Relationship Advice Blog by Michele Weiner-Davis
I can’t tell you the number of people who tell themselves early in marriage, “If my spouse ever has an affair, I’m outta here.” And then in happens. Their spouse was unfaithful. That’s when reality sets in. It’s easy to think you will leave if your spouse betrays you, but when confronted with the reality of divorce and dissolving your marriage, the stakes are really high. It’s not that overcoming the devastation of infidelity is easy, it isn’t. But it can be done. In fact, believe it or not, most people decide to stay in their marriages after infidelity. The important thing is to address the issues that might have lead to the infidelity and get the necessary help to recover. Divorce isn’t the solution, particularly when the unfaithful spouse is remorseful and devoted to changing. Here are some things you need to know if you are dealing with the fallout of infidelity in your marriage
1) Betrayal is in the eye of the beholder
Many times people want to know the definition of betrayal. To some, it is about having intercourse and other sexual contact with another person. To others, betrayal is more about one’s spouse feeling emotionally connected to someone else- late conversations of a personal nature with a co-worker, or an on-going, intimate friendship with another person. To others, it is secrecy. This may involve secret email accounts, cell phones, Internet behavior, or an unwillingness to share information about whereabouts, spending habits, or life plans.
The fact is, there is no universal definition of betrayal. When two people are married, they must care about each other’s feelings. They don’t always have to agree, but they must behave in ways that make the relationship feel safe. Therefore, if one person feels threatened or betrayed, his or her spouse must do some soul searching and change in ways to accommodate those feelings. In other words, betrayal is in the eye of the beholder. If you or your partner feel betrayed, you need to change what you’re doing to make the marriage work.
2) Infidelity is not a marital deal breaker
Many people think that affairs signal the end of a marriage. This is simply not true. Although healing from infidelity is a challenging endeavor, most marriages not only survive, but they can actually grow from the experience. This is not to say that affairs are good for marriages, they aren’t. Affairs are very, very destructive because the bond of trust has been broken. But after years of working with couples who have experienced betrayal and affairs, I can vouch for the fact that it is possible to get marriages back on track and rediscover trust, caring, friendship and passion.
3) Most affairs end
It’s important to know that, while affairs can be incredibly sexy, compelling, addictive and renewing, most of them end. That’s because after the thrill wears off, most people recognize that everyone, even the affair partner is a package deal. This means that we all have good points and bad points. When two people are in the throes of infatuation, they are only focusing on what’s good. This is short-lived, generally speaking. That’s because reality sets in and infatuation fades. If the betrayed spouse doesn’t run to a divorce attorney prematurely, it’s entirely possible and even like that an affair will die a natural death.
4) Temporary insanity- the only sane response
Because betrayal is so threatening to marriage and so devastating, many people feel they are losing their minds when they learn that their spouses have been cheating. They can’t eat, sleep, work, think, or function in any substantial way. This causes another layer of concern and self-doubt which often leads to depression and anxiety.
It is important to know that finding out that one’s spouse is cheating can be extremely traumatic. In fact, current research suggests that betrayed spouses exhibit symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It is a major loss and as with most losses, betrayal is intensely disorienting and distressing.
5) You are not alone
Although when infidelity occurs, the betrayed spouse feels alone and lonely, it is essential to keep in mind that countless people have experienced the same problem and have felt the same way. This offers little consolation when one first learns about his or her spouse’s affair, but over time, it can take the sting out of feeling so out of sorts. It would be wonderful if everyone upheld their marital vows, but the truth is, that doesn’t happen. It should, but it doesn’t. The good news is that there is a great deal of support available because many people have walked in your shoes and can be empathetic to your feelings.
6) It helps to get help
But beyond talking with those who have experienced infidelity in their own marriages, it helps to get professional help. Feelings that surface after the discovery of an affair are often so overwhelming that it is difficult to know what to do to begin to get one’s marriage back on track. A good marriage therapist or a marriage education class can help lead the way. But be certain to seek help that is “marriage-friendly.” Some therapists believe that infidelity destroys the fabric of a relationship which cannot be repaired. These therapists declare marriages dead on arrival. It is essential that you get a good referral if you want your marriage to recover.
