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Archive for the ‘marital distress’ Category

Is Marital Indifference Emotionally Abusive? 

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Have you ever heard the phrase, “If he doesn’t hit you, it’s not abuse?” This statement is not true. One of the most silent yet destructive forms of marital abuse is chronic indifference.

The opposite of love isn’t hate as many would think. It’s indifference. Indifference says I don’t care enough about you to give you my time, my energy or other resources to show interest, care, or love towards you. A person’s indifference says how you feel or what you want doesn’t matter to that person. Indifference says you are not a person to love, but an object to use. Indifference says I don’t need to change anything to make our relationship better for you if it’s okay for me. Indifference says that you exist for my benefit and when you don’t please me or benefit me anymore, you are replaceable or disposable.

One of the most horrific abuse stories in the Bible is one of gross indifference. A Levite and his concubine wife were traveling home when they stopped in the town of Gibeah. Expecting the typical Jewish hospitality, they waited in the open square, hoping someone would invite them to spend the night. As evening descended, an old man spotted the couple and graciously took them to his house. While the two men were getting acquainted, vile men of the city surrounded the home, beat on the door, and demanded the old man bring his guest outside so they might sexually abuse him.

The men of the town refused to listen to the old man so the Levite grabbed his own concubine and shoved her out the door. The men of the town raped her, taking turns until dawn.

The scriptures say, “When her husband opened the door to leave, there lay his concubine with her hands on the threshold. Coldly he said, “Get up! Let’s go! But there was no answer. So he tossed her lifeless body on his donkey and took her home” Later on he cut her up into twelve pieces and sent one piece to each of the twelve tribes of Israel, portraying himself (not his poor wife) as the victim of a horrible injustice (Judges 19:1-30).

The rape and torture by those vile men was traumatic, but I often wonder if her greater suffering was that her own husband indifferently tossed her out the door like a piece of trash, knowing full well she would be used and abused.

Marriage is the one relationship where a man and a woman publicly make promises to not be indifferent. They promise to love, to cherish, to protect, and to honor one another. When a person regularly fails to keep his or her fundamental marital promise, the marriage is in deep trouble and to pretend otherwise is not healthy or biblical.

For example, Karen was a wife who loved her husband and wanted things to work between them but he had little time for her. He was too busy running a business and making money. When she tried to talk to him about her feelings, he became harsh and then gave her the silent treatment, sometimes ignoring her for months. When Karen pursued or pressured him to discuss their problems, he verbally attacked her. He accused her of being controlling and manipulative. The only personal connection he desired was sexual and this left Karen feeling empty and used.

Finally she decided to have a heart-to-heart talk about changes she needed in their relationship. Wiring up all her courage she said, “Steve, there is something that I need to share with you that’s really important. Do you have time tonight?” “Okay, but I don’t have all night. There’s a football game starting in about 15 minutes.”

Karen took a deep breath and began.

“I know you get very frustrated when I’m not responsive to your sexual needs. I know you want me to be more sexual with you and enjoy our physical relationship. But the way you treat me much of the time makes me feel angry and hurt.

When you ignore me for long periods of time or accuse me of being things that I’m not, I just can’t manufacture warm and affectionate feelings towards you when I’m upset and hurt.” Then she asked him the million-dollar question. She asked, “Wouldn’t you enjoy our sexual relationship much more if you knew I wanted to be with you and enjoyed that part of our relationship rather than me just doing my wifely duty?“

Steve’s answer floored her. “Of course I would,” he said, but added, “But if wifely duty is all I can get, I’ll settle for that.”

Steve’s response woke Karen up to his gross indifference toward her as his wife, as a woman, and as a person. Everything in their relationship revolved around him and his needs. As long as her body was available when he wanted sex, it mattered little to him how she felt.

Later, Karen told me, God never intended her to be a sexual object nor to sacrifice her body to enable her husband’s selfishness to continue unchallenged.

Indifference can be one of the most unrecognized yet damaging forms of emotional abuse in marriage.

