I’ll never forget that cute gal across the room at Trout Lake Camp in Pine River, Minnesota (June, 1972). She was talking and laughing comfortably with some big burly dude before our first staff meeting and I remember thinking I probably didn’t have a chance. Later that day our paths crossed going into the dining hall and I opened the door for her. Turns out, she said, that was the first time a guy had opened the door for her and it immediately got her attention. We had our picture taken at that door on our 30th Wedding Anniversary. Now we’re celebrating 35 years and it just keeps getting better.
Mary Sue and I celebrated our 35th Wedding Anniversary at Flemmings in Jordan Creek, West Des Moines, Iowa last Saturday night.
If any of you have been blessed by any of these blogs you have my wife, Mary Sue, to thank.She’s why I’m a marriage therapist.I started working toward my Ph.D. at Iowa State University in 1994 after 19 years of marriage with the express purpose of starting my own marriage therapy practice.I was good at two things:Being married and talking to people about their problems.Put those together and here we are.By then I’d been in various church ministries over the years and seen so many marriages crumble around me for not very good reasons.Dang.
It was the broken hearts of the church kids I was working with at the time that motivated me. Two kids got me thinking about the powerful impact of marriage. One very active lady in our church dumped her husband for no reason other than she said she wasn’t “in love” with her husband any more. She couldn’t be dissuaded. I thought she was just bored. Her 14 year old daughter had been very involved in our youth group and was a dedicated Christian and real sweetheart. When her mom left her dad, she dumped her faith and the church and started sleeping around…just like that. I worked with another young man whose family was attending the church. This junior high kid was wild and ran havoc on our youth group. He and I spent time together and he eventually embraced Christ into his heart and really made an about face. It was pretty amazing, really, and very gratifying to see. I had little to do with that other than showing him were the door of faith was. He came home one day shortly after that and his stepfather confronted him on something innocuous, but in a mean way, and this young man reacted and the stepfather started losing it on the stepson. The boy’s mother freaked and called the police and the police hauled the kid away and sent him to some treatment facility.
It occurred to me that the best way to reach kids was through their parents.And the most fundamental way to help their parents was to figure out how to help them BE married.I figured, if you are going to be married, you may as well enjoy the journey.I sure have.
I mean this in the most fundamental way.One couple came to see me years ago and the presenting issue was their 15-year old daughter was turning to rough kids and they worried they were losing her.She was running around with the wrong crowd and not wanting to come home.They asked me to work with them on parenting issues.I asked them, instead, how the two of them were getting along as husband and wife.The two of them told me that they fought all the time.I suggested we put the parenting things on hold and work on improving their relationship in order to have a solid foundation in the home and then work on parenting after that.They agreed and we started working on improving the way they handled their differences.Within five weeks their relationship had turned a real corner and they told me their daughter had dumped her bad friends and was hanging out at home a lot more.We never got to parenting issues.
We didn’t HAVE to.Mom and dad set the tone.How mom and dad are doing is how the rest of the family is doing.It’s not how mom and dad are loving the kids.No.It’s how mom and dad are loving each other.You CAN’T love your kids if you don’t love your spouse.If you love your kids and not your spouse that’s called creepy.Or dysfunctional.It’s a mess and your kids will turn into your worst nightmare.Meanwhile, you’ll be blaming your spouse.So, while I have great stuff on parenting that I could share in therapy, I rarely get to it.Mom and dad settle down, the kids settle down.
What gave me the foundation for marital work was this wonderful wife the Lord had brought my way.How did I ever deserve someone so bright, so insightful, so dedicated, so talented, so fun, so funny, so delightful, so beautiful?God’s generosity keeps me humble on the one hand and her dignity keeps me motivated on the other.She deserves none other than the best man.Her belief in me helps me rise to the occasion.Her insight protects us both.Her challenges keep me focused.Her humor lightens the load.
