Our negative emotions (pain, fear, frustration) serve a purpose. They let us know that something is going on within us that needs attention.
When we experience physical pain, it is the body’s way of alerting us that something is not quite right and needs attention. If we were to just medicate that pain without looking at what’s causing it, we can inadvertently cause more damage.
Such is the same with negative emotions. Our culture wants immediate gratification and happiness and has lost sight of the valuable growth that comes from delayed gratification and understanding and “feeling” emotions. Many are in the habit of numbing or avoiding their negative emotions. Whether it’s through prescribed medications, or self-medication techniques like drugs, alcohol, porn, sex without love, etc. Emotional pain is an indicator that something is not right. And if you allow yourself to feel it, examine it, understand the thought process and behaviors behind it, then you can do the necessary work to grow, to move through it and create healing. The problem with this method is that it’s time consuming, it’s not a quick fix. However, it’s a longer term fix and allows for a deeper connection with yourself and the important people in your life.
ÂAll marital partners, at some point in their marriage, will feel disconnected from one another. This is a normal occurrence in marriage. However, if it is not recognized as normal, if steps are not taken to prevent it, recognize it, or recover from it, it can make a couple vulnerable to infidelity.
What does it mean to be connected? It means being emotionally in tune with each other. You know when your partner has had a good or bad day, who are their best friends and who are their enemies, what’s going on at work or with extended family. On a larger scale, what their dreams and goals are, what makes them sad and what makes them happy. What their scared of and what they most aspire to be. These are things that two people who are connected know about and care about each other. It requires openness and honesty, genuineness and kindness.
When do couples become disconnected? A couple experiences disconnection for many reasons. There are times in a couples life when they are extra vulnerable to disconnection; the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or other life changes. Disconnection can also happen from not taking the time to be alone with one another, to talk to each other. Not making your marriage a priority and letting other life happenings get in the way.
How do we prevent becoming disconnected: one major way to avoid disconnection is by making your marriage a top priority and always taking time to spend with one another. When there is conflict, to deal with it by talking openly and in a caring way with one another so conflict can be discussed and resolved. Don’t allow resentments to build, talk to each other and stay in tune with each other’s emotions.
You may take all of the precautions and still find that you feel disconnected. The first important step is recognizing it. Being able to catch and notice that you have not been connecting with your partner. The next step is to address it. Let your partner know, without attacking or blaming, that you feel disconnected and together figure out what you need to do to reconnect with each other and tune back in to each other.
When you find yourself disconnected, deal with it with each other. If you do not, you both become vulnerable to infidelity. When disconnection exists for too long, it becomes to easy to find connection from someone outside the marriage.
Couples are not connected ALL the time, that’s normal. And feeling disconnected is not a sign of an unhappy or unhealthy marriage. But how you deal with it when you feel disconnected is. You must recognize it and address it and find each other over and over again to minimize the vulnerability to infidelity.
There is the obvious definition of an affair, having sex with someone other than your spouse. But are there different types of affairs? And now that we have the Internet, how does that add to the problem.
One of the ways to define an affair is to ask the question, is what you are doing secretive? If your spouse knew what you were doing, would it hurt him or her? Are you going to someone outside your marriage to meet your emotional or physical intimacy needs?
Let’s use pornography as an example. If it is not done in secret, your spouse knows about it and is not hurt by it and it is not taking the place of physical or emotional intimacy with your spouse than that would not constitute as an affair. But let’s change it around. Let’s say you are using porn behind your spouses back, and knew that if he or she knew about it, it would be hurtful. And let’s also add that you are replacing emotional and physical intimacy with your partner with pornography, that could fit under the heading of infidelity.
Let’s say you talk often with a friend of the opposite sex. You might share intimate details of your life and marriage. If your spouse knows about this person and does not see this person as a threat to the relationship and you are not looking to this person to meet emotional needs that are not met by your partner, then that is a friendship. But let’s now take the same circumstances and your partner doesn’t know about this interaction, it’s secretive and if your partner knew about it would be hurt by it, and let’s also add that from this person you get emotional support that you don’t feel you get from your spouse, this constitutes as an emotional affair.
It is important to understand the physical and emotional boundaries of your marriage and to discuss them with one another. Going out to lunch with a co-worker of the opposite sex may be completely harmless, but if it is done without your spouse knowing about it, it could potentially be construed as betrayal. It also leaves the door open for a relationship to flourish if this were to become a regular thing and you tell yourself it is harmless but fail to share it with your partner. Boundaries not only need to be clearly defined, but they need to be respected.
