There is little things more painful than being asked to leave your home.
Home—a place where you hang your hat and coat, store your personal belongings and of course, visit with your family.
Home—a place of memories, both good and bad. This mixture of experiences creates an even more powerful bond. Most of us want to “stick it out” and make things work, no matter the circumstances.
But, what do we do when the pendulum swings and we are asked to leave.
Perhaps worse, we are told to leave. Flooded with emotion, we can hardly think straight. Flooded with emotion, we are reactive, making matters even worse.
Sam, a thirty-five year old man, tearfully shared how he had watched his kids waving goodbye to him from the living room window as he left the family home and moved into the apartment he rented. He was entering a land completely unfamiliar to him.
“I really didn’t see it coming,” Sam shared in his sharp, educated voice. “Don’t know if I should have seen it, but I didn’t.”
“What happened?” I asked. “Tell me your story.”
“She told me a couple weeks ago she was thinking about a separation. She said she ‘d been trying to tell me how unhappy she was for years.”
“And you don’t remember those comments?” I asked.
“Oh sure,” he said angrily, “but it’s one thing to tell me she needs change. It’s something else to tell me to leave my home, my kids, my family.”
Sam’s bitterness began to show. As Sam told of events leading to his marital separation, he was flooded with emotion—anger, hurt, sadness, even feelings of betrayal.
“It just seems like there are so many other ways Shar could have dealt with this. Asking me—no telling me—to leave is harsh. Why shouldn’t she leave? Why do I have to leave my home?”
“You didn’t have to leave, Sam,” I said. “But, to stay in a relationship where you are not wanted only creates more distrust and resentment. If you want a shot at saving this marriage, making things hard on her isn’t going to help your cause.”
“It still hurts,” Sam said.
“Yes,” I said. “I don’t think there is any nice way to ask for a separation. But, I hear you. There’s no nice way to receive the news of an impending separation either.”
“There sure isn’t,” he said. “Now I have to figure out if there is anything I can do to save the marriage, or if I just move on with my life. That’s what my friends tell me. If she wants a life alone, let her feel the impact of her choices.”
“I suggest we move very slowly,” I said. “Let’s consider life from her perspective and then you can decide what you want to do. How does that sound?”
“Nothing sounds good to me now,” he said. “All it sounds like is a bunch of bad options. And I know I need to try to figure this out.”
With that we spent the next several months considering his choices, while also helping him process the magnitude of the quake that had hit his life.
6 points to focus on:
First, consider what has happened and the context in which it has happened.
Women, (or men), don’t simply wake up one morning and leave their marriage or ask their mate to leave. The tumult has usually been occurring for months, leading up to the request for a mate to leave. Separation by a thousand cuts! Take some time to put the event into context. Step back and try to create a story that makes sense. This will probably require professional assistance.
Second, look critically for needs that have not been met.
A request for a separation is usually a drastic action to find relief from ongoing pain. We either meet needs directly, and efficiently, or indirectly, and often painfully. Sam’s wife, as it turns out, had been trying to get his attention for years but he had not heard the warning cries. She had felt abandoned, neglected and ignored. Her request for him to leave was a request for space so she could consider her next move. She needed to know if Sam would really look at his behaviors that played a role in her unhappiness.
Third, take responsibility for your part in this action.
While tempted to play the victim, this won’t be helpful. Though tempted to slip into bitterness and anger, these emotions, while understandable, won’t help you work cooperatively with your mate in the days ahead, not to mention they are cover-up emotions for deeper hurt, sadness and fear. Blame simply doesn’t work. What is needed is cultivating the ability to be pragmatic, accepting your part in this separation and working on those issues that have come to light. Your work on the issues will be noted!
Fourth, pay attention to her (or his) feelings/needs.
While you are flooded with your needs and feelings, remember that she has feelings about this separation as well. Mates who request the separation often have feelings of anger, discouragement, distrust and sadness. They, too face a life of uncertainty and the possibility of the end of a marriage. They wonder why their mate hasn’t listened and responded to their requests for change. They feel anger if now, after a separation, their mate finally agrees to counseling and change. They distrust promises to change.
Fifth, take things slowly.
Don’t panic. Don’t rush off to an attorney’s office. Don’t rush in, making promises to change. Don’t send gifts, cards, lengthy letters or make other efforts that only serve to overwhelm your mate. Don’t feel that you have to change everything in a few, short weeks. Time can be your best ally. Surround yourself with trustworthy friends who will offer needed encouragement and help you stabilize your emotions so you can think straight. Easy does it!
Sixth, cultivate positive experiences.
Yes, even amidst the turmoil of a separation you can have a positive impact. You can interact positively, cooperate with each other and build bridges instead of walls. You have the opportunity to create corrective emotional experiences. One positive experience after another builds bridges of trust and hope.
