Friday, October 31, 2014

Key to Rebuilding: Love

The driving force behind most marital relationships is love. It is the most often stated reason given why two people commit themselves to one another in marriage.

It shouldn't be too surprising, then, to realize it is also the driving force of a successful rebuilding of a marriage after infidelity. The inability to love one another and communicate that to one another may be the single determining factor of whether a couple successfully rebuilds.

Let's back up a minute and unpack that concept.

We know there are several things that need to happen for rebuilding to be successful. On the unfaithful spouse's side, they need to be transparent, maintaining no contact with the affair partner(s), working to correct their vulnerabilities to temptations that led them down this path, and their part in any marital difficulties that increased those vulnerabilities. For the hurt spouse, they must successfully deal with the emotions and fear created by the betrayal, and work though the stages of grief to reach acceptance.

So why is love a key?

We make decisions based primarily on emotion. Yes, reason is not absent in the process. When it comes down to a battle between emotion and reason, however, emotion wins out 99% of the time. No, humans are not Vulcans.

This is why affairs happen in the first place. In most all affairs, the love of a particular feeling drives them to ignore all reason not to do it. The consequences of losing their marriage, lives with their children, job, the respect of others, hurting those they say they love, doesn't even factor into the decision.

Often that love for a feeling an unfaithful spouse has is transfered to the one who is giving them that feeling. So they believe they love their affair partner, when the truth is they love how their affair partner makes them feel.

Doing the things mentioned above that a couple has to do in order to rebuild is not fun work. It is usually a struggle for both spouses to accomplish those tasks. If you don't feel passionate love for your spouse, you will have little motivation to do the things you need to do to rebuild. You'll ask yourself, "What am I rebuilding to? Is it worth it?" Without the love, the answer is usually no.

With a strong sense of love for each other communicated and felt, however, you'll have motivation to face the hard task of rebuilding. You'll feel the struggle is worth it and both spouses will find the motivation to not only rebuild, but to invest 100% of themselves into the relationship.

Love is a key because without it, a couple is unlikely to deal with, do, and to move beyond the devastation of the affair.

Unfortunately, this is often overlooked for several reasons.

1. Obviously the presence of the affair is a big hit to the love balance.

Willard Hartley in his book, His Needs, Her Needs, discusses the idea of the love bank. In short, feelings of love for another person come from them meeting important needs that say "I love you" to a person. When that happens, it makes a deposit into your love bank. Likewise, actions or words that say "I don't love you" make withdraws. Feelings of love for someone comes when their deposits exceed withdrawals and the balance builds up to a point causing you to think, "I love him."

An affair is most certainly a huge withdrawal in a hurt spouses love balance. No matter the reasons for the affair or intentions of the unfaithful spouse, such an act says to the hurt spouse, "I don't love you." No spouse in their right mind is going to feel warm fuzzy love when they learn their spouse has had an affair.

Some couples have a huge balance, and the hit, while large, doesn't reduce the balance to zero. Other couples where the love has waned over the years might see their balance go to near zero. Others with a low balance, the affair may send the it into the negative, and they may feel no love whatsoever.

Fact is, after discovering an affair, the hurt spouse certainly won't be feeling much love from or for the unfaithful spouse. Likewise, even if an unfaithful spouse doesn't want to lose their marriage, they often can't flip a switch about how they feel concerning the affair partner.

2. The hurt spouse starts in the emotional ICU, and all marital issues tend to take a back seat.

In the first weeks of discovering an affair, the hurt spouse will be in emotional trauma. All thoughts, resources, and activities are consumed with the fallout of what has happened. The issues surrounding the affair tend to take front and center stage to the exclusion of all else, including what may seem as unrelated marital issues, like love.

I've heard hurt spouses say something along the lines of, "Until the affair issues have been addressed, I won't work on the marriage."

There is a reason for that. As long as their is doubt about the future of the relationship, a person isn't likely to invest in it. Asking a hurt spouse to address love at this point is akin to telling them, "Go ahead. Stick your hand back in the fire. I promise it won't hurt this time."

While a hurt spouse will need some time to recover from the shock and initial fallout upon discovering an affair, it is also true they cannot wait for all the issues surrounding an affair to be dealt with before they address the lack of love resulting from the affair. It will take years to fully deal with the affair issues. If the hurt spouse waits that long, it is not likely they'll have a marriage to save by that point. To go through years of rebuilding requires a sense of love to motivate that rebuilding.

3. The myth that love is an uncontrollable feeling.

Romance novels foster the idea that love just randomly happens, and we don't have a say in whether it shows up to the party or not. It is either present or it isn't, and there is nothing we can do to change it.

Indeed, this idea is often the fuel for the fire of an affair. When "chemistry" kicks in between two people, they feel a draw to each other that seems to come from nowhere. An unfaithful spouse, looking for a justification for what they want, will often take such feelings of love as evidence they don't love their spouse any longer, because they may not have felt like they do with the affair partner for a long time. So obviously the winds of love have picked a new "life-long" partner.

Because of that, either spouse or both may dismiss the idea that they can somehow generate feelings of love for their spouse. It sounds silly to them, like suggesting we could adjust Earth's orbit around the Sun.

As I talk about in my article on love, however, the passionate, romantic feelings of love are based upon someone meeting your love needs, whatever those might be. They are usually different for men and women. In a new romantic relationship, the "chemistry" seems to just happen when two people simultaneously meet each other's love needs. The synergy created when two people stumble upon this event with another creates the illusion of "falling in love" as if Cupid shot his arrows randomly.

