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Archive for the ‘Conflict’ Category

Strengthen Your Relationship Roots

SOURCE:  Prepare-Enrich

After being gone almost all day I arrived at home at about 4:00pm.  The door we use to enter our house leads to the kitchen and the first thing I saw was a counter full of dishes.

My frustration levels grew instantaneously.

My heart started beating faster.

Angry emotions gripped me.

I thought, “I have been gone all day.  My husband and kids have been home all day and they left all their breakfast and lunch dishes for me to do!  How am I to cook supper with no counter space?”  I proceeded to walk into the living room and complain to my husband in front of the kids about why he didn’t do the dishes and why he left them for me to do.

Bad choice.

As you can imagine the rest of that evening was not harmonious, nor were the next few days as my husband hardly spoke to me.  This incident was a tipping point.  Brad was feeling falsely accused in front of the kids.  He thought he had been this great dad, spending the day with the kids and giving them his full attention and I came home and immediately complained about how he spent the day.  I was feeling taking advantage of.  We both needed to learn a new way to communicate our feelings.

Later that week, Brad gave me a piece of paper with three life rules, some pertaining to this instance and some pertaining to other struggles we were having.

 

While this is not a fond memory for us, it forced us to form new habits and new understandings, new relationship roots.  We are not perfect, but we seek to understand each other – not accuse each other, to talk about our frustrations with each other in private, to always speak well of each other in front of others, and to forgive each other. It was hard, yet we are better today because of it.

What relationship roots are you and your partner growing?

  • Are you allowing the tough times in your relationship to grow deep roots, shallow roots or no roots?
  • Roots need room for water to flow in and out.  Are you giving and receiving forgiveness to keep communication flowing?
  • Are you growing new roots by seeking different ways of communicating or spending time together?
  • What are you doing to listen to the old roots – the lessons you have already learned, the lessons that provide structural support to your relationship?

6 Ways To Argue And Not End Up Divorced

SOURCE:   Brittany Wong/The Huffington Post

Marriage counselors share how to argue the smart way.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to argue in a relationship. To have an effective argument, both partners need to show up and be ready to tackle the issues like grown ups. If either spouse is too wound up to talk rationally, conflict resolution isn’t likely to happen.

What else do couples need to know if they want to argue effectively? Below, couples counselors share six tips on everything from having the right tone to timing the fight. (Forget what you heard before, you can totally go to bed angry.)

How you start a conversation is likely how it will end. When you’re peeved about something your spouse did (or didn’t do), resist the urge to rant and instead use what researcher and psychologist John Gottman calls a “softened start-up.

In other words, slowly ease into the conversation with a calm, respectful tone, explained Leslie Petruk, a counselor and director of The Stone Center for Counseling and Leadership in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“If you begin the conversation with an angry attack, that is likely how it will end,” she said. “If you enter it with curiosity and compassion, the dialogue is much more likely to end that way as well,” she said.

Stop looking at your marital fights as something to win or lose. Instead, try your hardest to frame your argument as a healthy conversation between two deeply committed, mature partners, said Amy Kipp, a couples and family therapist in San Antonio, Texas.

“Instead of looking at it as a conflict, view the argument as a problem you are working on together. This allows more room for a resolution that meets the needs of everyone,” she said. “Being constantly at odds with your partner creates a you-against-me dynamic. Conversely, being able to view an issue as one that you are jointly solving creates feelings of connection and teamwork.”

Instead of stonewalling or shrugging off your spouse, try to acknowledge what they’re feelings, said Amanda Deverich, a marriage and family therapist in Williamsburg, Virginia. Simply saying “I can see why you feel that way….” or “it makes sense you thought that…” goes a very long way when you’re trying to de-escalate your emotions.

“Validating your spouse’s feelings doesn’t mean you’re giving up your own truth, it just helps you reach a compromise,” Deverich explained before offering up an example.

