By Dan Blair Marriage Counselor and Family Therapist
Why do people divorce and can you stop divorce?
Aside from abuse, affairs, or addictions, the disintegration of relationships can often be understood in terms of attachment research, which studies both insecure and secure attachment patterns. Insecure attachment patterns develop when painful relational experiences in the past, cause both withdrawing and pursuing patterns to avoid the pain of abandonment or rejection in the present.
A withdrawing relationship pattern can be marked by a partner feeling uncomfortable or inadequate when talking about emotion or conflict in the relationship. Withdrawers also may feel criticized. Their initial reaction beyond defensiveness may be irritation or anger. Expressing emotion may also make them feel not good enough, or weak. They view significant other’s needs as overwhelming and have been taught to solve problems on their own, and would rather just be appreciated for what they are doing. Withdrawers may feel that they cannot make the other person happy. They would not necessarily look forward to marriage counseling for these reasons. Since relationships do not regularly bring them comfort or relief, they usually do not even think of asking for help. Spouses of withdrawers may feel ignored.
Pursuers run on anxiety as fuel, but may not realize it. Either prior significant relationships were overprotective, or critical. In both cases, a primary focus on the other develops often to the exclusion of one’s own needs. The goal is to reduce tension. The pursuer is dismayed when a significant other withdraws. The pursuer may continue the pursuit, but in critical ways. The withdrawer may become hurt and tired of the pattern, even when the pleaser is trying to please or solve problems.
Some pursue at times and withdraw at times. Seeking connection and excitement in the relationship a pursuer may be disappointed or even hurt time and time again. The pursuer may then feel empty and lonely. A withdrawing pattern may begin, and if a negative view of their partner is practiced, then ideas about being more appreciated by someone else may enter the picture. This pattern may be repeated with others. When pursuing, the partner is valued; when the pursuing is disappointing or hurtful, the partner is to blame.
To stop the wish for divorce, an interest in another person has to not have taken root, and a willingness to change these patterns has to be present. Otherwise these patterns tend to be repeated.
Most that divorce are happier, but not that much happier. Over half regret it. Is it worth the long-lasting turmoil for you and the kids?
Good books can be found on rebuilding marriages and changing attachment patterns by Milan and Kay Yerkovich or Susan Johnson.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
Stepfamilies are not like intact families. They are splintered and parts may not blend as expected. Knowing this can be a welcome relief to stepparents who are feeling guilty about their building of a relationship with their step kids.
Stepparents do not realize that it is normal to feel a persistent sense of jealousy, inadequacy, and resentment toward their stepchildren. Biological parents and their kids may not realize the small and subtle ways a stepparent can feel left out of both the marital and parental relationships. At times, they are excluded. The biological parent, who often has a source of nourishment and support in his or her children, may interpret the stepparent’s difficulty as a lack of commitment and feel that the “blending” is a failure or a loss. Both stepparent and biological parent usually consider a shift into a relationship just like a biological one to be possible. Biological parents must let go of a strong wish for an easy transition between their new spouse and children.
Susan Papernow in her classic book Becoming a Stepfamily differentiates between “outsider” (step) and “insider” (biological) relationships. Outsiders can feel jealous (and guilty) that the biological parent gets to live with and have her kids usually under the same roof at night. Unrealized and unspoken resentment may grow in the blended family “garden.” Outsiders may appear resistant to the blending with the biological family but actually may feel rejected because they do not have biological status. Outsiders may appear then as self-absorbed and then be subsequently criticized by Insiders. Arguments may appear trivial but are really about adjusting to serious loss and change. Usually the Insiders control the territory. Ex-spouses are also considered Insiders.
Insiders are torn between establishing new rules and a new culture for the family, maintaining the traditions and expectations of the biological family, and saving time and energy to save a precarious intimacy with their new spouse. The Insiders too are facing loss of a dream of a happy intact family and can feel unsupported. Biological parents can feel frustrated, heart-broken, lonely, and frightened about loosening a close relationship with a child, and feel guilty about their children’s losses.
Normal and expected feelings of healthy Outsiders and Insiders can be judged or diagnosed as a disorder, instead of being understood as part of the process. In the research presented by Papernow, stepparents placed as an outsider in the new stepfamily creates feelings of jealousy and resentment in most normal adults. Nobody likes to feel this way. They are confusing and be a source of shame if not detected and expected. Outsiders cannot reach the status of a biological parent. Papernow reminds us that “Even the best artificial limb cannot replace the real one.” When these intense feelings are combined with lack of information about the normal experience stepparents and biological parents are at risk for feeling crazy, ashamed and inadequate.
