Fortunately, I’ve been able to help many of these folks regain their trust and actually discover a wonderful marriage. It ain’t easy, but it can be done. The road to healing is littered with minefields, though, and things can easily blow up if we aren’t careful. It’s hard to explain in a few paragraphs, but take my word for it, that most couples cannot survive trust issues without a little outside guidance. Look at all the possibilities:
Both Spouse A and B are trustable and both trust each other.
Both Spouse A and B are trustable, but A doesn’t trust B or B doesn’t trust A.
Spouse B is not trustable and Spouse A is trustable and A doesn’t trust B or B doesn’t trust A.
Spouse A is not trustable and Spouse B is trustable and A doesn’t trust B or B doesn’t trust A.
Either Spouse A or B are not trustable, but both trust each other.
Either Spouse A or B are not trustable, but one trusts the other and one doesn’t.
Either Spouse A or B are not trustable and neither trusts the other.
Both Spouse A or Spouse B are not trustable and neither trusts each other.
Both Spouse A or B are not trustable and both trust each other.
Both Spouse A or B are not trustable, but one trusts the other and the other doesn’t.
So, ahhh, which option above means we should divorce? That’s a rhetorical question to illustrate that trust is very tender, it is easy to lose and it is difficult to gain back. I hope you can also see, the only option that works above is #1: if both are trustable and both trust each other. Every other scenario is fraught with difficulty and fear and anxiety and worry and doubt (the one who doesn’t trust) and feelings of being controlled and attacked (the person who wasn’t trustable or isn’t trustable or is trustable and is attacked for being untrustable) or my spouse is a crazy person or I’m being taken for a fool (either the non-trusting or the untrustable spouse).
Consider: A couple might not trust each other for a lot of reasons: One of A or B’s parents or both A and B’s parents might have cheated and either divorced the other or they stayed married with a lot of pain. A or B or A and B might have had a boy or girlfriend cheat on A or B or A and B in high school or college or in a previous cohabiting situation or marriage. A or B or A and B might have done the cheating and now A or B or A and B have a difficult time believing anyone is trustable and now A or B or A and B see ghosts in the night when there are none there.
Or to say it another way: it is difficult to trust anyone if anyone else in your past has cheated on you or if you have cheated on anyone.
I wrote it’s difficult. I didn’t write it’s impossible. Basically, you shouldn’t trust someone if they are not trustable. The burden is on the untrustable person to be trustable. Basically, you should trust someone if they are trustable and the burden is on the person who doesn’t trust to learn to trust the trustable person. I hope you can see usually both parties (the one who doesn’t trust and the one who isn’t trustable) have work to do to bring healing to the relationship (where both are trustable and both trust each other).
Or to say it another way: the waters of trust are difficult to navigate. Having a guide is helpful. That’s where we come in. Let us help you be a couple where both are trustable and both are trusting. It’s actually a wonderful way to live. We can’t undo the past, but we can heal and learn from the past and we can be trustable and have integrity going forward and learn again be trusting. As Proverbs 10:9 says, “He who walks in integrity, walks securely.” I highly recommend integrity for both parties as a lifestyle (see my series on Integrity).
And no, just because you don’t trust your spouse, it doesn’t mean you should divorce. It means you both are going to have some work to do and it’ll take some time. A little patience might be good. Love is patient, after all.
But if you divorce, you haven’t learned to be trusting or trustable and you bring your trust problem into your next relationship, only the next time it’ll all be multiplied in intensity. You may as well figure it out now instead of borrowing trouble. Usually divorce is borrowing trouble for the future. Divorce freezes your personal shortcomings and creates just one more problem of trust to be overcome
Shame on you if you fool me once. Shame on me if you fool me twice.
That’s a popular response to an affair. As she sings:
Where I’m at, is my life before me and this feeling that I can’t go back
Live goes on
In other words:
Once a cheater always a cheater (another pop cultural response to the pain of an affair) or, even if you repented and were sorry and never did it again I could never heal, I could never forgive, I could never forget, and even if I could do that, the affair destroyed the relationship, so the only way to deal with it is to dump your sorry butt and not look back.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think you should take advice from LeAnn Rimes on something so important. In her defense, she didn’t write the song and was only twenty when she recorded it. To her shame, she was the “other woman” only a few years later. Not surprising to me. If you are cavalier about your vows on either side of this debate you are ripe for an affair yourself. She’s quoted as saying in Wikipedia: “I take responsibility for everything I’ve done. I hate that people got hurt, but I don’t regret the outcome.” Hmm. Let’s see: I destroyed two families, but at least I’m happy? I don’t think “I take responsibility” and “I don’t regret the outcome” should be in the same sentence. Maybe not even in the same life! It certainly hasn’t helped her.