7) Healing takes time
Although people naturally want to be pain-free as quickly as possible, when it comes to healing from infidelity, it just isn’t going to happen. In fact, if things are “business as usual” too quickly, it probably just means that intense feelings have been swept under the carpet. This will not help in the long run. In order for a marriage to mend, it takes a great deal of hard work to confront all the necessary issues. This takes time- often years- to truly get things back on track. When couples enter my office and they’ve been dealing with the aftermath of infidelity for a year or so and they are still struggling, they think something is wrong with them. When I hear that, I tell them that nothing is wrong with them because the pain is still fresh and the news of infidelity is hot off the press. Yes, even a year after learning about betrayal isn’t a very long time. Healing from infidelity is a slow process for most people.
8 ) Count on ups and downs
One of the most frustrating and confusing aspects to the healing process is the fact that just when people think things have improved and are resolved, there is another major setback. This is not surprising at all. That’s because the path to recovery is not s straight line. It is jagged and beset with many, many ups and downs. I tell people that it is two steps forward and one step back. Unfortunately, when people have a setback, they believe that they have slid back to square one. This is not the case. Every setback is a bit different. And as long as there is a general upward trend, progress is being made. Maintaining patience is difficult, but it is absolutely necessary. Don’t give up when there has been a relapse. Just get back on track.
9) Don’t be quick to tell friends and family
It is important not to be too quick to tell friends and family about the problem of infidelity. If everyone in one’s family is apprised of the infidelity, even if the marriage improves, family members may not support the idea of staying in the marriage. They may pressure the betrayed spouse to leave. So, while emotional support during this rough time is absolutely necessary, it’s important to get professional help or talk to friends or family who will support the marriage and be less judgmental. Those people should have the perspective that no one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes and as long as the unfaithful spouse takes responsibility to change, marriages can mend.
10) You won’t forget, but forgiveness is a gift you give yourself
When there has been infidelity, people just don’t forget about it. In fact, they don’t ever forget it. What does happen is that memories of the discovery and the pain tend to fade. The thoughts about betrayal become less frequent and less intense over time. And the good news is that people should NOT forget because we all learn from our experiences, both good and bad.
And although people don’t forget betrayal or affairs, forgiveness is still mandatory, not to let the unfaithful person off the hook, but because holding a grudge shackles people to the past. It is bad for one’s health, both emotionally and physically. There is no intimacy when there are grudges. Life is painful because there is a wall separating people. When betrayed spouses allow themselves to have feelings of forgiveness, life lightens up. It is freeing. Love begins to flow again. Letting go of the past begins to make room for happiness in the present. So, forgiveness isn’t meant for the unfaithful, it is a gift betrayed spouses give themselves.
For help in dealing with infidelity, give us a call at 303-444-7004.
Don’t give up.
New Year’s Resolutions For A Rocky Marriage (Part III)
4. Focus on small, positive changes
Don’t expect big changes overnight or you will be disappointed and it will make it hard to stay on track. Imagine the smallest change possible that would signal a shift in how things have been going. Then focus on that.
5. Promise yourself this will be a great year, no matter what
You can not control what your spouse does, but you can control what you decide to do with yourself and your children , if you have them. Take a deep breath and envision how you are going to make this a good year regardless of your spouse’s choices.
Check back soon for additional tips!
New Year’s Resolutions For A Rocky Marriage (Part II)
2. Act as if you expect miracles to occur
Once you can imagine positive outcomes, reflect on how you will be behaving differently when they happen. Then start doing that right now!
3. Be kind, even if you think your spouse doesn’t deserve it
You may be angry, disappointed, or even devastated by your spouse’s choices and actions. However, rather than react to unsettling behavior, assume your spouse is lost and confused. Be patient, kind and steady and your efforts will pay off.
Check back soon for additional tips!
Valentine's Day Got You Down?
Romantic dinners at candlelit restaurants, Godiva chocolates, two dozen long-stem roses, sentimental Hallmark cards- the stuff Valentine's Day is made of.
But what if your relationship is on the rocks and Valentine's Day is just another painful reminder that your life isn't what you hoped it would be?
Then what do you do?
I know, this isn't exactly an uplifting topic, but the truth is, the vast majority of people in my practice are not exactly big Valentine's Day enthusiasts.
My practice generally consists of one spouse who desperately wants out of the marriage and the other who wants nothing more than to live happily ever after.
