A reminder to finish your boundaries list – NOW

My friend Lisa started looking through her husbands email the other day while he was out of town.  Her husband has had an affair partner for a while but he swore to Lisa it was over (sound familiar?).  It’s come up 4 times now that he said it was over and she learned it wasn’t.  I wasn’t surprised when she contacted me the other day and sent a screen grab of a graphic email between her husband and this other woman.

Now Lisa is beating herself up for looking at his email in the first place.  For the sake of her son, she hasn’t asked her husband to move out.  Lisa is obviously disappointed, and confused – and she has no idea what to do now.   Should she Divorce? Call the other woman’s husband? Have an affair of her own?  These are all extreme reactions and probably not the best choices but her confusion is made worse because she didn’t prepare herself for this day.

Because of Lisa’s experience I am going to write AGAIN about setting personal boundaries.  I can’t tell you how important it is for anyone who deals with infidelity in marriage to know your limits and have a plan in place BEFORE you find out that he is still lying or cheating or who knows what.  The time to make these decisions is not in the midst of a crisis.  These decisions should be made when you are sane and strong and clear headed.  I live in California and I have an earthquake plan.  I know where the water and first aid and batteries are stored and know where to seek shelter in a major quake.  It’s not a good idea to be figuring these things out while my house is falling down around me.  This same concept can be applied to a marriage that is trying at times.

I can’t stress enough how valuable it is – in any relationship, but especially those with a history of wrongdoing – to have a comprehensive, written list of boundaries and consequences.   It’s not an easy list to create, it takes a bit of time and editing to come up with something that both you and your spouse can abide by, and that at the same time makes you feel protected.

At the time I created my list, I didn’t realize how comforting it would be to pre-plan my reaction if there are any slips on his part in the future.  It is a sign of respect to myself to put my needs first in a time of fear or crisis.  The list is specific enough that there is no grey area for misunderstandings.

Some examples of boundaries are:  Must share all computer/phone passwords, Must install anti-porn software on your computer, Must attend couples counseling, Must tell me within 24 hours if you have communication with any acting out partner, etc.  Your boundaries will include any and everything that you feel needs to be on the list but realize that we still need to live in the real world.  It’s unrealistic for me to say  “if you ever lie, even for a second, about anything in the world, I will leave you”.  That’s crazy.  For my husband, his learned behavior from his crappy childhood is to lie when under pressure.  He has been dealing with this a lot and has made progress but lying is an easy thing to resort to.  That’s why he has 24 hours to come clean.  That gives him time to call brothers from SAA, talk to his sponsor or therapist, etc.   It’s fair.  That’s what marriage is about.

Then their are the consequences.  This does not mean punishment!!  This is what I need to do to feel safe and take care of myself if I am ever in this situation again.  For me, the concept of a therapeutic separation is vital – it gives me time to sort out my feelings and discuss my options with my therapist if something goes awry.  There is no time limit on this separation, but when the shit hits the fan it’s important to have a specific plan in place including which of you is to leave the house, where will you go for the separation, etc –  in the case of an emergency, you don’t want to be worrying about which friends couch you can sleep on.

Boundaries lists can and will change over time, but a starting place is really important.  I urge everyone in a relationship that has been fraught with secrets, lies, affairs, etc to create a list and stick with it.  If your list is fair and your husband won’t agree to it then it might be time to consider further your reasons for being in the relationship.  This is why the consequence portion of this list is so very important.

In a million years I never dreamed my marriage would end up with such a list attached to it.  But that’s life – and in this life us women sometimes need to put our needs first in order to thrive.

I want to remind you of a few other things that I previously wrote about on this subject:

First and foremost – a list of boundaries is not intended to be punishment for your partner/spouse.  It is a list of behaviors that you will not tolerate.   If we don’t define what we think is acceptable behavior it’s pretty shocking the things we will end up accepting.   But if we utilize boundaries to create fences around our relationships, it helps us to stay on track. Once we know where the fence line is we know that we need to stop and reconsider our direction when we get to close to the edge.