“Let’s say you were supposed to look after the kids when you came back from work,” she said, noting you arrived home to do this at 7 p.m. “If your spouse remembers you saying you’d be home by 6 p.m. but you don’t recall saying that, you could validate it by saying, ‘I can see why you’d be frustrated if you thought that, given how many times I’ve been late in the past.”

It may be tempting to insist you said 7 p.m. on the dot, but ultimately, what’s the point?

“That will just culminate into a fight over facts, and while facts are important, they’re a lot less important than an apology, understanding and ultimately a change in behavior,” Deverich said.

If you need to go to bed angry because you have no energy left at midnight, by all means, go to bed angry. If you need to table the conversation because it’s 7 p.m. and you’re mega hangry, do it. What matters most is tackling your problem when you’re both in the right state of mind to see it through, said Zach Brittle, a a mental health counselor who works with couples in Seattle, Washington.

“It’s not about resolving. It’s about staying connected,” he said. “Repairing the problem can occur during or after an argument.”

When you’re ready to talk, Brittle said effective repair requires three things: “Accepting responsibility for how your choices affected your spouse, expressing empathy for the impact of those choices and articulating some new commitment to change,” he explained. “None of those steps require the words ‘I’m sorry’ but each of them is a kind of repair.”

Unless your spouse explicitly told you how they feel, don’t build a case against them in your head based on what you assume they’re thinking, Petruk said.

“Couples will often say, ‘I know he or she was thinking this or that…’ and put their own spin on their partners’ behaviors or words without checking it out first,” she said. “That’s the wrong way to go about it; you have to enter the conversation with questions rather than accusations. Check in and see if what you’ve been telling yourself is accurate.”

Unfortunate as it sounds, there are some issues that will likely play out for the lifespan of your relationship, Kipp said. Once you make your peace with that, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the smaller fights you have about these issues, she explained.

“There will be issues that are just going to be unsolvable, perpetual problems in your relationship,” she said. “If you are always on time and your partner is always running late, that is likely to be an ongoing source of frustration. But learning to talk about the problem respectfully and with acceptance for one another means that no one feels attacked.”

Marital Distress: Why Do I Have to Be the One to Change?

SOURCE:  Michele Weiner-Davis/The Huffington Post

You’re really mad at your partner. You’ve explained your point of view a million times. S/he never listens. You can’t believe that a person can be so insensitive. So, you wait. You’re convinced that eventually s/he will have to see the light; that you’re right and s/he’s wrong. In the meantime, there’s silence. But the tension is so thick in your house, you can cut it with a knife. You hate the distance, but there’s nothing you can do about it because you’re mad. You’re really mad.

You try to make yourself feel better by getting involved in other things. Sometimes this even works. But you wake up every morning facing the fact that nothing’s changed at all. A feeling of dissatisfaction permeates everything you do. From time to time, you ask yourself, “Is there something I should do differently,?” but you quickly dismiss this thought because you know that, in your heart of hearts, you’re not the one to blame. So the distance between you and your partner persists.

Does any of this sound familiar? Have you and your partner been so angry with each other that you’ve gone your separate ways and stopped interacting with each other? Have you convinced yourself that, until s/he initiates making up, there will be no peace in your house? If so, I have few things I want to tell you.

You are wasting precious energy holding on to your anger. It’s exhausting to feel resentment day in and day out. It takes a toll on your body and soul. It’s bad for your health and hard on your spirit. It’s awful for your relationship. Anger imprisons you. It casts a gray cloud over your days. It prevents you from feeling real joy in any part of your life. Each day you drown yourself in resentment is another day lost out of your life. What a waste!

I have worked with so many people who live in quiet desperation because they are utterly convinced that their way of seeing things is right and their partner’s is wrong. They spend a lifetime trying to get their partners to share their views. I hear, “I’ll change if s/he changes,” a philosophy that ultimately leads to a stalemate. There are many variations of this position. For example, “I’d be nicer to her, if she were nicer to me,” or “I’d be more physical and affectionate if he were more communicative with me,” or “I’d be more considerate and tell her about my plans if she wouldn’t hound me all the time about what I do.” You get the picture… “I’ll be different if you start being different first.” Trust me when I tell you that this can be a very, very long wait.