Just as the custodial parent feels torn between her kids and her new spouse, the non-custodial parent, often the father, also feels torn between his own children, the new spouse, and the stepchildren. Fathers must divide time, money and affection. Some are not able to sustain their commitments. Now they feel like an outsider in their first and second family which is a source of shame. It may appear that they are unwilling to be there for their own children, spouse and stepchildren.
Feelings of jealousy and guilt reappear over and over with life’s milestones. Fathers whose children begin visiting less are at risk for depression. Their spouses may wonder if his grieving will ever end. Stepchildren reminds biological parent of his children and how much he misses them. Fathers need a place to share the guilt of being asked the parents to children when they can’t parent their own kids.
The children too feel multiple levels of losses and loyalty binds. Usually the child that has lived the longest in the original family may have the most to lose and be the most ambivalent about step-relationships. Usually the stronger the marriage the happier the children. Research shows the opposite in stepfamilies, because the better the new parent the more loss is felt because as one step-daughter put it, “I’m afraid to like my stepdad more than my own Dad.” These losses are especially felt by stepdaughters. Unlike intact families, close step-couple relationships can make for more conflicted step-relationships and poorer stepchild adjustment.
Dispelling blending family myths is crucial. The benefits of a step-relationship may not appear until much later in both stepparent and stepchildren’s lives. If these emotions and processes are accepted as expected, less criticism and judgment helps a spouse relax considerably. Step-relationships take extra energy. Stepfamilies work better when parents and children are not trying to force a relationship. Like intact families, each relationship between each parent and child will remain unique. The honeymoon that new spouses need to build commonality is often realized after kids grow up, not after the wedding. For more information, see Redemption Story: Blending Families.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
This classic song from the Clash resonates with everyone at some point in their lives. It is especially poignant and painful after infidelity. Many who have experienced the dark world of cheating may initially say goodbye, but actually most change their mind and decide to make it work. This is a tough decision to make.
Affairs start in the mind and do not necessarily end in bed. They do often break hearts. There are subtle signs that lead to both an affair and recovery. Signs of cheating should be all taken into account before making an accusation. Unless you have proof in hand, it is better to address the already evident: less investment in the relationship and a much greater investment in other activities, personal changes to increase one’s own attractiveness, and evasiveness about spending time or money.
Cheating is sensational. It is guaranteed to sell the news. It is something that everyone can identify with but is easily judged as betrayal. What is not so easily judged is the small ways that we betray our partners. Gottman says in his book “What Makes Love Last?” that “Betrayal is the secret that lies at the heart of every failing relationship.” Not being there, not following through, putting the kids or career ahead of the marriage are examples.
John Gottman, a leading marital researcher, describes the deterioration of the marriage leading to an absorbing state of negativity called negative sentiment override. This is the stage in a relationship where one partner cannot do enough to make things right. Even positive attempts fall short or are interpreted negatively. He compares it to a roach motel, where once you check in, it is hard to check out.
Add this to another critical element in the demise of a marriage: comparing your spouse unfavorably to others, even comparing to imaginary spouses that are better than your spouse. These are like nails in a coffin. These are usually kept to oneself, along with crossing boundaries. First comes secret-keeping, then comes cheating.
Deciding whether to stay or go depends on the ability to rebuild trust with someone who becomes trustworthy. Signs of someone who is changing a character trait is complete honesty (minus the brutal details which cause obsessions) with nothing to hide. Next, recovery depends on an ability to step outside the self and one’s own pain, and enter into your partner’s pain (without beating yourself up). It is the ability to feel what your partner is feeling, and on that basis fully regret your actions and betrayal. It involves making personal and relational changes that benefit both partners that stand the test of time. These changes are determined by essential relational skills: empathy instead of defensiveness, asking for what is needed instead of criticizing, and setting personal boundaries on what you are not willing to do, and at the same time what you are willing to do for your partner. Deciding whether or not your partner is being honest depends on these criteria, along with your own instinct about what your partner is like when he or she if faithful, and what he or she is like when she is not. Although this may be a confusing process, it can be used to decide if he or she is an acceptable risk. Verification of honesty may be required. Finally, there may be need for a clear consequence to future betrayals.