So, February 14th often means hurt, confusion and loneliness . And I would venture a guess that there are many, many non-clinical couples who, though not on the brink of divorce, feel an emotional distance that has them wishing Valentine's Day would just pass without fanfare.
So, what can you do if a romantic dinner and words of affirmation are not on the agenda for you this year?
First, have a plan regarding how you will approach the day. Get some feedback from friends, family or a therapist regarding questions like, "Should I buy my wife a card or get her a gift when I know she is pulling away?" "Would it be a good idea to simply ignore the day or would my spouse take offense?" "I would love to plan a romantic dinner but I don't know if my husband would feel too pressured." "We're separated. Should I even email or text my wife?"
Next, if you're not going to be with the one you love, plan something nice for yourself.
When I asked people on my Facebook page about what they could do to avoid throwing a pity party on Valentine's Day, here's what some had to say:
"Spa treatments always make me feel special"
"I'm hoping my 'rocky' Valentine's Day turns out better than I'm expecting, but if not, I still plan on getting a new haircut and a facial."
And I like this one the most-
"My children and I began a new Valentine`s day tradition. We have a big tea party complete with tea sandwiches and scones. I write love notes to each child and we have alot of fun.
Valentine's Day lost its meaning when my husband and I were separated and I decided to make it special regardless of my situation. He has been home now for over 3 years but we still continue this new tradition and celebrate together as a couple in the evening."
So, while those of us who are fortunate enough to be with spouses who share our desire to celebrate our connection, years together, children, and history, we should be mindful of those who, for this year, at least, have missed Cupid's arrow.
New Year’s Resolutions For A Rocky Marriage (Part I)
When your marriage is on the rocks, you start to wonder how relationship goals that require two people’s active participation apply to you. You read articles about setting goals for the new year and you feel downtrodden and left out. In fact, even thinking about the new year can be emotional for you. After all, this is the time we think about starting new things, not ending them.
1. Envision positive outcomes
There is no way that you can begin to accomplish positive change your marriage if you don’t believe it is possible. Start by imagining what your life will be like when your marriage truly turns a corner. The more you can picture every detail, the easier it will be to eventually step into this picture at some later date.
Check back soon for additional tips!
As a liberal, card-carrying Democrat, I am nonetheless appalled by the Pamela White’s article “Defending Divorce.” When nearly one out of every two marriages ends in divorce, divorce hardly needs defending. Beside that, the article is filled with erroneous assumptions and information, which I would like to debunk.
To consider it to be “meddling” that a proposed law requiring couples with children to take a class about the impact of divorce and to have a “cooling off” period prior to divorcing, demonstrates no appreciation for the havoc divorce leaves in its wake. Children have no veto power in a decision that will forever alter their lives. Minimally, parents should learn about the insidious ways divorce effects their children.
In regards to the proposed waiting period, the author writes, “Once two people have decided they can’t stand the sight of each other, there’s really no place to go.” As a therapist specializing in work with couples on the brink for nearly three decades, I know that divorce is almost always a unilateral decision, leaving the desperate spouse in the dust. “Left-behind” spouses will jump at the opportunity to slow things down.
Additionally, though there are many unhealthy marriages, the author assumes there are only two ways to handle this dilemma- get out or stay miserable. But there’s another way- improve relationships so people feel happier and more connected. There is marriage-friendly therapy and evidenced-based marriage education classes that truly change the dynamics of failing relationships.
Should this legislation pass, the author worries that women will get stuck in psychologically abusive relationships with alcoholic, controlling husbands. Research suggests that severe problems account for only 10 to 15% of all divorces. Other divorces are due to garden variety problems- poor communication, growing apart or an inability to manage conflict- all of which are solvable.
The author also refers to a valid statistic that more women than men file for divorce, but her hypothesis about why this happens- women’s unfair share of housework and childcare, infidelity, money problems-is off base. Most women leave because they feel emotionally neglected despite years of trying to get their husbands to be more responsive. Again, with help, these problems are resolvable.
Divorce should not be looked at as a jailbreak from prison. Research tells us that, contrary to popular belief, people in long-term healthy marriages live longer, are healthier, happier and do significantly better financially. Their children do better across countless dimensions.
So before jumping to the conclusion that putting a beat between the decision to divorce and moving out is Big Brother in action, consider the benefits of spouses working things out, keeping their families intact and tucking kids in at night…together.