There’s a much better way to view things when you and your partner get stuck like this. I’ve been working with couples for years and I’ve learned a lot about how change occurs in relationships. It’s like a chain reaction. If one person changes, the other one does too. It really doesn’t matter who starts first. It’s simply a matter of tipping over the first domino. Change is reciprocal. Let me give you an example.

I worked with a woman who was very distressed about her husband’s long hours at work. She felt they spent very little time together as a couple and that he was of little help at home. This infuriated her. Every evening when he returned home from work, her anger got the best of her and she criticized him for bailing out on her. Inevitably, the evening would be ruined. The last thing he wanted to do after a long day at work was to deal with problems the moment he walked in the door. Although she understood this, she was so hurt and angry about his long absences that she felt her anger was justified. She wanted a suggestion from me about how to get her husband to be more attentive and loving. She was at her wit’s end.

I told her that I could completely understand why she was frustrated and that, if I were in her shoes, I would feel exactly the same way. However, I wondered if she could imagine how her husband might feel about her nightly barrage of complaints. “He probably wishes he didn’t have to come home,” she said. “Precisely,” I thought to myself, and I knew she was ready to switch gears. I suggested that she try an experiment. “Tonight when he comes home, surprise him with an affectionate greeting. Don’t complain, just tell him you’re happy to see him. Do something kind or thoughtful that you haven’t done in a long time…even if you don’t feel like it.” “You mean like fixing him his favorite meal or giving him a warm hug? I used to do that a lot.” “That’s exactly what I mean,” I told her, and we discussed other things she might do as well. She agreed to give it a try.

Two weeks later she returned to my office and told me about the results of her “experiment.”

“That first night after I talked with you I met him at the door and, without a word, gave him a huge hug. He looked astounded, but curious. I made him his favorite pasta dish, which was heavy on the garlic, so he smelled the aroma the moment he walked in. Immediately, he commented on it and looked pleased. We had a great evening together, the first in months. I was so pleased and surprised by his positive reaction that I felt motivated to keep being ‘the new me.’ Since then things between us have been so much better, it’s amazing. He’s come home earlier and he’s even calling me from work just to say hello. I can’t believe the change in him. I’m so much happier this way.”

The moral of this story is obvious. When one partner changes, the other partner changes too. It’s a law of relationships. If you aren’t getting what you need or want from your loved one, instead of trying to convince him or her to change, why not change your approach to the situation? Why not be more pragmatic? If what you’re doing (talking to your partner about the error of his/her ways) hasn’t been working, no matter how sterling your logic, you’re not going to get very far. Be more flexible and creative. Be more strategic. Spend more time trying to figure out what might work as opposed to being hell bent on driving your point home. You might be pleasantly surprised. Remember, insanity has been defined as doing the same old thing over and over and expecting different results.

Look, life is short. We only have one go-around. Make your relationship the best it can possibly be. Stop waiting for your partner to change in order for things to be better. When you decide to change first, it will be the beginning of a solution avalanche. Try it, you’ll like it!

How to Handle Anger in Your Relationship

SOURCE:  Sanaa Hyder, M.S.Ed./Gottman Institute

Anger can be processed by going on a run, practicing yoga, or mindfully engaging in deep breathing. While these are all great tactics, what happens when your anger is directed at your partner in the heat of the moment?

Anger can overwhelm even the most self-reflective and self-aware person. When you are flooded, your pulse races and your limbic system takes over, making rational thought almost impossible.

It’s important to understand that anger is often a red herring which covers up more vulnerable feelings such as embarrassment, sadness, and hopelessness.

While deflecting anger in the moment may not be possible, it is possible to identify the feelings beneath. So how do you do this?

Consider the narrative of your anger and use those phrases as keys to unlock your underlying primary emotions.

For example, this is how Ruth feels after her husband bailed on their date night:

I am so angry at you. You always cancel on me to meet up with your friends. You make me feel so small and unimportant.