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Don’t Hide Your Hurt, Heal Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Mark Merrill

Wounds in a marriage, big or small, can be difficult to deal with. During a recent conversation with a friend who has been navigating through some painful things in his own marriage, I realized that there’s an important choice that faces every man and woman when dealing with these wounds in marriage. Every husband and wife can either choose to cover festering wounds in their relationship and prevent healing or choose to expose those wounds and promote healing.

There are several reasons why a spouse or couple might try to leave untreated, or even hide, the hurtful wounds in their marriage instead of exposing them. Here are just a few:

Pride – They refuse to admit to their spouse that they’ve done anything wrong in the relationship to contribute to the hurt. Or, they worry about being embarrassed and what a spouse, family, or friends would think if they really knew what happened to them.

Fear – They fear what they might lose if the hurt is exposed, and that loss seems to outweigh any good they might gain from getting healthy.

Shame – They already feel guilty about some of the things they have done or have been done to them, and don’t want or need anyone else to pile on.

Pain – Maybe the pain is all they’ve really ever known and so they just live with it because it’s tolerable.

Hopelessness – They think, “What’s the use. We’ve talked about this over and over, but the same hurtful things are still being done. My spouse is never going to change. Things are never going to be different.”

In one of my posts, “Confession: My Wife and I Struggle Too,” I shared some challenges we’ve had in our marriage. Fortunately, they are all fixable issues we’ve worked through or are working on. What did Susan and I do to address these struggles and the ways we’ve sometimes hurt one another? We looked for credible, encouraging, experienced voices in books, other marriage resources, and seminars. We worked hard to identify problems, confess them, apologize to each other, and commit to working through them–together.

We also recognized that sometimes we needed an outside perspective. We have found those perspectives in places like a marriage class at church, a close, trusted couple we’ve known for years, and a marriage counselor. Yep…Mark and Susan Merrill have needed to lean on a professional counselor a time or two. And we wouldn’t change a thing. Read my previous blogs on 4 Ways to Know When It’s Time for Marriage Counseling and Finding a Good Marriage Counselor: Stacking the Deck in Your Favor. Here are some more steps on How to Heal a Wounded Heart.

So today, instead of ignoring or hiding your hurt, open it up and start treating it. Only then will the healing begin.

This One Thing is the Biggest Predictor of Divorce

SOURCE: Eva Van Prooyen/The Gottman Institute

You may know Dr. John Gottman as “the guy that can predict divorce with over 90% accuracy.” His life’s work on marital stability and divorce prediction has been well documented in the national media, and it was even featured in the #1 bestseller Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

After watching thousands of couples argue in his lab, he was able to identify specific negative communication patterns that predict divorce. He called them The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and they are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Contempt is the most destructive of The Four Horsemen because it conveys, “I’m better than you. I don’t respect you.” It’s so destructive, in fact, that couples who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness than couples who are not contemptuous of each other. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.

Treating others with disrespect and mocking them with sarcasm are forms of contempt. So are hostile humor, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling and sneering.

In his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, Dr. Gottman notes:

When contempt begins to overwhelm your relationship you tend to forget entirely your partner’s positive qualities, at least while you’re feeling upset. You can’t remember a single positive quality or act. This immediate decay of admiration is an important reason why contempt ought to be banned from marital interactions.

Contempt erodes the bond that holds a couple securely together. It’s impossible to build connection when your relationship is deprived of respect.

What does contempt look like?

Let me introduce you to a couple from my practice. After five years together, Chris and Mark (names changed for anonymity) find their marriage in a tailspin. Chris feels dismissed, shamed, and blamed by Mark.

“I can’t believe you think it’s okay to speak to me the way you do. The things you say to me make me feel awful. It’s like you constantly think I’m a dumbass,” Chris says in my office.

“What? I’m just stating facts,” justifies Mark while rolling his eyes.

“Well, the things you say are hurtful. What’s the point?” asks Chris.

“I’m constantly disappointed by things you say and do. Your logic doesn’t make sense to me,” says Mark. His unwillingness to be influenced or take responsibility for himself is unshakeable.

