privacy in a marriage: what are the rules?

Their are a lot of definitions of privacy.  Freedom from the state of being observed.  Being apart from other people.  Solitude.  The state of being concealed.  Secrecy.  How does this multi-dimensional word fit into a marriage that has lost it’s footing through a series of lies and deceits?  Maybe it doesn’t.

I ate 2 chocolate bars yesterday.  This is my right.  This has no bearing on my husband.  It’s not a great nutritional decision but I don’t have compromised health so it won’t affect my life, nor my husbands.  I find it somewhat embarrassing that I couldn’t control my desires.  I couldn’t stop at one…or bet yet at one half.  I devoured two.  It is no one’s business but my own.  I struggled with an eating disorder in college so I find the fact that I lost control to be rather shameful. Yet, told my husband.

The reason why I told him is simply because we are practicing what it feels like to have complete transparency in our relationship.  It’s not always easy to do, and truth be told it took me 24 hours to tell him what I had done with the chocolate bars.  But I did it – and it felt good.  Of course, chocolate is the easy part.

After our infidelities, both my husband and I needed to come clean to one another about our betrayals of each other.  In the presence of my amazing therapist, we told one another all of our secrets.  This was one of the hardest exercises we have ever done.  My husband went so far as to take a lie detector (his idea) so I could be confident there were no other secrets.  Even one morsel of a lie is a foundation for another.  Once we came clean, we truly don’t want to dirty ourselves again.  It’s like a shiny new car – the first speck of dirt is noticed and examined and wiped away quickly.  But once you let it go, you barely notice when it’s become weeks since it’s been washed.  My husband and I are hyper vigilant to keep that first speck of dirt from landing on our marriage.

Is this the right path for everyone?  Honestly, I don’t know why it’s not.  What is the point of keeping a secret from the person you love most in the world.  How does that honor him/her?  How does that show respect for their ability to be empathetic?  I argue that it doesn’t.  For a relationship to be truly honored, it needs to be free of lies and the pain that comes with them.

There is, of course, a flip side.  There are rules.  1.  Each partner needs to willingly give the other space.  There is no benefit to listening to every call, reading every email and otherwise controlling all of their communication.  Maybe in the immediate aftermath of an affair discovery this would be the case – but that needs to be eliminated or reduced as quickly as possible.  If it’s not, the betrayed will become obsessive and this will hurt them.  2.  If the spouse judges everything that they are told – this is also disrespectful and won’t further the relationship.  This will make the person who is trying to share want to revert back into their shell of secrecy.  If you are being respected with the truth, then you need to be mature enough to handle it.  3.  Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.  This isn’t an exercise for those who aren’t committed to rebuilding a healthy, happy marriage.  It’s not a way to get ammunition to use against them.  4.  This is a two way street.  You can’t expect honesty if you aren’t willing to give it back.  What did you do this week that you didn’t share with your mate?  Did you say something disrespectful about them to someone they know?  Did you act inappropriately in any manner?  Did you eat 2 chocolate bars and hide the wrappers?

Once the one who was hurt by a secret or a lie learns that they have access, when needed, to any information they require – then hopefully they can become less concerned with it.  Once this fight for knowledge is put to rest – a more open, loving, intimate, equal relationship can start to grow again.  More importantly, once they witness their spouse telling them their inner most truths – then, and only then, can trust begin to reemerge.


The importance of change after an affair

It’s the life force of civilization.  It’s the one constant in life.  It’s uncomfortable and frightening and ignites our fears.  It’s CHANGE.

When I look at my past, the most profound times in my life were during major life changes.  All of these changes weren’t perfect in and of themselves.  But they all improved my life by the way they affected me.  The experiences surrounding changes in my life made me a better, more experienced, more open minded person.

When your relationship becomes affected by infidelity, there are a number of different paths you can take.  You can stay or you can leave.  You can go into denial or you can face the situation head on.  You can forgive or you can resent.   I challenge you to explore the path that involves the most change.  I don’t mean surface change, as would occur if you moved out and got a new house, a new mate, a new life.  I mean deep, profound, internal change.

I am over simplifying a bit, but lets look at 2 options and what opportunities they hold for change.

