We sometimes wonder why we get ourselves into difficult relationships that “turn out bad” when they seemed so “promising” at the beginning. Sometimes we notice ourselves continuing to “pick the wrong ones” over and over again and cannot figure out what is happening. Many times we attribute it to the other person and think that there are so many “wrong people out there” that we just better “stay away” or “put up with it.” Understanding a few issues will be of a great deal of help and assistance. [Read more…]
Relationships go through many stages, ups and downs, good times and bad. Most of the time we get through these difficult periods. At times, our intuition tells us that the relationship is in the midst of a crisis. Affairs can threaten your trust in the relationship. Understanding the critical clues to an affair can help keep things calm in difficult times.
Clues to Unfaithfulness
- There is a sudden, and new, interest in one’s physical appearance.
- New friends and acquaintances are developed outside of the marital relationship that become a focus on energy, focus and involvement.
- There are concerns about aging, time left, and a rush to focus on new interests, ideas, places, and changes in personality (midlife crisis).
- There is a total lack of desire to be at home for very long. There is also a lack of interest, or pride, in what is going on at home.
- There is an emotional shut-down where there is a lack of sharing.
- There is an increase in irritability, blaming, upset, and reactivity to even small issues. Finding fault over little things becomes more an issue.
- There is a sudden guilt, or disinterest, over what you are doing. There is a do what you want, it really doesn’t matter type of attitude.
- There is a tendency for you to deny obvious signs, symptoms or evidence that is clear to others. It is important to pay attention to your intuition without over-reacting.
What To Do If You Suspect an Affair
Drop your denial. Quit looking for alternative explanations about the evidence. Start by being honest with yourself. Are you willing to work this through and forgive, or does it mean that the relationship is over? Often, this can be the last straw in deciding if the relationship is worth saving.
Don’t yell, scream, demand, or become irrational. Remain strong, direct, clear, and set boundaries. There needs to be an easy way for your spouse to tell you the truth, even if it hurts. Tell them you want the truth even though they would rather not tell you. Remember, it may be painful to hear about what happened. But if your partner can talk with you about it, there is hope.
Ask your spouse if there is any hope of love in the relationship. Many times both partners have slowly drifted apart after running the relationship on autopilot. The result is that you are both distant from each other. There is still value in seeing if it is possible to work on the relationship.
But remember: You can’t let your whole future happiness depend on what you partner decides to do. Decide that no matter what happens, you are a good person and deserve to have a good honest relationship. Make sure to learn what you also have to change in yourself. This is not designed to excuse for their behavior. Rather, it is to help you accept and work on your contributions to the problems in the relationship.
Set limits, boundaries and ultimatums. Tell them that they need to stop the affair and work on the relationship or the marriage is over. There should be no qualifications, limits or conditions. Ask why the affair had to happen. Insist on marriage counseling. You will need this in order to help gain focus, discuss issues, and rebuild your relationship.
Get a commitment from your spouse for emotional honesty. Each partner needs to tell the other what they are feeling. There may be feelings of negativity or of being unloved. The goal is to have a commitment to stay in the relationship. Make sure to set aside time for romance and to get to know each other again.
A word of warning: You do not what to become a crazy detective. If you are obsessed with looking for evidence and details about the affair, this will backfire. Checking up on them, verifying their stories, reading their emails, texts, and web history will only make things worse. If you have suspicions, then ask and deal with it. Avoid yelling, demanding, or obsessing. Don’t try to punish your partner either. You also don’t want to beg, whine, become clingy, or desperate. These behaviors transform you into the controlling parent from whom any sane person would want to escape.
The Anatomy of Infidelity and Affairs
We tend to think that infidelity and affairs are all about sex. In reality, affairs are symptoms that sends a message about problems in the relationship. Understanding this simple issue will allow you to work on the complex problems of finding solutions. The betrayal of trust from one’s spouse or partner can be one of the most damaging issues to any relationship. Perhaps you suspect your partner of having an affair.
Once an affair happens, the relationship becomes unbalanced. You feel violated and are uncertain whether or not you can ever trust in the relationship again. The person having the affair is also stuck. What may have started out with misguided dreams and intentions has now created a situation where they are responsible for their actions yet also stuck in the doghouse without any clear way out. This drastically complicates recovery and requires changes on the sides of both partners in terms of communication and being aware of why the affair happened in order to prevent an affair from ever happening again.
Nice, Non-Fighting, Couples: These are the people who fear conflicts and never resolve any of their differences until the marriage fades away.
Couples Frightened of Intimacy: There is a fear of being emotionally vulnerable, so barriers are kept high by fighting, slamming doors, dramatic actions, and physical violence. There is a fear of letting one’s guard down which means to them that they would be hurt, abandoned, or feel trapped.
Affairs Used to Fill Internal Emptiness: Like the alcoholic, some people, use sexual addiction to avoid life, to search for the magical all-loving parent, and as an excuse to be promiscuous. It is not about sex or romantic love. It about avoidance and the need to fill some type of emptiness from childhood abandonment feelings of some type.
Affairs by Co-Dependent Spouses who do everything and sacrifice their own feelings and needs: Affairs for these spouses happen when one notices that someone appreciates his/her needs that were not being met in the marriage. The affair can be seen as a Mid-life crisis (ages 34-65), but they are much more. They are about the years of not attending to one’s own feelings. One does not necessarily want to end the marriage. However, unless the marriage changes, it will become impossible to end the affair.