She’s never nagged. Ever. The Lord knows I’d shudder under a nag. I don’t know how men handle nags for wives. I’m guessing many of them have trained their wives to be nags, so I’m not just blaming wives here. Here’s a fail-proof way to make a nag: Don’t tell her what you are thinking, doing, spending, planning, contemplating, fearing, worrying about, talking to, sad or happy about. Don’t tell her squat. She’s a nag right? Besides you’re just not the talkative type. That’s just who you are. You’ve never talked much. You can’t learn to, either. You’re proud of the fact that you’ll remain 17 your entire life and never let your wife teach you a thing.
There you go, guys. Just be a guys’ guy. She’ll turn into the bitch of your nightmares. Boom. Just like that. And then you can blame her!!
I’m not sure where we got the idea, but Mary Sue and I have been meeting for breakfast nearly every Saturday for (woo-hoo!) going on 35 years now.We catch up on the week.Talk about the news, cheer or lament the Minnesota Twins, talk about the kids (and now Grandkids!Another one is due tomorrow!), talk about our week, talk about our plans, pay the bills, talk about what’s going on, our fears and hopes and aspirations, what chores need to be done and when.Then we’d go do them.
I look forward to Saturday breakfasts.I look forward to many more Saturday breakfasts in the future and everyday with her quiet laugh, her timely comments, her gentle prodding, her amazing intuition.
He who finds a wife finds a blessing from the Lord. And I, of all men, am most blessed.
For Part One in the series click here. For Part Two click here. For Part Three click here. For Part Four click here.
A quota from your spouse is a coma.
Dave Ramsey, Radio Financial Adviser
In the last four blogs we’ve been looking at communication in marriage and how cows and flies don’t chat or joke or fraternize, but humans do and we do it just fine.We just might not communicate what we intend.So it’s good to check in.Flies and cows don’t problem solve either or collaborate or ponder pros or cons or think things through.We have the capacity for these things and marriage is a great place to develop these skills. Or not.
Sometimes I hate to report on research on marriage and divorce because I fear that someone might take the research and use it as an excuse to dump their spouse.(“See.We don’t have a chance”).I’m hoping instead, the reader will be chastened a bit and realize that if such and such is a problem, we’d better work on it.I’d much rather do marital therapy than divorce therapy.Please come see me BEFORE it’s too late.Please.If your spouse says we need therapy, then come see us.If you wait to all of a sudden be teachable until after you get papers from the sheriff or your spouse has moved out or in with someone else, your odds go down.Don’t play Russian roulette with your marriage.People REALLY do get divorced after all. If your spouse says you two have a problem, then believe him or her that the two of you have a problem. Swallow a little pride. Marital bliss isn’t built on stubbornness.
So…if this issue that I am going to discuss today is an issue for you: Give us a call!Today.Let’s work on this.Pronto.Besides.It would be really boring to be married and not have this figured out!
Take a look at my son, Marty’s cartoon.* He’s raised a very critical issue that all couples have to deal with: How do we solve our problems together?
In studies of people AFTER they divorced a very common characteristics is that they report that in their previous marriage they were not, as a couple, able to work through problems without fighting. So they either did fight about it, or they didn’t talk about things that NEEDED to be talked about and then the relationship would get worse.
Here’s the math:
Solve your problems = your relationship will improve over time
Don’t solve your problems = your relationship will get worse over time
Here’s a qualifier: EVERY RELATIONSHIP HAS CERTAIN THINGS THAT WILL NOT IMPROVE. We have to make peace with those. There are NO perfect people out there for spousal material, so we’ll always have some issues staring us in the face. But we can at least make the best of a bad situation or try to make a bad situation better or to work together to reduce the negativity of the bad situation. We want to rise to the occasion. Let’s prove to each other that we can learn and grow and improve with what ever comes our way, good or ill. As we solve our problems we will learn to trust each other and believe in each other more and more over time.
Here’s an assumption I make in therapy: That you married your equal. Your spouse isn’t dumb and neither are you. If your spouse were dumb, as soon as you met him, you’d have thought, eeeuuw. And that would have been the end of that. If your spouse was way way smarter than you, as soon as you met him you’d have felt inferior and thought, I wouldn’t be good enough for him, and have crossed him off your list. No one wants to feel inferior to her spouse.