The key emotion here is feeling unimportant. Once she identifies this, she can communicate in such a way that her partner can understand her.

She can then construct a more coherent and loving start-up to their conversation:

Ruth: “Is this a good time to talk about something that’s been on my mind?”
Steve: “It is.”
Ruth: “I feel unimportant when we make plans and you cancel them. I’m sure you don’t mean to make me feel that way. Can we make time this week to do something together?”

By focusing on your feelings beneath the anger, you welcome your partner to offer empathy and make a repair instead of becoming defensive. Instead of starting a fight, you’re starting a respectful dialogue about your feelings. You are also asking your partner to be on your team.

Couples who understand that respect, kindness, and love are more effective than harshness and criticism are what Dr. John Gottman calls the Masters of Relationships.

Resisting the urge to blame

Blaming feels good in the moment, but the effects can be disastrous. Even if you feel angry at your partner, it doesn’t mean that your words should be harsh or critical. In fact, in order to get your message across, it’s vital to avoid the Four Horsemen. Here, old adages such as “you catch more flies with honey” are spot on.

While expressing anger or blame can get your point across, it will also erode your intimate bond.

If you attack with criticism, your partner will likely become defensive and blame you right back. They may also get flooded and be unable to focus on the discussion, cause it to escalate.

Conversations like this eventually create emotional distance because the more critical and contemptuous you are, the more you will chip away at your friendship. Choosing your words and emotions with care is not easy. It takes practice, but once you start using this approach, it can repair and actually strengthen your bond over time.

So the next time you get angry, stop and think about why you’re angry. Is it because you’re embarrassed? Worried? Disappointed? Tell your partner what you feel and what you need. Learning to recognize when anger isn’t really what you’re feeling is a skill used by emotionally intelligent couples.

Hurt Feelings Do Not Mean You Did Something Wrong

SOURCE:  LaVerna Wilk, M.A./Gottman Institute

I was recently visiting with a friend and she shared a story about a blowout fight she had with her husband. Being a therapist, I’ve grown used to this over the years.

The story went like this. Someone accidentally moved her chair as she was going to sit down at work, causing her to fall and hit her neck against a desk. As a result, her range of motion was limited and it was very painful for her to turn her head.

After her fall, her and her husband had been driving on the freeway and as he was trying to make a last-second lane change, he asked her to check out the passenger side window for cars. She said she felt disregarded because he knew she was in pain, and his request only made it worse.

She called him a name that I won’t repeat here.

“If the roles were reversed, I would have been in the right lane way ahead of time so that I didn’t cause him pain. I was so mad at him,” she told me.

What’s wrong with her complaint?

Not a thing, but what you’re not hearing is her history of feeling like her needs don’t matter and like she is less important than others. As the youngest child from a large family that struggled financially, decisions were always made based on what was best for the larger unit, and her needs were often ignored because the bigger picture was, at times, quite dire. So, she is sensitive to situations where her needs are not acknowledged.

I’m reminded of the quote from William Faulker: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

Triggers are normal

Here’s the kicker. This is a trigger for her. Triggers are normal, enduring vulnerabilities from moments in our past that escalate interactions in the present. They are normal because we all have them, and while their impact can be managed, they can rarely be eliminated.

Does this mean her husband did something wrong? Nope.

Is she just being overly sensitive? Nope.

It’s just not his trigger, so it didn’t occur to him that it could be an issue.

Further, when we only know what is happening in one person’s subjective reality, it is pretty easy to feel indignant on their behalf. But here’s the reality about subjective realities: all points of view are valid.

From his perspective, he grew up in a hardworking family where people worked through their pain and didn’t complain. His parents coached his sports teams, drove him to hockey at any ungodly hour of the morning, knew the names and phone numbers of all his friends, and taught him that he could be whatever he aspired to be.

They also yelled a lot and demanded what they wanted or needed. So because she had not clearly stated that being upright in a moving vehicle was causing lots of pain for her and that she really needed him to bubble wrap her in love, it didn’t occur to him that he was asking too much.

