Hi, I’m Melany and I’m a therapist at the Cedar Rapids Counseling Center and I want to discuss infidelity. So, often when clients come in and infidelity has occurred, whether I’m meeting with a couple or an individual, I’m often going to have the same conversation where we’re going to hold loosely your marriage. Because I feel like if we focus on divorce, we’re just moving towards how do we cope and what do we do to end this relationship? And if we focus on the relationship, and yes, I’m staying, then we end up focused on what do I change so that my partner and I get along better. What I’m going to do is I’m going to hold your marriage loosely. We’re going to say, I don’t know. I don’t know if we’re going to stay married, I don’t know if we’re going to get divorced, but I do know that I am going to work on me, or we are going to work on us.
When two people get married, or they have a committed relationship, they create something together. This creation, they both contribute to it. So, whether it’s good or bad, it’s both. It’s both of them, they both did it. They both made this thing and then the things that happen while you’re in this relationship, they hurt each other. Sometimes, relationships are bound to hurt each other, or this is yucky, and we each find ways to cope with it. And so, Partner A copes with it this way and Partner B copes with it this way but the way each person copes, the individual is responsible for that coping. We’re both responsible for this marriage that we created but the ways we cope that’s on the individual.
Having someone to talk to you can be really helpful in these times, whether you had the affair or you found out about the affair. It’s a really difficult time. You don’t know how to navigate it. You don’t know what to do. There tends to be a lot of fighting, a lot of arguing, a lot of just back and forth at each other. And you really need somebody to help you mediate that. There’s a lot of suspicion, you lose a lot of trust, and it tends to bring up every time you’ve been hurt in the past and all the old stuff and how could you do this and what about that. It just gets so muddy to navigate. So, finding someone that you can open up with, be honest with, and share with is really helpful.
John Lennon said all you need is love, and love is all you need. He was wrong.
Within intimate relationships, it is also essential to focus on boundaries and borders that will only foster and heighten your relationship when in use. Marriage is a vulnerable commitment, which means there is potential for incredible pain that often happens when boundaries are crossed or not valued.
Things will get tricky at times within any relationship.
There is no threatening to leave when times get tough and no false notions within these difficult times regarding the belief of someone better for you being “out there.” This can be indicative of having one foot out the door and can easily lead to turning to someone outside of the relationship to complain about a partner rather than simply voicing your concerns to your partner.
It’s okay to ask your partner to change things that hurt you. It only becomes problematic when insisting they violate their values for you. There will sometimes be that difference regarding individual values and worldviews. Conflicts that arise from these differences can be maneuvered more efficiently by increasing knowledge and respect for these differences.
Consider engaging with your partner in ways you haven’t before.
Simply because you’ve been with your partner for many years is no indication that you know that person on a deep level. For instance, implement dates and new interactions to explore how well you do know your person.
Do you have daily, weekly, even monthly rituals for connection?
Focusing on these small moments can quickly increase security within your relationship.
Notice and respond to your partner’s bids for connection; foster it by focusing first on how you tend to react to your partner in these moments.
Perhaps you are turning away when you could just as quickly turn towards your spouse.
What Happens If Your Spouse Doesn’t Turn Towards You?
If your partner refuses to validate your feelings, maybe consider the amount of criticism or blame leveled at your partner within your feelings. Eliminating criticism both alleviates opposing defensiveness while at the same time boosting your partner’s ability to empathize with your feelings.
Most importantly, ignore the slogans within pop culture. Genuine relationships require work and intentionality not to harm your partner regarding his or her attachment needs.
Perhaps it only happened that one time. You promised yourself it would never happen again. It’s not a big deal. But just like Jim Morrison’s spy, you suddenly know everything your partner is doing, everywhere they go, everyone they know.
This knowledge can help to quiet that part of you wishing to dig through your partner’s emails, texts, or social media accounts . . . for a time.
However, you’ll most likely find this habit is tricky to let go of, made even more difficult if something suspicious is uncovered.
How does one relinquish a habit that allows for peace to wash over you for at least a brief moment? A moment you feel vindicated in your relationship unease, validated amidst the distress that has snuck into your home, into your marriage.
This lucidity vanishes quickly as the need to spy, the need to know, is constantly at war with the part of you that wants to move towards something better with your partner.
It can become difficult to see that this digging only increases the vicious cycle of secretive habits. And become even worse if you decide to keep the spying from your partner, ignoring the power-packed by the lie of omission.
Numerous things boost this need to find knowledge.
Many times, it is spurred by the infidelity of a past partner.
The part of you that remembers the effects of this betrayal attempting to help you, to ensure you aren’t subjected to such pain a second time or that, at the very least, you’re prepared.
It might be stemming from a lack of trust, only creating more issues in the long run as this behavior is utilized to feed the mistrust.
The need to check your partner’s phone may have grown out of a lack of communication resulting from a distance in the relationship. This distance can increase suspicion. Who are they connecting with, if not you? Suddenly, you’ve become the spy in the relationship, which only increases the chasm between you and your partner.
It can be tough to turn that focus back on oneself.
If you find that you can’t stop checking, it can help to question what might fuel this behavior.
Ask yourself what is prohibiting you from merely having a conversation with your partner in an open manner.
This conversation can heighten vulnerability, but it will inevitably increase trust rather than create a cycle of dishonesty, which will inevitably keep you and your partner stuck.
If you need support in this venture, I recommend reaching out to a mental health professional who can provide you additional insight and advocate for your relationship’s health and success.
One of the major problems that many couples face is lacking the ability to fight well.
The idea that couples fighting well might sound strange at first. There tends to be a false narrative in our culture that happy couples do not fight.
We imagine this couple that is always sensitive to each other needs, never gets annoyed or upset, and even if they do, they both forgive each other as quickly as the offense happens.
However, this view of marriage and relationships is simply an illusion.
Indeed, some couples do not scream and yell at each other, but this does not automatically mean they are a great couple. They could be withdrawing from each other and ignoring the underlying issues that keep them from connecting deeply.
The bottom line is all couples will face disagreements. All couples will find times when one or both of the spouses are annoyed or upset.
But what separates the champions of relationship from those domed to struggle or breakup or divorce is the way in which they are fighting or how they handle the aftermath of the fight.
Sadly, many couples repeatedly galvanize each other into cycles of defense, criticism, contempt, and stonewall, which researcher John Gottman has shown to be some of the most significant signs of divorce.
So what are you supposed to do if you find yourself in this type of situation?
Part of the problem many of us have is once our emotions flood us, we have a tough time communicating in a way that invites the other person to think about solutions and be open to any repair attempts.
Being flooded and continuing the discussion is a terrible idea.
When I’m working with couples in therapy, I have trained myself to notice when someone is being flooded. Once I observe it happening, I intervene to get that person or the couple time to calm down.
I know nothing can happen until the person or the couple is calmed down.
Being able to calm down is essential for effective communication.
To help you and your spouse achieve effective communcation, I made this visual guide giving you five things you need to do to help stay calm during a fight.
This guide will be especially essential to men, for as Gottman points out,
“Men are more likely to feel physiologically overwhelmed sooner than women during a heated exchange. And it takes less intense negativity for men to get physiologically overwhelmed. [Furthermore,] men are more likely to rehearse destructive, innocent-victim, or vengeful thoughts once they feel flooded.”
Of course, women will benefit from the guide because regardless of gender, they usually do and say things they later regret once a person is flooded.