Is this painful process worth it? Are you able to overcome negative sentiment override? One idea involves writing down as many positive traits of your partner. Look back over your story. Is there regularity to the energy put into making the other feel loved? Are there examples of admiration for each other? Is it marked by “we” decisions or “me” decisions? Is that enough to overcome the pain of recovery? Most people also consider the pain and effect of divorce, and realize that there is no guarantee that the next relationship will end up in a better place, and decide that because of shared history and children that it is better to stay together. Some researchers find that over time when all things are considered, the next relationship is not a huge jump in happiness. If trust is unable to be rebuilt though, there is little to sustain a relationship.
y Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
As a marriage and family therapist I have learned techniques to help marriages and family relationships work. The one that works best by far is the use of unconditional love. How that works out in the marriage is my next question.
One thing I’ve noticed is that when I would have an argument with my wife, we would have spirited discussions about the same old topics. Often for us, it was about the use of time. We have lots of kids and a lot of work falls on her. We also have lots of bills and that weight falls on me. For you, you might argue about something that happened that you are having a hard time forgiving.
Unconditional love is impossible without humility. My relationship with my wife started by being selfish, thinking about how the qualities of my wife would benefit me. Then I gained my wife’s love by impressing her. However, this is not unconditional love. I cannot depend on a love that depends on my ability to impress. Certainly, it is not the kind of love that can last.
Turning toward our own ability to love someone, have you felt, as I have, that there are moments where you just do not feel like you have love to give? Often when I feel this way I criticize my wife and defend myself, or I act like a victim and run away. Then I dwell on what is right and wrong in order to think of a way to get my needs met. Then I present my argument to my wife, but it seems to have the same impact as if I am saying to her, “I don’t love you.” I am not saying that, but I wonder how if this is what she feels when I argue with her.
I remember the time my wife was telling me about the frustrations of her day and I was tired but attempting to be empathetic. I recall an instant turn in my emotions when she unexpectedly added, “And if you were around, this would not have happened.” It ignited anger in me, so I retorted, “Do you really want this to blow up?” Luckily I came to my senses enough to walk away. “Empty” is the word that came to mind as I retreated. “I’ve got nothing more to give.”
Greg Baer in his book Real Love compares arguments to feeling attacked while drowning. When someone is drowning they lash out. In fear, someone drowning may hit you or grab onto you and pull you under, resulting in two victims. When we are arguing, we are drowning and lashing out. Research shows that similar events are occurring in our brain when we argue as when we are drowning.
When I realize that I feel like I am drowning when I do not feel loved, and I am feeling empty and alone, how can I respond with unconditional love?
First, I remember that my wife may also be drowning, feeling empty and alone. If I view my wife who at times lashes out at me as drowning, my anger at her is reduced. I feel less interested in criticizing her and defending myself, but I still feel like a victim and want to run away. I am drowning and need to get back on solid ground myself.
My wife nor I may be able to unconditionally love at any moment. If someone was overwhelmed and upset, or stressed, or maybe has had a lifetime of not feeling loved, there will be times that person will not be able to love. Unconditional love means I am accepted with my faults, struggles, and weaknesses. So it falls on me to search myself and speak the truth about myself to someone, (not the opposite sex of course) that will accept me for who I am. Then I may have the energy to improve myself.
So I reflected on my own emptiness and thought about ways I can restore my energy for unconditional love. This may involve self-care, for which we are responsible, and seeking care from others. I thought of this acronym, “ACES” to remind me of ways to restore energy for unconditional love.
“A” stands for a sense of accomplishment.
“C” stands for the connection I have to God, family, and friends, that I need to seek out to feel loved enough to love my spouse.
“E” stands for enjoyment, the “small” parts of life, often overlooked, that I need to remember in gratitude.
“S” stands for self-care, sleep, diet, exercise and other needs for which I am responsible to meet.
Most importantly, I needed to confess to someone my struggle and feel their acceptance. If I am loved for what I do for others, what is that? That is a performance-based love. That is how we got married in the first place. But I need the kind of love where someone who sees me for who I am and then accepts me. I need this kind of love in order to love others.
I may have seek this out on a regular basis. It takes courage. Who wants to talk about their struggles and faults? I would rather talk to someone and they tell me I am in the right. But that is back to performance-based love. So I turned to my “ACES,” and turned to a friend to whom I can admit my faults. He still liked me, and accepted me as I am. With time I was ready to understand and give to my wife.