Her song and life reflect three common beliefs: After an affair there’s no such thing as 1) repentance or 2) forgiveness or 3) healing. It’s understandable people would think these things. Affairs are very painful all around.
But they are also very temporary. Nearly all. They are a buzz, a thrill, an adrenaline rush, like a heroin high you eventually will come down from like a crash. You also have to disobey God to do it and go against your own conscience and go against all common decency and feel the disparagement and anger and hurt and disbelief of your spouse and children and other loved ones and friends. In some cases you can get fired and even arrested. Yeah, you can find a few like-minded pervs out there who will pat you on the back and say you did the right thing and your spouse was a jerk or whatever, but you still have to look yourself in their mirror in the morning. And the morning after that and the morning after that for the rest of your life… and you will see ghosts everywhere and doubt everyone’s integrity and not be able to trust anyone because of what you did and you will think everyone is out to get everyone just like you. Did you remember LeAnne Rimes ended up checking in for treatment for anxiety and depression nearly three years after her little fling she didn’t regret? The ghosts are following her. No surprises there.
This stuff is no fun to deal with, granted. But don’t try going it alone. I’m here to tell you there is such a thing as repentance. People really do learn their lessons and don’t want to go back to cheating and will do whatever they can to not go down that horror street again. I’m here to tell you there is such a thing as forgiveness and you won’t obsess on your spouse’s cheating the rest of your life if you do the right things. I’m here to tell you both of you as a couple can heal from this, learn from this, rise above it, conquer it and reclaim your marriage. In fact, for many couples their marriages are better than ever before because they both learned they can’t take each other for granted, we live in a fragile world and we’d better tend to each other.
But knowing how to say no to temptation going forward, knowing how to heal together, knowing how to not obsess on the violation of it all…these are not easy rows to hoe. There’s some pain along the way. There’s some obstacles to climb over. There’s some rubbish to throw away. There’s some wounds to clean out.
That’s where we come in. We know the territory. We’ve been down this road with many, many other couples. You still have to go down life’s journey, but we can give you a road map. The road is fraught with danger and, granted, some therapists have no idea how to help you navigate those roads.
Video games were the first big culprit (wasting time). Then cellphones (affairs). Then email (affairs). Then the Internet (porn and affairs). Then texting (affairs). Then online dating sites (affairs and porn). Then Facebook (wasting time, withdrawal and affairs). The latest is Smart Phones that combines them all and is probably the most compelling of them all (affairs, wasting time, withdrawal, sexting and porn).
Facebook is a case in point. You can look up your old boyfriend or girlfriend in a matter of minutes. Why you would do that is beyond me. There’s a reason he or she is your old boyfriend or girlfriend! Hello! The egg has been fried. The cat’s out of the bag. The money has been spent. It’s down the drain. The door has been closed. The house has been sold. The case is closed. Why in the world do you want to revisit old mistakes? Fantasies are not the stuff of happiness. As Proverbs says, “he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.” (12:11). For sure. For some reason “fantasies” are compelling.
At least for awhile. And then they are boring. Meanwhile, you can lose your dignity over the whole deal.
Just cuz someone searchers for you and finds you does not give them the right to come plowing back into your life. You don’t have to accept just anyone as your friend. Boundaries, people! Facebook is weird. It’s both public and private. The public aspect puts you out there for anyone to shop for you. The private aspect makes you vulnerable to an affair. Secrets and affairs are cousins. It’s a mistake waiting to happen, if you aren’t careful. Oh…you’d never have an affair? Let him who thinks he stand, take heed, lest he fall, I think the quote goes. My office has had many, many folks who have told themselves they’d never cheat. Right. We all have feet of clay.
Time magazine just published a wonderful prediction: Facebook will experience an 80% decline in just a couple of years! Woohoo! They quoted some Princeton researchers who likened it to a disease! Funny! Researchers with a sense of humor! What a riot!