Once we clearly state the boundaries in our relationship then there can be no excuses or misunderstandings.   You see, if I never say that I’m not comfortable with my husband going to a strip club – and then he goes one day because it’s convenient and those things happen – he could just say “It was nothing – I didn’t know it would bother you” and I wouldn’t have any legitimate repercussion.  Our partners can’t read our minds so we need to be very specific.   There can be no grey area when it comes to setting boundaries, especially around sexual activities or other addictions.  I say this because if your list is too vague then you might find excuses not to adhere to it when push comes to shove.  If my friend Lisa simply said I will leave you if you ever cheat again – but didn’t define cheating to include emails – then she would still be confused about what to do today.

It’s not intended to be an unreasonable list which turns your mate into a married version of a monk.  The list needs to be reasonable and is best created with an empathetic heart .  It’s essentially a more detailed extension of a wedding vow.  If he was willing to commit in front of God and family that he would be faithful and loyal on your wedding day – then expanding on what exactly that means to you shouldn’t be an issue.  Your boundaries could include details about money, your children, how you communicate – anything that you feel is necessary to make yourself feel safe.  It took me weeks to finalize my list – to make sure that it was inclusive and that it was fair.

Most of all, it’s not about what he does – it’s about the consequences and how you will react in response to him overstepping his boundaries.  I have been in horrible relationships in my life.  I have accepted lying, cheating, drinking, abuse – you name it.  I had very few boundaries and the ones I did have kept getting pushed away as things got worse.  The reason my ‘boundaries’ didn’t work was because I hadn’t determined the consequences if they weren’t adhered to.   You need to state very clearly how you will react if boundaries are violated.   And you have to follow through with any consequence you set – if you don’t follow through then you’ll be telling your partner that your wishes don’t need to be respected.  A boundary without a consequence is just a hope.

None of this is easy but I am lucky enough to have an exceptional therapist who guides me through this process.  Also, my husband is committed to getting & staying sober and is supportive of implementing these tools.   I am so grateful for that.

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You WILL trust him again. So stop the negative thoughts.

I wrote yesterday and a handful of other times about rebuilding trust in a marriage after an affair.  In reading other people’s posts, the word ‘trust’ comes up over and over again.  The statements are usually ‘I will never trust him again’, ‘if he did this once, how can I trust he won’t do it again’, ‘can I stay with a man I can’t ever trust’.  And on it goes.

I understand as well as anyone why the thoughts always lean toward the negative.  We have been deeply hurt and betrayed by the one person who was supposed to love and care for us.  Our instinct is to protect ourselves from repeating the same mistake twice.  But is all this negative thinking really going to help protect us?  What if we could turn our thought patterns around.  What if we could say “I will trust him again”, “He deserves my trust as I do his”, “I have forgiven him”.  Isn’t the power of positive thinking going to get us further than negative gloom and doom?

Among other things, negative emotions have been proven to decrease our health, raise our stress levels and limit our ability to see our options clearly.  Positive thinkers have lower stress, boosted immunity, live longer lives, succeed more at work, have better coping skills, etc.  Being positive is by far the better choice and though it’s not easy to change thought patterns, it’s definitely possible.

I’m not saying that you should live in a fantasy world of unrealistic optimism – but positively considering that you will someday be able to trust this person who hurt you is actually a realistic option.

We are hurt, yes.  We need to heal, absolutely.  But we should be looking forward with hope and faith.  We should gather up all of our positive energy and throw it toward trust.

bringing the good back into focus

I’m visiting my home town for a few weeks this summer – the town where I spent the better half of a decade with my ex. This is the same ex that I returned to and had an affair with after discovering my own husbands indiscretions. I drive through some neighborhoods and there are memories of my old relationship on every street corner. My mind replays the fun, carefree moments of our youth and puts my ex on a pedestal of my own making. It’s funny that I only seem to remember the good when there was so much bad wrapped up in our relationship.

I recognize that I am idealizing the old relationship and force my mind to think of something else rather than waste my time longing for an undeserving man or dwelling on a romance that was best left behind.

It’s common for people to romanticize their pasts in this way – its the very reason why so many times we return to old relationships that are no longer good for us. We forget the reasons we split and exaggerate the parts we miss.

I have been trying to practice this mindset in my current relationship with my husband. And it’s working.

It’s been a couple solid months now that I have felt in love with my partner on a daily basis. That may be nothing to normal couples but is a huge accomplishment after the devastation of his infidelities and his sex addiction. It was only a year ago that I found out that he had been living a lie for over 6 years, so to be in this place now is beyond anything I imagined.

