel more natural the more you do together.
You say the number of affairs rose during your time at Relate, why do you think this is?
I don’t think the number of affairs grew – I think the number of people who wanted to talk about them grew. 10 years ago we would only really see couples where an affair had been discovered and they wanted to see if they could work it through from there. Roll forward 5-6 years and I was seeing lots more individuals who were in the midst of affairs and didn’t know where to turn as it isn’t the kind of thing you can talk to family and friends about. I was also seeing individuals who were contemplating an affair or suspecting one. I think this was because Relate was seen more than just a place for couples, that counselling was becoming more acceptable and because more people are falling into affairs without thinking (often due to affair websites) and then realising the enormity of what they had done.
How long did it take for you to set up the Affair Clinic?
I had the idea about a year before I set it up. Once I’d made the decision it was fairly easy. I looked round some possible venues in London and pulled the website and registration etc fairly fast.
What does the Affair Clinic do?
The Affair Clinic sees clients who are either having an affair, suspecting an affair or couples where an affair has been discovered. Where Relate would offer counselling, we offer a counselling/advice mix. We find our clients like answers and although we don’t tell people what to do we are possibly slightly more directive than traditional counsellors. We never know how a situation is going to develop so we would never tell anyone what to do, but sometimes our clients run scenarios and plans by us and we are happy to give an expert opinion always with the caveat that every situation is different.
Why do you think people are drawn in by affair websites?
Even the tightest of relationships have periods that aren’t as great as others. All relationships have highs and lows. When your relationship isn’t going well it’s very easy to get drawn into the negative elements. Most adulterers say “I didn’t go looking for an affair” and most users of the websites say they had never thought they would sign up until they read an article or were at a low point in their current relationship and was enticed by the marketing. The strap lines make it sound like everyone is doing it, that you are missing out if you’re not. That life is short, it’s fun, nobody will ever know, that in the long run, it’ll help your relationship because you’ll feel more revived. The new strapline “stray to stay” is particularly disturbing – the premise that if you have an affair you’ll end up staying in a longer, happier marriage.
You say that there are no warnings for How affair websites an affect family/health etc. but shouldn’t these be obvious?
I totally understand what you’re saying. I feel that too as I meet yet another man who is distraught that he’s been thrown out by a wife who has discovered the affair or the membership of one of the sites. But they haven’t looked at the potential consequences because everywhere they look they are being told they won’t get found out. I joined one of the sites for research. There are so few women on these websites that women go for free. Virtually every man I talked to told me how much he loved his wife and kids and didn’t want his domestic situation to change but wanted some affection and to feel loved again.
It’s easy to say they deserve all they get – and they do, but the problem is the kids that then grow up in a broken home and a partner left emotionally devastated for many years to come. Many people we see, both men and women, say they just aren’t worth it and they really wish they could turn back time.
In your experience, why do you think people have affairs?
On the surface people have affairs for a variety of reasons from anger, lack of communication, feeling unsupported, dissatisfaction with life, but when we unpick things in a session these top-level issues usually translate to emotional connection and security. Some of this we get through our childhood, upbringing and our subsequent experience which is why you are more likely to have an affair if one of your parents did. But this doesn’t always follow and some people can feel a loss of security and connection even if they were secure children. It is very rarely just for sex.
What can couples do to recover when one (or both) parties have had an affair?
The first thing is to step back and take time. People make rash decisions that they come to regret after a shock like the discovery of an affair. Individuals need to decide what it is they want without the backdrop of raw emotion. It can feel like a bereavement with the same stages so I advise my clients to try and get through the first few weeks without any big decisions.
It then really depends upon both the type of affair and the individuals concerned. Generally long, emotional affairs can be harder to overcome, especially for women, yet men find a physical affair more difficult to get over.
It takes a huge amount of time, effort and commitment and a willingness to want to change. Something was wrong with the relationship so both need to accept that and work with it to make a difference. I’ve seen it work and I’ve seen couples try but fail. Individuals need to be able to move on – easier said than done, but for individuals who find it hard to leave things in the past, it can be more difficult.
In essence, it depends on the individuals, the relationship and the type of affair. If couples can start the slow process of talking after a few weeks they can certainly try to recapture their marriage, possibly even come back stronger, but many don’t and may need a counsellor to work it through with.
What advice would you give to couples who are starting to grow apart and perhaps look elsewhere for affection or attention?
PLEASE try and start talking to your partner. Find time to do things together even if it’s just watching TV – but better still, talk. Share experiences, ideas and thoughts. We can easily get out of the habit or if one stops the other one loses interest in making the effort. An affair is the biggest gamble of your life – especially if you have a partner and children. You can lose it all. Very few achieve a win-win scenario. You can’t generally have your cake and eat it! The pain of an affair discovery is the biggest pain any adult can ever experience and takes years to recover from if ever. 99% of the time it isn’t worth it and if you’re the 1% then you’re probably ready to end the relationship anyway – in which case, do, and save a lot of excess heartache.
Thank you for your interest and do let me know if you’d like anything more. The blogs on my website can elaborate further on many of these points too.