Consider what is now needed. Pray for wisdom to know how to act. Listen. Your faith will be invaluable as you develop trust in God as a source of wisdom and strength, seeking His comfort in these troubling times. Choose healthy, wise counsel, while rejecting hurtful, insensitive counsel. Develop faith that knows this is a marathon, not a sprint. Consider there are often opportunities to save marriages with healthy responses. Certainly this is an opportunity to enrich your faith and make painful, but healthy changes.
Finally, develop a plan. Nothing is as healing as a well-considered plan. Sit with your friends and develop a plan for restoration. While you cannot control everything, you can cultivate a plan for your own healing and possibly develop a plan with your mate for repairing the damage done between you. With wise guidance, you can do much to set yourself in a positive direction. Keep your side of the street clean, guarding against slipping back into old behaviors that were hurtful and led to this separation.
I’d love to hear from you. Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at firstname.lastname@example.org read more about The Marriage Recovery Center is focused on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
We hear about unconditional love in the Christian community all the time, but do we really know what it means?
The perfect opportunity arose this week to teach this in my family. Being avid Seahawks fans, my husband, three girls and I were devastated over the unbelievable loss of the Super Bowl. The next morning my oldest daughter commented that she won’t be wearing her Seahawks jersey to school that day. I asked her “Why not?” She said, “Well the Seahawks made a dumb play and lost the game because of it. I am just very disappointed in them!” I was quite shocked by her answer because I have been teaching our girls about loving people conditionally for who they are, not what they do.
I asked my daughter, “Does Jesus stop loving us because we make mistakes?” She said “No”. Then I said, “Would it be right for us to not love and support our beloved Seahawks team just because they made mistakes?” Again she said “No.” This is when I reminded her that unconditional love is about loving people for who they are to us, and choosing to forgive them when they make mistakes or poor choices.
My daughter went to her room and proudly put on her jersey and even rallied her friends to wear their 12th man gear. This scenario got me wondering how often couples show each other unconditional love. As a therapist at the Marriage Recovery Center, I have seen many many couples in great distress. More often then not unconditional love is completely missing from these marriages.
What does unconditional love look like in marriage?
Choosing to love someone for who they are. Most people get married LOVING the differences their spouse has from them. Within a year those differences become annoying and they begin asking their spouse to change, and change now. This is what we call conditional love. Unconditional love is understanding and accepting a partners differences. Learning to adapt to those differences is critical, even if it means sacrificing a particular want or need of theirs.
Holding them accountable for bad behavior. Partners have come to believe that to love someone unconditionally, you must just accept and tolerate their bad behavior. Quite the contrary! Bad behavior must be confronted. Boundaries are the best way to let a partner know that the behavior must end. “I love you, but I just cannot tolerate _______ behavior anymore. If you chose to do ________ behavior, I will choose to do _______(consequence).
Forgiveness. Once there is an understanding that bad behavior cannot be tolerated, mates are free to begin the forgiveness process. Giving the mate grace and a pass on a poor choice is what forgiveness is about. Forgetting the situation is not required for forgiveness, for all these situations are an opportunity to build good boundaries into a marriage.
Meeting a spouses needs. There is no greater display of love then attempting to always meet a spouses need. We call it “Wearing your spouse on your frontal lobe.” Being aware of what a partner’s wants, needs and their particular love language prior to them even know their needs is life giving. Unconditional love is especially meeting a spouses needs, even when their own needs are not being met. Fortunately, we see that once a spouses needs are continuously met, they often feel encouraged to meet the “giving” spouses needs.
Could unconditional love be what you need?
If you have been struggling in your marriage, try showing unconditional love in every opportunity you possibly can. Be mindful of what happens in your marriage once you make this shift.
If your marriage is in crisis, and you’re lost on how to turn it around, we can help. Our Marriage Intensives get to the core of what is going wrong in your marriage and teach you healthy ways of overcoming these patterns. Contact us at….
Learn More About Teri
Teri Johnson – MA LMHC Teri has over 16 years of experience counseling in corporate, church and clinical settings. She received her Master’s in Professional Counseling at Liberty University. Teri specializes in grief, codependency, as well as helping women attain a stronger self worth centered in God. She has a passion for helping broken couples heal through communication and develop a strong emotional connection. Teri has her Washington State Associate Mental Health Counselor license.
There are times when, after repeated traumatic experiences, hearts finally close.
We pull away from our mate, one wound at a time. We essentially divorce our mate, perhaps leading to ultimate separation and apparent irreconcilability.
Yet, the story does not have to end there. Brokenness and distance can be bridged, one listening ear after another. The bridge of hopelessness can be spanned by a soft word, a kindness, a gentle act leading to the faint prospect of hope.
When a couple finds themselves at odds, one pushed away from the other, there is still much that can be done. A couple can choose to bring healing to their relationship, even if they choose to end their love relationship.