We all have relationships with others outside our marriage, with friends, co-workers, extended family members. This is not only normal but also healthy. We also get emotional needs met from others aside from our intimate partner. But where is the boundary? What makes your intimate relationship unique? What are the things you share with your spouse that you would not share with another? What is sacred?
There is a closeness and connection between husband and wife that is special and unique. There is a bond of emotional and physical intimacy. If you are feeling disconnected from your partner, it is never a good idea to turn outside your marriage to deal with it. Whether it be by venting to friends or family, talking to a member of the opposite sex about your marital issues (by the way one of the most common ways an affair begins), having an affair, alcohol, gambling, drugs or other destructive means of coping. Disconnection must be dealt with in the marriage with communication, compassion, empathy, understanding and love. If you are unable to work through it by yourselves, seek the outside help of a qualified counselor or pastor from your church.
Where do you begin when you’ve just found out your spouse has had an affair? Or, what if you are the one who’s had the affair and your partner has just found out?
If you’ve just found out your partner has had an affair, be prepared for the roller coaster of emotions. It is not a time to make any permanent life-changing decisions. Here are some important things to consider:
You do not have to know right now if you are going to stay or go. You are in crisis and may feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you. Give yourself time to make important decisions. Emotions are very raw right now so it’s okay to not know which direction to go yet.
Some people make the mistake of telling friends and family and then regret it later. So be choosy about who you share this with, the best route is to seek out a counselor who can help you sort through all the challenges that are in front of you. It’s also important to have a support system, again, select confidants carefully. There may be support groups in your area, seek these out through your local church or counseling center.
You are going to experience a lot of different emotions from anger to sadness, betrayal and fear, confusion and frustration. All this is normal. Research has shown that individuals who have been betrayed show symptoms of post traumatic stress. You may have flashbacks of the affair and images that you never even experienced. You will have triggers like when the phone rings or your partner gets a text message, where the fear and anger comes alive. You may want to cry one minute and scream the next.
In this kind of situation, the fight or flight response kicks in, but neither are conducive to moving forward. If you want to save your marriage, you can neither fight nor flight. A normal human reaction is to act out the rage and blame, yell at, accuse, distrust or check up on your partner. While these are normal reactions, they do continued damage to the relationship and to your own self esteem. Sometimes what might make you temporarily feel better in the moment, makes matters worse in the long run.
Self care is critical during the time of healing. Self care includes things such as exercise, going for walks, getting enough sleep, spending time with those who are supportive, getting counseling, making sure you eat well and enough. These small things might seem trivial or difficult to do, but it is important to take care of yourself.
You may want to ask questions or know details about the affair. It is okay to ask these questions, just be sure that you really want to know the answers. For some people the not knowing causes suffering and they would rather know, for others they would rather not know. There is no right or wrong, only you can know what is going to be helpful.
If you are the person who has had the affair, some important things to consider:
There is no right time frame for getting over an affair. So do not push your partner. Your patience and support is critical. Do not avoid talking about the affair, do not give excuses or blame. Right now your partner needs to know that you understand the impact this has had. This is not going to be easy for you either, but it is important that you remain supportive during this challenging period.
This may seem obvious but it bears pointing out: be honest. Be where you say you will be, do what you say you will do, don’t leave anything out no matter how insignificant it seems. Rebuilding trust is going to take time, but it starts now
Listen to your partner. If they ask questions and want to know the answers, it is important that you answer them with total honesty. Do not decide for them what they should and should not need to know. It is important to allow your partner to make the determination what he/she needs to or wants to know.
Be an open book for your partner. And remember, this is temporary. But this is an important time to be in close physical proximity to your partner to maintain a sense of safety. Allow your partner to see your phone, text messages, emails, to regain a sense of safety. You can, and it is necessary to, have your privacy back at some point, but for right now your partner may need this to begin the process of rebuilding trust and feeling safe.
You are going to go through difficult emotions as well. Guilt, shame, regret are all normal feelings to experience. It is important not to let them get in the way of being there and listening to your partner. It is also a good idea for you to seek counseling as well to deal with these emotions and to understand why you made this choice.
If you want to save the marriage (or even if you are unsure) it is important to seek couples counseling as soon as possible. It may take some time to find a counselor that you feel comfortable with. Remember, affairs happen in good marriages and to good people. There are many reasons why an affair occurs and it can take one to two years to recover whether you stay in the marriage or not. Take your time, seek help and work together to begin the healing process.