Here’s an exception: I attended a workshop recently and the presenter told us that recent research is finding that alcoholics literally have brain damage and that this is why you can’t reason with an alcoholic: They seem so self-absorbed. The presenter didn’t tell us what happens to alcoholic brains when they don’t have any more alcohol, but the assumption I came away thinking was that he was saying the brain was still damaged. I at least know that if you drink yourself to death your brain will really be damaged and you won’t be your spouse’s equal if you are dead.
Here’s another exception: And I certainly know that you can marry someone and they have completely lied about who they are and they aren’t who they say they are and it’s a complete disaster from the get go. I have no way of knowing who these people are, but I would guess this isn’t a common experience for most.
Here’s another exception: There’s a story in the Bible of a gal who was very wise who was married to a guy who was very foolish and the foolish person ended up dying of his foolishness and the wise woman was rewarded. There you go. Did they marry as equals? I don’t know. The story doesn’t say. It’s a lesson for us today.
Here’s my conclusion on exceptions: I’m guessing that, all things being equal, we marry our equal and then after marriage, if we seek different moral paths, we can become unequal. That’ll lead to marital problems, no doubt. For example, you marry your sweetheart that you met at the bar and you both partied hearty and had a ball and then one gets a good job or pregnant and grows up and quits or drastically cuts her drinking and her husband has a delayed reaction and doesn’t grow up and parties until he is brain damaged! What fun that would be, unless he finally gets it and becomes a bona fide partner instead of a party animal.Otherwise he and flies and cows will have a lot in common, including eating from the gutter.
Or one person lives a life of immorality (serial affairs or extended exposure to pornography) or selfishness (regular pot smoking or excessive video gaming [yes! I put excessive video gaming in the same category as pot smoking! Selfishness is no respecter of persons.]) and one doesn’t. Over time, these two spouses are going to be in different universes.
Here’s the deal: But for the rest of you, which, I assume, as a marital therapist dude, is most of you, you are married to your equal and that you are not dumb and neither is your spouse and if you disagree on something, other than a blatant moral issue (like criminal behavior or domestic violence or perversion), that there is a good reason why you disagree and you’d be smart to humble yourself a tad to see the wisdom in what your spouse is saying, because the whole advantage of marriage is that two heads are better than one and we’d better compare notes and that you have something to say and so does your spouse, but if both of you are too proud to listen….
Here’s what happens if you don’t: If you don’t listen to your spouse or he or she doesn’t listen to you, then you can’t pool your wisdom and you will flounder and get discouraged and if it goes long enough, finally, one of you will say this is a bunch of crap and call your lawyer or you’ll be so discouraged you won’t be able to get off the couch at all and your life and family and household will disintegrate around you and your spouse will be the one talking to lawyers.
Here’s some encouragement: So it would behoove you to take your spouse’s point of view into consideration. There is probably a very good reason why he or she thinks thus and so. It’d be good to figure that out. You’d be amazed how many issues there are where both of you are right! You both have slivers of the truth and you put all of your slivers together to make boards that both of you can use to build a ship that will sail. That is the root word of board after all is bord, from the Old English word for a ship’s side, and we need two sides for this ship to make port.
Here’s an example: One of you thinks you are broke and the other thinks you need a new car. You fight about this. Wait a minute. You are broke! You do need a different car! YOU ARE BOTH RIGHT!! How are we going to figure this out? You need to work on our budget together and decrease your spending and increase your income and start saving for the next car. You can’t cut your spending unless you work on it together. You can’t increase your income without working as a team for the benefit of the whole family. You can’t save unless you are heeding each other’s concerns. As you solve this difficulty and work together on the common good you’ll grow closer together, you’ll have more money and drive a paid for car! Woohoo! We can do this! We work together!
This is when marriage is fun and the most rewarding:When we rise to the occasion.When our problems don’t get us down, but get our brains are activated to work together to solve our problems for the common good.HELLO!!This is why married people do better than single people!We’ve got someone to talk this over with, to compare notes.