Updating traditional models on disease spread to assume that “recovery” requires contact with a nondiseased member — i.e., a nonuser of Facebook (“recovered” member of the population) — researchers predicted that Facebook would see a rapid decline, causing the site to lose 80% of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.
I love the analogy that those who use Facebook are diseased and those who don’t are nondiseased and the diseased will envy the nondiseased (We have a life!)! I can personally testify that my usage of FB is down 80%. No, 95% from a couple years ago. Now, maybe once a week I check for a few minutes to see if one of my children posted some news. Otherwise…nah. I’ve got better things to do. Boring. I’m sorry I’m so insensitive, but I really am not all that interested in your picture of your new dog. I got new light bulbs the other day. Should I post a picture of that? Where do you you draw the line? Some people don’t know where to draw the line. Then they foist this stuff on you. And you look at it. Why are you letting other people determine what you look at and how you spend your time? It’s time for you to grow bored with this.
It reminds me of playing pool on a neighbor buddy’s new pool table with him and another friend back in high school. We played non-stop for six weeks (What fun we had!) and then we got bored with it and never played again. That was the end of it.
Another example: One of my kids was into Magic cards in 7th or 8th grade. I told him, even though I didn’t like Magic cards, I wasn’t going to prevent it because I assumed he’d outgrow it in due time. I told him if he was still doing it in 10th grade we’d have to have a serious talk. That’s all I said and in six months he was bored with it and on to other things. Good for him. That’s called maturity! You know you are NORMAL if you grow bored with things.
Folks…it’s time to grow bored with Facebook! Really.
These researchers are predicting if no one reads your posts, you won’t post anything anymore! And if you don’t post anymore, there won’t be anything to read and Facebook will just sit there like an empty warehouse.
Could you imagine? Mark Zuckerberg broke? Hilarious!
Really, I’m a pretty nice guy and I’m not too mean. I’ll even let a bunch of stuff slide if I think we can get somewhere from a different route. But I’m having a hard time just sitting back and let Coach Petrino’s explanation of his affair fall without first tossing it in the air a bit.
If you remember the coach was caught having an affair with a lady 26 years younger than him (Jessica Dorrell), whom he hired. It all came out after he got into a motorcycle accident with her on the back and tried to hide it. He ended up losing his job over the lies and deception, not to say the hurt he caused his wife and four children and his fellow coaches, players and the Razorback Nation.
The explanation of his affair from Petrino I’d like to comment on was released to the Associated Press and reported in CBS News after a request using the Freedom of Information Act and included the notes Razorback Athletic Director Jeff Long kept while he questioned Petrino after Long found out about Petrino’s coverup. The USA Today reported:
Petrino told his boss that his affair with Dorrell began with a kiss last fall and ended sometime in February when the two decided to simply be friends.
Let’s clear this up: Affairs don’t start with a kiss. And they don’t end when two affairees decide to just be friends.
Affairs start long before the kiss. It started the first time he felt his heart crossing a line in his thoughts about Dorrell or the first time she crossed a line in how she treated him and he did not tell his wife about it.
When I ask my clients, when did it cross “the line,” most know immediately what I mean. Either Patino or Dorrell may have crossed a line.
Actually, you don’t want to even be close to the line. You don’t play Frisbee right next to the edge of a cliff. You play far far away.
This is one of the benefits of being married. You can talk with each other about crazy people that are seeking to cross lines with you and the temptations you face at your work and life and the two of you can talk about how to handle these crazy people and the temptations and you can keep your dignity instead of crossing a line, because the vultures are circling looking for an opportunity to come down and pluck out your eyes.
In therapy I liken the temptation to have an affair to a slippery slide. Every step up the ladder is one more decision closer to an affair going beyond emotional to sexual. By the time you are kissing your affairee, you are more than likely dancing on the top of the slide. For most there have been dozens of decisions they didn’t talk about with their spouse, all of which are secrets. The power of the secret is the secret and delusion reigns. The fact that Petrino says his affair began with a kiss is a sign of that delusion.
The second mistake Petrino made was thinking if we stopped the affair sexually, we can remain friends.