The bottom line is that many years ago I fell in love with my husband for good reason. He is kind, thoughtful, generous, attentive, sexy, understanding, strong, communicative, sensitive, funny, etc. The more I can focus on those amazing traits and the other initial reasons why I fell in love with him the easier it is to be truly and madly in love.

Wasting my time reminiscing about an ex boyfriend won’t serve anyone. I’ll leave that pedestal for my husband alone to stand on.

18 days a counting

18 days ago I wrote a post about being in love for that day/moment and how I was going to try to extend that feeling by just a little bit.  Maybe a day…or if I was lucky a few days in a row.  It’s 18 days later and I haven’t lost the feeling yet.  I have even held onto it through a visit from a relative and a week of PMS.  

Could it be as simple as just telling myself to hold the feeling?  Is it because I actively resisted using porn?  Did I avoid thinking of my ex…or didn’t he cross my mind due to my state of mind?

If and when this feeling wanes, I will be ultra aware of the moment so I can avoid it in the future.  Because even though being madly in love never really makes sense – it’s still the best place to be 

Getting over infidelity

I thought it couldn’t be done.  All those years ago when my husband first cheated (he is a sex addict) – and then last year when I found out his sobriety was a farce.  I knew I loved him (as in cared about him, wanted the best for him) but I never thought I could be in love with him again.

It has been almost a year to the day that my world was shattered for the second time.  But unlike the first time around, I didn’t stick my head in the sand.  I didn’t expect my husband to become the man I knew he was without my support.  I did everything differently.

I would suggest to anyone who is dealing with infidelity – and more specifically with addiction – to consider joining S-Anon, to getting a therapist who is trained in addiction, to telling one or two close friends who can be trusted not to judge.  I suggest reading literature about being the partner of a sex addict.  I also suggest putting boundaries in place to help yourself feel safe.  Boundaries can include anything from insisting he get an STD check to knowing his email passwords to reviewing his progress on a regular basis.  Everyone’s story is different and everyone’s triggers will be too.  Once you can identify the things that take you off your path you’ll be able to set up nets to catch yourself and right your path.

Work and time, work and time, work and time.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds, of course.  There are still certain memories that will forever make my heart stop for a moment.  Then I pull myself back into the present and take inventory of what is happening TODAY and I am able to push those painful memories away.

I am fortunate to have a husband who is a fantastic communicator and who was willing to (finally) look at the roots of his addiction which stem to his childhood abuse.  He was very strong to take the steps he needed to make things right with us.

Will my trust ever be the way it was when we were newlyweds?  No way.  But that was an unrealistic version of trust.  It was a fantasy and had no basis in reality.  His trust now is earned with consistency over time.

I am in love with and respect my husband.  And it feels wonderful.

Peeing into a cup: The sex addicts version

I read a lot of blogs that are written by partners of sex addicts and other betrayed spouses.  As I’d expect, many of these posts are filled with “what if’s”.  What it he is cheating again? Was that text really intended for me?  Was he really working late? Why didn’t he answer his phone?  If he really went to the gym why aren’t his clothes sweaty?  What is this credit card charge?  Why does his car smell like gardenia?  Some of the excuses we are given (and that we silently agree to believe) are down right hilarious.

No one will ever know every thought that goes through their partners head –  it’s best this way.  But the basis of trust in a relationship comes down to our actions.  Did I think about hooking up with that hot guy at the gym?  Sure I did, I am human.  Did I act on it?  Hell no.  It’s not about the thought – it’s about the actions we take after the thought.  When we are unsure that our partners actions are on the up and up, that’s when we have a problem that needs to be addressed.

If something looks suspicious, his stories don’t add up or your sixth sense is setting off alarms – those things can’t be ignored.  Is he cheating?  Is he lying?  You need to know in order to make a healthy decision for yourself.  If he has done it before then I hate to tell you but there is an extremely good chance he is doing it again…especially if he is an addict.  He can’t stop that destructive behavior just by going to a few therapy sessions.  It takes a lot of daily work to get sober and a lot of trust to learn to be transparent with our spouses.

I can’t emphasize enough how helpful the polygraph was to my relationship.  After being lied to for so many years it was impossible to believe that I had indeed finally been told everything.  Knowing 1/2 the truth was of no use to me.  Holding back any lies would be an insurmountable obstacle to our future together.