Hurt feelings are normal

In the grand scheme of life, this situation feels trivial. So why is it so important for the couple to talk about it? Because when someone’s feelings get hurt in marriage, it doesn’t automatically mean someone did something wrong. It just means feelings got hurt. It’s how couples manage it that matters.

In a perfect world, her husband would have been more careful about his driving and she would have been more clear at the beginning of the drive about her pain. But these things didn’t happen, so her feelings got hurt, then she got contemptuous towards him, and his feelings got hurt.

This is not actually an argument – it’s what we call a regrettable incident. Even the best couples have them. In our couples workshops and in session, we teach couples how to repair after an interaction like this. Can you easily list examples like this from your own relationship?

Masters of Relationships repair early and often. They remember their partner’s triggers and they respect them. You are not a Disaster because you had a regrettable incident, but you might be or become one if you don’t repair.

Dr. Julie Gottman says that “within every regrettable incident is a conversation the couple still needs to have.” We call this a recovery conversation.

All it would have taken for this couple is for one of them to say, “I can see why your feelings got hurt. That wasn’t my intention, and I am sorry it happened. Your feelings matter to me.” This is relationship repair that works.

Marriage: Opposites Attract

SOURCE:  Leslie Schmucker/Desiring God

God Draws Us in Marital Differences

My husband and I often don’t see eye to eye. After 31 years of marriage, you’d think that we would have figured out how to navigate our differences. We do love each other. We both have come to understand, by God’s grace, that love is not a feeling but a choice. People who don’t have that figured out don’t last 31 years.

My husband is a kind and generous man who I admire and love deeply. He is absolutely “respected at the city gate” (Proverbs 31:23, NIV). He and I are just wired so differently that our wires seem to cross more than they connect.

I’m an extrovert. When I’m stressed, I become re-energized by a good game night with the family, or a night out with friends. My husband is an introvert. When he is stressed, he re-energizes by catching a good documentary alone in the basement, or getting out of the house by himself for a while.

My husband is mindful of money, watching our spending closely, providing the checks and balances we need to keep from going into debt. I tend to see money as a means to bless others and enjoy new or interesting experiences. I’m the reason for the checks and balances.

The Greatest Challenge

Our differences seem endless at times. He likes a skinny Christmas tree; for me, the fatter the better. He is tidy; I am not. He is more formal; I’m more comfortable in jeans and a hoodie. He comes from a family of seven children; I have one sibling. His love language is acts of service. Mine is words of affirmation.

Perhaps the most challenging difference between my husband and me, though, is the way we handle anger. When I am angry, I need to talk about it. Often passionately. My husband goes inward with his anger. He becomes quiet and sullen. I run him over with a bulldozer of words. He shuts me out with a wall of aloofness. This has often resulted in a maddening cacophony of yelling and silence, resulting in resentment that compounds the conflict.

Still, we remain steadfast in our resolve not to divorce. In the moment, when tensions and emotions are running high, and frustration threatens to undo us, the temptation to split feels enticing. What stops us from making our lives easier (albeit temporarily) by parting ways?

In a word, Christ.

Would Divorce Be Better?

Divorcing my husband, apart from the pain it would cause us and our family, would only serve to remove the largest indicator and brightest illuminator of my principal sin: pride.  Choosing the easy road removes challenge. The removal of challenge removes the opportunity for growth. A lack of growth causes stagnation in our walk. Stagnation in our walk keeps us from Christ and everything he still has for us in this life, including in our marriages.

Romans 14:1 tells us not to quarrel over disputable matters. Here, God is speaking about the church. But this principle can be applied to marriage, as well. If God used marriage as a type of Christ’s church, should we destroy it for the sake of issues that have nothing to do with salvation (and everything to do with our selfish ambition and pride)?

Unequally Yoked?

God also admonishes us in 2 Corinthians 6:14 to “not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” Unequal yoking of oxen leads to a lack of productivity and a lot of frustration.