Ah, no. If someone led you down the road to an affair (a devastating road strewn with the bodies of your loved ones, friends, colleagues and your dignity trampled underfoot), the last thing you are going to want to do is chum around with that person. No. That would be, like, you know…..stupid. The two of you have proven that together you can’t respect boundaries so, no, we aren’t going to tempt each other to cross boundaries again. The affairee needs to be off your list, off your contacts, off your cell phone, off your email list and all the old emails and gifts and pictures and mementos destroyed. We are done with that lifestyle. Done. Done and Done. If your affairee refuses to honor these boundaries, you change your email and/or cell phone number. We don’t mess around with this stuff.
If they still refuse, you may have to call the police.
I’m not kidding.
The reason we don’t mess around with this stuff is not to appease your spouse who is understandably pretty upset by this if you’ve had the courage to face it with him or her. That’s a byproduct. No. The reason you don’t mess around with it is because you don’t want to tempt yourself again. Affairs that are over sometimes do heat up again. Keep all the logs off the fire. The embers are still there.
Telling your spouse about all these things before you end up going up the slide is the way to go. Then you’d never go down the slide in the first place!
If you are on the slide and don’t know what to do, give us a call. We’ll help you face these things so you can deal with it and learn from it and have the courage to face your spouse honestly, so that, over time, you can get your life, marriage and dignity back.
In yesterday’s blog I gave my definition of an affair around Herman Cain’s secret relationship with another woman to whom he admitted he gave money to without his wife’s knowledge. He claimed he didn’t have an affair with her, by which he means, I presume, that he didn’t have sex with her. I explained that you can have an affair without being sexual and that in my definition of an affair it has to do with meeting some one else’s needs or letting another meet your needs when those needs should be met by one’s spouse. Formally I explained my definition of an affair as follows:
Any time you meet someone else’s needs when you should meeting your spouse’s needs or any time someone else (or in the case of pornography, something else) is meeting your needs, when your spouse should be the only one meeting those needs, that would be an affair.
After writing the blog I ran it by my son, Brandon, who works as our staff researcher and a regular blogger (see his very helpful contributions here), and he wondered how my definition applied to two male friends or two female friends. The answer to that required a longer answer than I could discuss in yesterday’s blog, so I’m going to try and tackle that question today.
The research on this is pretty interesting. Men who have close guy friends have fewer affairs (with women) then men who don’t. This is a problem that has arisen in modern society where we don’t have the time to develop and maintain relationships outside of work or our immediate family. People are inside their houses at night after work watching TV and surfing the internet, or even, often, working late into the night. We’re not sitting around campfires and chatting it up with the neighbors anymore. Our city parks and sidewalks are empty except for people exercising who are in a zone and the most they can manage is a nod to their neighbor as they check their hearts rates on their armband heart monitors.
This unidirectional tendency puts an awful lot of stress on a marriage to fulfill nearly all or all of a person’s social life. The demand is too high. As much as I think of marriage as being awesome, it was never intended to meet ALL of our social needs. We need friends outside of our spouses. We need social contact outside our immediate families. This is why, apart from spiritual concerns, people who go to church seem to do better in overall marriage and life quality. Their lives have more balance with different social functions at church including social contact at worship services on the whole then folk who spend night after night, year after year, alone.
The friendship a woman has with a woman or a man has with a man is different than the friendship a husband and wife have. There are different needs being met. When guys get together or women get together they talk about a lot of different things than they with each other do at home. This is totally fine and normal and to be encouraged. A couple of guys can banter about the football game all evening and a couple of gals can share delightful stories about their kids all evening, but get them alone with their spouse and only a few tidbits are shared. This doesn’t mean they don’t love their spouses. When the couple gets alone they may discuss the football game and the kids, but they may also discuss other things and bond in other ways and it’s all totally fine.
Most guys in our day could use more human contact with like-minded other guys. Most gals in our day could use more human contact with like-minded other gals.
But like anything, there can be too much of a good thing.
Let’s not take this “friend” thing to the point where there’s no room for your spouse in the picture. That’s not going to go over well, nor should it.
Here’s some examples I’ve heard over the years, sometimes many times, of situations that are out of hand and, in my opinion, the spouses of these folks SHOULD be upset. Balance people!
-A husband spends every night and all day Saturday and Sunday out in the garage working on his race car with his race car buddies and then goes to the races on Friday or Saturday night and doesn’t get home til 5 AM Sunday week after week
-A husband spends every waking moment in the garage with the neighbor kicking back and drinking beer after beer, maybe working on a car or two, maybe not
-A wife likes to dance and her husband doesn’t so she goes out with her girlfriends to the dance club or bar til all hours of the night, week after week. Drinking is usually part of this scenario.