What can be done within the marriage when one person has closed the door to reconciliation? What can be done when one or both hearts are closed to a renewed love relationship? This is still an opportunity for healing.
Hard feelings can be replaced by softness. Bitterness gives way to forgiveness.
What is the process for this healing? I meet with the couple several times with no expected outcome other than healing, which, at the least, would help both be healthier individuals and better parents. There is no ‘hard sell’ to coerce someone back into the marriage. There are no demands, no challenges, no forced outcomes. The process is marked by gentleness and kindness.
Two people agree to participate in the Therapeutic Healing Process where we would meet in person or via Skype two-four times, two hours a session, for the purpose of healing wounds created or exacerbated in your marriage.
We would utilize the process described in the manual, Love Life of Your Dreams.
I encourage both parties to read the manual,Love Life of Your Dreams, which I’m attaching. I also encourage both to complete the Issues Worksheet. We workthrough wounds brought to our sessions. I encourage both to come with an open heart, receptive and humble, to discover the journey between hopelessness and hope is not as far as you might have thought.
The Therapeutic Healing Process is powerful. The least that can happen is a healing of the wounds brought to, or exacerbated by, trauma within the marriage. You will walk away having experienced profound healing, able to determine more effectively if you want to explore possibilities or end the marriage.
Please consider this investment in yourself and your marriage.
David B. Hawkins, MSW, MA, PhD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Director, Marriage Recovery Center
You are feeling overwhelmed. Your heart is racing and your chest is flooded with adrenaline. Your first thought Is “I have to get out of here, and now!”
This is a description of what me and many of my clients say they experience just before they run. Often this happens in the midst of conflict and total and utter chaos. Typically I find with those who desire to run, is that they thrive on peace and strive to stay out of chaos. Unfortunately they are also the people who invite chaos makers into their lives, who ultimately steal their peace.
The many ways to run:
Flee – out the door not to be seen again for hours.
Shut down – physically the body shuts down and eyes start to close or eye contact is lost.
Shut up – the silent treatment is a powerful weapon. Every part of you is screaming inside, but not a word is to be spoken…or you lose. The most you might speak is “I am fine” when obviously everyone can see that you are far from fine.
Stuff it into the abyss – you may run from the problems by stuffing it far far down inside of you, never to be discussed again.
All of these ways of coping cause tremendous stress for you, because nothing is EVER resolved. You continue to feel overwhelmed, anxious and unhappy. Fortunately there is another way.
In the midst of chaos and conflict when you begin feeling overwhelmed, here is a healthy process to follow:
Choose to take a break/timeout. This is different than running, for you will let the other person know that you need to take a break, and will be back.
Go to a peaceful place where you can diffuse the anxiety and settle yourself down.
Breathe. My favorite technique is 4-7-8. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 7, and let out for 8 counts. You will feel quite differently after this exercise and will begin to think more clearly.
What is bugging you? There is a reason you are feeling overwhelmed. Try to determine what the reason is. Do you dislike the way you are being spoke to? Are you being accused of something when your mate brings something to you? Or are you feeling defensive when an issue is being brought up?
What is the feeling? You are being bugged due to your feelings. Are you feeling hurt, disrespected, alone, unloved, or even fearful?
What do you need to ask for? Based on your feelings you are needing something. Do you need to ask your mate to speak to you with respect? Are you wanting your mate to show you love in a certain way?
Call a time “IN.” Once you are feeling calm & clear, ask your mate if you can talk with them. Share with him/her how you are feeling, and what you are requesting of them, and see how they respond.
Often with this process, I see people move from anxiety to clarity and confidence when they realize that there is a way to resolve their issue and live in peace.
I speak to many many people who feel completely powerless to change their chaotic marriage. They firmly believe that anytime they interact with their spouse, there will be fighting, defensiveness, and complete chaos.
To some extent they are completely right. They have taken part in a dysfunctional pattern in their marriage that keeps yielding the same results, a completely chaotic marriage.
Your Chaotic Marriage May Feel Like a Tornado
I call the chaos in your marriage the “tornado.” The tornado in many a chaotic marriage may look like…
Twisting the story
Black & white thinking
And Stonewalling…just to name a few.
These behaviors are so destructive that they must be stopped.
Common Issues in a Chaotic Marriage
Unfortunately many get stuck in the chaos for various reasons. The most common issue is not truly understanding what a healthy loving marriage looks like. Often people come from a home with an chaotic marriage themselves, therefore they lack a role model showing healthy relating. This results in a marriage with many dysfunctional patterns, which is considered “normal.”
Secondly, spouses get confused by the chaos creator. A logical, reasonable request or discussion most commonly gets twisted, misconstrued, and flipped into being the spouses fault or own personal problem. Personal responsibility is rarely ever taken.