Truth is, the same thing can be created purposefully by intentionally meeting each other's love needs. First you have to find out what they are, then invest time with each other in order to meet them. As deposits into the love bank exceed withdrawals, the balance will grow to the point you both feel in love.

Likewise, for the unfaithful spouse, "falling" out of love with the affair partner happens intentionally by reversing that process. Actively shut down thoughts about them. Don't spend time with them in your head recalling what you miss or fantasizing about seeing them again. Triggers happen and thoughts will pop in, but you don't have to think on them or focus on them. By not spending time in person or in your head, the love balance with the affair partner will be whittled away, especially once you begin to see the damage their relationship with you has caused.

More info than I can share here is in Willard Hartley's book, His Needs, Her Needs. You can also find a more involved discussion in my article on love.

In the end, how well a couple is able to renew the feelings of love for one another after an affair will determine the likelihood of their success in rebuilding. A couple who wants to rebuild their marriage cannot afford to overlook this important factor. It can make or break the relationship.

Where is your love balance at? Are you willing to address its lack?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When Should I decide to Leave?

In my book, I wrote a chapter titled, "Should I Leave or Stay?" Many hurt spouses are faced with that question and I wanted to offer some points for them to consider in making that decision.

While what I wrote there I still believe and support, I've become more aware of additional issues that I failed to address. This post will be an additional list of considerations, keeping in mind what I said in the original article: you know your situation and you are the only one who can decide when you're done.

The "Default" Position

One poster on the forum we frequent made the statement that divorce should be the default position a hurt spouse should have upon discovering infidelity in their spouse, and reconciliation only a viable option if the unfaithful spouse does all they should do.

In reality, there is some truth to that. When a spouse has sex outside the marriage, they've committed adultery. If you're a Christian, Jesus made it clear that committing adultery in effect meant the offending spouse had divorced you and remarried the affair partner. (Mark 10:11-12) Biologically, having sex with someone else, no matter what protections may have been used, is saying you're committing yourself to having a family with that person, as that is the natural outcome of sex if not otherwise hindered. Those whose affairs have inadvertently produced a child know this all too well. Sex does create a marital bond.

"But my spouse didn't have sex." Or so he says, anyway, which may or may not be true. You can't know for sure he didn't. But assuming he's telling the truth, did he divorce you? In many cases, yes. If he fantasized about it, if he found himself wishing he could, he committed adultery as if he'd actually done it. (Mat 5:28)

So upon discovering an affair, generally a biological divorce has already happened, along with a spiritual divorce, and frequently an emotional one as well if romantic love was involved. Only the outward social and legal aspects of marriage remain intact.

The question then is more along the lines of should we bring the social and legal into line with the reality, or hope that the reality can be healed to match the social and legal statuses?

One woman on our forum decided to divorce her husband on discovery day. She didn't want to lose him, but wanted to reflect that reality and see if he could in effect win her back. Not sure how that went, but is one option that makes some sense, if you can afford it and doesn't negatively affect one's kids' lives

The reality is, however, that on discovery day a hurt spouse may not know whether their unfaithful spouse will do what is necessary to heal. The only real way to know is give them a chance to try. Not everyone is ready to give up on their marriage as a default option. If by "default" one means to start divorce proceedings on discovery day before considering the situation, I don't think that is a good route in most cases.

The hurt spouse has time on their side. Rather I'd suggest that the default option is to keep divorce as a viable option on the table. Plan for that possibility financially and legally. Be ready to pull the plug should the situation warrant it. But I don't think for most people automatically pulling that trigger on discovery day is the best option.

What is the best option in your situation, I can't say. You might should pull that trigger on discovery day. Only you can know when. I just don't think it should be the default as in immediate route to take without giving yourself time to evaluate it.

Because of that . . .

The Default Route is to Give Yourself Three Months

There are several reasons for this.

  • You can discover whether rebuilding has a chance.
  • Gives you time to get off the emotional roller coaster, avoiding a knee-jerk decision you may later regret.
  • The divorce option is always there. Waiting won't cause you to lose it.
  • You'll need about that much time, at a minimum, to plan for a graceful exit should that be the decision you make. Waiting doesn't mean not making plans for a divorce, whether you use it or not. It just means you're waiting that long to make a final decision.
  • Gives the hurt spouse time to evaluate the situation and get more objective input from therapist, spiritual leaders, and close friends.
  • Takes the pressure off to make an immediate decision.

There are a certain number of hurt spouses who don't think waiting is a good idea. Almost without exception, these tend to be people who decided to wait based on advice they received, then after two or three years they call it quits and divorce. These hurt spouses, understandably, feel like they wasted two or three years of living in a horrible relationship and wished they had divorced him on discovery day.

We might point out that we're suggesting three months, not three years. Obviously they waited too long to come to that conclusion. But hindsight is always 20/20 vision. Most hurt spouses should be able to determine if their spouse will take the right attitude and actions in three months that will give rebuilding a chance. That's why we've listed the "Healing Steps for the Unfaithful Spouse" article. Both to guide unfaithful spouses in what it takes to rebuild, and to give hurt spouses a picture of what an unfaithful spouse who stands a chance of rising to the occasion looks like.

Also, it rarely works to generalize based on an individual's experience, whether it is myself who has had a positive experience rebuilding or those who have watched rebuilding go from bad to worse until a fiery death occurred. Personalities, circumstances, and other contributing issues are too complex to suggest everyone should divorce on discovery day, don't wait.