-A husband hunts from October to March every night after work, every morning before work and every weekend. This may or may not be with another hunting buddy
-A husband fishes in every conceivable body of water at any available moment and the moments he thinks are available are not the same ones as his wife, such as when she’s giving birth or her mother is dying
-A wife goes out with her workmates after work every week, sometimes more, and her workmates are all single and ten years younger than her
-A husband practically lives on his boat drinking beer by himself and with the other boaters with whom he’s drank for years. His wife has grown to hate the boat as much as the beer and as much as the beer guzzling friends.
-A husband tells his guy friends or a wife tells her gal friends all of the couple’s secrets, particularly about his or her marriage, even more than they discuss it with their respective spouses. This may also be a pastor or a counselor and the spouse is at home lonely and not hearing a word about his or her spouse’s heart or hurt.
-A husband or wife plays video or online role playing games for hours and hours a day or surf’s the internet, or chats on Facebook or is on the computer to all hours of the night or texts everyone else and then keeps all of these “social” contacts secret (“I can do what I want. You aren’t my boss.”)
-A husband or wife thinks about work, breaths work, dreams about work, worries about work, obsesses about work, talks about work, works and interacts with workmates and work clients on the cell phone, email, texting, computer, constantly, day after day, year after year, really not having a moment or taking a moment to chill and enjoy his or her wife, husband or kids, at all, period, include trips to the Bahama’s where he has to check his email
Then these folk come to see me and the spouses of these people are discussing their feelings about the beer or the stock car or their spouses’ workmates or the garage or the neighbor or the rifle or the boat or the dance club or their spouses’ jobs as if these were an affair. They might not use the word, but the way they describe their feelings of neglect, betrayal, loneliness, anger and, yes, their lack of trust, sounds just like the spouse is involved in an affair. I’m not making this up. That’s how they sound.
Hunting for six months out of the year can create a trust issue? You bet. While you are gone all the time doing your own thing (with other friends or not), your spouse is left alone holding down the fort and making sure the kids, the household, the house and the bills are all covered. Your spouse gets demoted from a spouse to a hired hand or a maid and neither of those titles are very endearing, let me tell you. Furthermore, things happen that you will be totally oblivious to and your spouse will have to address these emergency concerns alone without your input. If your spouse trusts that you will always be gone or always be preoccupied or always irritated if you are interrupted, you can bet, over time, her trust in you will dissipate. So will her reliance on you. You’ve trained her to not need you, so after awhile, she’ll tell herself she doesn’t need you after all.
You can hire a maid. You can hire someone to pay your bills for you. You can even hire a nanny. Convey to your spouse that he or she is completely unnecessary except for duties and see how well your marriage goes.
And please don’t tell your spouse that you are just the hunting, fishing, shopping, mechanic, carpenter, antiquing, beer-guzzling, dance clubbing, close-down-the bar, workaholic, football, NASCAR, buddies-in-the-garage, texting, Facebooking, online-gaming type and you-knew-I-was-like-this-before-I got-married-so-don’t-try-to-change-me excuse. Maybe she knew? I don’t think you should resent it that your wife thought that maybe over, say, the next thirty years, or so, you might grow up a tad? Just a little?
There’s nothing more boring than being married to a 22 year old for 30 years.
I’ve heard people talk about the beer, the garage, the boat, the neighbor, as if it were an affair. That’s how it feels sometimes, when things get out of control. If your spouse is talking to you this way, I’d advise you to take heed, because there will come a time when he won’t tell you this type of behavior bugs him. When this happens be very, very afraid. The research on this is scary. John Gottman, the leading marital researcher, would go so far as to say, when your spouse quits complaining about this type of thing, it’s because she’s totally shut down and she is marking her days until she dumps your sorry butt and then you will come to see me and want me to rescue your marriage, which I am happy to do, but your spouse might say something like, too little too late or, Humpty Dumpty has already fallen off the wall, and though you mourn and wail and change your lifestyle and you’ll do whatever it takes including never hunting again, your spouse will look off at the other wall in a blank stair and nothing you say will sway her from looking at you ever again in the eye the way she once did.