What are some ways I can unconditionally love my spouse? Here are common needs for men and women, as highlighted in Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn’s research-based books on relationships, For Men Only and For Women Only.
Women need to be pursued. They are wired for relationship. Women feel it when something is missing here. They write, “Pursuit is likely to make you a great husband in her eyes.” Relationships need energy like anything else of value. A little time can yield big dividends. Perhaps consider “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.
In the movie, Parent Trap, Nick asks his ex-wife. Elizabeth, how their relationship died. He said, “It ended so fast. So about the day you packed, why’d you do it?” She replied, “Oh, Nick. We were so young. We both had tempers, we said stupid things, and so I packed. Got on my first 747, and… you didn’t come after me.” After a period of dead silence, Nick admitted, “I didn’t know that you wanted me to.”
A common need for a man is to feel their spouses’ respect. They are wired for accomplishment. Men feel it when something is missing here. The authors write, “What is at stake isn’t his pride as much as his secret feelings of inadequacy as a man.” Many unmarried men described feeling inadequate as a major barrier to getting married in the first place. They do not want to feel inadequate the rest of their lives.
Let me conclude by asking if love is the goal in marriage, and unconditional love is what makes marriage work, then what does unconditional love look like for you? Everybody may have a different definition. For some, unconditional love may mean that they set boundaries so that harm does not occur in a relationship. For others, love is characterized as giving without getting. Immediately, when I hear this definition, I think, “But what about me? What about my needs?” I guess the better question is, what is the best way to meet my needs? If I am angry or disappointed in my partner, I am thinking of myself and my needs. I may be feeling empty, overwhelmed or drowning. Here’s a lifeline: confession. It is speaking truth to someone who accepts and loves us as we are, faults and all. I think that is better than finding someone who agrees with you that you are in the right. I do not know about you, but being right has not inspired me to be more loving. Feeling loved has inspired me to be more loving.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
At times people think about how problems would be solved if they were married to someone else. Some problems may be solved this way, but it also is true that we carry our response to problems from relationship to relationship. John Gottman, a leading marital researcher, gives this example:
Paul married Alice and Alice gets loud at parties and Paul, who is shy, hates that. But if Paul had married Susan, he and Susan would have gotten into a fight before they even got to the party. That’s because Paul is always late and Susan hates to be kept waiting. She would feel taken for granted, which she is very sensitive about. Paul would see her complaining about this as her attempt to dominate him, which he is very sensitive about. If Paul had married Gail, they wouldn’t have even gone to the party because they would still be upset about an argument they had the day before about Paul’s not helping with the housework. To Gail when Paul does not help she feels abandoned, which she is sensitive about, and to Paul Gail’s complaining is an attempt at domination, which he is sensitive about. The same is true about Alice. If she had married Steve, she would have the opposite problem, because Steve gets drunk at parties and she would get so angry at his drinking that they would get into a fight about it. If she had married Lou, she and Lou would have enjoyed the party but when they got home the trouble would begin when Lou wanted sex because he always wanted sex when he wants to feel closer, but sex is something Alice only wants when she already feels close.
Even rock-solid marriages have sensitivities like the ones described above. This is where it can hurt. It is common to think of marriage as something that is difficult, discouraging, and even hurtful. Many think of personal failure. It is difficult to respond well in an intimate relationship when we are not treated well. We all can think of examples where we are not treated well. Maybe you can think of a time you were betrayed by a childhood friend. Or, you ask your teenage daughter how her evening went, and she nearly bites off your head. Possibly you are caring for aging parents and in spite of all your efforts, they are still unhappy. Or, you are unhappily married but stay together for a number of reasons. Others do not. Every 45 seconds a marriage ends in divorce (Dr. Greg Smalley).
An incredible statistic is the one that predicts divorce. Marriage is one of the most researched topics over the last 40 years and this prediction is well-documented. John Gottman and other researchers underscore that your response, when you are treated poorly in your marriage, is predictive of eventual divorce with 91 percent accuracy.
It is not exactly what is said, or what is done, that is so predictive. It is the feeling that one spouse is above or below the other. It results in defensiveness. It can come from dwelling on the injustices in your relationship, or from ruminating on the weaknesses of the other. It leaks out in one’s tone, facial expressions, and non-verbal body language. It is contempt. We often do not mean to be contemptuous. Maybe you just want to bring up an issue, or just talk about it, and your spouse interprets it as criticism and wants to defend, attack back, and finally withdraw. Dan Allender, in his book with Tremper Longman III, Intimate Allies says that “many couples live with an underlying contempt for each other.” Later they write, “Spouses degrade each other when they show a contemptuous, shaming, judgmental spirit.”