That said, their experience does highlight a real risk in waiting even three months. Some unfaithful spouses are experts at psychological manipulation. They can gaslight with the best of them. Given the chance, they could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo. Give them three months and they can have the hurt spouse believing it was their fault, that they are the victim here, and they will never stray again without proving it by their attitudes and actions. Some hurt spouses are more susceptible to that as well.

If a hurt spouse knows this is likely to be the case, they need to factor it into their decision. If his mind control is too hard to resist, indeed, run now, not later. At a minimum, a hurt spouse in such a situation needs to not believe a single word of "I'm sorry. I won't do it again." Only focus on whether he is making the required changes. Any hiding, refusal to discuss the affair, attitude of "what you don't know won't hurt you," is evidence that your final decision will be to say "bye bye."

If you've reached three months without coming to a firm decision one way or the other, that in and of itself is an indication of a rebuilding problem. Use your judgment, but evaluate your inability to decide. Is it because the unfaithful spouse isn't following through on being transparent and honest?

I'm not talking about whether you trust him or not. If you do in three months you either deserve the Hurt Spouse of the Year Award, or you're deluding yourself. But you should be able to measure whether his actions and attitudes are making the rebuilding of trust a real possibility or not. You simply go down the list I mentioned above and check off what he is doing, then based on that make your decision. Leave emotions and promises out of it. If every hurt spouse did that, more of them would save themselves a lot of heartache.

Even with all that, it is possible to be so convinced he's on the right path, only to discover he's still at it months or years later, maybe never quit. That is a real risk to choosing to rebuild, or even waiting to divorce. Some people are that convincing and hesitation means a lost chance to exit an emotionally abusive relationship.

Even with that, in general, most will benefit from giving themselves at least three months to process a decision. Unless you are in a physically or emotionally abusive situation, waiting will not hurt. The only warning I'd give is if he's not doing what he should in three months, another year or three is not likely to change that. Don't take three years of living in Hell before you decide to leave.

Final Thoughts

Allow me to reemphasize. No one situation is going to match another. What works for one couple won't for another. You can do everything right, and still find yourself cheated on again. Rebuilding has risks. Divorce has its own risks as well. It is up to you to evaluate those and decide what risk to take. All a blog like this or any forum can do is give you general principles to consider. It is up to you to apply them.

If your marriage sucked and you see the affair as your exit, by all means call up the lawyer on discovery day and get that ball rolling. Ignore the above advice. I can't know what is best for your situation. No one can. Hopefully this and the previous article will provide some help in making that decision, however. It is not an easy one to make.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Can Trust be Rebuilt? Part 2

In part 1 of this article, we began by laying out two foundational concepts in rebuilding trust after marital infidelity: whether rebuilding trust is possible (yes, it is) and setting realistic trust expectations to rebuild to.

In part 2, we want to look at the remaining concepts in determining if trust can be rebuilt in your situation.

3. The commitment of the unfaithful spouse.

This is likely the biggest key to rebuilding and the main reason it tends to not happen. Why? Because often the unfaithful spouse is not fully committed to go through the painful task of accepting responsibility and rebuilding trust. Yet, an important truth must be kept in mind:

The unfaithful spouse is the one that destroyed the hurt spouse's trust; only the unfaithful spouse can rebuild it.

An unfaithful spouse reading this may be thinking, "But, she ignored my needs," or "Well, he ignored me, never showed he loved me." Or name whatever reason you may have given for the decision to cheat that you feel cast the burden of rebuilding upon the hurt spouse.

While I would make a difference between your responsibility in the decision to cheat and both of your contributions to the difficulties in the marriage, let's assume for the moment that is true. Your spouse's actions toward you caused you to be susceptible to the temptation to cheat, and you did.

It still doesn't change the fact that it is the actions of the unfaithful spouse's cheating that has violated the marital bond of trust. Maybe the hurt spouse has violated the unfaithful spouse's trust in other areas, like finances. In those areas, only the hurt spouse can rebuild that trust for the unfaithful spouse so affected. But in marital infidelity, unless your spouse has also cheated on the unfaithful spouse, making you both a hurt and unfaithful spouse, only the unfaithful spouse can rebuild the trust they broke.

Until the unfaithful spouse is ready to accept responsibility for their decision to break their vows, and is ready to do what it takes to rebuild that trust, there is nothing the hurt spouse can do to "get over it," "forgive you," and begin trusting the unfaithful spouse again.

It is the responsibility of the unfaithful spouse to provide an open, honest, transparent, secure, and loving environment that can allow the hurt spouse to work though the stages of grief and come to a place they are able to trust once again. Any blame shifting, avoidance of the topic, deception, or secrets mean this is not happening, and indicates that the unfaithful spouse isn't committed to rebuilding the trust they destroyed.

4. It takes time.

This is important for both spouses to realize and acknowledge. The old saying, "Trust takes a lifetime to build and seconds to destroy" is valid.

Different people give a new person a certain amount of trust. Usually enough to handle whatever process the relationship requires. As you gain a history with that person, your level of trust with them will either go up or down. Years of trust building can fall apart by discovering one instance of deception. The more intimate the relationship, the more the deception hurts.

For instance, when you check out at your grocery store, you're trusting that the cashier, who you may not know, is competent to ring up your bill correctly and handle the transaction. You'll gladly put your groceries on the belt and trust them to get it right. Even more true in the days when the cashier entered all the prices by hand. But if you find a mistake, or suspect they are trying to pull one over on you, your trust level with that person tanks.

When that happens, it will take many episodes of getting it right and being honest with you before you can feel comfortable trusting them again with your grocery bill.