Exit Affairs: These types of affairs happen as a way of ending the marriage, not the reason for the marriage ending. The affair becomes a way of sliding out the door. Each person needs to understand what they have done that has contributed to the end of the relationship. These are difficult relationships to put back together because decisions have already been made. It is easier for the person to act it out in a way that makes them feel secure and safe rather than having to face the pain of talking and resolving things out.
Non-Sexual Affairs: Affairs happen when they consume time and energy that would normally be going into the marriage. There is always a sexual current in these affairs even though nothing results in a sexual activity.
Solutions to Affairs
First, remember that legal proceedings don’t resolve the emotional issues. It is important to focus on your pain and anger rather than on attacking your spouse. Make sure to leave the children out of the argument; forcing them to be involved or using them to inflict pain on your partner can cause emotional injuries that will follow your children for the rest of their lives! Forget the temptation to separate immediately, as this will only complicate your options. Avoid making any major decisions during the middle of this crisis! Give yourself time to work on your emotions and the relationship. This is going to take longer than you expected.
You need to express your pain and your spouse needs to hear it! Don’t let your spouse try to shut off your pain by a quick I love you, I am sorry, get over it , or you have said it several times already. Talking things out over and over again. Getting over the obsession with the affair requires expressing your pain, anger, powerlessness, and lack of trust now. Say, I am furious at you!, I am angry at you for lying to me; I am so hurt that you have done this; I don’t know what to do. Nothing I do makes any difference right now. As you reclaim the parts of yourself, you will be able to let go of the obsession. If you give in and stop talking, you will have little of yourself left!
Trust Rebuilding Requires Developing Skills of Intimacy. This requires honesty, becoming emotionally vulnerable, developing reasonable expectations, or mean that you have to constantly be with your spouse. Expect this building to have its ups and downs, letting go of your magical expectations of a perfect future together, and working on making realistic future dreams together. This happens once the affair is revealed, is ended, when you both continue to like and care about each other, you are both committed to working on yourself and the marriage, admit that it will be painful, take longer than you want, offers no guarantees of how it will come out, and has a focus on knowing how each of you created an opening for the affair.
Rebuilding requires Risk. You have to be willing to risk with the understanding that you have a better chance of building a better relationship now and in the future than you had in the past. See the affair as a symptom that neither of you were dealing with the issues of the relationship.
Understand Your Part and How You Contributed to the Behaviors. You can blame the other person as much as you want. However, until you come to understand why the situation happened in your lives, how you allow it to continue, and how you don’t allow the other person to grow, nothing will change. This does not mean that the person who had the affair is without blame. Each person, though, has to examine how what they do, or don’t do, contributes to the problems in the relationship.
Understand that Some Marriages Cannot Be Saved. Any successful relationship requires that two people be willing to work on it. When one continues to resist changing, or wants to leave no matter what, there is little that the other can do. What you can do is to say I am sorry that you don’t want to work on things, to find real solutions, and to change your life. I am a good person and deserve to have you relate better to me. If you don’t want to do that and insist on continuing the same behaviors, then I have to move on with my life. I am a good person and deserve better. This will be hard; I will grieve and feel sad; I will be angry and hurt, but I will live and get on with my life because I deserve it!
Steps Towards Counseling
It’s important to not let too much time go by before attempting to repair the damage. It doesn’t matter at this point who had the affair. Blame and accusations will only get you so far. What the two of you need now is help in dealing with the fallout of the affair. Accountability, genuine remorse, rebuilding trust, and learning how to reconnect are just some of the initial tools that you will need to master in order to start your recovery. A trained relationship therapist can help.
The Six Weakest Moments for Affairs
Affairs are difficult for most people to understand. Knowing the vulnerable periods can help in preventing and dealing with them for men and women alike.
1. The Hard-Working Steady Course Work Ethic
We value getting up, working hard and long, coming home, dealing with the family, playing with the kids day-after-day. We lose our imaginations because we get stuck in a rut of daily life. We forget how to take time out, have fun, act like kids. We grind away under an ungrateful boss, spouse, etc., seeming to be trapped for the rest of our life — and then we die feeling. Then, out of the blue we suddenly see life differently, having scary visions, feeling alienated and bleak, and we feel overwhelmed wondering what is happening to us. There are milestones in our lives that generate anxiety that leave us vulnerable to acting out to get our imagination back.
2. The New Baby/Kids in the House Syndrome
This is always a vulnerable time for men — a time when they can feel stuck because they are responsible and trapped by life. It can be a time of feeling that our youth is over. With a new baby, and the baby taking all the time, the father can feel left out, alone, unappreciated, and unwanted. If anyone has feelings of unresolved sibling rivalry having to share one’s spouse with a child can bring up intense emotions of being left out — just like a child feels when a new baby comes into the family too soon. The wife can think that the child comes first and romance is last leaving her husband feeling not needed. When one gets the feeling that they are no longer valued, needed, or wanted beyond the paycheck or being the daddy then he may feel that he has been fired from his job AND leave literally.