We are all treated poorly at times. We all have different desires and these can turn into expectations. When these expectations are not met, we get angry, or at least disappointed. We can feel that the other is not living up to their end of the bargain. The contract is not being fulfilled. If you a sign a contract, there are certainly expectations to be met. If you use that mentality in marriage, you are set up for more disappointment and hurt. Tension develops between the idea of marriage being a contract, and marriage being a covenant.
So what do spouses do, who generally get treated well, in their marriage, act at those moments when they are not treated well?
If there is any recourse from a hardened heart to one that is open, safety is key. It is hard to open up and admit feelings and failures, if you are afraid of your partner’s response. If one feels safe, you can be honest about feelings and failures. It creates a joint struggle to expose the beautiful, and the broken. It allows for true love, the grace that provides the elements needed to grow, and it feeds passion.
Contempt, on the other hand, is beyond the inevitable frustration with your spouse. It does not just say that I am angry, afraid or sad; it puts the emphasis on that the other is wrong or bad. We are all wrong or bad at times. We all struggle. But people that get treated well do not put down the other resulting in defensiveness. This approach seeks to make sense of your partner, and understand what he or she is feeling, and to make his or her feelings as important as your own. Marital researchers underscore that this non-judgmental approach happens in the context of equal regard, creating a sense of safety. It acknowledges underlying needs on both sides of the equation.
Here are common needs for men and women, as highlighted in Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn’s research-based books on relationships, For Men Only and For Women Only.
Women need to be pursued. They are wired for relationship. Women feel it when something is missing here. They write, “Pursuit is likely to make you a great husband in her eyes.” Relationships need an infusion of energy like anything else of value. A little time can yield big dividends.
In the movie, Parent Trap, Nick asks his ex-wife. Elizabeth, about what happened between them. He said, “It ended so fast. So about the day you packed, why’d you do it?” She replied, “Oh, Nick. We were so young. We both had tempers, we said stupid things, and so I packed. Got on my first 747, and . . . you didn’t come after me.” After a period of dead silence, Nick admitted, “I didn’t know that you wanted me to.” Elizabeth felt if she asked him to come after her, she would never know if he would on his own.
Men need to be proud of. They are wired for accomplishment. Men feel it when something is missing here. The authors write, “What is at stake isn’t his pride as much as his secret feelings of inadequacy as a man.” Many unmarried men described feeling inadequate as a major barrier to getting married in the first place. They do not want to feel inadequate the rest of their lives.
What if I am not open to this kind of covenantal approach? Impulsivity, stress, lack of time and energy, built-up anger, hurt and resentment are all facts of life but get in the way. A formidable obstacle is the belief that one’s partner is more to blame for the relationship problems. An urgent need is for personal support to make personal changes from reading, friends, and support groups.
What if my partner isn’t open to this kind of covenantal approach? This kind of approach is for the sake of the giver as much as the receiver. It allows the giver to feel settled and in control about their part, even if your partner does not respond well. Researchers underscore that when one partner is not treated well, this is precisely the time that this approach is needed. When it gets tough, take a break and come back allowing both sides time to process to a better conclusion. Or break the discussion and ask your partner for proposals, or make proposals. Living in a fallen world and being self-responsible means that we have to set personal boundaries. The challenge, according to marital researchers, is to not look down on your partner in the meantime, because looking down on your partner itself puts your relationship at risk.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
Statistics show that more and more Baby Boomers in their 50s and 60s are divorcing. Why? Continue reading “Is My Marriage Over?”
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
Is harder than many people think. Since the strength of a relationship is based on connection between people, communication is often underestimated as well. It is a skill that must be practiced over and over. Even when making casual conversation, there is opportunity to strengthen relationships by reflecting the interests of another. One’s words can also strain relationships when they stir up emotions. The intent of one’s message may be lost leaving both parties feeling misunderstood. Three ingredients to resolving relationship issues apply to spouses, parents, children, friends and coworkers: Understanding, Showing concern, and Agreements.