We Can Help you Find Peace in Your Chaotic Marriage
The frantic question I always get is “how can I create change in my chaotic marriage?” Well the simple answer is STOP! Stop jumping into the path of the chaos tornado. You can do this by:
Refusing to get hooked into a fight.
Refrain from responding with logic and reason to completely illogical thinking.
Start having good boundaries by choosing to disengage when the chaos surfaces.
Clearly communicate your boundaries by sharing with your spouse what you will no longer tolerate in your marriage.
Follow through with appropriate consequences when boundaries are broken. I.e. Disengage, leave the room, leave the house for the night.
Request an apology and amends be made before fully re-engaging.
The blessing is that you can absolutely create change in your marriage. With consistent boundaries and follow through, a peaceful and connected marriage is possible.
I have written extensively about women who are intensively frustrated with men, and moreover feel exasperated and at times hopeless about the prospect of her man’s ability to change. I want to offer hope—lot’s of it.
As I continue to write about this topic, many women (and some men!) have responded. Many indicate they were glad I finally understood what they have been experiencing for years. Instead of being told to “hang in there,” or “keep on praying,” I offered counsel concerning setting healthy boundaries.
Here are a few excerpts from responses sent to me:
After reading this article I am encouraged to finally see that we who have been in the same situation as this wife are not being advised to be more submissive, a better wife, lover, etc. as I have often been advised. I have also been in this same situation. What I have learned is to be submissive to the Lord and show love in the way of confronting the problems in a God-honoring way. I have set many boundaries. I have been in an unfaithful, verbally, emotional and sometimes physically abusive marriage for almost 15 yrs. I have always had this gnawing in my gut that I must stay in the marriage, convinced that it is the Holy Spirit’s leading. I have gone to individual therapy, marital counseling and have a library of books and media on how to have a good marriage. I have been on anti-depressants for 4 years due to the last time my husband cheated on me.
I appreciate the way this woman worded her new response to abuse: to “show love in the way of confronting the problems in a God-honoring way.” This involves speaking truthfully about problems, not ignoring them. It involves accountability, much like God holds us accountable for our behavior. It involves showing her husband respect, and expecting respect in return.
Another woman wrote:
My husband and I met 5 years ago while in college. From the beginning there has been lying and deception on his part, most of which I did not find out about until after we had married. When we got married I was 19 he was 20 and we had moved off campus together after becoming engaged. We were going to church, but living a lifestyle that was far from saved. Our pastor insisted that we start marriage counseling as soon as he found out that we were living together and I think that prompted our rush to the alter. Three months into our marriage my husband had the first of 3 affairs. He became both physically and emotionally abusive. I left, he attempted suicide I came back and dropped the charges. When is enough enough?
Again, we are never to tolerate abuse. God never intended us to live in a relationship fraught with violence. Women, and men, need to put their foot down on intolerable behavior. We must have a no-tolerance policy on abusive behavior. Then, and only then, will violence stop!
With Marriage Therapy, Men Can Change
The counsel I gave in the last article remains appropriate to many who have written about destructive behavior in their marriage. I offer it again for your consideration and feedback.
First, her husband makes promises to change, but then doesn’t do it.
Before we become too critical of him, let’s remember that this is the human condition: we all make promises we don’t keep. Many of us underestimate the task and the tenacity and challenge of changing. However, this is no reason not to change.
Second, this woman enables him not to change.
Like many of us, she tolerates too much misbehavior and violence. Not only does she tolerate his violence, but accepts his apologies, allowing the cycle to continue. She accepts his resistance to counseling, when clearly a professional intervention is needed. She accepts his excuse that he knows what he must do, implying that he is capable of changing himself, when that is not true.
In my book, When Trying to Change Him is Hurting You, I fully explore the tendency of women to be long-suffering, when limits should be set. I examine why so little change occurs in marriages and why women end up so frustrated. Much of it has to do with settling for too little change when more is needed.
Third, while it is true that God changes hearts, He also expects us to do our part.
The Gospels are replete with advice about changing our behavior. In speaking to the church at Colossae, the Apostle Paul tells us, “You must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (Colossians 3: 8) Such actions are not consistent with the changed heart. She must hold her husband accountable for his behavior.
Fourth, set firm boundaries.
Should this woman continue on, believing that perhaps the next time he rages, calls names or humiliates her will be his last? Should she simply keep praying that God will change his heart, while she pretends things are improving? No!
Men (and women!) behave in ways that are reinforced or tolerated. Many men are challenged when it comes to relating effectively, and women must not enable them to remain emotionally challenged. While it is not your job to change men, it is also unrealistic to think they simply change by themselves. Men need help! Relationship can be one of the best places to learn about healthy relating. Men need women to set boundaries on our anger, violence and insensitivity. Men need women to insist on professional assistance when that is what is called for. Men need women not to naively believe them when they say they can fix themselves. We cannot fix ourselves!