Here’s a NOTE to single people: If you are single you know that it is difficult sometimes to make appropriate financial and moral choices or even career choices when living alone. You don’t have the closeness of a married partner with which to talk things through. The power of a secret is a secret and if you don’t have someone to tell your secrets to, the secrets can be overwhelming and make self-control difficult. Wise singles know this and over time will develop a relationship with their brother or sister or parents or a wise person from work or church or their networking group that they can sit down with over coffee or over the phone to discuss important decisions. It is critical to wise choices to have someone with which look at pros and cons. “Through many counselors comes wisdom” it says in Proverbs, “but a foolish person ignores advice.”
If you are married and have not figured out this very critical and important advantage of being married you are missing out on one of life’s finer blessings.
*Thanks to Marty Wall for the use of his cartoon in today’s blog. To see other examples of his cartoons see his website fritzcartoons.com.
Hang on to your hat. We’re in for a wild ride. This is part of a larger series On Healing From An Affair. For the first click here. For the entire series click here.
I don’t think I will ever be able to trust him (her) again. I don’t believe anything he (she) says.
Many clients after finding out of their spouses’ affair
(For the purposes of simplicity, person A is the one violating trust and person B is the spouse NOT violating trust. The person or thing that A is violating trust with is C.)
When trust has been violated in whatever form (lies and secrets about affairs, pornography, homosexuality, alcohol, drugs, and money, to name a few) insecurity and chaos ensue in human relationships.This is an axiomatic law of the universe.If B and A trust each other one-day and then B finds out that A violated trust (lied about something they did or didn’t do or said or didn’t say), then B loses trust in A.It will now take A quite a while to earn that trust back.
The moment that B finds out that A has broken trust, B won’t be able to trust A and B will be AUTOMATICALLY INSECURE about B’s relationship with A.If B is insecure, B will NOT be in B’s best behavior.Insecurity does not lend itself to chillin’ and 8 hours of restful sleep!
I call B’s behavior in a situation like this (e.g. B finds out that A is having an affair with C) “freaking out” (e.g. emotional craziness, yelling, snooping through A’s things, kicking A out of the bedroom or home, telling everyone and their mother about A’s violation, etc.). In an insecure situation, this is normal. However, freaking out is not a relationship enhancer either. It’s understandable. It’s not helpful, but it’s understandable. If B doesn’t freak out, that would mean to me that A’s behavior is fine to B: That A’s affair with C is acceptable, or that A’s love affair with pornography is normal, or that A’s affair with a same-sex person doesn’t matter or that A’s lying about money or whatever else is, well… that’s just who A is. A, for example, is spendy.
No.Please.Come on B.Grow some backbone.If A does secret, lying things and doesn’t tell you about them, then you should be frickin’ upset.Okay?For a long time.
This doesn’t give you the right to tear into A like you are a lion and A is a zebra. But it gives you the right to be a basket case and to cry your eyes out and to not be able to concentrate and to have sleepless nights and to wonder profusely about your future with A and to doubt if you want to be with A or not or fear that maybe A will leave you and other thoughts too numerous to mention racing through your head like debris from a tornado. Scary thoughts. Fearful thoughts. Conflicting thoughts. Up and down. All-over-the-place thoughts. Normal. Normal. Normal, any time A violates trust with B and B finds out.
Sometimes B freaks out so much that B does hurtful things to A to get back at A for the pain that A has caused B (such as B lashing out at A, B trashing A’s stuff, B snooping and going through A’s cell phone, emails, receipts, physical violence, B having a revenge affair). This is NOT helpful and it is NOT acceptable.You are NOT justified to hurt your partner if your partner has hurt you.This is how relationships self-destruct. For example, if A has an affair, A hurts B.Now let’s say that because B is hurting due to A’s affair, B hurts A in revenge.Now what’s A supposed to do?A will be really tempted to hurt B back, too, and on and on we go until there’s nothin’ left but lawyer bills for years and years.So B: Keep a lid on your anger.A’s behavior does NOT give you the right to hurt back.You have a right to be angry.You do not have the right to do angry things.
