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Practical,steps to heal from an affair

Sunday, November 10th, 2019

Working through an affair is tough. It takes tremendous energy and vulnerability on both sides. Drs. John and Julie Gottman have developed the Trust Revival Method, with three defined stages of treatment: Atonement, Attunement, and Attachment. The effectiveness of this model is being studied in a randomized clinical trial.

I’ve watched hundreds of couples try this method, and I’ve learned a few practical things about effective treatment along the way. To provide clarity, let’s use names: Julie and Ryan are married, and Julie had an affair with Dean.

Seek couples’ therapy, not just individual counselling

Trust is an obvious issue and is vital to regain. But if both partners are committed to reconciling the marriage, or at least to try, then seeing a couple’s therapist together is most helpful. Individual therapy doesn’t help regain this trust and may only make healing more complicated. Enough secrets have been kept. Even if Julie is talking about the love she had for Dean, it’s important that Ryan regain his role as confidante, and it’s even more important that Julie be completely transparent about what happened.

Often, people who engage in an affair will balk at the idea of sharing with their spouse their struggles with letting go of their lover. The most important point? To move ahead, Ryan needs to actively hear and believe that Julie is choosing him and their marriage.

Realize that the “truth” rarely comes out all at once

This is a tough one. Those who have had an affair, whether they’ve been caught or whether they’ve come forward, rarely tell the whole story initially. In this case, Julie will either feel guilty and extremely protective of Ryan, not wanting to hurt him anymore, or she’ll be protective of Dean. Or both.

The latter reason may likely infuriate Ryan. But it’s part of the process. The “story” usually emerges slowly, even though Ryan might want the truth and all of the truth right away. Julie may not be able to do that. Remember, she’s now committed to the marriage, and more than likely fears Ryan’s reaction — that “too much too soon” may blow up in her face.

When this occurs, it’s very easy for the hurt partner to view this as more intentional deceit, which many betrayed people say is just as difficult to work through than any sexual or emotional indiscretion. The therapist needs to guide the couple carefully through the betrayer’s tangle of self-protection or protection of a lover and the defensiveness and shame that comes with it, as well as the betrayer’s desperately wanting and deserving “the absolute truth” and the sadness, rage, and fear that accompanies it.

All of this lies in the Atonement phase — a working through of anger, fear, guilt, and shame. It’s a tightrope that must be walked very carefully, and with as much openness as possible.

The problems in the relationship did not cause the affair but are important to change

Julie is totally responsible for going outside the marriage to get her needs met. That is clear. But affairs happen in contexts. And that context is Julie and marriage.

Ryan and Julie will want to create a fresh, enlivened relationship where both can recommit and leave behind the relationship that was not working. The task is to learn new skills and new ways of communicating so both can feel better about their marriage. They’re not going back — they’re going forward. They’re starting marriage #2.

If Julie is adamant about blaming the marriage and only the marriage, that’s not a good sign. In Gottman terms, she’d be stuck in the barn with the Four Horseman Of The Apocalypse and not moving forward. The same would be evident if Ryan insisted that the marriage had been great with absolutely nothing amiss or broken. Both would be locked in defensiveness and contempt.

Give structure to communication about the affair

Dr.Shirley Glass points out in her book Not Just Friends that the betrayed partner often fits criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, with their emotional well-being heavily threatened and a sense of safety has disappeared from the marriage. It’s important to structure the sessions to help the betrayed work through that trauma, as slowly as is needed, and not amplify symptoms like hypervigilance, nightmares, or flashbacks.

And, in all seriousness, this process can’t happen quickly enough for the betrayer nor slow enough for the betrayed.

Julie’s job is evident. She must cut ties with Dean. She needs to provide whatever information Ryan needs to help him heal. Most people seem to want a lot of information, often coming in with pages of questions.

If Julie is reticent to proactively offer openness to what used to be more private choices (cell phone or social media account passwords, for example), that may be a signal that the hurtful impact of the affair is still not understood, or the betrayer has not fully taken responsibility. At that point, work directed at the betrayer, to try to understand their balking — whether it’s an issue still with the affair, or is it some other individual trait, such as a struggle with control — is vital for the therapeutic process to go forward.

It is best if the couple can wait and only talk about the affair in the therapist’s office. But some people just can’t wait, so we would suggest that they limit, perhaps even by strictly scheduling, the time that they talk about it. Each would need to agree that they will refrain from using the four horsemen during those conversations. This structure helps prevent emotional explosions or from the affair gaining any more power than it already has, while also honouring the need for healing.

People in Ryan’s role can sometimes get lost in the details, wanting to know everything about the affair. For example, asking if Julie loved Dean, or why she was attracted to him, may be important details for Ryan to know. But Drs. John and Julie Gottman would suggest that he, and others like him, need to be careful, again recalling Dr. Glass’ cautions concerning PTSD. He runs the risk of becoming re-traumatized by the revelation of intimate details, such as where the affair happened and what the sex was like. He can become obsessive, requesting too much information. Yet if not enough is asked and absorbed, it can lead to later regret.