Finally, accept the immensity of the problem.
How will you know when men are serious about change? Again, the Apostle Paul talks about “having sorrow in a godly way results in repentance,” which means turning away from old behavior. (II Corinthians 7: 10) If our behavior doesn’t change, it suggests we don’t have godly sorrow about it or we haven’t been convicted of the immensity of the problem. When we fully accept the gravity of our wrongful behavior (sin) and feel convicted about it, we will seek whatever measures are necessary for change to occur.
Nobody said change was easy. However, with Christ, “all things are possible.” ( Philippians 4: 13) As men (and women!) surrender to Him, and fully acknowledge the severity and magnitude of their problems and need to change, they are empowered to change. Thank God!
I’d like to hear from others who are trying to set healthy boundaries. How are you doing with it? What are the challenges and what are the benefits?
If you would like to learn more about healthy relating, please take a look around our site to discover more information about this topic, find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage. I’d also encourage you to watch my video series, 30 Days to Relational Fitnessand please send responses to me at email@example.com if you need help.
As we explore Marriage Counseling in Seattle, we often get many emails like this…
This email we received at the Marriage Recovery Center had the same desperate plea: “Help us please because we are STUCK!”
Couples seeking marriage counseling in Seattle and all over the Pacific Northwest are stuck in their same dysfunctional patterns of anger, defensiveness or end up giving up and shutting down. On occasion, we experience some couples, that despite our confronting harmful patterns and teaching new healthy patterns, will still scream out for help in their “stuckness”
We have come to discover that these couples are stuck due to their own personal brokenness that they bring to their marriage. Out of their own hurt they are unable to reach out and help each other. “Hurting people hurt people.”
An example of how Marriage Counseling in Seattle helps through the Marriage Recovery Center?
An example of this brokenness is a sixty-year old woman speaking to her husband bitterly due to her feelings of rejection and loneliness. She is NOT only speaking from just the current rejection she is experiencing, but is also responding from that 6-year old child that experienced rejection from her family. The current rejection from her husband is essentially reinforcing her 6-year old belief that she will be rejected and alone. With this well engrained belief, this woman may come to expect rejection and even push her husband away in order to protect herself. The result is in her being totally and completely alone.
Over the years we have come to specialize in extremely difficult marriages. Marriages that have experienced emotional abuse, addictions and affairs. Most challenging of them all is counseling couples with character issues. These would be individuals with dysfunctional character traits, thinking errors, and other destructive ways that are deeply embedded in these individuals. Many would define these character traits as personality disorders, such as Narcissism (NPD), Borderline (BPD), and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OPCD). Many who have been married to a mate with any of these traits would tell you to run the other way! We have found just the opposite to be true. The symptoms of any of these personality disorders is merely an indication of a deep pain or trauma in a person’s life that has left them stuck in responding and reacting to issues in a really destructive way.
Fortunately, we have discovered a phenomenal healing process that we integrated into our Core Integration for Marriage Counseling in Seattle
At the Marriage Recovery Center, we’ve implemented an Intensive therapy format that is producing incredible success at helping these individuals get unstuck. This healing process is called Lifespan Integration (www.lifespanintegration.com) or The Healing Timeline (www.healingtimeline.com) which is the Christian version of Lifespan Integration (LI). LI seeks out the core issue/memory from the past that has an individual stuck in their current adult life. For instance the sixty year old woman mentioned earlier identifies the source of her rejection and goes to that memory of being rejected at 6 years old. We allow her to experience the feelings of that memory, and stay in it just long enough to uncover those deep feelings. We then quickly invite her adult self into the memory to protect the 6 year old, comfort her, and help speak for her when she cannot. We then integrate this experience into her life by walking through a memory from each year of her life from the age in the memory, i.e 7, 8, 9 all the way to age 60. With the Healing timeline, we have the client invite Jesus into her memory and let him speak his truth to her. Without fail, each time we go into the memory and then integrate it into a person’s life, we find the intensity of the emotion lessens until finally it is completely gone. This is all done without re-traumatizing the person.
There is even a scientific component to this healing process. When we experience trauma, the neurons in our brains become stuck in our current age. The neurons then fail to connect to the proceeding years. With Lifespan Integration, stuck neurons begin to integrate from the stuck age to the client’s current age, causing permanent and lasting results.
We have seen huge success in healing sexual abuse, physical abuse or neglect, marriage wounds, and many other very painful memories.
Just some of the successes we have seen in the past 2 months:
a woman unable to get off her couch for years due to many wounds from her childhood and marriage, has begun venturing into a life filled with joy and participating in fun activities with her husband.
a man feeling unloved by his wife, identified the source as a teenage wound from his parents not supporting him in sports. Now healed from his wound, he has discovered the great love he already receives from his wife.
a woman separated from her husband, lived in fear and anxiety due to suppressed abuse and trauma from childhood. She is now enjoying a peaceful approach to life and is experiencing more strength and confidence.
a woman suffering through grief over the recent loss of her parent, was able to heal through her grieving process and look at life with more hope.