“If I spoke to you in the same way, you would lose your mind,” says Chris.

“Whatever,” Mark mumbles.

Chris has stopped being affectionate towards Mark, and Mark mostly ignores her complaints at this point. Contempt has totally taken over their relationship.

The antidote to contempt

Here’s the good news. Dr. Gottman’s ability to predict divorce is contingent on behaviors not changing over time. You can reverse a pattern of contempt in your relationship before it’s too late. The antidote lies in building fondness and admiration.

Dr. Gottman discovered that the best way to measure fondness and admiration is to ask couples about their past. How did they meet? What were their first impressions of each other?

If a relationship is in crisis, partners are unlikely to elicit much praise by talking about the current state of affairs. Talking about the happy events of the past, however, helps many couples reconnect.

If a couple can revive their fondness and admiration for each other, they are more likely to approach conflict resolution as a team, and the growth of their sense of “we-ness” will keep them as connected as they felt when they first met.

I witness a glimmer of hope when I ask couples how they fell in love. Partners talk about how attractive they thought their partner was. How funny they were. How nervous and excited they felt around each other.

Despite all the pain and negative feelings that have accumulated over years, there is still an ember of friendship. The key is to fan that ember back into flames, and the best way to do this is by creating a culture of appreciation and respect in the relationship.

Dr. Gottman teaches couples to look at their partner through rose-colored glasses. Instead of trying to catch them doing something wrong, catch them doing something right and appreciate them for it. Even the little things. I like how you did your hair today. Thank you for getting my favorite ice cream. I appreciate you vacuuming without me asking you to.

Identifying contempt is the first step towards getting your relationship back on track. If you and your partner need a little extra help, you may benefit from couples counseling.

When Your Children Have Mental Illness

SOURCE:  Diane Ramirez

Keeping your stressed marriage healthy

After 35 years of marriage, serious thoughts of divorcing my husband took me by surprise. I never thought I would ever consider leaving James, as divorce is contrary to our Christian values. But when our contention over difficulties with our adult children escalated, I started to entertain thoughts of separation, and so did he.

Let me be real with you. I suffer with depression; it runs through my genes. Our son is diagnosed with mixed bipolar disorder, and our adopted daughter suffers with severe separation anxiety. Throw in a spouse who is an A-type personality, and you have a recipe for conflict.

The crisis peaked when our youngest daughter moved back home with an infant and a 5-year-old. Her husband was deployed overseas. Not only was she experiencing debilitating separation anxiety, she was making unhealthy choices and spending much of her time with old friends. Her checking out caused a lot of clashes. My mental and physical health disintegrated. Many times I had to leave our home for days just to get rest, as she expected me to pick up the slack of caring for her kids.

I felt alone, fatigued, and mad that my husband was not there for me. I discovered, through our many “talks,” that he didn’t like the way I was acting. He wondered why I couldn’t rise above the madness. He didn’t grasp the emotional and physical strain of day-to-day life at home because he escaped by going to work, school, or other activities away from us.

Differences Can Create Wedges

In a crisis, it’s typical to want to escape. The mayhem created by constant appeals for help from both of our adult children created a vacuum in our relationship. This is how my husband described it on our blog, “Not Losing Heart”:

“[My wife] seemed to have a different understanding than I at first. Our beliefs were at odds and it was putting a wedge between us. I believed that if our children would do this or that, or do things my way, they would get it right. When my wife challenged my thinking, I became angrier inside. I felt she was coddling them.”

A wedge is a good way to describe what can happen to a marriage when mental illness raises its ugly head. Parents tend to think a change in a child’s behavior is due to the normal developmental challenges of adolescence. Disagreements on what causes these behaviors or what should be done can create a wedge. These differences are even more apparent when dealing with an adult child who should be living independently.

A wedge creates a gap and a gap can create a chasm if a couple will not stop and assess what is happening. It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of chaos that mental illness causes.

In our marriage, these factors created our wedge:

• We had different perspectives on solutions. My husband wanted our children to be more independent. He wanted a “quick fix”; I wanted to nurture and stay engaged with them. Both of us felt we were supporting them, but with totally different styles.