Emotional Affairs, Infidelity and Why Do Men Cheat (or Why Do Women Cheat)
“We’re just friends.” “We don’t talk about anything personal.” “What’s wrong with my wanting to have friends of the opposite sex?” “No matter what you think, it’s not sexual, so stop hassling me.” “What am I supposed to do? Stop talking to him? I work with him.” “I can’t fire her. She hasn’t doesn’t anything wrong.” “You’re too suspicious.”
Does any of this sound familiar? Are you thinking that your spouse or partner has a relationship with someone that makes you feel uncomfortable? Your spouse flatly denies any inappropriate interactions. Sometimes you wonder whether the relationship is physical and it drives you crazy. Other times you are not convinced that sex, touching or kissing is part of what they do together, but your instincts are telling you something is wrong.
In your dark moments, you feel anxious, depressed, and angry but most of all deceived. You may start doing things you never dreamed of- snooping, accessing private emails, phone records and credit card bills. You search your spouse’s computer or phone for any telltale signs that something is amiss.
Occasionally, you discover emails that are personal in nature. Or perhaps there are late night calls. Maybe the person’s name is one of the few names that appears on your spouse’s buddy list. And although some of the exchanges are work-related, there’s more than a tinge of familiarity that is concerning.
So, you begin grilling your spouse. She or he swears that nothing physical is going on and after much convincing, you start to believe this is true. Yet, what is also true is that there are lunches, after-hour meetings, conversations about the person’s marital unhappiness, and other topics you consider private and should occur only between you and your spouse. You remember something you read about “emotional affairs” and you now feel certain that your spouse is right smack dab in the middle of one.
So, you state your case. You are extremely unhappy about the nature of the relationship. You don’t like it one bit. “It might not be physical,” you tell your spouse, but it threatens you and your marriage. You don’t want your spouse being intimate with another person in any way, shape or form. It hurts and you consider it betrayal.
Hearing this, your spouse becomes defensive and insists that nothing inappropriate is going on. “I know my boundaries. I am not having an affair, so you’re wrong and I want you to stop nagging me about this. You’re over-reacting.”
But are you?
In the three decades I have been working with couples, I have watched the destruction caused by emotional affairs. Even if two people are not engaged in a physical relationship, the emotional attachment can threaten the very foundation and fabric of the marriage. Here are a few reasons why:
• Betrayal is in the eye of the beholder
• Having close “friends” can be a slippery slope
Eventually, conversations shift from business to life outside work. Over time, these talks get more and more personal. Occasionally, people discover that they can talk about certain subjects with their co-worker that they cannot talk about with their spouses. An intimate bond begins to form.
It’s not long after that conversations become even more intimate. Frequently, dissatisfaction about one’s own marriage gets discussed. They commiserate and validate each others’ feelings and they become confidantes. Their communication defines their relationship as special and separate from each other’s marriage.
The relationship may get physical at this point. But even if it doesn’t, the real nature of the relationship is kept secret. Secrets place marriages at risk of divorce.
As you can see by this example, the relationship started out completely innocent. But the small daily choices people made, though on the surface might have also seemed benign, lead to a connection that threatens their marriages. Friends without benefits are not marriage-friendly.
• An emotional affair takes energy away from marriage
• Emotional affairs may be misconstrued
This can happen without the other person’s awareness. Their intentions might be pure- to help out a person in distress, to be a loyal friend, or to simply have a fulfilling platonic, appropriate relationship. But one can never predict how the other person interprets interactions and exchanges. To avoid misunderstandings of any sort, it is essential to have boundaries in relationships outside marriage. This way, no one will be hurt or misled.
If your spouse is having an emotional affair, stop nagging, spying or haranguing. I wrote this article for you to give to your partner. It may or may not alter your spouse’s behavior, but it least it will be food for thought.
And if you are someone whose spouse is complaining about a relationship you may be having, taking your spouse’s feelings into account will make life much more pleasant for you and it just might save your marriage!
7 Warning Signs You Have Marriage Problems
I have been doing marriage therapy for nearly three decades. And one thing is for sure- people experiencing marital difficulties wait a long time before they get help. In fact, research shows that, on average, people wait six years before seeking marriage therapy. Furthermore, many, if not most people never receive help; they run right over to a divorce attorney’s office. And when you think about the impact divorce has on their lives and that of their children, I find this to be a devastating finding.