Realize the need for trust travels in both directions

The last thing that Julie wants to realize is that 10 or 15 years down the road, Ryan says, “You know, I never really forgave you for that affair. I want a divorce.” Or he might never say those words, and simply act it out passive-aggressively.

That is very sad. Couples have come to me years after doing therapy for an affair. There has been no true stage of reconciliation that Drs. John and Julie Gottman would call “Attachment.” The unforgiving spouse remains bitter but may try to hide it. The unforgiven feels a loneliness that he or she doesn’t understand; it may be that everything “looks” fine, but underneath there is still distrust, blame, or anger.

Ryan should take on the responsibility of giving reassurance to Julie that trust is building. He can say things sincerely, such as, “I wanted to text and ask you to take a picture of where you were at 10:00 last night when you were out of town, but I realized I didn’t need to. I’m past that.”

The process of healing from an affair takes time. Like all grief, it comes in waves. One day, it will seem like it happened a long time ago. The next? Either Julie or Ryan can get triggered, and emotions will feel once again very raw.

Learning new skills of communicating about conflict, rebuilding trust, rekindling physical and sexual connection, giving time and attention to how the problems have affected the children or other family members — all of that can happen with time and energy.

There are many variations to the above. Such are the complications of being human.

The good news? It can be accomplished, and the commitment can be richer than ever. Not because of the affair, but because of the work is done to make marriage #2 better than marriage #1 ever was.

Written by Dr.Margaret Rutherfords in December 2017

Don’t trust each other!What do you do?

Monday, October 14th, 2019

Don’t Trust each other!

Many of the couples that I work with in my practice have feelings of mistrust when it comes to facing day to day challenges.

In The Science of Trust, Gottman explores the milestones that all relationships go through especially in the early phases. Gottman states that most of the issues have to do with trust.

Trust is an important part of intimacy

In Hold Me Tight, Dr Sue Johnson explains that by being vulnerable, you can create a level of emotional safety with your partner. It’s the key way to strengthen a relationship bond. Through vulnerability, you’ll be able to re-establish a secure emotional attachment and restore intimacy in your relationship.

Brene Brown also supports this idea in her popular TED talk, The power of vulnerability.

Learning to trust each other

The number one hardest thing about trusting someone is learning to have confidence in your own judgement. Trust is much more than finding out that your partner has cheated on you. Its about having confidence and faith that they have your best interests at heart.

We are all born with the ability to trust others however through our life experiences, you may have become less trusting as a way of self-protection.

An inability to trust a new partner may take many forms, from feeling they’re dishonest or secretive, doubting they’re keep their word or be reliable.

Take a moment to consider this: Your partner is not solely responsible for creating mistrustful feelings. In most cases, you must take equal responsibility for creating an atmosphere of safety and security in your relationship. In order to begin the process of overcoming mistrust, ask yourself:

  • What is the story I’m telling myself?
  • Does my fear of loss and abandonment cloud my perspective and cause me to overreact to my partner’s actions?
  • Is my mistrust coming from something that is happening in the present, or is it related to my past?
  • Do I feel comfortable asking for what I need and allowing myself to be vulnerable?
  • Do I bring my best self to my interactions with my partner?
  • Do I possess self-love and allow myself to be loved and respected?

Many relationships are sabotaged by self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe your partner will hurt you, you can unconsciously encourage hurts to emerge in your relationship. But day by day, if you learn to operate from a viewpoint that your partner loves you and wants the best for you, you can enjoy trust in your marriage.

Here are seven ways to proactively build trust in your relationship.

Acknowledge your feelings and practice being vulnerable in small steps Build confidence in being more open with your partner. Discussing minor issues (schedules or meals) is a great place to start before tackling bigger matters like disciplining kids or finances.

Be honest and communicate about key issues in your relationship
Be sure to be forthcoming about finances, your past, and concerns with a family member, co-workers, or children. Don’t sweep important issues under the rug because this can lead to resentment.

Challenge mistrustful thoughts
Ask yourself: is my lack of trust due to my partner’s actions, my own insecurities, or both? Be aware of unresolved issues from your past relationships that may be triggering mistrust in the present.

Trust your intuition and instincts
Have confidence in your own perceptions and pay attention to red flags. Be vulnerable and ask for reassurance if you feel mistrustful.

Assume your partner has good intentions
If he or she lets you down, it may just bea failure in competence–sometimes people simply make a mistake.

Listen to your partner’s side of the story
Believe that there are honest people in the world. Unless you have a strong reason to mistrust him or her, have faith in your partner.