• Our communication broke down. A difference of opinions is expected, but when those opinions keep a couple from reaching a solution, anger, anxiousness, frustration, and loneliness set in. It’s like a tug-of-war over who is right. Each is working against the other, and it’s exhausting.

• We neglected our marriage. When we were caught up in our separate whirlwinds of emotion, focusing on our marriage was impossible. Resentment, snapping at each other, and being easily annoyed were a few indicators that we had lost touch with each other. Our relationship suffered.

• Our emotional responses were different. My husband withdrew to escape the chaos and stuffed his emotions. I resented him for his lack of involvement and became overcome with sorrow and depression, which affected my physical health.

What happened to our desire to live as one in Christ? To allow the Lord to live through us, to be a godly wife and husband? The unexpected super-storm sucked away our purpose as a Christian couple, because we let down our guard. We prayed, but we each had choices to make about where we were going.

As you contend with the difficulties surrounding a child with a brain disorder, there is no “easy button” to push. The truth is, it will feel like pushing a 10-ton boulder up a slippery slope. Perseverance is a key. And awareness of what is happening can be a catalyst in the meeting of the minds.

“Should Haves” to Do Now

My husband and I are healing now, thank God. In looking back, we discovered our “should haves”—a little late, perhaps, but still in time to save our marriage and to shrink the gaps developed by our ever-increasing differences. I’m including them here for you, to help your marriage stay healthy while you weather the storm of your adult or young child’s life with mental illness.

  1. Acknowledge you and your spouse are on different wavelengths. You might find more clarity if you write down what you think are the points of disagreement concerning your child
  2. Seek help. Find a trusted counselor to help mediate your differences.
  3. Be honest with how you feel. Feelings are neither right nor wrong.
  4. Respect how your spouse feels, even though it may upset you. (This is not easy.) And don’t make assumptions about the ways he/she is reacting.
  5. Make up your minds that your relationship is a priority no matter what is happening around you. Set boundaries, which can guide you in which crises really demand your time.
  6. Talk and listen. Don’t assume your partner is wrong in his or her assessment of the situation.
  7. Get a diagnosis for your child, or if he or she is an adult, encourage the adult child to get a diagnosis. Knowledge is power.
  8. Most important, educate yourselves on what that diagnosis means for your child (adult or not) and for your family.
  9. Breathe.
  10. Pray.
  11. Don’t forget humor; it really helps.
  12. Above all, give each other grace to work through the crisis. God has a separate timetable for each of us. He makes all things beautiful in his time.

Again I’ll quote my husband: “I remember when my wife began to look for information and searched the Internet, the library, and any resource she could find, and then shared that information with me. Something clicked inside. To our relief, we eventually found NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness). It was as though someone had thrown me a lifeline and given me the tools to make a difference in the life of our children, my marriage, and others. My wife and I needed to be on the same page as it came to giving compassion and finding empathy for what they were going through. She needed my support and I needed hers.”

It is my hope and prayer that if you’re in the kind of upheaval my husband and I experienced, these suggestions will aid you in getting a grip much sooner and arrive at the place where you can support each other. Don’t forget love. Love is the ultimate ingredient to stepping outside yourself. Love and perseverance will rekindle your marriage and reestablish your bond—keeping your connection intact no matter the how fierce the raging storm mental illness can cause.

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Diane Ramirez is a freelance writer, wife, mother of three adult children, and grandmother of five. She volunteers for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), co-facilitating a support group and the NAMI Basic classes for parents, and she blogs about this topic at NotLosingHeart.com.

7 Risk Factors for Having an Affair

SOURCE:  iMom.com

Should I have an affair?

Hopefully, most of us would answer an emphatic No to this question. Not because we’re superhuman and never tempted, but because we know the importance of our marriage commitment. We also understand how our having an affair would harm the lives of our children.

But even with the most honorable intentions of staying true to our husband, we might unknowingly be sliding closer to some of the behaviors that could lead us to an affair.

Here are the 7 risk factors for having an affair you need to be aware of.