If true with a minor event like processing your grocery bill, how much more so with an intimate relationship where broken trust creates so much more pain and damage. It is going to take a lot of the hurt spouse catching the unfaithful spouse being honest and trustworthy in years, not merely weeks or even months, to rebuild that trust back to a working level.

Don't expect to rebuild trust within a year, even two. 

For the unfaithful spouse, this feeds into the last point. You've got to realize your spouse will not be able to trust you for the next few years. As time goes by and you're being fully honest and transparent with them, you'll regain that trust. But make no mistake, to rebuild trust means you are in it for the long haul.

Keep in mind, because the hurt spouse doesn't trust the unfaithful spouse, even two years after discovery day with a perfect track record, it doesn't mean the hurt spouse is unable or unwilling to forgive the unfaithful spouse. It means the hurt spouse isn't yet comfortable giving that level of trust. Be patient, and know going into it that it could take that long or longer.

For the hurt spouse, know that the likelihood your trust in your spouse will be restored to a working level within two years or less is slim. For some, that can happen if the unfaithful spouse recovers flawlessly and the hurt spouse is of a particular personality type, but those are the exceptions, not the norm. The hurt spouse must not put any artificial time limits on healing or rebuilding trust.

For both spouses, not having that trust can be frustrating. It can hinder intimacy and love.

Be patient with each other. Rebuilding trust will take a lot of time. Don't expect immediate results. You'll be tossing in the towel if you do.

5. Transparency

This word is used a lot as one thing the unfaithful spouse needs to do. I've devoted a whole article to that topic.

Take a moment to read it or bookmark it for later. Here is the gist of that article.

Most associate transparency with the unfaithful spouse giving the hurt spouse unfettered access to all forms of social communication: cell phone, email, social sites like Facebook, etc. It also means being fully honest, especially about anything related to the affair(s). It means no longer keeping secrets. The more honest the unfaithful spouse is, especially about things the hurt spouse is highly unlikely to ever know otherwise, the easier it is for the hurt spouse to rebuild trust.

Transparency is required even in areas not related to the affair(s).

This is because a loss of trust in one area affects one's trust level in other areas.

For example, if an unfaithful spouse doesn't tell their spouse about a purchase of clothing, that can be a problem for the hurt spouse. Not because they don't want you to have any clothes, but because it is a secret that you felt necessary to hide from them. If you'll keep secrets about that, they will fear you'll keep secrets about the affair as well, or your current activities.

Any deception in any area can hinder the rebuilding of trust. The more open and honest an unfaithful spouse is, the faster trust can be rebuilt. The hurt spouse needs to consistently discover the unfaithful spouse being honest and open. Any lie, secret, or deceit will do damage.

6. Trust on loan.

The reality is that the hurt spouse will not be able to trust the unfaithful spouse for some time. That creates an immediate problem for a hurt spouse wishing to rebuild.

Staying in the married relationship requires a certain amount of trust in order to function. Without it, you can't stay married. When a hurt spouse agrees to rebuild or give themselves time to decide whether to rebuild or not, it means they are putting a certain amount of trust in the unfaithful spouse that they simply don't have.

This is because no matter how good the hurt spouse looks over the unfaithful spouse's shoulder, they know they can't see and know it all. They can't be on 24-hour surveillance. The unfaithful spouse can obtain a secret cell phone, setup secret email accounts, Facebook accounts, etc. Knowing how they were discovered, they may get better at covering their tracks.

Even if the unfaithful spouse isn't doing these things and is being perfectly transparent and honest, the hurt spouse has no way of knowing that the above isn't going on. To stay married to the unfaithful spouse requires that the hurt spouse trust the unfaithful spouse to not do that when they have no basis upon which to trust they aren't.

This puts the hurt spouse into the position of trusting someone to not hurt them again with no basis for that trust other than the word of the unfaithful spouse, which has been proven untrustworthy. So what is a hurt spouse to do until they have rebuilt to a working trust?

Trust on Loan

The concept is simple. In order for rebuilding to go forward, the hurt spouse has to give some trust which they don't have. So the hurt spouse gives them that trust as a loan, expecting to be paid back by continued honesty and openness. Any deceit or new revelations puts that loan at risk of default and potentially ends the relationship. At some undefined point, when enough trust has been rebuilt, it can be declared paid in full. The unfaithful spouse is no longer living on borrowed trust, but has earned it back.

This accomplishes three things.

One, the hurt spouse doesn't feel like they are telling the unfaithful spouse, "I trust you" by staying to rebuild, which would be a lie.

Two, it squarely puts the issue of rebuilding trust in the unfaithful spouse's hands where it belongs. The hurt spouse has made it clear that paying off that loan depends upon the unfaithful spouse's honesty and openness over the next few years. Whether you stay married or not rests in the actions of the unfaithful spouse.

Three, it gives the unfaithful spouse room to rebuild. It is their second chance to repair the damage and save the marriage. It also gives them room to "hang themselves" as well.

Trust but verify.

A healthy relationship is not one where each spouse feels a need to police the other. We should be able to trust that our spouse isn't secretly chatting intimately with others behind our back. We don't want a relationship where we feel a need to be checking our spouse's texts, emails, Facebook messages all the time.

Well, guess what? In the days and months after discovering an affair, the relationship is not healthy. If the hurt spouse is going to rebuild, it requires that they be free to check these communications at will. Giving trust on loan says they don't trust you yet.

Think of it this way. When a bank loans you money, they generally make provisions to check your credit history, and to recheck it as needed, and to request updated financial information on a regular basis, to make sure you have the means to pay the loan back.

In essence, the hurt spouse has to have the means to ensure that the loan is getting paid back, that you are making payments in the form of continued honesty and openness. They need to catch you being good.