Repeat this to yourself: I have a right to be angry. I do not have the right to do angry things. I have a right to be angry. I do not have the right to do angry things. I have a right to be angry. I do not have the right to do angry things.
Now let’s look at something that sometimes happens in these situations: Let’s say A has violated trust and B is freaking out. Let’s say that A is sorry that A did whatever with C and doesn’t want to be involved with C ever again. If B gets a lecture from A at this point, that B is being unfair and that B needs to trust A, because, after all, A has admitted (hopefully!) that the behavior that A was doing was wrong and has declared and promised and sworn an oath and vowed and testified that A will no longer do whatever with C anymore, that B should trust A and if B doesn’t trust A, that the problem is no longer A, but B!!! This is A’s logic. Now, all of a sudden B is the problem!!
If you are B, I hope, if you hear this from A, after A has violated trust, that you are pissed.
Can I say pissed in a blog?
If this happens to you, here’s what just happened:
A does something selfish and hurtful in secret with C
B finds out somehow about A’s secret life with C
A apologizes and says A won’t ever do whatever with C again
B is hurt and says as much
A is mad at B for “not trusting” A because A said A was sorry and wouldn’t do C again.In other words, A has turned this around and made B the problem!!
Whoohoo for A.
Solomon wrote about this sort of craziness 3000 years ago, before Freud and all the fancy therapy psychobabble words we throw around today:
Rebuke a fool and he will hate you.
A making B the problem will NOT work.Certainly B will have to be careful to not be hurtful back to A.This will be a temptation.But look.Someone has to have some self-control here.A showed that A has no self-control with C.B needs to have enough self-control to not hurt A.Someone has to STOP the cycle.
But the bottom line is that B shouldn’t trust A until A proves to A and to B that A is trustable about C and everything else!
And this will take some time.
You can lose trust in a moment.It takes a long time to EARN back.You shouldn’t be trusted unless you are trustable.
If A thinks what A is doing with C is fine and is going to continue to have intimate contact with C, then trust will NOT be built, even if A is honest about A’s involvement with C.As long as A is involved with C we are NOT going to be doing any marital therapy.I call it “Chaos Management.”As long as A is involved with C, B will be in perpetual freak out mode and NO healing will take place.This is a common scenario with men who do porn and want their wives to be fine with it or spouses who fall in love with their affairee and want all their family to love C, or spouses who announce they are gay and want their spouses (and children and other loved ones) to be Okay with it and if everyone isn’t Okay with it, then A turns B into the problem: You are persecuting me.In scenarios like these chaos ensues throughout the entire family.It doesn’t matter WHAT C A is involved with: The results are the same.
But, if A is done with C, here’s the formula to earn trust back:
Trust equals what you say matches what you do over time as long as the relationship is improving (including A no longer being involved with C).
Trustable = what you say = what you do + time + relationship improvement (including A no longer being involved with C)
If what you say matches what you do, but A violated trust yesterday, it is too soon for B to trust A. Once trust is lost, trust has to be EARNED back.
If what you say matches what you do, but the relationship is not improving it will be difficult for B to trust A.
If what you say does not match what you do, then B won’t trust A.
If what A says matches what A does, but A is still involved with C, or stops being involved with C and then goes back to C, but all along is honest with B about A’s involvement with C, then trust will not be built.
If any of these elements is missing trust will not be forthcoming.
NOR SHOULD IT. And A has no business making B feel guilty for not trusting A, if the elements of the formula aren’t all there.
If B trusts A and any of the elements are missing, then what we have is, at best, wishful thinking. You can’t build a relationship on wishful thinking. You build a relationship on both parties (A and B) being trustable and both parties (A and B) trusting the other party over time.
Now, if what A says matches what A does over time and the relationship between A and B is improving over a long time and A is no longer involved with C, and B is still madder than a pistol or still freaking out and losing it, well, then, B may need some guidance on how to put B’s life back together. That certainly can happen, but I’m not worried about B being upset for quite a while.
How long is a while?