In his book Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It, Jerry Jenkins warns against certain attitudes and situations that may put you at risk for infidelity.

Some of the risk factors and warning signs include the following:

  1. Becoming so busy that you spend very little time with your husband and family.
  2. Having an attitude that you deserve more attention than you are getting at home.
  3. Letting the romance fade in your marriage.
  4. Using your attractiveness or personality to get attention from the opposite sex.
  5. Fantasizing about having an affair.
  6. Feeling sorry for yourself.
  7. Someone other than your husband keeps flattering you and telling you how wonderful you are.

If you find yourself in any of the above situations, do whatever you can to change them. Here’s how:


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This article is based on the book Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It by Jerry Jenkins

Helping victims of domestic abuse: 4 pitfalls to avoid

SOURCE: Dr. Diane Langberg/Careleader.org

To understand domestic abuse properly, let’s start with the word abuse, which comes from the Latin word abutor, meaning “to use wrongly.” It also means “to insult, violate, tarnish, or walk on.” So domestic abuse, then, occurs when one partner in the home uses the other partner for wrong purposes. Anytime a human being uses another as a punching bag, a depository for rage, or something to be controlled for that person’s own satisfaction, abuse has occurred. Anytime words are used to demean or insult or degrade, abuse has occurred. And anytime there is intimidation and threats and humiliation, abuse has occurred.

Domestic abuse is something you as a pastor may encounter, or it may be a “silent sin” within the church that goes unseen. Either way, it is a reality, and one for which we must be prepared. But how do we do this? How can we prepare to minister to victims of domestic abuse? Below, I share four common pitfalls of pastors and leaders, then conclude by explaining how the church is called to act in these situations.

Pitfall #1: Not realizing the frequency of abuse

We need to realize just how frequently abuse happens. We are surprised by it in the church, but statistically 20 percent of women in this country will experience at least one episode of violence with a husband or partner.

That’s almost one-third of women, and that includes women in the church.

20% of women in this country will experience at least one episode of violence with a husband or partner.

Further, more than three women are murdered each day by their husbands or boyfriends.

Or here’s another statistic: pregnant women are more likely to be victims of homicide than to die of any other cause.

That is astounding. And again, those numbers don’t change when you survey women within the church.

Pitfall #2: Not calling abuse what it really is

One of the most important things we can do is call abuse what it really is, because people have a tendency to rename abuse into other things. For example, an abuser might say, “I was upset from a bad day at work … which is why I turned the table over, broke the dishes, and hit my spouse,” or “It was a mistake.” Abusers use words to minimize what has been done and make it seem normal. And unfortunately, those trying to help do the same thing, saying things like “Can’t you forgive so-and-so for that mistake?”

But domestic abuse is not a mistake. It is abuse; it meets the definition of abuse. So we have to call it what it is, because we are called to the truth. We have to call things by their rightful name. By changing the wording, we diminish the gravity of the sin.

Pitfall #3: Encouraging submission despite abuse

Sadly, many women have been beaten, kicked, and bruised, and then return home in the name of submission. Worse, many of these women have been sent home in the name of submission. But submission does not entitle a husband to abuse his wife.

Unfortunately, this instruction is one of the biggest mistakes pastors and church leaders have been known to make. So many women are sent home by church leaders to be screamed at, humiliated, and beaten, sometimes to death. Their husbands can break their bones, smash in their faces, terrify their children, break things, forbid them access to the money, and all sorts of things, but they are told to submit without a word and be glad for the privilege of suffering for Jesus.

Pitfall #4: Protecting the institution of marriage instead of the victim

Domestic violence is a felony in all fifty states. So, to send people home and not deal with it, not bring it into the light, and not provide safety is to be complicit in lawbreaking, which is also illegal. In sending women home, the church ends up partnering in a crime. But it is not the church’s call to cover up violence. Paul says in Ephesians 5 to expose the deeds of darkness so the light can shine in. That’s the only way there is hope for truth and repentance and healing.

