Meetings of Two – rebuilding after an affair.

My husband and I have a weekend ritual when we sit down for a ‘check up’ with one another.  During this time we talk about how we are feeling about our relationship and ourselves.  We tell one another if we have struggled with trust, anger or resentment.  We announce the thing we did during that week that most improved our relationship and on the flip side the one thing we each did that hurt our relationship.  Sometimes the conversations are stimulating and go on forever – other times they are a little lackluster and neither of us have much to talk about.   I never know where these meetings will take us.

We like to go to our favorite coffee shop for these weekly discussions – it makes it feel more like an event or a date.  Since we had brunch plans with friends later this morning we decided to hold this weeks meeting at home, giving us the perfect opportunity to watch Esther Perel’s TED talk entitled “Rethinking Infidelity” about why people cheat.  This talk was such a great catalyst to conversation.  Both my husband and I found so much of what she said to be of interest.  It raised incredibly interesting points and questions and led to another very honest discussion about my husbands addiction-related infidelities as well as my own affair and what the two had in common.   We talked about how we felt during and after our trysts, we talked about the fantasy aspect of our actions, we talked about the power of our disclosures, we talked about anxiety and longing and desire and regret and sex.

Seeking out sources of smart, insightful information is so important when confronted with an issue such as marital infidelity.  I have gotten a lot of help from books and therapists in the past – but somehow, Eshter Perel can cut to the quick in a riveting 20 minute video.  If you haven’t already seen it, and are in a relationship, it’s worth watching.  I highly recommend watching with your spouse and see where the conversation takes you.

Do his actions match his words?

A friend of mine, has found out that her husband has been repeatedly unfaithful.  Every time he is ‘caught’ he makes all sorts of promises (meaning: he says all kinds of words) but hasn’t done anything concrete to assure her safety.

The other day, she was telling me all the wonderful things he is saying to her.  He tells her that he doesn’t want her to feel sad or humiliated or scared.  He says he wishes there were something he could do to take away her pain.  He tells her that he deeply regrets his actions.  In the same conversation, she told me that she still doesn’t trust him (understandable) and she is trying to figure out his email password.
WOW.
Here he is saying he doesn’t know what he can do to make her feel better, while at the same time she doesn’t even have access to his primary means of communication.  Perhaps that is a good starting place.
I don’t think women who have been traumatized should spend their time obsessively searching for information on line.  I don’t think they should have to secretly upload GPS trackers to their mates phones.  I don’t think they should need to run home during their lunch hour to be the first to get the credit card statement and to check if for florists, hotels or escort services.
If you are in a marriage with a man who sincerely wants to develop an intimate relationship with you, and who wants to create a safe environment for you to love him, then there IS something he can do to make that happen.
I honestly believe that a good marriage isn’t laden with secrecy.  The next time your spouse says “I wish there was more I could do….” here are some suggestions you can throw out:
1.  Give me your phone access code so I can see your text and call histories
2.  Let me know your email passwords
3.  Let me install GPS or iphone tracker on your phone
4.  Tell me when you are leaving work during the day to go to lunch or attend meetings
5.  Attend therapy
6.  Look into 12 step programs if appropriate
7.  If you need to associate with affair partners, BCC on any emails you send
8.  Invite me to your work social events
9.  Log into your email RIGHT NOW – TOGETHER so we can review any suspicious emails
Living with the aftermath of an affair is hard enough without feeling like you need to become a private eye.  Anyone who has been betrayed but is brave enough to try to save the relationship deserves to know that his/her spouse is being transparent.  A marriage is no place for secret email accounts or hidden phones.  These are pretty basic truths.  If your spouse isn’t willing to do this for you, it is because they are A. still cheating/hiding the truth or B. Don’t care about making you feel safe.
Your mate can say a million times that they are willing to do anything to save the marriage…so why not put those words to the test and see if he really means it.  Maybe then you can really start rebuilding.

Hope for the best – Plan for the worst

He cried and said he is sorry and promised on a pile of dead relatives that it will never happen again…but that doesn’t mean it’s over forever.  There is an extremely good chance that your addict husband will, sooner or later, have a relapse.   Though my experience is with sex addiction, this also applies to alcohol, drugs, gambling, debting or any other addiction.

 
Sadly, you can’t change the fact that 80% of people in recovery will relapse.  What you CAN do is focus on taking care of yourself so that if and when you find out that his sobriety isn’t what you hoped or thought it was, you won’t end up curled up in a ball in the back of your closet.  You will be able to continue to function and flourish in your own life even while he messes up his.

 
Whether you found out a week, a year or a decade ago that your partner is a sex addict my advice is the same:  Attend al-anon or s-anon meetings, get a sponsor, work the 12 steps and if possible, find a therapist who works in addiction.  Read books on addiction, educate yourself, put down strong boundaries.  It’s vitally important to have a support group of people who understand what you are going through – it will make all the difference in the world if you are ever blindsided by his cheating again.  The best case scenario is that he remains sober for the rest of his days – but in that case you can be a friend to the others in your support group who may not be so lucky.  And that’s a win for all of us.

 

You can’t make a tulip grow by pulling on it

I have heard in the S-Anon meetings that I attend, that working the steps is an amazingly powerful thing to do.  It didn’t make sense to me.  I thought “I’m not the addict…why do I need to do the 12 steps?”.  It always felt like something that should be required of the addicted person rather than the partner or family member of the addict.

Cut to one night last month, when my husband and I squeezed in a dinner between getting off of work and his 12 step workshop.  When it came time to say good-bye for the evening, our co-dependency kicked in and he asked me to go with him to his meeting.  He had been telling me recently about the leader of the workshop, Herb K, and what an impressive speaker he is so I decided to go along with him to see what it was all about.  All I can say is that it was completely fascinating, enthralling and made me WANT to learn about and possibly work on my own steps.  The effort one puts into learning about one’s self and developing one’s spiritual self needn’t be limited to addicts – or even to those family members affected by addiction.  This 12 step program is a process that can help all.

In one of the weekly sessions, Herb K said “you can’t make a tulip grow by pulling on it”.  What a funny visual about an obvious truth.  All of us standing by the side of an addict hope they will grow and change and be exactly what we want them to be (SOBER!) and we want them to do it on our timetable (NOW!).  But the truth is that change comes when it comes.  Some say it’s on God’s time.  Some say that it’s about hitting bottom.   But while you, the partner, are waiting for change to truly take place, the only thing you can do is care for yourself.  This is so hard for us partners to do.  It feels so much more natural to take care of the sick one, or to obsess on his actions, to try to control his movements and thoughts.  But none of this helps anyone – and it hurts yourself.   When the stress and fear and anxiety of the addiction start to overtake you, this is when you need to reach out to someone in your support group, or write in your journal, or start a blog, or go for a run, or meditate.  This is the time for SELF CARE.  I will end by stealing another analogy of Herb’s:  When the oxygen mask drops, put yours on first before helping those around you.