As that trust loan gets paid off, the hurt spouse will feel a need less and less to do that kind of checking. As the relationship heals and becomes healthier, the hurt spouse will no longer feel the need to check these areas. That is one of the ways you can tell if that trust loan is getting paid off or not.

In the initial month or so after discovery day, the hurt spouse will likely feel a need to check these things daily. For more than a solid month, I reviewed my wife's calls on our bill to make sure she had stopped communicating with the affair partner. In the next five months, I checked them regularly, but no longer daily. By the time a year had passed, I'd go more than a month without feeling the need to check anything. Now, after three years, I rarely check anything. If I do, it is usually just a random spot inspection to make sure she is still on track and nothing new is cropping up without me realizing it.

Some unfaithful spouses feel this kind of thing is a violation of their privacy. They sometimes feel a need to have at least one private area.  If this is your feeling, then rebuilding will not work for you. Best to end it now and find someone who will allow you that luxury.

A healthy marriage is a transparent marriage.

This doesn't mean one spouse is constantly checking up on the other, but that no secrets are kept from each other and each is able at any time, if they feel a need, to check their spouse's email, cell phone, Facebook messages. Constant checking does indicate a marriage in danger. Constant ability to access each other's means of communication indicates a couple who trust each other and have nothing to hide. Big difference.

Such constant checking in the early days of rebuilding is necessary because the marriage is in danger, isn't healthy, and is the only way the hurt spouse can give that trust on loan. The other option is to end the marriage. But if progress is being made, the amount of checking will drop.

Just don't expect that you should be able to ever lock your spouse out of any means of communication with others. Any such action says you have something to hide, even if done years after the affair has become a distant memory.

Those are the main concepts a couple will need to consider in whether they can rebuild trust after infidelity. 

If a couple feels they can commit to rebuilding trust, knowing the above, and follow through on it, they stand a good chance at succeeding.

It is much easier to start over with someone new. We often give a certain level of trust to a new person, and as long as they are transparent, it is easier to build to a reasonable trust level that can maintain marital intimacy than to rebuild after someone has deceived you.

But often a couple will feel that giving rebuilding try worth the potential risks because of the potential benefits of success. Whether that be due to love, kids, or a long history of investment into each other, some will feel the work and potential failure worth the rewards of salvaging the relationship.

Hopefully these two articles will give you the means to evaluate whether the risk is too great or not in your situation; whether trust can be rebuilt in your broken marriage or not.

Are their any concepts I missed?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Can Trust Be Rebuilt? Part 1

This is a big question most hurt spouses try to answer after discovering their spouses' marital betrayal. And a very important question to answer. A healthy marriage relationship is founded on mutual trust. To truly be intimate and "one flesh" requires feeling secure with each other.

An affair destroys that trust and security.

In my book, Healing Infidelity, I liken it to a hurricane wiping a house off its foundation. It is gone, destroyed, the trust meter reads 0%.

Without trust, you can't have a healthy and vibrant marriage. So determining whether or not you can rebuild trust in large part plays into your decision on whether to rebuild, continue to rebuild, or cut your losses.

How do you determine whether trust can be rebuild?

To answer that, we need to break it down into several concepts that need to be considered.

In truth, I can't answer that question for you. No one on the Internet can, to be truthful. The best route is to make you aware of what you are up against, then based on what you know of your situation, decide whether the risks verses benefits are worth it or not.

The following list is not in any order of importance.

1. Some suggest that it is near impossible to rebuild trust.

Probably the prime example of that is the Chump Lady, whose tag line says, "Leave a cheater, gain a life." On her blog's About page, she clearly believes there is little to no chance of rebuilding trust once cheating has happened:

Chump Lady is not a site optimistic about reconciliation. I liken reconciliation to a unicorn, a mythical creature I want to believe in, but which is seldom seen. This emphatically is NOT a site to save your marriage — this is a site about saving your sanity.

She also admits there that this conclusion is based upon her own experience in being married to what she terms a "serial cheater" who showed little remorse or attempts to stop his affair habit. Like me, she is not a therapist who has seen a lot of cases and worked intimately with a wide variety of couples going through this.

Chump Lady, meet your unicorn. I'm a hurt spouse whose wife for seven months had emotional affairs with several people online, and two local emotional and physical affair partners. As of writing this, three years and four months after discovery day, I trust my wife and am happily married to her, and love her as much as I ever have. I'm not a mythical creature.

Though I recognize that I'm in the minority, I know I'm not the only one. I've read about others and have met others in my situation. We're not so mythical as some would lead us to believe.

I'll be quick to add, however, that Chump Lady does speak to a need that I also often see: hurt spouses who should have left their marriage long ago, due to several factors, and need that support to take the only remaining steps left to find healing and happiness. There are many who are sacrificing their sanity in a vain attempt to save their marriage.

I'm in no way going to the other extreme and claiming that everyone can or should save their marriage. Most every couple could save their marriage, if they both did everything they need to do to accomplish it. But I'm not naive enough to believe a whole lot will do it. As Jesus said, Moses allowed for divorce due to our hardness of heart. Many unfaithful spouses will not stop their affairs. Many unfaithful spouses will not repent, will not stop keeping secrets from their spouse, will continue to commit adultery.

Hardness of heart by one or both spouses will prevent any chance of rebuilding trust, any chance of saving the marriage. It is pointless to try for very long in the face of continued disrespect by one spouse for the other. Too many sacrifice their marital dreams by staying married to someone they don't trust and never will for the sake of the children or finances.