1.  You leave your husband.  This is sometimes the best or only option.  For instance, if your partner is not willing to take responsibility for his actions, or if he is abusive or if he wants a divorce.   In this case there will be an unsettling period of situational changes while you go through separation and divorce.  However, once the dust has settled, who are you going to be?  Will you remain the same person you were prior to the divorce?  If so, statistics show that you will probably enter another relationship with someone who is exactly like the one you just left.  You won’t recognize it to begin with, the decision is a subconscious one, but eventually it will come to light and you will find yourself if the same place as you were before.  It’s a strange phenomenon, but if we don’t change ourselves, we all tend to repeat our relationship patterns.  The challenge here is to deeply and honestly explore how you ended up in this position in the first place.  The answer isn’t as simple as “he is a lying cheating asshole”.  The answer lies in the reasons YOU CHOSE TO BE WITH this lying cheating asshole in the first place.  What familial patterns attracted you to this person?  What signs did you ignore along the way? What role did you play in enabling his behavior?  If you don’t want to repeat your cycle, then do this work, answer these questions and MAKE CHANGES IN YOUR PATTERNS before you start a new relationship.

2.  You stay.  Maybe he apologizes and promises this will never happen again.  Perhaps he makes some grand gesture that convinces you to believe him.  You will probably have a few blow up flights, a couple of nights with him on the sofa, some very real and very wet tears.  You might convince him to go to a therapy session or two.  Then, you get back to your routine and quite frankly, you don’t want to think about it or talk about it again.  You tell him that you will let it go this time but threaten if he does it again you will dump him.  This isn’t using the situation to better yourself.  This decision is based on fear.  Fear of the truth.  Fear of uncovering painful pasts.  Fear of change.  Life events that are this traumatizing can’t be swept under the rug.  The entire foundation of your relationship, your trust and faith in the one person who was supposed to protect you has been shattered.  This deserves your attention.  Not a little bit of attention –  A LOT OF ATTENTION.  You need to mourn and heal and talk and grow.  You need to look at your roll in his behavior.  You need to look at why you want to just ‘forgive and forget’ (as though that is possible).   You need to look at what you need to start feeling safe again.  You need to rebuild (more likely you need to build for the first time) a basis of intimacy with your partner.  You need to slowly allow yourself to be vulnerable again.  You need to share all of your feelings and listen to all of his.  You need to learn self care.  You need to learn to decipher intuition from fear.  This is an amazing opportunity to grow into a more trusting, vulnerable, communicative, smarter, more confident person.

In both of these scenario’s there is a choice.  You can ignore your role in the events.  I don’t mean that you caused him to cheat  or that his affair was your fault.  I mean that you selected this person as your mate.  You probably ignored suspicions about his fidelity long before you got proof of his activities.  You may have contributed in any number of ways.  But here is a chance to learn about your self – about your coping mechanisms, your intuition and how your childhood and past affects your current relationship.  You can learn how to care for yourself, how to put your needs first, set personal boundaries and become a more confident, secure person.

This affair doesn’t need to swallow you hole.  It doesn’t need to leave you numb.  It can be the beginning of an amazing future relationship either with your current spouse or with a new mate.   But, first, you need to welcome the change.

A marriage with secrets is doomed to disappoint

I want to follow up on my last post in which I pointed out that after infidelity I think that the offending spouse should be willing to share any and all information that will help his/her mate feel safe.  I want to add a bit to what I had said.

I absolutely believe that if the ‘cheater’ is truly committed to changing then they will have absolutely no hesitation in providing the information and access that is requested.  This is not a violation of privacy.  This is a partnership where there are no secrets…and that is the only kind that seems worthwhile to me.  If your spouse is unwilling to share something like his phone code, then what else is he hiding.  Why does he think that is OK?  Why does he think his actions shouldn’t have consequences.

My husband has GPS on his phone.  He has given me all of his passwords.  He will “share” his computer screen with me at any time with no warning.  He shares his feelings.  He goes to therapy.  He attends SAA meetings.  He never has one on one lunches with female colleagues.  I have every one of his credit card passwords.  He is willing to take yearly lie detector tests.  On paper this sounds overwhelming.  But these are the things I asked for a year ago and which he agreed.  These were some of the boundaries that I set with the help of my therapist.  At the time, I used all of these “powers’ and he was supportive of it.  He never questioned my following up on him.  He just assured me he has nothing to hide.  Time and again it proved to be true.  I have all but stopped looking after him.  Because I understand how sneaking addicts can be, I sometimes spot check things on c/c statements or GPS or email.  But to date, there have been no slips.

I always tell my husband when I feel the need to “check” on him.  It shouldn’t be my burden alone.  He hurt me and ruined my trust and I shouldn’t have to experience the painful moments alone.  He deserves to go on that journey with me, if only as a witness to my pain.  Not for him to feel guilty but to understand me and support me.