I also find one of the things that confuses Christians is we think that if we take the wife and children out of their home to bring them to a safe place, for example, we are not protecting “the family.” We say that we have to protect the family because it is a God-ordained institution, which it is. But what we forget is that God does not protect institutions, even ones He has ordained, when they are full of sin.

It’s easy for us to forget that truth, and particularly when we know those who are abusive, we tend to want to believe them. We don’t understand how incredibly deceitful and manipulative they are, deceiving first themselves and then others. We think we can tell when people are lying—even though the Scriptures say we are all so deceitful, we can’t even know the depths of it. But we are deceived into thinking that they wouldn’t do something so severe. And while we think we are doing the right thing by believing or trusting them, we are actually completely opposed to Scripture.

The calling of the church

The church is called to be the church. What that means is that we are called to protect the vulnerable and the oppressed; that’s all through the Scriptures. And we are called to hold others accountable, despite the tough road to repentance, even if they are our best friends.

So when a pastor hears from a woman that she is being abused in her home, the first step is to find out what that means. It could be verbal abuse, or it could be that her life is in danger, and she and her children need to be taken out of the home and put in a safe place.

Unfortunately, though, not all victims of domestic abuse feel that they are able to leave, a source of frustration for many caregivers. The vast majority of women in these situations love their husbands and want their marriage to work, and many times, the husband assures her that he won’t do it again. She wants her husband, so she keeps going back. So while we want to ensure her safety by not sending her back to an abusive home, we also want to give her the dignity of being able to make her own decision, which he does not give her.

We must also have the humility to involve other authorities like the police, if need be. They are God-given authorities for matters such as these, but it can be a bit of a revolving door. If she wants to report the abuse to the police, go with her to the police. If she needs to file a protection order, go with her to the courthouse. We must walk with her as she makes her decision.

As pastors and leaders, we must not minimize abuse, nor should we teach women that submission means being a punching bag, even a verbal one. We also cannot minimize the gravity of the issue or be naïve to its prevalence in the church. Instead, the church is called to love and protect those who are vulnerable, to walk with them and care for them well.

How to Save Your Marriage After an Affair

SOURCE:  David Mejia

Little compares to the devastation people feel upon discovering that their spouses have been unfaithful. Some marriages end right away. But many others hit agonizing impasses as couples struggle to get past the intense anger, sadness and mistrust.

These hurtful interactions wreak emotional havoc on both spouses, and typically neither one has a clue how to help the marriage recover. As a result, many couples who do in fact love each other decide to call it quits.

The good news is that it’s possible to move beyond the pain, put the past in the past, rebuild trust and reconnect with your spouse both emotionally and physically. In fact, many couples who have done the hard work of repairing their marriages after affairs report that their relationships are stronger than ever.

The first weeks and months after the affair is out in the open often are the “make-or-break” stage for the marriage. Here’s what the unfaithful spouse and the betrayed spouse need to do…

Unfaithful Spouse’s Tasks

The unfaithful partner needs to rebuild his/her spouse’s trust…

End the affair. It’s not realistic to expect a marriage to improve while an affair is ongoing. Yet sometimes, when an affair has filled a void in the unfaithful spouse’s life, the unfaithful spouse feels unsettled about ending it. This is natural and not to be interpreted as a sign that ending the affair is the wrong choice. It is normal to grieve the loss of the illicit relationship even if repairing the ­marriage is decidedly the desired outcome.

Answer questions. Most betrayed spouses have many questions about what happened and the meaning the affair had to the unfaithful spouse. As difficult as it might be, it is imperative to answer these questions openly and honestly. Withholding information—even very painful information—that eventually leaks out over time retraumatizes the betrayed spouse and can cause irreparable damage. As counterintuitive as it might seem, honesty is the best policy, particularly in the early stages of recovery when the marriage is fragile and trust is being rebuilt.

Be transparent. During the crisis period, it is necessary for the unfaithful spouse to be willing to be totally transparent and allow the betrayed spouse to have access to personal information including e-mail, cell-phone records, Facebook accounts, credit card bills and so on. Demonstrating a willingness to be an “open book,” though often uncomfortable, goes a long way to rebuilding trust. This level of personal accountability is temporary—it’s not intended to become a way of life. Once trust is rebuilt, most betrayed spouses tire of the constant vigilance and wish to focus on other, more positive aspects of life.