Practice having a recovery conversation after an argument
Take a short break if you feel overwhelmed or flooded and set a time to process what happened. This will give you both time to calm down and collect your thoughts so you can have a more meaningful dialogue with your partner.

According to Dan Wile, author of After the fight, after a disagreement your focus needs to be on listening to your partner’s perspective, collaborating, building intimacy, and restoring safetygoo will.

John Gottman explains that practicing emotional attunement while relaxing together can help you stay connected in spite of your differences. This means turning toward one another by showing empathy, responding appropriately to bids for connection, and not being defensive.

Asking your partner opened questions is also a great way to increase emotional closeness and build trust. If you ask questions that require a yes or no answer, you’re closing the door to intimate dialogue. In other words, take your time and make love to your partner with words.

For a relationship to succeed in the long run, you must be able to trust each other. Building trust with a partner is really about the small moments of connection that allow you to feel safe and to truly believe that your partner will show up for you. It’s the bedrock of a happy, long term partnership.

How to rebuild trust when it’s been broken

John and Julie Gottman suggest that if you break any agreements about trust with your partner, there are steps to fix what’s been broken. These steps include setting a time to talk, naming the feelings you experienced due to the breach of trust without blame or criticism, listening to your partner without judgment, and each partner describing their perspective and discussing any feelings that were triggered by the incident.

The final three steps essential for rebuilding trust, are both partners assessing how they contributed to the incident and holding themselves accountable, each person apologizing and accepting an apology, and developing a plan to prevent further breaches of trust from occurring.

An important part of my work with couples is focused on facilitating conversations between them that helped to rebuild trust and affirm their commitment to one another over time.

You have the power to break free from the hold that mistrust has on your relationship and create the kind of intimacy you deserve.

More than friends: Recovering from an Emotional Affair

Friday, September 27th, 2019

For Sally, it all started when she finally got on facebook after attending a school reunion.

At first, she added her extended family, old school friends, neighbours, friends and a few local mums from the coffee group.

After a few months, she reconnected with most of her old school friends, including her former boyfriend, Harry.

She hadn’t seen or heard from him in many years and found herself excited to accept his friend request.

Once connected, Sally spent time looking at Harry’s photos of him and his family. She thought to herself, what a handsome guy he still is. Her husband, Allan, had let himself go.

As she found herself thinking about Harry more, more, she started noticing things about her husband, she disliked.

One day, Sally saw that it was Harry’s birthday, so she decided to write him a little birthday post on his wall. Little didn’t she know that a short post would prompt Harry to send her a private message in response.

Sally was nervous. She remembered their trip to Greece well. It had been years since Sally and Harry dated, but the feelings came back like it was yesterday. She found herself on cloud nine over her memories of their young love.

She decided to wait a day or two to message Harry back because she didn’t want to look eager. She kept her response short update on her life and her family.

Harry messaged her back.

And so, it began.

She liked his pictures

He loved her posts

Messaging went from a daily occurrence to an all-day event.

They shared about their families, their children, jobs. As the days and weeks went by, their facebook messages became more intimate. They became better friends. They knew a lot about each other.

They became more open with each other about the hard marriages they were both “stuck” in and about their growing feelings for each other.

However, they were ready to agree that they had somehow fallen in love again even though being miles apart- all via Face book messenger.

That is until one day when Sally left her facebook account open and her husband, Alan, saw a message from Harry pop up.

Alan clicked on the message, and there it was: Six months’ worth of daily messages between Harry and Sally.

Alan read through the messages and felt shocked, stunned, and hurt by the things Sally said about him. Had he become lazy, fat, and mean?

And then Sally walked in.

Alan, with tears in his eyes, looked up from the computer and asked, WHY!

Recovery from the emotional affair

Instead of letting this emotional affair destroy their marriage, Sally and Alan decided that they wanted to work on their relationship. They wanted things to change, and they were hopeful that things could improve with the right knowledge and resources.

To heal from the wounds of this emotional affair, revive their dying marriage, and protect against the danger of future affairs, Sally and Alan did three things:

First, Sally cut ties with Harry and unfriended him on Face book. That was a boundary she needed to set.

Second, Sally and Alan worked on meeting each other’s needs. They engaged a Couples Relationship therapist to work through their needs, and they began to implement small things into their marriage to help them feel connected.

How the Story ends

Along with nurturing their marriage, Alan and Sally set other boundaries to protect against future affairs and to re-build trust in their relationship.

It took time, but Alan came to completely forgave Sally and regained his trust by honouring the boundaries they set together and seeking to meet Alans needs.

A connection was something that had been missing in their relationship for a very long time. After many months of healing, their relationship was better. They felt more intimate on all levels- emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually.

Sally and Alan committed to continuing to intentionally working together to create the marriage they wanted.

Do you have problems meeting new dating partners?

