False Affair Confession

After an affair, couples come into counseling believing that the offending spouse will tell the truth in the office. That is rarely the case.  I tell them that my “TruthMachine” is out for repairs and they remain stuck in the confusion of a partial confession. It can be recognized by it’s typical presentation. 

Firstly a partial confession is limited to what has been uncovered. Information only comes out a little at a time as additional secrets or lies are discovered. Spouses who grudgingly confess to each new bit of new evidence are only conceding to what they have to admit. True confessions will almost always include more information than you already know.

Discussions of what happened leads  only to confusion, not clarity.  When it is hard to make sense of your spouse’s story, they are likely being deceptive. A typical deception is where the spouse insists that no sex happened even though it confounds common sense. ( ie. spending a night in a hotel room but nothing happened.) Full honesty results in a clear perspective, even though it often reveals an ugly picture. Deception, on the other hand is full of awkward twists and turns and unexpected dead-ends. When you are listening to lies, you will likely end the conversation being just as confused (or even more confused) as you were when it started.

Also there are quick shifts to defensiveness and blaming when questions are asked about the affair. Once a person has decided to tell the truth, it is a relatively easy thing to do. Easier, at least, than managing all the lies. If your spouse is still lying, they will want to shift the focus away from themselves by becoming defensive, shutting down, or blaming you.

Typically responsibility for the affair is subtly shifted to the spouse (ie. you never wanted sex, or your constant nagging drove me to it) and then there is an expectation that you do the major work to get things on track rather than accepting the responsibility themselves. If your spouse claims to have made a full confession and then leaves you to do the major work in fixing your marriage, something isn’t right. Here are a couple examples:

(a) Instead of taking the initiative to create a trustworthy environment, your spouse expects you to give her/him a checklist for what you need and it is grudgingly followed, usually with complaints about paranoia. 

(b) Your spouse leaves it up to you to fight for boundaries that help you feel safe rather than voluntarily establishing new rules for outside relationships. Genuine confessors realize the need to accept responsibility for change.

It is common sense to expect that someone who broke trust should take responsibility for fixing it yet I regularly encounter unfaithful partners who seem annoyed with this expectation. Their reluctance or resistance indicates a heart that remains self-focused. Unless that changes, there can be no real return to trust.  

Next post will be on how to recognize a true confession and a partner who genuinely wants the marriage.

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Responsible Time Outs

We have all experienced arguments where we or our partner are so flooded with emotion and upset that we need a break to stop the destruction. The best way to stop  verbal abuse – from self and another- is to take a formal time-out.

A time out is not the same as saying “I’m out of here”, then taking leave with a door slam. A responsible time out has specific guidelines.

When either partner calls a time-out – by saying the words, “time-out,” by using the “T“ hand signal, or by using any agreed upon sign – the interaction comes to an immediate stop. Partners agree in advance that a gestured signal means the following spoken word: The spoken or gestured signal is understood by both partners to be an abbreviation of the following words:

“For whatever reason, right or wrong, I am about to lose it. If I stay here and keep this up with you I am liable to do or say something stupid that I know I’m going to regret. Therefore I am taking a break to get a grip on myself and calm down. I will check back in with you later on this.”

Twenty minutes is a good break time but you can agree to something else if you like.  But if no time is specified, 20 minutes is when you need to check in. Checking in does not necessarily mean getting together to resume the discussion.  You can check in – either in person or by text or telephone – and tell your partner that you need more time. With each extension, the time-out interval gets longer. The recommended length between check-ins is:

Twenty minutes

One or two hours

Half a day

A whole day

Overnight

It’s best to give the topic of conflict a minimum of 24 hours rest before revisiting. Timeouts limit the damage and show respect and value for the relationship.

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Hold me

Sometimes a song sticks with me and this is one of them. So often couples come in seeking to reconnect emotionally. Words get in the way of connection and the gap can be closed with simple physical, non-sexual closeness.  Enjoy the song….

 

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Is porn causing problems?