Divorce is a reality, and in many of these cases, the least of all evils.

But the truth is that rebuilding of trust can happen. I'm not going to lie and say it is easy. The odds are against you. There are many more ways it can go wrong than right. But there are enough who have done it to know that it is possible.

Willard Hartley in his book, His Needs, Her Needs, makes the statement that the standard success rate of long-term successful rebuilding of marriages after infidelity by traditional counseling methods is 40%. With his method, that success rate went up to 60%.

Even at 40%, that success rate is far from mythical. That is a substantial number of couples who are able to rebuild trust in their relationship following an affair. It is a disservice to discourage people from trying as much as it is to encourage people who should leave a marriage to stick with it.

It is all too easy for people who had a negative experience in rebuilding, especially if they did stick with it much longer than they should have, to project their experience onto everyone and make absolute pronouncements that rebuilding trust and a marriage after an affair is mythical.

Likewise, while I believe my success is repeatable by other couples committed to rebuilding, I have no illusions that most will be able to duplicate what I did. There are too many variables and circumstances to make any general sweeping statements either way.

So what are some of those variables?

2. Resetting Trust Expectations

The truth of the matter is in any relationship, but especially in a marital one, the more intimacy you develop, the greater the risk of betrayal. You are in one sense giving them a knife, turning your back to them, and asking them to shave off the hair on your back. At that point you are vulnerable. They could shove the knife into your chest and you'd be seriously injured, if not dead. But you trust them not to do that, so you give them the knife. That's the relationship between trust and intimacy. You can't have one without the other.

This very real risk is present in every marriage. However, we don't usually stand at the alter and say "I do" believing it will ever happen to "us". "He loves me too much to ever do that." We always believe what we have is special. We are unique. It happens to other people, but not us. The longer the marriage goes on with no sign of infidelity, the more confident we become that it will never happen to me.

This is what I call blind trust. It is simply inconceivable to either spouse that the other would ever seriously consider cheating on them, much less following through with it. On a scale of 1 to 100%, blind trust is about as close to 100% as you can get, like 99.9%.

After 29 years of marriage to a wife I'd always known to be faithful, I had every reason to believe it would never happen to me. We were both Christians with strong moral values. We both loved one another. Though we weren't perfect in showing it all the time, we both were happily married.

Five months before her affairs started, on our 28th wedding anniversary I asked her the question I always asked every year, "Are you happy married to me? What do we need to improve?" We both acknowledged our love for each other and our happiness with the marriage.

My trust level with her was so blind that even up until I read her words that she was having sex with another man, the thought she was having an affair never once entered my mind, despite all the red flags I'd seen. Most of which I didn't think anything about because I didn't believe she'd do that.

I'm not saying that when you marry, you shouldn't expect faithfulness from your spouse. Don't misunderstand me. But if my trust in her had been more realistic, the red flags my gut was sending out would have caused me to investigate sooner and potentially ended it quicker. Potentially before she'd had sex with anyone.

Blind trust on both our parts also allowed us to cross boundaries we shouldn't have crossed, because we erroneously believed, "I would never do that." We believed we were practically immune from ever cheating. So much so that my wife played with fire, and then got burned. And me along with her.

That level of trust in any marriage is not only unrealistic, it is unhealthy. We need to fear the fire enough that we don't stick our hands into it.

I mention this because there is a very real truth in rebuilding trust that some take to be a negative. That is the following:

You'll never get back the level of trust you had before discovery day.

This is because for many couples, their trust level was unrealistic to begin with. Not the expectation of trust, but the perfection of your spouse to never break that trust in any way.

We've already discussed blind trust. Now let's define a couple more terms.

Realistic trust: A level of trust based on expectations and commitment, but taking into account human frailty. Because we are human and not perfect, no one can be trusted 100%. No one should trust themselves to that level.

Working trust: A level of trust that enables a couple to establish an intimate relationship that produces a happy and sustainable marriage.

Now let's illustrate the dynamic. I'm going to use some arbitrary numbers for levels of trust. I'm not saying this is accurate or measurable in this way. I'm only using them to illustrate the concept.

The following levels of trust could be illustrated with the following percentages:

Blind trust = 99.9% or more.

Realistic trust = 90% to 95%

Working trust = 80% or higher.

Most couples before an affair tend to be near that 100% mark. Once an affair hits and is discovered, the trust level sinks to anywhere from 0% to 30% depending on circumstances.

Rebuilding that trust in order to save the marriage only needs to reach that 80% mark. It is reasonable to believe it can get back into the 90s. But the facade has been broken. You can never get back to 99.9% trust level, nor should you. The affair has made it painfully clear that it can happen to you. You are not unique. Neither you nor your spouse are immune to temptation.

One step in being able to successfully rebuild trust is for both spouses to adjust their expectations on trust to a more reasonable level. One that expects the other spouse to be trustworthy, but is not so blind to human imperfections that we play with fire or ignore it when our spouse is doing so.

From here on out, the possibility that it could happen again is a distinct reality. That realistic trust needs to be there to keep each of you on your toes. Indeed, if it had been that way before the affair, there is a good chance either of you would have stopped it in time, or not even allowed it to get started.

Successful rebuilding is not dependent upon rebuilding back to a near 100% blind trust.

The remaining concepts we'll look at next time in part 2.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Healing Infidelity Through Forgiveness

This is a chapter excerpt from our book, Healing Infidelity: How to Build a Vibrant Marriage After an Affair. You'll find not only other helpful articles in that book, but our story of how my wife entered the affairs, how I found out, and how we successfully rebuilt.