Monday, September 16th, 2019

Do you have problems meeting new dating partners? 

The 5-second rule can help you!

I was recently searching on Amazon for some of the top-rating non-fiction books and stumbled across the book by Mel Robbins called, The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage. I then discovered Mel’s TEDx talk, viewed over 12 million times, How to stop Screwing Yourself Over.

While this was not the typical relationship advice and self-help information, I’m usually interested in watching.

 I watched her video with curiosity and realised this was fantastic advice for anyone desperate and dateless and having problems meeting people.

You see, there’s a reason why her TEDx talk has been so wildly popular and why her book has been top of the Amazon charts. Is that, Mel has a straightforward tool for taking action in your life. She calls it the 5-second rule.

What is the 5-second rule?

The 5-second rule works on, that if you want to create change in your life and you know that behavioural changes will help you bring about what you want.

Then, you need to act within five seconds physically. 

Simple, isn’t it?

Well, this isn’t a “Just Do It” approach. 

The 5-second rule works like this:

 If you have an impulse to act on a goal, then you must physically move within 5 seconds.

 Or your brain will kill the idea, which stops you putting on your natural ‘handbrake’ of resisting taking action. 

Which then leads to you feeling stuck and NOT reaching your goals.

If you’re single and having trouble meeting people, there are endless tips, advice, strategies.

And all sorts of free information online about how to meet new people and start dating. 

But in my experience, many people get stuck at the point of taking action.

Taking action as a single might include:

  • moving out of your comfort zone by going to events
  • walking across a bar to introduce yourself to someone
  • join meet up groups
  • being extra friendly to someone you meet while shopping, or

When you’re using the 5-second rule, you’re not overthinking about the pros and cons of going to an event; you RSVP within 5 seconds. If you see an attractive stranger at a bar that keeps catching your eye, you take that first step towards them within 5-seconds of having the impulse to introduce yourself. 

It’s a simple strategy, and I love the fact it’s so easy to remember and something you can employ right now.

I believe the 5-second rule can make a difference in your life and your relationship status.

If you’re interested in finding out more, watch the video below of Mel Robbins explaining the theory and try out the 5-second rule for yourself.

Click the play button below to watch Mel Robbin’s TEDx talk.

3 Betrayals, that spoil relationships

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

Infidelity is the betrayal our society focuses on, but it is actually the subtle, unnoticed betrayals that truly spoil relationships. When partners do not choose each other day after day, trust and commitment erode away.

Partners may be aware of this disloyalty to each other, but dismiss it because it’s “not as bad as an affair.” This is false. Anything that violates a committed relationship’s contract of mutual trust, respect, and protection can be disastrous.

Betrayals are founded on two building blocks: deception (not revealing your true needs to avoid conflict) and a yearning for emotional connection from outside the relationship.

Below are three betrayals that spoils relationships. Only by confronting and taking responsibility for them can couples reestablish their trust in each other.

Emotional Cheating

It’s very easy for platonic friends to bond in the trenches of work, day after day. Sometimes we call this person a “work wife” or “work husband.” Even friendships made at the gym or local coffee shop can threaten the bond at home.

These nonsexual relationships can lead to both parties sharing intimate details about each other’s lives. That doesn’t make it a betrayal. What makes it a betrayal is this: if your partner would be upset by the things you’ve shared or would be uncomfortable watching the interaction.

5 signs your partner’s friendship is not an innocent friendship:

  1. Has a friendship been hidden?
  2. Are your questions about the friendship responded with “don’t worry” or discouragement?
  3. Have you asked it to end, only to have your partner tell you no?
  4. Have your boundaries been disrespected?
  5. Is the friend the subject of fantasies or comments during troubled times in the relationship?

Conditional Love

Couples don’t feel supported when one partner keeps a foot out of the relationship. They don’t feel like their partner has their best interests at heart, that they have their back. When this happens, it’s not uncommon for the betrayed partner to blame a trigger as the real problem, when it’s actually the lack of commitment.

Emotional Withdrawal

Emotional withdrawal can be something big, like choosing a work meeting over a family funeral, or it can be as small as turning away when your partner needs emotional support.

A committed relationship requires both partners to be there for each other through the life-altering traumas and everyday nuisances. That means celebrating joys and successes with your partner, too.

Everybody has different ways of expressing themselves. In a committed relationship, it is the responsibility of both partners to uncover and disclose these preferences to understand what the other requires to feel loved, protected, and supported.

In his research lab, Dr Gottman discovered that happy couples turned toward each other 86% of the time, while unhappy couples turned towards each other only 33% of the time. That means unhappy couples withdraw 67% of the time! Emotional withdrawal sets in when bids are ignored.

Solution: To improve your emotional connection, focus on rebuilding and updating your love maps, cultivating a culture of admiration and fondness, and turning towards bids more often. m

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