This varies from person to person, but I usually would say:
For six weeks to 3 months B will obsess about what A and C did 24/7 from the moment that B finds out that A’s involvement with C is over.
If A lied about C for a LONG time or A’s behavior with C is with B’s sister or brother or best friend or pastor (!), then B will think about A and C for longer than 3 months.Six months?Maybe longer.
Why so long? What A did is create an emotional wound for B. Emotional wounds take time to heal, just like physical wounds. A broken leg takes a long time to heal. So does a broken heart. This is NORMAL!
After the 6 weeks to 3 months, B will think about it randomly for a year, like when A’s behavior with C is on the news (such as Tiger Woods’ recent problems) or in a song on the radio or a TV sitcom. The first year will have some rough spots here and there. The second year should go better. This is assuming A’s behavior and contact with C has STOPPED, the couple is in therapy learning how to deal with all this hurt in helpful ways and that they are growing and reconnecting as a couple and that A’s behavior matches what A says over time.
If A has a relapse and does whatever with C again, well then, B’s healing will take longer.Much longer.Not additionally longer, but multitudinally longer.Some B’s cannot take a second violation for fear that A has an habitual problem and that B will never be able to trust A again.It would behoove A to not do C ever again, if A wants a long-term relationship with B.Sometimes, if A goes back to C in whatever manner, B says, Okay, I can see what is important to you and B divorces A.This can be particularly sad, if A was having a hard time ending A’s involvement with C and then A finally gets it and breaks off contact with C for good, but by then A and B are divorced.Too little, too late.We could say that A did not learn A’s lesson soon enough.That would be a bummer.
The key to the relationship healing after A has violated trust is for A to be trustable over time, for A’s words to match A’s deeds, for A to tell B what A is doing and thinking, for A to stop all contact with C and for A and B to work on improving their relationship.This isn’t an easy thing to figure out on your own.
This is where a therapist like myself can help.We can give you a road map through this scary wilderness.
If your therapist doesn’t give you a road map and just nods and says eh-ha, then fire his sorry butt and give us a call.
Do not let me be ashamed, for I take refuge in You.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me,
For I wait for You.
Psalm 25:20-21 (NASB)
My son, Marty, hooked me up with an article on Yahoo Sports about the recent emphasis in the NFL Draft on picking players with character over players only with only talent. The fall from grace of Ben Roethlisberger and Tiger Woods in recent months has led NFL recruiters to put a premium on character. As Marty put it: talent can be developed, character is who you are.
NFL teams seemed to take a strong hint just a day after Ben Roethlisberger was suspended without committing a crime. If there was a theme to the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night, it was that character was put on equal if not higher footing than talent. Nothing said that more than the Denver Broncos’ selection of Tim Tebow with the 25th overall pick, but the message was evident throughout the first day.
The article goes on to articulate that character was major factor throughout the draft. Talent, without the character to back it up, can hurt a team.
Roethlisberger, who has led the Pittsburgh Steelers to two Super Bowls, is a case in point. Roethlisberger has had two sexual assault allegations, one in Lake Tahoe in 2008 and one in Millegdeville, Georgia last month. In Milledgeville , a 20-year old college coed accused Roethlisberger of sexual assault in a bar bathroom, charges that were later dropped. The NFL was not amused and last week suspended him for six games.
Ben Roethlisberger showed a pattern of behavior that damaged the integrity of the game, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday.
Goodell suspended Roethlisberger this week following at least two incidents in which the Steelers’ quarterback was accused of sexual assault.
“We’ve established there’s a pattern,” Goodell told the Associated Press Sports Editors in a meeting at his Park Ave. offices. “We go back through all the incidents and try to understand is there any kind of pattern, and we have enough information to believe he’s not making sound judgments at critical points.”
Goodell also said he has the flexibility to change the six-game suspension if new evidence of misbehavior emerges.