I ran across this quiz in the online Men’s Health magazine.

http://www.mensfitness.com/women/sex-tips/quiz-are-you-addicted-to-porn

To avoid the ads associated with this link I copied and pasted the quiz and scoring. I found the comments in the scoring very accurate. Pornography stimulates chemicals in the brain just as a substance does, so that the behavior can be an addiction. As with alcohol, tolerance develops and greater stimulation is needed to get the same ‘buzz’ With effortless online access, this is a growing issue for many couples.

 

PORNOGRAPHY QUIZ

 

  1. Do you spend more than 11 hours a week viewing porn?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. Does your porn viewing have a negative impact on your relationship with your partner?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. Does your porn viewing get in the way of your work or seeing friends and family?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

Do you ever choose to watch porn over hanging out with friends or family?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. How often do you use porn as a way of making yourself feel less depressed or bored?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. Do you ever feel like you should try to stop watching porn?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. How often do you use porn as a way of making yourself feel less depressed or bored?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. Do you ever feel like you should try to stop watching porn?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. Do you ever have problems getting hard or ejaculating with your partner?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. Do you fantasize about what you’ve seen online to get in the mood for sex?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

  1. Have you found that you need more and more porn, or that you have to visit increasingly hardcore sites to get the same buzz?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

 

SCORE

Under 8 – You’re probably not a porn addict. But if you have a family history of addiction, you could still be considered ‘at risk.’ “Make sure you have sexual experiences that are porn-free and develop a range of strategies for coping with stress and boredom,” says Hall. “And if you feel your porn usage is creeping up, cut back for a while so your dopamine levels can re-calibrate.” Dopamine is the pleasure chemical that’s released when people view porn (or have sex, eat food, etc.), but the more you release it, the more you need to get the same buzz, says Hall. “That’s why people with porn addiction find their behaviors escalate to spending more and more time online and/or watching harder and harder core porn. Like alcohol, cutting back or quitting for a while will lower your tolerance again.”

9- 15 – Your porn habit is bordering on being “problematic”—so use this as a time to get a grip! Cut back a bit. Hall explains “porn is often the easy solution to dealing with life problems, but remember that it often causes the very problems that you’re trying to escape. If you’re having issues with your asshole boss or your high-maintenance girlfriend, try facing them head on.

16-20 – “You almost definitely have a porn addiction and it’s likely that you’ve struggled for quite some time to stop it,” says Hall. If you’re already noticing that porn is having a negative impact on your life, your relationships or your sexual functioning now is the time to do something about it. Hall recommends seeking out a 12-step group like Sex Addicts Anonymous or making an appointment to see a sex addiction therapist

20+ – “If you’ve scored over 20 and haven’t tried to get help yet, please do so today,” says Hall. “Like many people with a serious addiction, you probably don’t even enjoy porn any more but for some reason, you just can’t explain why you feel driven to it. What started as a pleasurable pastime, turned into a habit and then into a curse.” At this point, Hall says, your addiction is likely robbing you of reaching your goals and enjoying partnered sex. “This is a problem you can beat and the sooner you take action the sooner you can get on with your life.”

 

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COUPLES COMMUNICATION SKILLS – IT’S A DIALOGUE NOT A DEBATE

Many couples cite ‘communication skills’ as a reason for entering therapy. What that usually means is “help me convince my partner that the way they see things is wrong.” Why is it so difficult to listen to someone who sees things differently from us? 

Communication requires assertiveness which is the midpoint between aggression and passivity.

The desire to “win” is common to both assertiveness and aggression.

The desire to be considerate is common to both assertiveness and passivity.

When a person is assertive, the desire to win is tempered by consideration for the other side’s view or feelings.

According to the Mayo Clinic, assertiveness means that you express yourself effectively and stand up for your point of view, while also respecting the rights and beliefs of others….It is not a debate with each partner trying to convince the other of the error of their thinking and how theirs is the only way to see things correctly.. In order to have a dialogue, input from others has to be invited and allowed. This calls for assertiveness and not aggressiveness. Debate is a smackdown to prove power while dialogue is a tango where both move.

Most couples asking for help with communication are really asking for help with conversation. In therapy I help couples practice having a dialogue to learn that it is not fatal to listen when you don’t agree.