If you can’t stop researching and spying on your mate then I think you need to really talk about that and discuss with him reasonable steps that he can take to help your security.  Its not healthy to spy – in fact it is a dishonest act and not the example you want to be.  The other harm with secretly spying is it puts your efforts in the wrong area.  If you have been betrayed you need to work on yourself and care for yourself – you don’t need to spend hours hacking into an email account.  This isn’t beneficial.

Calmly ask your spouse to help you by giving you the safety nets you need so if you are ever freaking out you can use those tools.  They aren’t meant to be abused (though in the beginning they probably will be).  At first I checked my husbands GPS multiple times a day.  Now it’s more like once a week.  That is progress that would not have been possible without the cooperation of my husband.

Another thing to note.  This is a two way street.  I will happily provide my husband with any information about my life that he desires.  I have nothing to hide.  I am married to an amazing man…so why would I want to?


Boundaries and Consequences…an addendum

My husband pointed out that he felt my post about boundaries felt a little extreme.  He made some very valid points so I wanted to clarify and expand on a couple of things.

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.

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.


Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries…oh, and consequences

I was reading some posts from one of my followers today.  From what she says, it sounds as if her husband is extremely dismissive of her feelings  and doesn’t show her the respect that she deserves.  It makes me sad, because I remember so clearly how that feels.

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 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 takes away an unknown and is a sign of respect to myself to put my needs first in a time of fear or crisis.

This is my list with some explanations:

– Computers at home and work must have internet filters which allow me access to accountability reports.  (we have installed filters and he likes not having the option to look at porn, etc.  we have also disabled safari on his iPhone)

– You must allow me access to check emails, credit card statements, phone records anytime at my request (he has given me all passwords to do this as he says he has nothing to hide anymore)

– No contact of any kind – including emails, texts, phone calls – with any acting out partners without my prior approval (I added ‘without my approval’ as it seems more fair – I can’t imagine a reason why he would need contact with them, but I am reasonable enough to know that it could be necessary in which case I would insist on being a part of the conversation, or cc’d on an email or whatever)

– Must attend an intensive retreat once a year, either solo or couples (this is a good habit for any couple – especially one who has been through the wringer.)

– Take part in yearly disclosure/polygraph for the next 3 years and thereafter when requested by me. (It sounds horrible but I see it as the equivalent of having a drug addict pee in a cup once in a while – just to be sure.  After all, the number one common trait in addicts of any sort is the impressive ability to lie)

– Inform me immediately if any acting out partners attempt to contact you (for obvious reasons)

– No social activities (lunch, drinks, etc) with female friends or colleagues without my prior consent. (My husbands job requires lots of contact with lots of people including very attractive women in his business.  They constantly as for lunch meetings – but that’s breeding ground for flirting & thus, trouble.  He just needs to ask me if it’s OK, we will discuss and make a decision together.  If he needs to see someone for business then I can suggest he bring his assistant along, or they go to a restaurant where we know people so it’s not romantic, etc)

If any of those above things fall by the wayside DUE TO HIS UNWILLINGNESS we will take a therapeutic separation during which time there will be no contact with me and I will decide how to proceed.

– If you ever lie, omit or deceive me about any inner circle activities you must apologize and confess the truth within 24 hours.  I will take a therapeutic separation long enough for me to assess the situation and will decide how to proceed.

– If I find out that you have lied about inner circle activities and didn’t confess within 24 hours we will immediately separate and you will go to rehab.  There will be no contact with me until I decide how to proceed.

–  If you take part in any physical sexual activity behind my back I will divorce you.  This includes sex, erotic massage or other physical activities with both anonymous and known partners.

– If you have any contact whatsoever including email, text, phone, IM or in person meeting with “skank who you cheated on me with” I will immediately file for divorce, even if the contact isn’t sexual.

This list changed a lot from the original version which basically had him walking around with a male chastity belt.  But I realized that we still need to live in the real world.  It’s unrealistic to say  “if you ever lie, even for a second, about anything in the world, I will leave you”.  That’s crazy.  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.

I also find that 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 plan in place.  I have a specific plan in place – where I go for the separation, etc – so in the case of an emergency, I won’t have to worry about where I will go.

I am very lucky that my husband is so tired of living a double life and so very much wants to be “normal”.  He is willing to agree to my boundaries.  We discussed them thoroughly and he had a few minor issues but they were sorted out between he, I and my therapist who specializes in working with partners of sex addicts.  It’s a list all 3 of us can live with.

And by the way, this isn’t a one way street.  His behavior caused me to do my own shameful things.  He is working up his list of boundaries as well and will present it to me when he is done.

I’m sure we will amend and adjust our lists 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.