3. The New Job Syndrome
Promotions, raises, new titles, all create good feelings of power and achievement. Power can attract others to anyone making us feel special. If the new job, or title, is place ahead of one’s spouse, trouble will happen sooner or later. If one gets promoted, or the career takes over, the other may feel that they are stagnating and not moving forward in life. When one feels unappreciated and inadequate, one becomes vulnerable to the first smile, pick-up, being chased after, the touch on the arm, leaving one feeling like they are in a trance and overpowered. When one is moving forward, it is important to not forget the other, encourage risks, be available for phone calls, talks, walks, encouragement, and staying in touch with the other’s feelings.
4. The “I’m Such a Loser” Syndrome
Friends, others at work, subordinates at work, get promoted above you. Such promotions trigger vulnerability and make one feel frail in one’s own identity. When this happens one thinks that life is passing one by and death is close. Younger people can help to make one feel an increase in self-worth. By not talking about it one becomes even more vulnerable to affairs. Men are particularly uncomfortable expressing emotions, or anything, that might be seen as a weakness and add to their sense of demoralization.
5. The Midlife Crisis
This is the classic simple and unavoidable crisis. It is one’s unwanted confrontation with one’s own mortality. It is the time when the body changes and creates a loss to one’s identity. It is a time of thinking that one is starting to look like one’s parents when faced with the mirror. Hair is changing color, coming out, bodies are changing, and one does not look young anymore. It is a time of examining where one is at, whether needs are being met in the present relationship, and asking how mush time is left phase. It is a time of reexamining one’s values, desires, wants and needs. It is a time when the children are leaving home and the couple looks at each other and asks — ‘who are you’. If the marriage has not been going well up until this point, it is a time when one or the other says there is no reason to stay anymore. Suddenly we feel more vulnerable, a loss of potency, and a decrease in self-esteem. It is a time of thinking that we are not going to achieve what we had thought would happen in our lives. It is a time when many men are noting the blocks, and wives are just wanting to develop themselves and their careers. The person who is at risk for an affair is the one who is not talking about all the losses and changes that one is experiencing! Those who are less vulnerable seek reassurance by talking about it. Having talked about it makes one less lightly to jump. Some people feel and act like they are old, no longer taking care of themselves, their relationships, intimacy needs, or time together that can continue to fire the romance fires. Wives, or husbands, quit the relationship a long time ago, with many not even taking care of themselves, or their bodies, anymore.
6. The Success Syndrome Blues
Whether expected or not, power and rank are aphrodisiacs to the person and others around them. Many people, especially men, who are successful can be overwhelmed by inner fears of being inner frauds. Success can be trigger points that bring up the baggage of childhood when they were called lazy, fat, stupid, and would never be successful. Men wonder can I live up to it? Will it all come crashing down? I will probably lose it so I will tempt fate and at least have fun. Many of these fears are not conscious to the vulnerable one. The way to know when one is reaching a breaking point is if there is a change in one’s behaviors. If one mate picks on the other more, criticizes, puts down, finds fault, this is a new behavior which says that the one who criticizes is not feeling good about themselves. Sometimes one deals with their stress by picking on others. — One feels good by scoring on others by putting them down. It is clear that once a person feels insecure, they must find a way to re-inflate themselves. If one responds with denial about their fears, feeling angry, getting down on themselves, by hitting the bottle, etc., then one is ripe for a fall.
How Sex and Affairs Act Like an Antidepressant
What is it that causes people to become involved in extra-marital affairs? There are multiple reasons that affairs happen. What has rarely been explored is how depression is a strong motivating factor in the initiation and continuing nature of affairs. Understanding a number of factors might be of some help in thinking as one finds themselves trapped in temptation.
The one thing that is always happening in life is the one thing that we resist the most: change! We are constantly faced by the issues of change in life whether it be the changing of one day to the next, to the issues of advancing age, issues on the job, changes in the family, and issues of one’s health and mortality.
At first, life seems to go in 30 year blocks–until one reaches thirty. Then life seem to go in ten year blocks. Prior to age 30 the person thinks that they are immortal and will live forever. However, after age 30, the person starts to realize the reality of life and that their time is starting to be more limited. The dysfunctional rules of life state that we should (1) avoid talking about problems: (2) avoid thinking about problems; (3) avoid having any feelings about the problems we are facing; (4) and avoid doing any thing realistically constructive to change, or face, things! As a result, we keep from our conscious awareness the realities of any problems we are faced within life until we have absolutely no choice but to face them. Before this time, we will try any alternative solution that avoids dealing with problems in healthy and affective ways.
Mid-Life Fears vs. Realities
The mid-life crisis happens someplace between the ages of 30 to 65. It is a time when the person becomes aware that they are not comfortable with their place in life. It is a time that is known as an existential crisis where the person is struggling with the question of what is the meaning of life for me. This can be a very difficult and discomforting time. It is a time where the person asks the question about whether or not they have been happy with the directions that their lives have taken up to this point. It is also a time of thinking about how much time there is left to make changes and to chart a different course for life. It is also a time when the person is realizing their own mortality and limited time left in life.
Beyond this, it is a time of asking is this all there is! There is a wondering if there is more out there that they are missing. There is a sense that one feels trapped by life and circumstances with a resulting compulsion to run and experience by having new choices even if it means that one messes up their lives in the present. Some people feel trapped by many things in life so they seek to control whatever thing they can in life just to feel that they have some control!