A basic exercise comes from the Imago approach. It may seem artificial but it can be very powerful practiced slowly with therapist coaching. The basic ground rule is that only one person talks at a time and then there are 3 main steps

MIRROR

In the Mirroring step, when your partner pauses, or perhaps when you have asked them to pause, you will repeat back everything you heard them say.  You may paraphrase, but you will mirror without analyzing, critiquing, modifying or responding. 

How to Mirror:  “If I got it, I think you said…”  or “So you’re saying…” 

Ask if there’s more:  “Is there more?”  or “Tell me more.”

VALIDATE

Once the Sender says there is “no more”, the Receiver will attempt to validate what the Sender has said by letting the Sender if what they have been saying is making logical sense to the Receiver.  If it does not, the Receiver will simply share what does make sense, then ask the Sender to say more about the parts that do not yet make sense.

How to Validate:  “You make sense to me because…”  or

“That makes sense, I can see where…”

Ask for clarification:  “This part (X) makes sense, but help me understand,

can you say more about…?”

EMPATHIZE

In the final step, Empathy, the Receiver takes a guess as to what they imagine the Sender might be feeling with regard to what they have been saying.  If the Sender has already said how they feel, then the Receiver can simply reflect this back once more.  If, however, the Receiver can think of an additional way their partner might be feeling, this is where they can add that.

When sending empathy, it is fine to say something such as:  “I can imagine you feel like …. (you’re the only one working on our relationship).”  However, it’s important to know that once the word “like” comes into play, what’s being expressed is is a thought, not a feeling.  The best way we have come to distinguish the difference between a thought and a feeling, is that a feeling can generally be described in one or two words:  e.g., happy, excited, safe, cared for, hurt, frustrated, scared.

Try to include some “feeling” words if you can, in this step.  Doing so, especially when you are lucky enough to hit the proverbial nail on the head, will often bring a look of recognition and joy to your partner’s face faster than anything else you could say.

How to Empathize:  “I can imagine you might be feeling…”

Check it Out:  “Is that how you feel?”                                  

FINISH

Now that the Sender has said all they have to say and the Receiver has mirrored, validated and empathized, the whole process reverses.  The Receiver now gets their turn to respond with whatever came up for them while the first partner was sending and the Sender shifts into being the new Receiver who does the mirroring, etc. 

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Answering the “Why?” of an Affair

Every week, I sit with couples trying to find their way through the devastation of infidelity in search of safety and stability in their marriage. The choice to stay in a relationship even with all the pain of the recovery process is courageous. Fleeing to solitude or another relationship seems so enticing. The wounded partner, caught in the confusion of the trauma, desperately wants clarity. Usually the the basic question is Why? Why did you need this? Why didn’t you turn to me? Why was I not enough?  Usually it is uncovered that an affair has less to do about the hurt partner then about the frailties of the offender who feels entitled, wants attention, a thrill or another who can commiserate with the difficulties a married life.

Then there is the question of how much you want to know about the details. Many hurt spouses want to know exact dates to get perspective on how unknowing they were. These are healthy questions to ask and are part of integrating the betrayal. But when it comes to sexual details proceed with caution. This information can be more destructive than healthy.

Each partner has a part to play if they want to have conversations that lead to healing. The betrayed partner deserves thoughtful honest answers to the why questions. A therapist can help to keep the focus on self reflection instead of partner/marriage blame.  Personal responsibility and self reflection has to come before reflecting on the relationship.

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The Love Avoidant

So, what does it mean to be called a Love Avoidant?  A Love Avoider is someone who resists our natural, human need to connect. A Love Avoider has walled him/herself off as to negate the need and the desire for human contact on a deep and emotionally intimate level. He/she is more interested in protection and survival than connection and relationship. What does this look like in a relationship?

**May be superficially pleasant and even charismatic;

**Hyper -independent. He/she does not seem to need anything from their partner except to be alone and often rebuffs the attempts of others to nurture, help or give;

**Despite this he/she will often be the giver or  caretaker in the relationship!

**Need stimulation outside the relationship.and spends much of time outside of the relationship – working, sports, with friends, projects, keeping busy.

”An affair is a classic avoidant response to avoid real emotional intimacy in the relationship-the ultimate in FAUX INTIMACY.