Forgiveness is one of the often difficult steps that a person hurt by the infidelity of a spouse can take. In part because the betrayal of the unfaithful partner is a deep hurt. The trust is placed in one's spouse, the commitment made to each other and to God, leaves us open to that deep hurt. The more on guard we are, the less likely someone's betrayal of our trust will hurt us. The less intimate the relationship between two people, the more walls and defenses we put up to guard against such attacks.

But we don't expect such attacks from those who love us. The risk one takes when one loves another and is intimate with him is that any hurts go deep. They strike us at our very core and affect our self-esteem and identity. So it is no wonder that when such a deep hurt has been inflicted upon someone, that they find it difficult to forgive. Yet, for full healing to take place, that is exactly what needs to happen. So let's look at the process of forgiveness in relation to the hurt inflicted by the infidelity of one's spouse.

First, let's define what forgiveness is. Webster defines it: "To pardon; to remit, as an offense or debt; to overlook an offense, and treat the offender as not guilty." The two ingredients, in this context, are an offense committed against you and the release from punishment for it.

There are some who speak of "earning forgiveness." This is a contradictory statement. One cannot earn forgiveness, for by its very definition it is an act of mercy. For example, if I owe a debt to a creditor, and they decide to forgive me that debt, that means I don't need to pay it back. If I earn that money back and pay the debt off, then there is no need to forgive me the debt. One can't earn forgiveness. As soon as you do, it is no longer forgiveness by definition.

What I believe people really mean by that statement isn't conditions upon which a spouse will forgive the unfaithful spouse, but the conditions upon which the unfaithful spouse can receive that forgiveness and benefit from it for saving the marriage. We'll examine that in a minute, but in this case the unfaithful spouse doesn't "earn" it, it is what he needs to do to apply the forgiveness to themselves.

For example, let's say you need to hammer in a nail, but you don't have a hammer or anything that will work for one. But your good friend holds out a hammer for you to use. In reaching out your hand and taking that hammer, have you "earned" that use of the hammer? Of course not. Neither is doing the actions to receive forgiveness earning it. It is simply holding out your hand.

Likewise, that the spouse has to do those things to receive forgiveness doesn't have any bearing on whether the hurt spouse forgives or not. We examine why below, but just as God stands always ready to forgive, so are we called to do, no matter what the offender does or doesn't do.

There are some natural conclusions that can be drawn from this understanding that we'll address as we go through this information. But first, it may be helpful to address what forgiveness is not.

One, forgiveness is not a denial of the wrongness or hurt that an action brought about. Notice the above definition. It says, "treat the offender as not guilty." It doesn't say the offender isn't guilty, but you are going to treat him as not guilty by way of not punishing him. In truth, it acknowledges that you do have a right to punish him because of his offense. If you didn't, there would be no point to forgiveness. Forgiveness is an act of mercy on your part, not a denial of the offense itself.

Two, forgiveness does not mean the offender will not be punished. What it means is you are not going to do the punishing! A sin like adultery hurts the adulterer as much, if not more, than the hurt spouse. That may seem contradictory as we tend to think, "He had the fun at my expense!" But adultery isn't a sin because it is fun to do. It is a sin because it causes some very serious damage to one's soul and life. That is why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:18, "Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits fornication sins against his own body."

Three, forgiveness does not erase the consequences of the offense. As mentioned above, by showing mercy and forgiving the offender, it only means you will not add your punishment to the natural consequences he will endure. Take the example of King David. He committed adultery and murder to cover up his sin. Psalm 51 is an example of what true repentance is about. According to the Scriptures, God forgave David. But he still had consequences due to that sin. The baby that resulted from that sin died. His sons ended up fighting and dividing the kingdom, even rebelling against David. David suffered the consequences of his sin. So will the unfaithful partner suffer for their sins, even though God and you forgive them.

But by this point, one might ask, why is it necessary to forgive to heal? Isn't part of healing that justice is served? Shouldn't he know I'm not going to put up with this behavior? Won't forgiving the offender be sending the message, "I'm not offended or hurt"?

There is a difference between not putting up with a behavior, and the message of forgiveness. As noted above, forgiveness does not negate the consequences of his actions. One of those consequences, if he persists in his sin, is the loss of his spouse. Forgiveness is not a "Get out of jail free" card, rather it is both an opportunity for the offender to change his behavior before worse consequences set in, and the release of the offended from their own sins.

If the offended spouse were to mitigate the consequences of the sin, and not merely forgive, then that would be sending the wrong signal. It is one thing to say, "I'm not going to beat you over the head with this offense you've committed against me for the rest of our lives," but quite another to say, "I will stay by your side and support you, no matter how often you have an affair." One can forgive the spouse for his infidelity even while separating from him because the spouse refuses to give up his infidelity. This allows you to forgive, but not enable his sin by erasing the negative consequences of it.

But forgiveness is more about you than about the offender. It is his opportunity to repent and make right the wrongs he's committed against you. But you can no more control his responses to your forgiveness than you could prevent him from cheating on you. All you really have under your control is yourself. Forgiveness is absolutely necessary for the healing of the offended much more than it is about healing for the offender.

For one who will not forgive is also one who is not forgiven for his own sins. Jesus states this clearly in the parable of the servant who owed his master so much money, there was no way he could ever pay it off even if he worked for the rest of his life. The master forgave the servant the debt. But the servant, either not accepting that he'd been forgiven or too selfish himself, refused to forgive someone who owed him a small amount of money, and had him thrown into prison. The master, upon hearing this, reinstated the money the ungrateful servant had been forgiven because he refused to forgive. Jesus' conclusion to the parable was, "Thus also My heavenly Father will do to you, if you do not forgive each one his brother their trespasses, from your hearts." (Mat 18:35 EMTV).