Apologize. Betrayed spouses need to know that their partners are remorseful about the hurt they caused. Apologies must be heartfelt and include ­explanations of why the unfaithful spouse feels contrite.

Example: It will help to say, “I am very sorry that I had an affair. You’ve trusted me throughout our marriage, and I betrayed your trust. I understand why you are so devastated.”

Apologies that are defensive typically don’t work as well. For instance, “I’m sorry you’re feeling hurt. But our marriage hasn’t been going so well, and I needed some emotional support.” Keep in mind that a single apology is never enough, because a betrayed spouse’s pain comes in waves. Express your regrets often about having hurt your spouse.

Betrayed Spouse’s Tasks

After an affair, if you want your marriage to survive, you can’t leave the ball only in the unfaithful spouse’s court…

Express emotions—but constructively. The betrayed spouse often will be overwhelmed by intense feelings of hurt, anger, sadness and utter confusion. Express those feelings when they arise, but express them in helpful rather than combative ways. Rather than resorting to name calling, use “I-messages” to talk about how you feel.

Example: It’s reasonable to say, “I don’t know if I can ever trust you again because you hurt me so much. I feel like I’m dying inside.” But it simply won’t help your marriage to say, “You’re the worst person in the world. You’re a liar and have no integrity.”

Ask questions—but know when to stop. It is very common for a betrayed spouse to have questions about the affair partner, the length of the affair, the places and times they met, what took place during those times and what the relationship meant to the unfaithful spouse.

Sometimes asking questions can be very helpful—the answers often confirm long-standing suspicions, and that enables the betrayed spouse to regain trust in his/her own instincts. Plus, there usually is an overwhelming need to try to make sense of what happened and to connect the dots. Asking pertinent questions often satisfies this need.

However, knowing more and more details about the affair can cause the betrayed spouse to fume and ruminate even more. It’s important for the ­betrayed spouse to decide at some point whether these conversations are healing or hurtful…and when it’s time to stop gathering information.

In the early stages of recovery from an affair, many couples have marathon discussions about the infidelity, but eventually they must strike a balance between talking about the affair and focusing on other aspects of their lives—otherwise, the relationship will become too problem-saturated, and it simply won’t feel good to either partner. Intentionally engaging in neutral or even positive interactions will improve the relationship exponentially. That’s because what you focus on expands quickly.

If you ask your unfaithful spouse a question and the honest response is hurtful to you, it’s important not to lash out angrily. It may take courage to share hurtful information, and it’s important for the betrayed spouse to encourage honesty. Therefore, even though your mind may be roiling, state your feelings as calmly as possible by using I-messages and acknowledge the unfaithful partner’s willingness to come clean.

Keep track of what helps you. Although it may seem as if the hurt is ever-present following the discovery of an affair, the truth is, there are times when sadness and anger dissipate. It’s helpful to ask yourself, What’s different about the times during the day when I feel just a little bit better? and keep a running list of what works.

Example: Many people say that it helps to exercise, be with friends, meditate, do yoga, pray, spend time with kids if you have them, keep a journal and so on. After taking an emotional hit, knowing how to help yourself feel more at peace can be extremely empowering.

Examine what might need to change in the marriage. Although it usually doesn’t occur during the initial crisis period, it will be important for the betrayed spouse eventually to take a close look at the factors that might have contributed to the affair. Though some people stray even though they’re perfectly happy in their marriages, others feel that there has been an emotional or a physical void. Addressing these issues leads to deeper empathy and intimacy on all levels.

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Source: Michele Weiner-Davis, LCSW, is founder of The Divorce Busting Center in Boulder, Colorado, that helps on-the-brink couples save their marriages. She is the best-selling author of eight books, including Healing from Infidelity, The Sex-Starved Marriage and Divorce Busting. DivorceBusting.com

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