**Seems ‘not present’  when together give one word or vague answers to questions. You can’t really get to know this person beyond a certain level. Wants to be alone frequently;

**Hides behind walls of silence or anger with signs of hidden hostility such as eye rolling, sighing, interrupting;

**Withdraws or leaves early from social events;

**Has grown more and more distant since the early stages of a relationship;

**Perceives and complains that being controlled, smothered, suffocated and/or that partner is  “too needy;”

**Is non-committal. The partner never feels totally in the relationship;

**Experiences the relationship as a duty or obligation;

**Engages in a possible addiction or other self-medicating behaviors.

Maybe the Love Avoidant has it right. After all, being in a relationship is a risky and emotionally dangerous. You could in fact get hurt! . So is it wise to be afraid and to protect ourselves from being flattened…… More on what it takes to be brave,,, and the payoff!!

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Boundaries in relationships – bombs and sneak attacks!

I am grateful to Terry Real (renowned couples therapist and author of “I Don’t Want to Talk About It.” on male depression and “The New Rules of Marriage”)  for his Relational Life Theory. Terry’s theory provides a blueprint for individual growth in relationship via his Relationship Grid.

In the Relationship Grid, there are two axes. The vertical axis delineates the continuum of self-esteem. At the top, we have Grandiosity. Or what we call, going “one-up.” I think that I am better than everyone else. The rules don’t apply to me. My truth is the truth. I am entitled and contemptuous. judgmental and condescending. At the bottom, we have Toxic Shame. As opposed to appropriate shame which is appropriately feeling bad about something I did, where it makes sense to feel bad about something I did or did not do, toxic shame is says that I am bad. What this means in relationship is that I get stuck in the bad feelings I have about myself (narcissism) which prevents me from focusing on you, what you are feeling and our relationship. I feel flawed and worthless so I am going “one-down.” Healthy self esteem is midway between grandiosity and shame…neither better nor worse – just the same as you. Grandiosity can take the form of self righteousness, arrogance and contempt. It can also be subtle…an eye roll is the perfect exhibit of this. You see your partner, not as an equal, but as one who can be dismissed.

The horizontal axis on the Relationship Grid outlines our boundaries. A boundary is a psychological divide that both protects and contains.  A protective boundary shields me from the world. Like the rind of an orange, my protective boundary is the barrier to a word or action penetrates my heart and causes pain – unless there is some truth to it and I need to take it in and think about it. The protective boundary allows me to think.. Is this true or not? If the answer is “no,” then it flies off my back like water on a duck. If the answer is “yes” or a partial “yes,” then there is information there that is valuable for me to take in and utilize for my benefit.The containing boundary protects the world from us. It is the restraint that prevents us from saying things we regret- spewing out hurtful attacks that though recoverable, take a toll long term in a relationship. It can be subtle and passive. Teasing and criticism are shots with silencers -as harmful long term as tirades of emotion.

Marinate on these concepts for a while. Where and how do you throw missiles in your relationship?  (porous containing boundary) When do you let what someone says about you affect you more than what they may be saying about how they feel? (porous protective boundary)  More to come on looking at which quadrant you usually gravitate to in your relationship. And also more examples of how this shows up in my room!

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Low sexual desire

The new book by sexual educator Emily Nagasaki is my new ‘go to’ to recommend for couples experiencing  low sexual desire.  Much of the takeaway is simple re-education and understanding on the question: What is normal sexual desire? Some fascinating excerpts directly from Emily.

Lesson One There’s a very wide range of women’s sexual normalcy.

Emily Nagoski: “We’re taught, from the very beginning in our culture, a model of sexual response that is based entirely on how men work, and so [the assumption goes] the extent to which women fail to be like men is the extent to which they fail to be sexually normal, and that’s just not true…The standards, for me, for healthy, normal sex are consent, lack of unwanted pain and satisfaction. When all three of those things are there, you’re doing really well. Satisfaction’s complicated, though, because that’s based on, ‘I have an expectation of what it should be like and I either do or don’t match that expectation.’ And if your expectations are based on incorrect information, then you’re going to be dissatisfied, not for medical reasons, but because your expectation doesn’t make sense for who your body actually is.”