My husband certainly didn’t like having to submit to the test but he understood the reason it had to be done.  He wanted me to know, beyond any doubt, that I had been told the entire truth.  After all the pain he had caused me, he owed it to me to do ANYTHING IN HIS  POWER to make me feel safe.  He didn’t resist doing this for me.  Only after the truth was out could we could start again at ground zero knowing that everything was on the table.

The polygraph my husband took came back clean.  But I think it was his willingness to take the test that made me really believe that not only did I have the truth about our past – but that his intentions for our future were on par with mine.

In my boundaries/consequences list I have indicated that we will do yearly polygraphs for at least the first 3 years since discovery.  The concept of a lie detector has a horrible stigma attached – but it is exactly like having a former drug addict pee into a cup.  It’s simply a tool we can use to verify a sexaholics sobriety.  Nothing more, nothing less.  It comforts me to know that I have this tool to use.  If I ever have reason to ask “was he really where he said he was” I know that the truth really will come out.

I have suggested to friends in similar situations that they might want to explore the option of using a polygraph.  Some have, some haven’t.  I believe the difference is that some people truly want to know the truth.  Others would rather live with a bit of denial and aren’t quite ready for 100% disclosure.  It’s a personal decision but one worth considering.  Why cause yourself undue anxiety over a husbands real or imagined activities.

Everyone’s path is different.  I can only share what worked for me.  I really needed to know the truth in order to start again.  And my husband really needed to realize that he is still loved, even after I learned every horrible thing about his behavior.  What an empowering way to live.  What a great foundation on which to learn to be honest.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now that sluttyness is mainstream, where will we go next?

I was a promiscuous girl.  I grew up in the 80’s when the movie “the sure thing” was popular.  If you aren’t familiar, it’s about a guy who hears about a girl on the other side of the country who was so easy that he planned a trip to California to get laid.  In my high school, I was that sure thing.  More than one guy showed up on my doorstep after football practice knowing full well that I would take his virginity.  I was an anomaly.

My slutty behavior continued through college even though I had a boyfriend.  I was the gal that would go back to a guys dorm for sex and when we were done would ask if he had a roommate who I could do.  I was bad with a capital B.  There wasn’t another single girl in my sorority that behaved as I did.  My friends tolerated the way I was, but they frowned upon it.

After college I learned to tone down my behavior – actually, I just learned to hide it from work colleagues – but I was still pretty loose.  It was just 10 years ago when I was at a bar with a group of good friends.  I saw a guy I fancied from across the room.  He was in line to use the restroom.  I said to my pals “be right back….I am going to fuck that dude in the bathroom”.  They watched in awe as I approached the guy, chatted for about 10 seconds and then entered the bathroom with him.  7 minutes later we exited and that was that.  Two satisfied adults.  My friends weren’t prudes, but they were completely shocked by my behavior.

The point to this is that the way I acted wasn’t common.  I was a rarity.  It wasn’t the case that others were doing the same thing but doing it more discreetly.  They truly weren’t acting as I was.  Not in high school, not in college and certainly not as 30 year olds.  I mean, there were a few girls along the way who had bad reputations – I’m sure I wasn’t the worst of them – not by a long shot.  But we were an unusual breed.

All this has suddenly changed.  With the growth of Craigslist, Tinder, Grinder and these other hook up apps it’s become completely acceptable to give into spur of the minute sexual desires with complete strangers.  No one is hiding this behavior – in fact, they are flaunting it.  There is an entire generation of people who are looking for sex without intimacy.  They are trying to outdo one another with the number of strangers they have hooked up with.  It’s become something of a badge of honor to be able to behave in this manner.

I’m positive this change in behavior has to do with the fact that recent technology keeps people from connecting.  They type away on their twitters, instagrams and text rather than look a person in the eye and get to know them the old fashioned way.  No one learns basic communication skills and without them there is no chance of becoming truly intimate with another.  If kids aren’t learning to connect in the real world, it’s no surprise then that connecting in the bedroom would be unappealing and maybe not even possible.

I am starting to understand the reasons behind my own past messed up behavior – family of origin stuff, childhood molestation, a date rape or two, etc.  I avoided intimacy and instead sought danger. But I was just one person.  What are we going to do with a whole army of these people…and how is it going to change our world?