As a result, the person acts out their struggles rather than taking the time to talk and think through what is happening in life. Actions are justified and thinking patterns become clouded with self-centered actions. Reality is lost and replaced with the excitement of teenage years of experiencing high emotions.
A Time of Discontent
It is a time of discontent in life, wondering why one has not achieved more, why life is not more exciting, and a growing awareness that one is getting old. Children have left home, couples have not developed their relationship the best, there is poor communication in the relationship, and it seems like there is no excitement left in the marriage. One’s body is not working the best. Sexual functioning has changed and hormone levels have decreased. One feels the need for a spark to get going again in some way, and there is a belief if one can connect with a younger person that maybe some of that youth will rub off on them.
It is also a time to rebel against parental figures of life–especially if that was not done earlier in the teenage years. Spouses sometime have become more parental and the person feels trapped either in reality or in their own fantasy minds. There is a desire to grab the gold ring before it is too late. However, any acting out is more a comment on the person who is doing it and their state of psychological conflicts than it is about the other person in the relationship. However, it does ignore the reality that many couples have focused too much on work and the children while forgetting to focus on continuing to develop the relationship between the married couple!
Action-oriented solutions are preferred because they make the person feel that they are doing something. Movement, in any direction, even in the wrong direction, is seen as a positive because action is valued in our society. We are not a society that takes the time to sit back and meditate on our situation and the future. When faced by emotions, feelings, frustration, depression, upsets, conflicts, it is better to do something because it releases tension and diverts our struggles away from the real issues. Action is also the preferred method of coping with life available to males in society. It fits our societal need for quick solutions to more complex problems.We all want quick answers when feeling any type of distress or comfort. Doing something feels good in and of itself because the person can justify that they are at least trying to do something to help themselves when feeling down.
The Antidepressant Effects of an Affair
Depression is one of the most frequent issues noted in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Depression causes one to feel sad, weak, tired, confused, lost, blocked, and having a black cloud hanging heavily over one’s head. Affairs, acting out, seeking the forbidden, provides the person with a rush of overwhelming feelings of relief that are so addicting that the person can easily become obsessed with the activity. The action of sex and affairs releases the natural body opiates (narcotics) known as endorphins. One drop of an endorphin is 100 times more potent than a drop of heroin. As a result, the activity becomes addicting, energizing, relieving, with the need to continually reach for one’s fix again and again.
The major receptor sites for endorphins in the body are located in the limbic system of the brain which is the emotional center of the brain. As a result, endorphins are responsible for the stabilization of our moods. Endorphins can be stimulated through physical activity such as walking and running. However, they also can be released through the stimulation of affairs and doing the forbidden.
Affairs, then, become a way of resolving one’s depression for the moment. Like all drug addicts, though, the person lives with the disease of denial where they are not aware of what they are doing to their lives until it is too late. Further, some do not care because the endorphins feel so good and the depression feels so far away. However, all it does is to post-pone the real resolution of the problem faced by the individual.
Affairs as a Way to Avoid Intimacy
Affairs afford the person a way of having a very intense relationship with another person at a distance. What is really happening for many people is that they are fearful of, and have no knowledge of, how to become close and intimate with another human being beyond the superficial level of sexual relating. With affairs the person can pretend that they are close and intimate because of the high levels of excitement and feeling that go with seeking any forbidden fruit. However, what happens is that the person really does not want to do the real work of developing intimacy in the present relationship–they just want to start over again with someone else. Real intimacy takes time, work, and develops over time. It is what happens after the excitement of the new wears off and you see the other person as another human being with needs and feelings that you have to respond to. Sometimes, the other person also does not want to become intimate so they keep their mate at a distance forcing the person to reach out.
Affairs usually take both individuals lack of confidence, commitment, maturity, etc., before an affair happens. At the same time, the offender is the one who is doing the reaching and running from true intimacy within their present marital relationship! The more one acts out, the longer the acting out happens, the more certainty there is that the person is fearful of developing a meaningful close personal intimate relationship within their present setting. The acting out is more of a statement about their own interpersonal/intimacy incompetence than about anything else. Because such a situation is depressing the person feels even more compelled to find a way of solving their own depression by finding and anti-depression through actions rather than through real self-examination. There is always a yes but comment that helps the person justify what they are doing. The person also never has to admit to themselves that they are having problems.
All problems can be blamed on others (although not accurately). For example: I am only doing this because he/she is… or is not… rather than looking inward at why they need to justify and blame. Life then becomes a series of actions rather than any real interactions. Affairs seem like interactions with intense intimacy, but they do not involve real relationship issues of being with another person on a daily basis outside of the affair experience, comfort, and excitement.
Depression as a Creative Force
We have been taught that negative feelings such as depression are something that is to be avoided. In fact, depression needs to be redefined as offering a door toward growth and new creativity that can help one move in new directions in life. Acting out blocks the person from really facing themselves by struggling to learn how to grow in new and creative ways. When depression hits it is a sign that one’s life course is about to take a change in a new direction. Depression allows us to slow up so that we can take the time to examine the state of our lives and start to think about how we want to re-invent ourselves in new ways. Depression forces us to feel and experience our inner beings in new ways. New directions, experiences, and finding ourselves only happens when we slow down and think about what our gut is telling us.