Though my husband and I are equally yoked in Christ, we have felt unequally yoked in lesser things. We have more than once almost allowed ourselves to be ripped apart over opinions. However, we do not get a free pass to unyoke ourselves from each other for lesser things. We both have submitted to the easy yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:30). We are believers and, as such, we have no right to tear apart what God has joined (Mark 10:9).

What, then, do we do with our jostling and bumping within the yoke Christ has fitted us with? Christ’s yoke is easy in the sense that we can put to rest our confusion and uncertainty about our future in him. We are saved, secure, and bound to Christ eternally. But we’re still here on earth, tilling the rocky, seemingly impassable soil of our marriage.

How do we learn to walk in step with one another as sinners within the yoke?

One Love Language

Burk Parsons said, “The love language of all marriages is self-denial.” In my marriage, I often feel frustrated, hurt, tired, angry, and sometimes unloved. I know my husband feels the same at times. We regularly react to the other person’s failure to meet our expectations. He didn’t affirm me. I didn’t serve him. We have corroborated with ourselves instead of denying ourselves. And now we are unhappy.

I know what the world’s wisdom says about marriage. If I am unhappy, I should leave and find someone who will make me happy. Or I should just “eat, pray, and love” my way to happiness by pursuing endeavors that would help me find myself.

Christ, though, would have me carry my cross right up to the top of the hill of my marriage, loving my husband with no conditions, through the fiercest of storms. Why? Because my husband is my brother in Christ. He is a fellow believer, who came to Christ in 1997 right alongside me, entering into the covenant of grace, which binds us together even more than our covenant of marriage.

Reminders for the Married

In marriage counseling, Christ would have me obey Ephesians 4:29–32, which admonishes me to use my words to build up. It tells me to put away bitterness, clamor, and anger. It tells me, instead, to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving.

Christ has told me in John 15:12 to love my husband as Christ has loved me. And in Luke 6:31, he instructs me to treat others, especially my husband, as I would want to be treated.

Shouldn’t I be considering Colossians 3:14, which exhorts me to “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony”?

Why do I forget these marvelous commands when I come in my front door? Why can’t I keep 1 Corinthians 13 in front of me in marriage?

I love Christ, I really do. And I love my husband. Still, I fall into sin in my marriage more times than I care to admit.

But God

But I serve the God who calmed the storm with a word (Matthew 8:26; Mark 4:39). I love the Savior who brought this world into being, watched it fall, then suffered and died to redeem it. I believe in the God who saved me while I was still a sinner (Romans 5:8). And he did these things for my husband, as well.

Last summer I typed out the words of 1 Corinthians 13, and I keep them in a frame above my desk. When I am tempted to keep a record of wrongs (see verse 5), I go to these framed words. I pray for God to remind me how much he loves my husband, and how much Christ suffered so that I could have a godly marriage. I am still very far from conquering my relentless regard for self, and I am still adamant about a fat Christmas tree, but I know that our yoke is held firm by the One who put it there.

An Affair Does Not Have to Mean the End

SOURCE:  Carrie Cole M.Ed., LPC/The Gottman Institute

Ralph and Susan had been married for 13 years with two adorable children. Their suburban life was packed with work, school, and the kids’ extra-curricular activities. Neither made their marriage a priority, but overall they felt their relationship was good.

Susan withheld her suspicion when she noticed that Ralph was on his phone more than usual. At times she couldn’t help but ask “What’s going on?” only to receive “Nothing. Just checking the news,” or “There’s a lot of drama at the office that I need to take care of.” She trusted him.

When Susan discovered that Ralph had been texting another woman, she was devastated. Her world came crashing down. In her mind, Ralph was not the kind of person to ever have an affair.

Ralph lied about it at first. He felt like he needed to protect Susan from the ugly truth. But as more evidence came out, he couldn’t lie anymore. He was having an affair.

He didn’t know how he had got involved so deeply with someone else. It just happened. He and a co-worker had become close friends over time. It felt good to have someone to talk to who listened and made him feel special. He hadn’t had that in a long time with Susan.