With each of these scenarios, the pain and trauma from life was complicating their marriage relationship. Following LI/The Healing Timeline, they have all experienced a deeper connection with their mate, less conflict in relating, and have approached life with more joy and peace.
If you are looking for Marriage Counseling in Seattle…let us help!
Stop feeling stuck in your marriage and the dealing with past trauma and pain that keeps you stuck. Contact us today to schedule a Personal Intensive and follow up with a Marriage Intensive and in depth marriage counseling in Seattle and throughout the Pacific Northwest.
There is perhaps no greater pain than that of intimate betrayal by a mate. The one whom you’ve entrusted your life to, whom you’ve shared every intimate aspect of living with, now has shared those very aspects of their being with someone else—a place and part of them reserved exclusively for you.
Having an affair, physical or emotional, is a betrayal of the worst kind, leaving us breathless, hopeless and with a loss of meaning.
Perhaps your mate is having an affair with your best friend. Maybe it was a casual friendship on Facebook that went from friendly to familiar to failure. Perhaps your mate has had serial affairs and you’ve just discovered the damage. Your mind races, your emotions range from maddening frenzy to abject panic. You can’t eat, sleep or think straight.
Nothing is as painful as an affair. You trusted someone with your heart, soul and emotions; you expected faithfulness. You counted on them to keep you safe. An affair shatters the trust, safety and honesty you believed in.
“How could they do that to me? How can someone I love and trust betray me in this way?” you ask.
Having an affair seems unthinkable. Unspeakable. Unbearable. After all, the one who had the affair is the one who stepped out of the sacred bounds of the marriage.
With feelings intensified, the victim often attacks the villain, creating even more distance than existed before. Feeling intensely betrayed, enraged and resentful, the lines are drawn—victim and villain. While it is tempting to close our hearts, vilifying the one who had the affair, we must examine what led up to the affair.
As we embark on this journey to examining why it happened, I must be clear—nothing justifies an affair. This is a form of acting out in a most egregious manner. This is a most hurtful response to inner and outer stress. It is a failed attempt to find peace that only leads to even greater pain.
As we attempt to unravel the complex layers of problems, we often find many “reasons” why an affair can happen. Never justified, an affair often has meaning, and understanding that meaning can provide insurance against it ever happening again.
Most affairs occur in the context of significant marriage issues. Again, while this in no way justifies an affair, the skilled counselor can help the couple look deeper at the marriage problems that existed long before the affair took place. The marriage usually needs far more repair than problems caused by the affair alone.
Studies show that marriages susceptible to having an affair struggled with these issues:
A lack of functionality – fighting about the same issues again and again;
A lack of intimacy – ineffective communication, with feelings of distance, resentment and turmoil;
A Lack of Acceptance/ Significance – ignoring your mate’s need for acceptance, appreciation and significance;
A lack of excitement – allowing the relationship to become stale, with little “spark” or adventure;
A lack of sexual enthusiasm – allowing their sexual life to become boring and routine, or perhaps nonexistent.
If you find yourself with some of these “symptoms,” seek immediate, in depth help. Your relationship is vulnerable to an affair.
If you are struggling from the aftermath of your mate having an affair, here are steps to take to recover:
Be with your feelings. The one who has been victimized, as well as the one who had the affair, has feelings about what took place. Both must learn to be patient as they work through feelings of betrayal. Healing will take time, and you must settle in for a long period of counseling. The one victimized by the affair can expect to have a long season of roller coaster emotions, and the one who had the affair must be very patient in the healing process.
Consider trauma work. Through special interventions such as Lifespan Integration and Core Self Integration, (read about these on our website) in the company of a caring, trusted and trained marriage counselor, you can move through this trauma. Should you fail to move through the trauma, this suggests further intervention is needed—and available. We will help you determine what is blocking and impeding growth and recovery.
Recognize both played a role in the affair. This doesn’t mean the victim “caused” the affair, or must take responsibility for it. What it means is both are responsible for creating an environment in which an affair could occur (short of being married to a sexual addict.) Subsequently, both will need healing and changes to their personality and patterns of relating to ensure an affair doesn’t recur.
Both must take an active role in healing from the affair. Both must examine the circumstances in the marriage prior to the affair, exploring ways their communication, conflict resolution skills, and perhaps patterns of intimacy, played a role in the affair. Both must be diligent about taking responsibility for their part, and set out to heal problems. Again, this is where trauma work may play a role in their healing.
Understand that it will take time, and effort, to restore trust.Trust can be restored, but this will require effort and wisdom. Healthy boundaries must be restored to the marriage. The one who had the affair must show, repeatedly, that they are truly sorry for the damage they have caused. Both must be committed to long term healing of the marriage.