The obvious feelings are not always what should be trusted. The obvious feelings only propel us to do the obvious. Real change requires that we take the time to learn the deeper meaning of our existence on earth. It is a time to accept our mortality in new ways rather than running from our mortality in the old destructive ways that people have done since the beginning of time.
How Can I Trust After an Affair?
Affairs happen for many reasons The main wound is that trust and comfort in the security of the relationship has been shattered. The fact that we all search for security makes any violation of the relationship, either mental, spiritual, or sexual, much more upsetting. The fact that one is not expecting it, or that it was not part of the assumption about how the relationship would progress and operate, causes traumatic responding. It violates the hopes and expectations that one can be really who they are with another person.
Affairs are not really about sex. It is about betrayal and the violation of Trust and healthy boundaries. It is about leading a life of lies – a double life – where there are secrets that are separate from the primary relationship. It suggests that something has been going on in one’s partner’s mind, life, that involved intrigue and deception while the offended spouse was operating under very different assumptions. This changes one’s perception of what is real and what can be trusted. It causes reactions of high emotions, upset, resentment, and confusion in the wounded spouse.
The Real Issues of an Affair
- First, there is the secrecy.
- Second, there is the issue of emotional intimacy. Women are the most concern about this particular violation–even more than any issue of sex involvement.
- Third, there is the sexual chemistry–even if two people never touch.
- Fourth, there is the issue of time and energy away from the primary relationship.
- Fifth, there is the issue of blaming others for the reason the affair happened. The problem is that people create a pattern in the marriage that is not enhancing and avoids dealing with the problems in the relationship in appropriate adult ways.
- Sixth, after affairs people try to justify their actions by rewriting the marital history to say that they were never happy, blaming the other person for never really loving them, or anything to make themselves feel that they didn’t do such a terrible thing.
- Seventh, only about 10 percent of the people who divorce for the other person in the affair actually ever end up going with that person they had the affair with. They may go with that person initially but that relationship rarely lasts long.
- Eighth, involves the new concepts of societal sanctions for affairs–or the perception of people that everyone is doing it so it must be okay. This forgets the issues of boundary lines in relationships.
Issues of Boundaries
Boundaries are limits that one knows that they should not violate or cross. It is possible to be attracted to others even in good marriages without crossing the boundaries and acting on one’s feelings. In everything that we do in life we have to be aware of appropriate boundaries rather than creating opportunities.
One can have friendships but this requires being careful about sharing your deepest emotions and feelings with that other person beyond what is appropriate. This is because the sharing of such deep emotions and feelings is an affair in itself, even if there is no sexual relationship, because it violates the primary relationship. When a relationship becomes intimate and emotional, men tend to sexualize it.
Issues of Solving Problems
We can solve problems in many ways, but having affairs is not one of them. Unfortunately, this is a frequent way in which people handle problems–acting out rather than talking things out. There is a sense in our society that if things are not going well we then have permission to go out and find what we need. Usually one member tries to solve problems and the other one withdraws more refusing to respond to the efforts to resolve things. One becomes the pursuer and the other (usually the male) becomes the distancer.
Affairs are not always about the marriage. Affairs are about our selfish needs. They say something about how we learned about love and relationships in our early childhood years–issues of what was missing, lack of boundaries, and self-centeredness. Society, and women, blame the woman.
Many people think that a person having an affair is not getting enough at home. The reality is that the person is actually not giving enough at home! Some people feel that they are not complete enough in a relationship and need to have something or someone else to make them complete. The reality is that they can only find this in themselves. When one finds happiness in themselves, they no longer look to the other person to make them happy. All you are doing is expecting the other person to join you in your happiness.
Research has shown that conservative men are more likely to have affairs because they have an ability to split sex and affection–along with having little understanding of the other person as a separate human being with their own needs and feelings. Others are seen as useful to them.
Compulsive Acting-Out Behaviors
Whenever behaviors continue to be acted out it points to the issues of compulsions. If a man feels entitled, then he experiences little guilt over any acting out behaviors. With compulsive behaviors there is the cycle of addiction that pushes the cycle going forward, including secrecy, denial, apologies, and then the push to act out again. If one gets into therapy, there is a chance to learn what the addiction means in the person’s life.
Often it relates to an emptiness that is in some way linked to the need for excitement to block the awareness of the emptiness. Others seem to be acting out like teenagers, rebelling against a spouse that is perceived as too parental. This then becomes the chicken and egg question about why one is the stronger parental one and the other is the rebellious teenager who has to act out in order to have a separate identity. It usually has more to do with the acting out spouse.
- First, any rebuilding of trust requires honesty.
- Second, the honesty REQUIRES the sharing of information about the encounters; saying I saw her today and she asked me how I was doing. This has to happen in order to remove secrets.
- Third, the sharing of information has to be done over and over again even if it does create upset. In the long run it helps to reduce the upsets because the offended one can start to see that the offender is trying to be more open and honest. This takes time, over time.
- Fourth, answering a spouse’s questions about everything, what happened, and what happened each day, is the way of reversing the process of hurt. This is going to take more time than you may think and you cannot rush it or tell them to get over it and let go of it. It may take up to a year of talking things over and over again–because it is part of the working through process also known as sweat work.
- Fifth, it answers the question of who is on the inside and who is on the outside of the relationship. An affair suggests that there was never a very close relationship and the victim spouse was left on the outside and alone!