Lesson Two: Women do NOT understand their bodies. What culture tells us about sex is not what science tells us about sex.

EN: “Amazingly little has changed. Students walk into my class feeling very sophisticated, like they know a whole lot about sex, and what they know a lot about is what their culture has taught them about sex, and they know a lot about it. And that, it turns out, has very little relationship to what the science says about sex. So, halfway through my first lecture, which is about anatomy, they’re sitting there with their jaws in their lap, having had their minds blown about, like, how big the clitoris actually is and what’s the deal with the hymen. Things they really thought they knew that it turns out, no.”

Lesson Three: . There is a dual control model of sexual response – Accelerator and Brakes. 

EN: “There’s two parts to it, and one part is the gas pedal — or accelerator — which means the other part has to be the brake. So, the accelerator responds to all the sexually relevant information in the environment — everything you see, hear, touch, smell, taste, or imagine that your brain codes as sexually relevant and it sends the “turn on” signal. The brake, at the same time that that’s happening, is noticing all the very good reasons not to be turned on right now — everything you see, hear, smell, touch, taste or imagine — that’s a potential threat, and it sends a signal that says “turn off.” So, arousal is not just the process of turning on the ons, it’s also turning off the offs.”

Lesson Four:  If we want to change the “ons” and “offs,” we have to relearn:

EN: “There’s a normal bell curve distribution of how sensitive the accelerator and the brakes are. Most of us are just heaped up in the average section. There are some people with extra sensitive, or insensitive accelerators and extra sensitive or not sensitive brakes — most of us are just average. And, from the moment we’re born, our brains are learning what to count as sexually relevant and what to count as a potential threat, and that’s what we can change. It’s learned. There’s almost nothing that’s actually innately sexual, so we learn that and we can unlearn it and teach it something new.”

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Why people risk all for an affair

Texting is one way the other woman or man enters the family.

I work a lot with couples who are recovering from an infidelity. Inevitably the question comes up “How could he/she risk all that we’ve built together for an affair?”

Many therapists immediately turn to the marriage/relationship for reasons to explain why an affair happened.  And since very often the transgressor seeks to share blame with the ‘resolute spouse’  , the ground is fertile to spend countless sessions on ‘what went wrong in the marriage to have this happen.

My perspective is that most of the time an affair should be seen through the lens of the participating individual as a misplaced growth experience just as are expressions of self-loathing, (getting drunk) of rage (an indulgence of verbal abuse) or of entitlement. (I should be able to….fill in the blank….if I want.  The thing with infidelity is that it compromises the lives of so many other family members. So, why do people act in a way where they could be taking the risk of losing everything – their family, their children, their reputation, their hard won existence ?? For a glimmer of …what exactly? What is so compelling on the other side?

As a therapist I can emphasize the self-destructiveness or emphasize the longing, the quest of what one finds there. An affair is one of the most powerful ways to “beat back deadness” in there lives.  I don’t always think that there is always something missing in the relationship – as in, if the relationship had this “missing thing” it would vaccinate against this wanderlust.  An affair for many people it’s an experience of autonomy, of self affirmation as in, this thing I do totally for myself. Often it springs from deeply repressed feelings that I have only been doing for others, That I’ve only thought about everybody else’s needs and I have not attended to mine at all.  That sacrificing this life I’ve built is what is necessary to be free. I talk about this not as an excuse, but rather as a narrative that I often hear to answer the question, Why did you do it?

It may have been that I have taken care of my four kids, I have taken care of my dying mother, I have taken care of my family, I have taken care of my employees, I have taken care of my alcoholic sibling, I have taken care of my unemployed husband or partner, and I find myself in the libidinal space of an affair in which I can, for the first time, attend to myself.  The question is why I must go to a secluded, disconnected secret place of an affair to experience the feeling of having my needs met?  That is one place where I know I’m not taking care of anybody else. In this space no one my life can enter and therefore nobody can come in and ask me anything. And of course as they talk about themselves they are not thinking of the implications, only the personal motivations. The real trick is navigating these waters in the presence of the resolute spouse. It’s ultimately a differentiation experience and one of the gifts of couples therapy. 

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