Make every effort to understand what your mate is experiencing. If you had the affair, make continuous effort to understand your mate’s feelings of betrayal. If you have been victimized, work at seeing the larger picture. Try to see the affair as a symptom of a larger, more complex problem.
Agree to grow through this trauma, not simply go through it.Locking arms, dedicated to healing, you both can work diligently with a trained specialist to heal and become stronger than ever before. Notice the gains, reinforce progress, and dedicate yourselves to having a healthier marriage than ever before.
I fully recognize that finding out your mate is having an affair is an incredibly sensitive topic.
It is so easy and tempting to become adversarial, shift into blaming and shaming, when what is needed is a fierce desire to become united to save your marriage. This “rollercoaster” recovery is best done with expert help, and we at The Marriage Recovery Center are available.
Are your thinking, “There is no way he’ll agree to marriage counseling” Well, you’re not alone!
“He doesn’t think we need marriage counseling,” “He says what happens behind closed doors is our business and besides, we’ve tried marriage counseling in the past and it didn’t work.”
Feeling discouraged about your marriage? Praying for change in your husband and your marriage, but see things continuing to deteriorate?
Things don’t change, we do! If we don’t make significant changes, our relationships won’t change.”
- Dr. David Hawkins
If you find yourself saying, “I know that if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re going to get the same results. Still, I find myself hitting a brick wall with him.” We can help
To be fair, it certainly isn’t always the man who resists marriage counseling. Many women resist going to a counselor, indicating they’ve been to counseling in the past and it hasn’t worked for them.
Wanting change, whether from your husband or your wife, requires a very delicate dance. Few lean into a change process. Change, by its very nature, is disruptive and most resist it. Yet, if we don’t go through something disruptive, if we don’t look critically at how we are living and relating, we’re not likely to change. If we don’t change, our relationship will continue to decline.
So, you are left to make a critical decision. I ask you to take inventory with these questions:
Is your marriage all you hope it to be?
Have you outlined a clear path, with clear expectations, about the change you desire?
Have you insisted on change, being willing to make the same changes yourself? Have you led the way in making changes?
Are you willing to draw boundaries, making it clear that there will be consequences if there were not to be changes?
Have you confronted your own tendencies to enable the situation not to change?
You want significant change. It is possible, but it will require something of you. You must be willing to experience a “breakdown that leads to a breakthrough.” Things must fall apart before they can be put back together in a healthy way.
We can lead you through that process!
Interestingly, you may be thinking he, or she, must have the breakdown that leads to the breakthrough. While that is certainly true, you too must have your own breakdown leading to a breakthrough. You must realize that what you’re doing is not working. You must be willing to experience the disruption that comes from not enabling a destructive process. You must be willing to give up some comforts as you cross over the bridge of change.
Note the Scripture on the process of change and the cost to us:
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14: 28)
Now of course this Scripture is not literally talking about money, though that is part of the process. Change requires that we prepare thoroughly for what the change process will demand of us. You will experience disruption to your life. You will likely receive pushback/ resistance. Therefore, you must be clear, concise and filled with an inner conviction that what you want is worthy of your efforts.
Let’s look a little more closely at the process of change and what marriage counseling can do to bring about change about:
First, begin with cultivating clarity.
You must be clear about what it is you need changed. Sit back, perhaps with a trusted friend, and note what you can no longer live with. Is it his temper that you can no longer tolerate? Perhaps it is his lack of empathy? Get clear about the changes you need.
Second, be consistent with yourself and him.
A little change is not enough. Stop telling yourself that you can live with something you really cannot live with. Stop deceiving yourself as this will not serve you in the long run. Arguing and bargaining with him only leads to more conflict and less change.
Third, armed with conviction, let him know what must change.
Prepared to take a stand, and ready for pushback and greater consequences, let him know you must have change. Do not engage in argumentation. Don’t try to coerce or manipulate him into change. Let him know that you must have him engaged in counseling with you and this is the only acceptable path for change. Don’t be manipulated into thinking a little change is enough, or that you can do this without expert help.
Fourth, determine the consequences if he resists.
A boundary without consequences is not a boundary—it is a hope or a wish. Wishes and hopes have not garnered his respect. It is time for consequences, beginning with something simple and leading to something more severe. He will determine how harsh the consequences need to be—you simply affirm what you need. Have your list of consequences ready and rehearsed.
Finally, follow through with a sense of calm.
Knowing that what you want—his complete involvement in a change process—is reasonable and healthy, you must follow through. While this will likely be met with anger, resistance and even counter-threats, he will ultimately respect you and likely agree to counseling. This may take stopping behavior that enables the destructive aspect of the relationship, and could go as far as a temporary separation. Know that you are doing this for the ultimate good of your marriage.