- Sixth, it removes the walls from the relationship and put in its place clear windows that are open to the other person.
- Seventh, unless the unfaithful one shows empathy–feelings for–the pain that they have caused in the other one, the marriage is heading for collapse.
- Eighth, it is critical that the offending spouse recognize and understand their vulnerabilities that contributed to the acting out–curiosity, depression, need for excitement, rescue fantasies of a more helpless one, etc.
- Ninth, the offending spouse needs to assume responsibility for the betrayal, regardless of any problems that existed in the marriage.
- Tenth, the offended partner needs to be more aware of when their mate may be lying again. Cycles of negative behaviors has shown that once the tensions are released by acting out, the offending person will act loving while making promises, etc. Promises mean nothing. Behavior changes over time are the only guarantees that something has changed. Yea shall know them by their behaviors–not their words.
- Eleventh, the offended partner needs to stop putting their heads in the sand and pretending that everything is okay and will work out. They need to deal with issues as they come up.
- Twelfth, the offended partner needs to refuse to give without getting anything back in turn.
- Thirteenth, there is an effort to share responsibility for changing the relationship and taking time for it.
- Fourteenth, issue need now to dealt with in a calm manner using humor and reducing negativity.
Stages of Recovery
- First Stage, is the time a time of a great deal of hurt. The unfaithful partner needs understand that there will be an avalanche of emotions released by the affair on both sides, which makes one feel crazy, hopeless, and alone.
- Second Stage, is the time, after the initial reactions, to work on making thoughtful, not emotional, decisions. It is also time to understand how each partner will respond differently to an affair – accepting these differences as part of the healing process. This is the time when decisions have to be made about whether or not to recommit. This is the time to explore the ambivalent (mixed) feelings, develop a realistic concept of love, take responsibility for how one’s early experiences in life compromise their ability to be satisfied, intimate, and faithful in their adult relationships. This is the time to face truths about yourself.
- Third Stage, is a time to develop concrete strategies that help to rebuild trust, sexual intimacy, and considering issues of forgiveness (not forgetfulness). This is a time to have courage to either reject or embrace forgiveness.
What is Forgiveness
Forgiveness is having emotional closure. Until the person understands, and knows, what he/she did to you there can be no emotional closure. Do they understand the DEPTH of what they did to you. Are they willing to work on it, talk it through, be open, and understand things from your point of view. Are they willing to see and feel your needs and feelings as a human being or are they only wanting it to be over with because it makes them feel better. It may be that they are incapable of seeing things from any point of view than their own. This means that there can never be closure or the re-establishment of trust again. Without closure the relationship will not survive. Underlying anger, resentments, distrust, etc., will continue and these will only make things worse.
If closure is not accomplished, then the relationship cannot continue because it cannot grow. It is time for the other person to come out of themselves and see beyond their own needs to understanding the feelings and needs of the other person. If they cannot do this then they are incapable of being in a mature relationship. Being sorry is not enough. Promises are not enough. Being attentive is not enough. Saying lets just forget it and move on is not enough. Forgiveness requires fundamental changes at a core level–to grow beyond the self to see the other and understand the feelings that the others is experiencing. However, it does require that each person grow beyond themselves, see their part in the problem, and make core changes in how they approach life and their relationships.
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The Freedom of Choice is the most valued factor in our lives. Human beings will do most anything to insure that they can have choice in all of their decisions. Much of what counselors, therapists and psychologists hear in therapy is related to a sense that the individual does not have a sense of choice in their lives.
When we feel an obligation to do something, being forced to do what others want, we resist. This is made worse when there is a sense of betrayal in the relationship in some manner. This causes a worry about trust and how that is to be re-established in the relationship.
When Choices are Forced Upon Us
- If anyone enters, or is in, a relationship, and feels that they have to be there, they will come to resent it.
- Even if you wanted to be in the relationship, but later felt that you had to be there, you will come to resent it and fight to get out!
- Feeling forced to be in a relationship takes away the most basic human need: Freedom of Choice.
- When we lose choice, we come to resent it.
- The Basic Human Need is to feel that we have Free Choice.
- When we feel that we must be there, we feel the need to escape. Like most prisoners, we want to run.
- If we cannot run or escape, we become angry, irritable, or withdrawn, hopeless, depressed and/or act out in some type of negative behaviors.
- Freud said that, Depression is Anger Held Inside.
Solutions to Feeling Trapped
- The focus of this solution requires that the element of CHOICE be central to each step along the way. This means that one has to be allowed “yes and no” decisions each step along the way — even if in the end the decision is a “NO” one!
- CHOICE must include the DECISION(S) as to whether or not you will go do one thing or another. The decisions cannot be made by others.
- CHOICE also involves DECISIONS about what each individual wants to do. Neither one can feel forced to decide a certain way.
- It involves giving the other person a few options to choose from rather than being told that there is the only option open for them.
- For example, it is important that the each individual commit to starting the relationship over again. That means there is a need to have a courtship over again, even if you are still in the relationship!
- When one enters a relationship, or marriage, by Default we lose our choice and decision to say yes or no. The relationship is one that then is undefined, unclear, and uncomfortable.
- Choice means that one can say yes or no. If we are not given a choice we will resent it. If we say no at one time and the other will not later allow for another choice, we will also then resent it in the long run!