One of the things I hear most from clients who have experienced infidelity is, I never thought this would happen in our marriage. It is not something any couple plans for or thinks will happen to them. But it can and does happen in marriage, but it can be avoided.
There are many reasons affairs happen, but typically it’s at the point when vulnerability meets opportunity. So first is to reduce vulnerability in your marriage. There are two major ways that I am going to talk about in this article. The first is taking care of your marriage, yourself and your spouse. The second is communication. If these two areas are prioritized in the marriage, you reduce your risk of infidelity.
The first priority is taking care of your marriage, yourself and your spouse. We all want to feel important in the life of those important to us. We want to feel useful and appreciated. We want to belong. It’s important that this is considered in how you treat your spouse. Often in marriage, partners begin to take each other for granted and complain about what’s wrong rather than appreciate what’s right. Daily things like noticing how your partner looks and commenting on it, noticing efforts made with chores around the house or parenting the kids and sharing these appreciations, taking the time to be affectionate and making your partner feel loved and noticed. These may seem like small gestures but they add up to connection and sense of belonging that is key in preventing affairs.
I often hear the spouse who had the affair say things like, this person listened to me, understood me, made me feel I was important. Things that all too often fall out of a marriage. Recognizing love as an action, not just a feeling and treating your spouse accordingly not only works to keep your spouse from looking to get these needs met elsewhere but also helps you nurture your fondness and admiration of your spouse.
In addition to this, it is important to make the marriage as much of a priority as you would your job. Early in marriage, people are focused on having kids and advancing careers. Both of these can pull you in different directions and distract your from your marriage. It is important to prioritize and not let this happen. Carve out time on a regular basis for your marriage to include communication, fun, play, intimacy and connecting.
Another important piece is self-care. It’s important that you make your own needs known, and when your spouse can’t meet them, meet them yourself. For example, if you are a person that likes to go to the beach to unwind but your partner doesn’t enjoy that, go anyway! Otherwise resentment builds, needs go unmet and you make yourself vulnerable to an affair.
The last but possible most important piece is communication. It’s not always possible to avoid vulnerability in a relationship. Vulnerabilities can be anything from job loss, loss of a loved one, new baby, anything that can bring stress to the relationship. By always communicating with one another and working together to overcome challenges, you reduce the risk of turning to an affair to cope. Share your needs with one another and be responsive and sensitive to each other’s needs. The stronger your connection and level of intimacy, understanding of one another, ability to cherish one another and treat each other as such will build a fortress around your relationship that will be difficult for an outsider to break through.
If you don’t like a particular pattern you are in with your partner, instead of trying to change your partner,
look at how you can change what you are doing to create a change in the pattern.
Do the opposite of what you are currently doing and see what effect it has.
For example: Sara wants Jim to call more often when he is away on business trips, and when he doesn’t call she complains at him for not thinking of her and he ends up calling even less. So she breaks the pattern by stopping the complaining but being happy to hear from him. She doesn’t even mention how often he calls. Over time, this results in him calling more often.
So think about what current dysfunctional patterns you are in with your partner, what could you change in what you think, how you respond or react that might change the pattern?
We all spend time thinking about and illustrating the kind of partner we want to have. But how often, if ever, do we think about the kind of partner we want to be? If you have already chosen the partner you want to be with, now it is time to focus on the kind of partner you want to be. Make a list of your ideal self as husband or wife. How far off are you from that ideal self? Everyday is a day to bring yourself closer to becoming that person.
As you know, good communication is vital to the health of a relationship. But what is good communication? One important element is respect. Without it, your communication can be very damaging to the relationship. No matter what the conflict or how intense the emotions, commit to treating your partner with respect and kindness as the first step toward healthy communication and a healthy marriage.
Grousing is to complain, nag, or criticize. These are deadly habits in relationships and over time can be highly destructive. So I challenge you to 3 days without grousing at your partner. Work to notice things done right rather than things done wrong, even if you have to take out a microscope to find them! Show appreciation and gratitude for your spouses contributions rather than finding fault. Do you think you can do it? (it’s not as easy as it sounds, and the longer you’ve been together, the harder it is!)
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”
Think of one thing you can do for your spouse today to make his/her life easier. Do it without expectations, do it just to be kind and loving and giving. If you do this everyday, what kind of marriage might you have?