Roethlisberger’s behavior has led his fellow players to doubt his leadership ability. In this video from ESPN over the last weekend players and former teammates of Roethlisberger comment on his ability to lead the team, with one colleague saying that he believed fully 60% of the players were disgruntled with Roethlisberger’s leadership. Another said that yes, Roethlisberger had two Super Bowl rings, but he also had two legal accusations and the latter two were carrying more weight than the former. There was even some rumors floating that the Steelers would seek to trade Roethlisberger altogether.
You can only reach as high as your integrity. Life is tough enough without adding to your troubles that you can’t be trusted or that your word is no good or the promises you made to your spouse or kids are expendable.
Here’s another way to look at the talent/character debate. In Dr. Henry Cloud’s recent book, Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality, he likens integrity to the wake behind a boat. The wake is the result of the boat’s path and this wake has two sides. He writes there are two sides to the wake we leave behind us as well: The task side and the relationship side. The task side asks, are you getting the job done? Are there good results? On the relationship side is how you are effecting others. Are they blessed for being with you? Do you leave others thriving or are they drowning?
It’s one thing to get a job done, to get results. It’s another altogether to leave a trail of tears.
It’s not a question of which is more important, talent or character, task or relationship? It is a both/and. You need the skill to accomplish your goals. You need the character to make sure your accomplishments last and the dignity to make sure you don’t use those around you for your own ends.
-you may be a great housekeeper and your home may be spotless and everything in it’s place, but if your kids and spouse are terrorized by your demands, your clean house means nothing. Better a morsel in the attic than living in a spotless house of strife.
-your marriage looks awesome and then your spouse finds out you were having an affair. All of a sudden, that “awesome” marriage doesn’t look so good. It’ll take a lot of work to repair the damage you’ve done. If you are living a double life you can expect a multiple of problems.
-your spouse asks you where you were and you tell her it’s none of her business and that you are a big boy and you can do what you want and quit being a control freak. You’ve just told her more than you realized: You’ve told her she doesn’t matter, that you don’t need her or her opinion, you don’t want her in your life, you don’t want her input or influence in your life, you don’t want to protect her and you don’t want her to protect you (she needs to know where you are so she can contact you in an emergency and vice versa), and that you have things to hide because if you were a person of integrity you would be proud and happy to let her know what’s going on in your life.
Hey, look. Life is tough enough. Why multiply problems for yourself? Let your integrity protect you. Or to say it another way:
The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.
Proverbs 11: 3
If you want the fast track to ruining your life, throw your integrity out the window. Live your life however you want. Don’t have any principles. Don’t be responsible. Make promises you have no intention of keeping. Be totally offended if anyone points any of these things out. Say that’s just not you. Be stubborn and refuse to change or improve or grow or try to improve anything. Be consistent in being inconsistent. Let your loved ones know that you can be dependably NOT relied upon.
This way you can blame everyone else when no one wants to have anything to do with you.
Normally one of the key aspects of therapy for a couple after an affair is the healing for the person whose spouse had the affair. But what about the person who had the affair? How does that person heal?*
For the purposes of simplicity, let’s say the person who had the affair is Spouse A and the Spouse who found out that Spouse A had an affair is Spouse B and let’s call A’s affairee C.
The hardest part for A is what is known in our field (mental health treatment) as relapse prevention. It is no use telling A to forgive himself if he goes back to his affairee! To quote what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery: Go and sin no more. There you have it. This is the foundation of healing for A (and for B for that matter): Going forward and sinning no more. No more C. No emails, no texts, no cell phone calls, no Facebook or Twitter contacting, no clandestine meetings, no mementos (all gifts and letters and pictures, etc, are gone). If A still works with C, efforts are made on A’s part to distance A from the C. Sometimes this involves a request from A to management for A being removed from a particular project or moved to a different office. Sometimes this means only A being more conscientious about choices A makes throughout A’s day such as going to lunch at a different time or place than C.
A crucial part of healing for both A and B is A learning to be forthright about things going on in A’s life.Except in bizzaare cases, A cannot have an affair is A is NOT keeping a secret.If A had told B about the nature of A’s relationship with C all along, the affair more than likely wouldn’t have occurred.So, going forward, in order to heal, A has to learn to make better choices.This is one of the major benefits of marriage: Your spouse has your back, you have someone to bounce your ideas off of, you are not alone, and you have a beloved that will give you a reality check on choices that come your way.Your spouse can’t be of help to you unless your spouse knows what’s going on in your life.