- Without the Freedom of Choice there is no hope. Humans value and fight for such choice. We even demanded it in the Garden of Eden, even though it came with consequences. Choice gives teens, and adults, a feeling of control, and future, in their lives. We have to allow others to fail and make wrong choices, knowing they will figure it out for themselves. Even if you feel “stuck” you can decide whether or not you have a choice in it in some way.
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Marriage is most open to crisis when it is rigid and inflexible. Whatever won’t bend will break, or push others away. Rigid people, who expect specific roles in relationships only create more crises at different relationship developmental points.
The process of “becoming a couple” is filled with many emotions, feelings, attitudes, risking and identification with another person. Relationship problems happen when these same emotions are injured in any way. When one “sees and hears” much blaming and emotions between a couple, it is clear that there has been an “attachment bond injury” that has to be healed before the relationship can continue and be healed.
We know that an infant and parent need to develop a close bond of trust if the child is to grow. Without this bond, the child will experience a “failure to thrive” which may even result in the death of the child because they “have no reason to live and reach out to the world.”
The first task in life for the infant is one of “Trust versus Mistrust.” If the child comes to know that the parent will be there, can be depended upon, will feed, cloth, clean, and relate to them as “important” then the child starts to believe that there is “trust” in the world. However, if the child does not feel others are concerned, are unavailable, or preoccupied with other things, then the child learns that the world is cold, distant, lonely, and must be “mistrusted.”
These early attachment bonds are seen as central, and necessary, to the person learning how to handle adult relationships. As a result, attachment bonds are seen as “secure, mixed or something to be avoided.” Once the attachment bond is established, each person in the relationship, whether mother/father and child, or between couples, each person assumes a “pre-eminent status” as “special” in the “attachment hierarchy” (i.e., being first and coming above others). In other words, secure attachment is connected with positive and high levels of trust, commitment and relationship satisfaction resulting in positive relationship functioning.
When one partner is inaccessible and unresponsive to the needs and longings of the other person, or is unavailable, selfish and focuses on themselves, neglects, or hurts their mate psychologically, emotionally, or physically, then “attachment insecurity and relationship distress/trauma” happens!
Attachment and Bonding
Attachment and bounding theories is one of the key concepts in understanding adult love relationships. It relates to the behaviors of human beings to make and maintain powerful affection bonds to significant others. Every aspect of human experience is strongly influenced by the qualities of these bonds. When there is a secure relationship, the bond is one of active, affectionate, give-and-take relationships in which the partners mutually receive and provide closeness, comfort and security. These bonds are “profound psychological and physiological interdependence needs.”
Negative attachment-related events, such as abandonments and betrayals, often cause seemingly overwhelming damage to the close relationship. Adjustment injuries can result in “trauma flashbacks” and “overwhelming surges of emotions” which may come out as attacks, blaming, and a desire to hurt back. As a result, when conflicts occur, partners tend to criticize, complain, attack, while the other partner becomes defensive, distant, and complain that it should be over with. This only makes things worse. Distressed partners often selectively interpret each other’s behaviors and responses in ways that increase the distress. Small disappointments, for an injured/insecure spouse, points back to the original injury and only help to reinforce the relationship distress. When one partner fails to respond in a reassuring, repairing, manner, the injury is compounded. When the other partner is not able to accept the reassurance from their mate, then the injury is compounded.
It is critical to understand that “attachment injury” does not focus so much on the specific event, or content of the painful event, but on the attachment significance of such an event. As a result, attachment theory is called a “theory of trauma” as it focuses on the extreme emotional pain of isolation, separation, particularly at times of increased feelings of vulnerability. As result, partners use “the language of trauma” when describing such injuries. Events are spoken of in “life and death” terms. Terms of “isolation and abandonment” are heard. The injured party takes a stance of “never again.” There is a refusal to risk becoming vulnerable again to the other person. This requires the need to deal with this perceived violation of trust if there is ever going to be any hope of re-creating the positive cycles and bonding events of the relationship.
What is Required?
The focus needs to be on the emotions because this is “the factor” that organizes all human responses to intimate others. These emotions act as an internal compass that focuses people on their primary needs and goals. It is also the key factor that defines the nature of the self and other. It is recognizing that a sudden increase in the emotional intensity of the couple interaction is one of the main signs that should alert others to the fact that the couple is caught in dealing with an attachment injury.
It is understanding that negative emotional responses, such as frustration, if not dealt with and restructured in some therapeutic manner, can undermine the repair of a couple’s relationship and ultimately result in an emotional or real divorce. The use of “softer” emotions, such as being able to express vulnerability, and being heard by the other person, can be used to repair the patterns of interactions. It is restructuring a couples interactional patterns by understanding the emotions underlying the positions taken by each partner. It is not the incident, the specific event, but the emotions related to the trauma, the hurt, the sense of vulnerability and loss, experienced in the relationship.
It is understanding that emotions are the essential factors in the creation of meaning, coloring views and thinking about the self, others and events in life. Emotions are the filters in communication and interactions. They are what orients each of us in life.