During the affair he had to convince himself that Susan didn’t care. He felt she wasn’t interested in him sexually anymore. They were more like roommates than soulmates.

As a Certified Gottman Therapist, I have heard many versions of this story in my couples therapy practice over the last 15 years. An affair, whether emotional or sexual, is devastating. Both partners suffer tremendous pain. But an affair does not have to mean the end.

The PTSD of an Affair

The betrayed partner experiences a tidal wave of emotion. The pain, hurt, anger, humiliation, and despair are overwhelming. After the traumatic moment the affair is realized, they become fearful, anxious, and hypervigilant, wondering where or when the next blow is going to come – not unlike symptoms of PTSD felt by military veterans.

Their mind races with thoughts of What don’t they know? What’s the whole story? Scenes of their partner with someone else appear in their mind when awake and when asleep, making life a living nightmare.

The Guilt of Betrayal

The betrayer also experiences a great deal of emotion. The hopeless feeling of witnessing your partner in pain and knowing you can do nothing to alleviate their suffering is a horrible experience. The feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation are almost unbearable.

So, what causes an affair? Why do partners choose to cheat? The answers are complicated and may take months to unravel.

Recovering From an Affair

Is it possible to recover from an affair? The answer for most couples is yes.

Many couples I’ve worked with have actually created a stronger, more emotionally connected, and richer relationship from the ashes of an affair. However, it’s not quick or easy. As with any serious injury, it takes time to heal. And it usually takes therapy.

It’s tempting to think that it will automatically get better with time. The problem with “sweeping it under the rug” is that the anxiety, fear, anger, and guilt felt early on by the betrayed person often give way to resentment – a slow seething anger that leads to total contempt for the betrayer. Dr. John Gottman’s research has shown that contempt is deadly in relationships and very difficult to recover from.

Couples therapy can help partners explore and understand what happened. The betrayed partner needs to have their questions answered, such as:

  • When did you meet?
  • Where did you meet?
  • How long did the affair last?

The betrayed partner attempts to understand how it happened and how they can prevent it from happening again. They also seek consistency in the stories from one telling to the next. Do I know everything? Are you lying to me now? These questions are best asked and answered in the emotionally safe environment of a therapist’s office.

It is best not to ask questions about the specifics of the sexual nature of the affair. Those questions usually do more bad than good in that they conjure up images that might haunt the betrayed partner’s thoughts.

When the betrayed partner feels that they have all the answers they need, the couple can begin to work on rebuilding trust. Couples like Susan and Ralph have turned away from each other in many small ways over time, which compounds into the feelings that ultimately led Ralph astray. They neglected the relationship.

Once couples process what happened, they need to begin to tune back into each other. Susan and Ralph found that they avoided each other to avoid conflict. Tuning back in requires dialoguing about problems – both ongoing perpetual problems and past issues that might have caused some injury to the relationship.

Recognize That Conflict is Inevitable

Conflict is a natural part of your happily ever after. Every relationship has conflict due to different values, beliefs, and philosophies of life. When these differences are discussed safely, and when honored and respected, the couple will experience greater intimacy. At times this can feel uncomfortable and take some push and pull. Communication skills provided by a therapist can help the navigation of these discussions go more smoothly.

Once the couple has tuned back into each other, it will be helpful to create some meaningful rituals to stay connected. Couples can be creative about ways to do that which are special and unique to them. One couple I worked with decided to have morning coffee together for 30 minutes. They would discuss the events of the day, check in with each other emotionally, and take the time to really listen to each other’s hearts.

Another couple developed a ritual of a bubble bath after the kids were in bed. They said they did their best talking in their big round Jacuzzi tub.

Sexual and emotional betrayals are a hefty blow to a relationship, but an affair does not have to be the end. Couples who have the emotional fortitude to reach out and seek the help they need can create a much more meaningful and intimate relationship in the aftermath of infidelity.

 

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