One must be calm and focused to use these tools. Otherwise one’s brain, flooded with adrenaline, does not cooperate and one’s intent in communication is much different than the impact of one’s words. On the contrary, when relaxed, usually taking turns without interruptions works. Taking time to understand before you are understood even works better. Technically, one does not have to prove oneself or convince someone to be valid.
To show understanding one cannot assume he or she understands the other. One cannot also assume the other is wrong. People tend to repeat themselves, argue, or criticize unless they feel understood. To make sense of what someone is saying does not mean you agree, feel the same, or would do the same as someone else in a given situation. To understand, instead, accomplishes the purpose of communication: to make sense to someone else. People who feel better or closer after a discussion usually feel connected rather than corrected. A couple of guidelines can greatly reduce adrenaline-fused verbal spars. When showing understanding, focus on the following:
Fouls: avoid insults and topic-hopping. Starting sentences with “I” may receive less resistance that starting sentences with “You.”
Feelings:what one is feeling is more important than facts to feel close to someone.
Future: the future can be changed, the past needs understanding but cannot be changed.
S howing concern
Demonstrating that one cares is an essential ingredient in satisfying relationships. If one is in a relationship but no longer cares, perhaps one is dwelling on the negative, or there is a lack of common goals. There are a number of ways to show you care not only about a person, but also about their statements.
Talk: tell the person how much you appreciate them or what they feel.
Time: spend time doing something enjoyable together.
Touch: affection can say a lot more than words when done appropriately.
Tasks: whatever you do for another that’s not expected but appreciated.
Tokens: notes, small gifts or offering to get someone a drink.
Even though one may not agree about the past or about a given topic, one can make agreements for the future. Adhering to agreements yield trust, commitment, and even passion. The following considerations can increase the chance of success, even if one has to go back to the drawing board.
Optimism: agreements should not bring future resentments.
Options: commit to find options that will work for both parties.
Outcomes: (not threats) that are understood if agreements are not kept.
For many, “I” statements are recommended to be used to communicate. For example, “I feel ______ when ______.” To connect and strengthen the relationship, try an experiment using a particular kind of “You” statements. For example, “You are feeling or thinking ______ and wishing for ______.” Instead of saying, “I understand,” or repeating what another is saying, show understanding with your words. Check with the person or look for signs that they feel understood. Instead of using “You” statements to criticize, condemn, or complain, see what happens when one makes comments showing interest in another’s views, whether they are wrong or right, over time. Even though you may not agree, you can make agreements.
When I ask you to listen to me
And you start giving advice
You have not done what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me
And you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way
You are trampling on my feelings.
When I ask you to listen to me
And you feel you have to do something to solve my problems
You have failed me, strange as that may seem.
Listen! All I ask is that you listen
Not talk or do – just hear me.
Advice is cheap: the world wide web is full of free advice.
And I can do for myself. I’m not helpless.
Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.
But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel,
No matter how irrational, then I stop trying to convince you,
And can get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling.
And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice.
So please listen and just hear me, and if you want to talk,
Wait a minute for your turn, and I’ll listen to you.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
D escribe the other person’s feeling, or show appreciation, or make sense of what they are thinking, even if you disagree.
A sk for what you are wanting, or ask the other person to make sense of what you are feeling. Make multiple proposals. Don’t debate.
B oundaries make clear what you are not willing to do, but end with what you are willing to do. Meet in the middle.
This approach can also be used for kids. Start by connecting with your child to increase the chance of being heard, describe their feeling (even in one word). Ask your child to do the right thing, or for a “time-in,” (teaching him or her how to calm yourself), or to take a “time-out.” Set boundaries by making it clear what is not okay, followed by what behavior is okay. Consequences can also be clarified or negotiated also at this point.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
What if your wife befriended someone unknown to you on Facebook? What about your husband’s phone always being locked? Is there a problem if your spouse goes out for lunches with a co-worker? Or in general, is a little flirting is okay? Can the use of porn harm a relationship? Where do you draw the line between harmless fun and damage to trust?
Cheating on someone is defined by the one betrayed. It can take different forms and result in anywhere between hurt and disaster. For some it may be an internet excursion, coffee, or a kiss. For others, it is defined by sex. In the case of “harmless fun,” maybe it’s not so much what is said or done, but how you feel afterward that sets the stage for wanting more. It is an emotional connection that lays the groundwork for a physical connection. For most, infidelity is both a reflection of character and breakdown in your relationship.