The human need for safe attachments is so basic and highly important that a threatened bond “primes the pumps of automatic “flight or fight” responses or they “freeze” responses. It is understanding that men are often stuck in denying their attachment needs and are disconnected from their feelings, robbing both themselves and their partners of a deeper connection. Men tend to connect to work situations, work interactions, and yet avoid intimacy-bonding interactions causing “attachment injuries and traumas” well beyond what they may fully understand. Women feel frustration with this denial of her attachment needy by her partner. Men also have a sense of incompetence at meeting such needs because they lack modeling to help them know what to do “at home.”
It is also understanding that as children enter, grow and leave the family, that attachment needs change. The very nature of the life cycle transitions involves the continuing re-definition of the family, making necessary a revision of the attachment bonds between family members at each of these transition times. This is why families become unstable when a child is born, a child leaves home, etc.
Resolving Attachment Injuries
- First, it is important for the injured spouse to begin to describe the incident in which he/she felt abandoned, helpless, felt trust was violated and how it damaged his/her belief in the relationship as a secure bond.
- Second, the injured spouse must stay in touch with the injury and begin to express its impact and its attachment significance. This allows the anger to evolve to expressions of hurt, helplessness, fear and shame (that this happened to them).
- Third, the “non-injured” partner needs to begin to hear and understand the significance of the injury event and to understand it in attachment terms as a way of understanding its importance to the injured spouse.
- Fourth, the injured mate slowly moves toward a more integrated and complete discussion of the injury while expressing grief a the loss in it and the fear concerning the attachment loss.
- Fifth, the other spouse must become more emotionally engaged and admit responsibility for his/her part in the attachment injury, while expressing feelings, regret, and remorse for what has happened to their mate.
- Sixth, the injured spouse has to risk asking for the comfort and caring from their partner that was unavailable because of the injury event(s).
- Seventh, the other partner needs to respond in a caring manner that can act as an antidote to the trauma of the attachment injury.
- Eighth, once the attachment injury is resolved, the focus needs to be on the fostering of growth and trust and the beginning of positive cycles and connections.
This all takes much work, time, effort, and strong emotions if the couple is to “reattach” in positive bonding–the only way the relationship can survive. We entered the relationship out of strong emotional “pulls of bonding” and any loss of that hurts and injures. Correcting this requires the same “strong emotions” to heal the injuries. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis (who was the first to understand issues of emotional healing) called this “the working through process” with an emphasis on “sweat work” where one has to work it through, work it through, work it through, and over and over again until things are resolved.
We grow through our attachments. We need to do whatever it takes to assure that “positive attachment bonds” are maintained in a relationship. If one partner refuses to do this, then the relationship attachments are injured. This will eventually result in a “relationship failure to thrive syndrome.”
So, How Do I Deal with Relationship Conflict?
The bad news is that everyone, and every family, has problems. We want to live in a society that tries to force us to believe that only bad people have problems. The reality is that we all have issues that we have to deal with and solve if we are to be functional and healthy.
When one member of the family has a problem, it is critical to know that it is something that affects the entire family. We end up getting defensive, avoid dealing with conflict or possibly create more problems by trying to fix it. This happens more frequently when one person suffers from issues of depression, anxiety or perhaps even a chronic illness. In the end, all we end up doing is arguing and avoiding the real issues.
Related to this, withdrawal is the first sign that the couple is heading for a divorce, separation, or more problems. In our efforts to deal with conflict, we end up contributing to our own situation backfiring on us.
Ask yourself how many of these items you and your significant other tend to have in common:
- Approach towards handling finances
- Communication and listening skills
- Sex and intimacy
- Recreation and fun times
- Philosophy of life
- Way of dealing with each other’s parents and family
- How you both handle stress
- Approaches towards child raising
The more you have in common, the better. In fact, the last two items are significantly more important when compared to the other items listed above. You also should consider whether or not you confide in each other, how you handle disagreements and whether or not you would still choose each other if you each had your life to live over again. Finally, remember that with any relationship, you owe it to yourself to find out what can be done to save it given the time you’ve devoted out of your life to it.
Many times we think of our significant other as being a steady constant in our lives. However, relationships are more complicated and almost have a life of their own. Just as children learn things as they grow up, relationship and marital issues also experience their own stages of growth and challenge.
However, crisis and traumatic situations present their own unique challenges to the stability of any relationship. We spend a lot of time trying to keep things familiar, comfortable, and predictable. We work hard to grow to the point where we feel that we can have control over our lives and the events in our lives. We also think that things should just happen with little effort on our part.
Where this falls apart is when these fantasies are challenged by things that happen to us in real life.
Avoiding Conflict is Unrealistic
At some point, conflict in a relationship or marriage is inevitable. The important question to ask is whether or not this is turning things towards a crisis. Waiting too long until things are damaged beyond repair is not the most helpful approach. If the two of you are really in trouble, make a commitment to work on things together regardless of what is needed. Relationships and marriages are a joint business venture that both of you are in together.
If things are not getting better despite your best efforts, it’s time to seek out professional therapy and counseling. Do this no matter what happens and don’t expect a magical solution out of the box. You might even need to let go of your pride if you find that counseling is not easy and at times you don’t feel like you want to return. No matter what, keep going to your appointments and don’t give up on the process if you really want to make your relationship work.
Make the decision that the two of you are going to work on this together. Realize that other tasks, duties, and desires may have to be set aside for a while in order to focus on making things work.
Photo credit: Pixabay/Taekwondo-am-Tegernsee