In summary, marriage counseling is a challenging journey. You will need emotional support as you make changes that threaten you and your marriage. In the end, however, you will both be thankful you took whatever steps are necessary to bring about healthy change.
Fortunately, there are many thinking errors we can make in our marriage and survive.
We can overreact in anger at times and receive forgiveness. We can miss an important anniversary and still be able to make amends. We can even experience the occasional unkind action and make it up to our mate.
There are other ‘mistakes’ however, that are not so easily forgotten. There are actions taken which, if they occur consistently, erode the very fabric of our relationship. These ‘thinking errors,’ what the 12 Step Program calls ‘stinkin’ thinkin,’ are corrosive. These ‘errors,’ over time, corrode trust, vibrancy and the very health of the relationship.
You may think I’m exaggerating to make such a statement, but our work at The Marriage Recovery Center has proven the horrific power of these thinking errors.
These actions are so corrosive because they are grounded in the primary Thinking Error—Denial.
Someone has said denial—the avoidance of taking responsibility for one’s action—as Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying to myself. Because I am lying to myself, I cannot nor will not fully own the damage of what I am doing to you. Hence, nothing changes and the destructive behaviors continue—eroding the relationship.
Here are some of the major ‘thinking errors’ that interrupt our ability to take responsibility.Judge for yourself how you see them impacting your relationships.
Denial: “I am not doing anything wrong. I have no problem.”
Blame-shifting:“It’s not me that’s doing anything wrong. It’s not my fault. It’s your fault.”
Victim Stance: “I’m getting a raw deal. Nothing ever goes my way. I’m getting the blame for everything.”
Minimization/ Sanitizing: “Sure, I did something wrong, but it’s not that big of a deal. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”
Projection: “You are the one who has all the issues you’re blaming me about.”
Excuse Making: “Yes, I suppose I did it, but I didn’t mean to do it. It certainly wasn’t my intention to hurt you. If it weren’t for _____ I wouldn’t have done it.”
Power Play: “You can’t make me go to counseling/ treatment/ recovery groups. I’m not going to go and you can’t make me.”
Black and White Thinking/ Extreme Thinking: “I never get any credit for anything I do. You’re always the one who gets everything you ask for.”
Catastrophizing: “If you make me get help we’ll go broke for sure.”
Grandiosity: “I know what I think and what I need to do. I don’t need any help. I’ve got a handle on things.”
Can you see the terrible damage that is done by even one of these thinking errors?
Scripture tells us to…
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (I Peter 5: 8)
I can think of no easier way for the Enemy to wreak havoc than through the destruction of our relationships by way of our ‘stinkin’ thinkin.’
How can we cultivate sober mindedness and avoid thinking errors?
Here are some suggestions:
Recognize your innate tendency to lie to yourself.
Yes, that’s right. You must look candidly in the mirror and admit to yourself that you have ‘thinking errors.’ We all do and if you think you’re immune from these, you’re really in denial!
Ask for feedback from a trusted source.
Yes, I know I’m asking a lot from you. This is scary business, but we must obtain feedback from someone who really knows us. Find someone who sees your shadow side, knows what you are like on your worst day and has your wellbeing in mind—trust that they would not tell you something to hurt you, but rather for your growth and welfare.
Own the full weight and damage of your ‘thinking error.’
Closely examine the ramifications of your ‘thinking error.’ Look at the ripple effect of how your thinking causes damage in your relationships. Feel the full impact of what you are doing and take responsibility for your actions. Sit with the pain of how you are thinking and how this impacts your behavior.
Replace your ‘thinking error’ with the Truth.
A lie cannot exist side by side with the Truth. For example, if you have a tendency to minimize a problem, ask for the truth about a particular situation. Is ‘excess drinking’ really alcoholism? Is ‘problem shopping’ really an addiction to materialism? If your ‘thinking error’ is grandiosity, practice humility, deferring to your mate and allowing him/ her to make more decisions in your relationship.
Pray for the courage to change.
At The Marriage Recovery Center, we encourage people to pray for courage and humility to change. We understand that change comes from a changed heart—and this requires the work of God in our lives. We understand that change comes from experiencing a ‘godly sorrow’ that leads to repentance. (II Corinthians 7: 10) We encourage practicing ‘living amends’—acting in direct opposition to the ‘thinking error.’ If you have blame-shifted, take responsibility. If you have minimized a problem, maximize the problem. If you have pushed your weight around emotionally, defer to your mate. There is no room for pride in the process of change.
In summary, there is no such thing as a small ‘thinking error.’
Even one ‘thinking error’ in a relationship can create monstrous problems. Healthy thinking leads to healthy relationships. We are here to help and offer phone/ Skype counseling on issues related to this article. Please contact us to discover more information about this as well as the FREE eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams, as my gift to you!Contact Us