Definitions of “cheating” differ from relationship to relationship. For most, secrecy is paramount to the definition, along with engaging in an activity that is robbed from the relationship. Maybe you are opening up to someone at work, or at the gym, but finding yourself rushed for time when it comes to sitting down with your partner.
If such an interaction with another is hidden, or not mentioned to your partner, it gives you the chance to hide the relationship if something questionable develops in the future. Other hidden communications include passwords, site destinations, or even innocent conversations that are not mentioned. There may be a reason it is not mentioned.
How does it feel when interacting? Is there a feeling of excitement or anticipation? Do you feel or do anything different for this person that you don’t do for others, including your partner? Does it reflect something that is missing in your relationship?
Sometimes relationships begin to break down before we realize it. Not being there for your partner can be subtle or obvious, but starts in small ways. Marital researchers such as John Gottman, Caryl Rusbult and Shirley Glass have described steps toward infidelity.
A loss of connection starts with less verbal attunements – responses to your partner that lead to your partner feeling cared about or understood. “Attuning” to your partner can be about trivial topics or your core feelings about the relationship.
If an increasing loss of connection is added to inevitable conflict, eventually partners may start withdrawing and withholding true thoughts and feelings to avoid a fight. Meanwhile, a negative view of one’s partner solidifies, and one stops looking to the partner to get needs met.
If you start sharing these thoughts and feelings with someone else and that someone else is more responsive than your partner, a negative contrast develops. Sometimes that “someone else” doesn’t exist yet, except in your partner’s mind.
Resentment builds and over time leads to loneliness, low desire, and loss of romance, fun, and adventure. Boundaries are crossed when alternative relationships are not dismissed, thus becoming options. Secrets flourish and “someone else” becomes tantalizing.
Surprisingly, two-thirds of couples want to stay together after an affair. If there was such a breakdown and betrayal, the task of putting the relationship back together again seems daunting. Understanding the impact of cheating takes time. Some are not willing to give it time because it feels horrible. How do you fully express remorse without excessive self-condemnation or recrimination?
It also can be difficult to admit ambivalence about moving forward. Moving forward needs proven structure and planning to address what’s missing in your relationship and to rebuild trust. Sustaining change over time is the next challenge.
Essentially lines are crossed when energy is missing from the marriage but found in other relationships, work, hobbies, preoccupations and addictions. On one end of the problem could be the joke or story that repeatedly told to co-workers that gets old by the time you tell your spouse.
Or you may be opening up about work or home problems with someone who understands but the same issue is argued about instead of discussed at home. Flirtation with others may be perceived as harmless but does not happen anymore in your relationship.
Finding time for a date night may become challenging but going out to lunch with colleagues is easy. A boy’s or girl’s night out can become more fun than alone time with your partner. Fun and adventure are found elsewhere.
Work and hobbies can become time-consuming and the relationship can get pushed down the priority list. You have heard of someone who is “married to their work,” or “football widows.” You have also heard of alcohol or drug dependence robbing both the person and relationship of life.
Relationships are subject to the law of entropy and require a constant influx of energy to counteract its decline. It is a priority based on promises and trust and is measured by the amount of time put into the relationship. To protect the relationship couples regularly connect with each other through words and actions. They overlook irritations but address resentments, rather than withdrawing from resolving conflict.
To resolve conflict they make requests while caring about the other’s needs, allow disagreements rather than criticizing, and generate options instead of insisting on one way of doing things. To build the relationship, they take time to regularly review the positive qualities of the other, guard the time it takes to have fun with the other, and seek “adventures.” They support each other’s dreams.
All infidelity starts in the mind before it goes to the heart. This can happen impulsively as in a one-night love affair, but often there is something missing from your relationship that allows this to happen. The more time spent thinking about alternatives to your relationship plants seeds of discontent.
An alternative can be another relationship or any time-consuming activity. If there is something missing from your relationship, and this need is met elsewhere, this hidden outlet can take root and supplant your relationship.
Barry McCarthy, an expert on extra-marital affairs reported that 20 to 25 percent of males cross this line, with an average frequency of six partners. The reason is not necessarily because the marital relationship is lacking, it often starts impulsively and continues if it involves low maintenance. The infidelity rate for wives was reported between 11 and 15 percent, and often involves “falling in love.” 40 to 45 percent of marriages suffer, but 70 percent survive. It is helpful to ask what does the extra-marital affair represent in the marriage and what can be learned before you decide should I stay or should I go.