Oftentimes one of the most powerful magnets that draws A to an affair in the first place is A talking to C about things that are none of C’s business, things that A should have been telling B all along. So, going forward, A should tell B these things and more. I call it OVERREPORTING. That’s probably not the best term, because I don’t want it to feel like tattling, but it’s the idea that A will tell B, going forward after an affair, more about A’s life than A ever has in the past: Where A went, what A did, who A saw and talked to, what A felt for good or ill, worries and fears. Of course B should be doing this to A as well. Every partner in a marriage should be doing this. Accountability in marriage is one of the major blessings of marriage and until a couple gets this, their marriage will NEVER reach it’s potential.
A cautionary note to B on this topic:It is not B’s responsibility to make sure that A is telling B what A is doing and thinking and feeling.That’s A’s responsibility.A offers this information to B freely without B asking A because A loves B and A wants to stop and never again have anything to do with C or any other future C’s and A needs some support and help and A will need to get that support from B.Of course A can also get support from A’s pastor or counselor (preferably both A and B’s counselor or pastor), but the real test of recovery for A is A’s willingness to be open with B about what’s what in A’s life.
Having said this, this does NOT mean that B can’t ask A about A’s day. This is fine, as long as it’s a normal conversation, like, “So anything new today?” kinds of conversations. Every marriage needs regular conversations about what each partner is going through and why. After and an affair, these conversations are the ointment to help the couple heal, both A and B.
I insist to my clients who come to see me after an affair, that A will agree to tell B whenever A sees or hears from or talks to C. A will voluntarily tell B if A runs into C at work or the grocery store or wherever or if C emails or texts or calls A for whatever reason. A will also make an attempt to minimize these contacts. This assignment I give A is not for B’s benefit! It is so that A will make the right choices going forward and so that A will learn to not have secrets from B. A side benefit is that B will learn, over time, to trust A, as A demonstrates to B that A is trustable (did you catch that?).
By the way, a wonderful result of A being open with B about A’s life is that B will learn, over time, to trust A again. More importantly, A will be KNOWN. As I’ve said before, BEING KNOWN IS THE SOIL IN WHICH MARITAL LOVE GROWS. Without that soil, you’ll have puny love. To the extent that you have secrets from your spouse about ANYTHING is the extent your relationship will feel distant and cold. This is a law of the universe and you can’t change it, just like you can’t change gravity. You can deny gravity’s existence, but if you defy it you will crash to the ground.
Just because Dr. Wall says A needs to be open to B about A’s life (and vice versa) doesn’t mean the couple will be able to do this. Many can and do discover this as a new found gold mine in their marriage they never knew existed. Other couples struggle with this. I know, as a marital therapist guy, that this is fundamental, so it’s a major emphasis in my work with post-affair couples. Don’t be discouraged if it’s a struggle at first. It HAS to happen. Sometimes it’s something simple, like making sure the couple takes the time! Kids or work or supper or TV or whatever, may be impinging on the couple’s habits and there may not BE enough face-to-face time for the couple to reacquaint at the end of the day. Making this a priority and reorienting their schedule, may be the secret to making sure this happens.
The other major obstacle to A opening up to B about A’s life is that B is emotionally hurt from A’s affair and it’s easy for B to get testy or mad or too inquisitive when A tells B about this or that, particularly when it’s about C.B is going to want to watch this and keep B’s anger and B’s interrogation of A at bay.If A had an affair, there’s a really good chance that A has had a difficult time opening up to B all along.Careful B.Let’s not use our talking about our day as a time to give advice or to freak out.Let’s just listen.Otherwise B will train A not to tell B anything.
There are certainly other steps to healing after an affair which we will discuss in future blogs, but this is one of the most important. Without this step, we’re just spinning our wheels.
*My thanks to a client who asked me specifically to write a blog on this subject.