Jesus also states this clearly in the Lord's Prayer, when we ask God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." By refusing to forgive, we cut off the grace for our own forgiveness from God. This is because forgiveness is like a river of running water. For the river to flow for you, it must flow for those down the line. That is in part why in the early Church, the prescription for baptizing someone was, if at all possible, to do so in running water. Sins are washed away by the flow of grace. Stop the flow, and you have stagnant water that grows stale and dirty.

It should be noted that this is not so much God saying, "What? You won't forgive? Well, then, I'll show you!" No, God is always ready to forgive. But what happens is if you cannot forgive others, it demonstrates you are unable to receive the forgiveness that God offers. It is like you have the faucet open and water is coming out, and you are drinking it, but the moment someone else wants that water from you, you shut it off so they cannot get any. But then, neither can you get any. So in your refusal to give someone your forgiveness, you cut it off for yourself as well.

It is for this reason that when the woman caught in adultery was put before Jesus by the Pharisees, attempting to trap Jesus, He replied that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. Because they had sins that needed forgiveness, they either forgave her or stood condemned themselves. They all forgave her, and so did Jesus. (John 8:3-11)

Therefore, forgiving is necessary for your own healing, but it is also necessary for the healing of the marriage, if there is to be a chance for that to happen. Forgiveness takes the bitterness and hate off your shoulders for what the other person did to you. If you are going to rebuild the marriage, one key component of that rebuilding is to release yourself from the anger and hate for what they did to you. As long as that is festering, it will not be possible to restore the relationship.

This is why God Himself forgives us in order to restore our relationship with Him. If God was not willing to forgive, there would be no hope for us but death. But because He is willing, there is hope for eternal life with Him. So it is for the spouse. If a spouse remains bitter and hateful to the other, rebuilding will be impossible and the marriage will suffer. Healing will not take place.

For these reasons, it is necessary for the hurt spouse to heal within themselves, and for the marriage to be healed, as well as releasing the unfaithful spouse to have opportunity to heal, that we must seek to forgive the individuals in the affair.

Even the affair partner. You need to forgive them for your own healing. For the bitterness and hate it can generate will poison your spirit and will carry over to the unfaithful spouse. The affair partner is an easy target since you are not reconciling with him, and you hope to never see or speak to him. But the unfaithful spouse and the affair partner, in most all cases, willingly participated together, even if one seduced the other or took advantage of the other's weakness. Hate for the affair partner will transfer to the unfaithful spouse by the fact that he or she joined with him against you. So even harboring unforgiveness toward the affair partner while forgiving the unfaithful spouse will block rebuilding efforts.

This is often seen when the inability to forgive results in the hurt spouse's obsessions over the affair partner, seeking revenge on him, or wanting to punish him. It puts the focus on the affair partner and the wrongs he committed against you and the marriage, instead of on the marriage and working with your unfaithful spouse to heal it. The best way to focus on the marriage and its healing is to forgive the affair partner and then take them off the radar screen.

What about forgiving yourself? Sometimes you see an unfaithful spouse talk about their difficulty in forgiving themselves for what they did. But you can't really forgive yourself. You didn't commit the offense against yourself, but against the hurt spouse and God, as well as the affair partner. What most people who ask this are really concerned about is being able to receive forgiveness. They face their guilt, and have trouble believing that anyone really forgives them for that act. They don't accept that their spouse has forgiven them, or that God forgives them. That can result in shame which causes a "death spiral" affect of encouraging the unfaithful spouse to repeat the unfaithfulness. The only way out of that cycle is to come to a place of accepting forgiveness.

There are two aspects of forgiveness as it relates to infidelity that need to be kept in mind. One, that forgiveness is a process and not a one-time event. Most people will not be ready to forgive upon discovering the affair. Most must go through the stages of grief as it pertains to their loss, and the stages of denial and anger don't lend themselves to an attitude of being ready to forgive. The pain is too fresh and the hurt still being processed to expect an immediate forgiveness. Some can do that, but it is also true that some may short-circuit the grieving process by forgiving too quickly, and in effect end up failing to deal with their anger and hurt. There can be an initial desire to forgive, while not yet knowing all that it entails.

That leads to the other part of the process. We can often think we've forgiven, but then a new layer is peeled back and we must continue to apply forgiveness. We may be faced with the details of what we had forgiven, whereas previously it was generic actions, and feel the hurt once again. Fresh hurt should remind us of our commitment to forgive and applying that fresh each time to release the bitterness and hate it would engender, and the depression that can trip up rebuilding a marriage.

Two, that forgiveness is only effective in healing the marriage if the unfaithful spouse accepts and allows it to change him and the situation. For the problem has never been whether God will or can forgive us for our sins. No, it has always been about whether we are able to accept His forgiveness. For as long as we are not, His forgiveness does us no good.

That is why God gives the following conditions for His forgiveness to be active in healing us in 2 Chronicles 7:14, and therefore what the unfaithful spouse needs to do for the hurt spouse's forgiveness to be effective in healing the marriage:

Humility – if we do not lower ourselves before God, if we think we know better than He does how to live our life, our pride will prevent us from receiving His forgiveness. Indeed, the one key to why most people cannot receive forgiveness nor give forgiveness is their own pride. Pride says, "I don't need your forgiveness, I'm right," to God, and to those we've offended, "My rights have been violated, and I will be given what is due me in retribution." If the unfaithful spouse maintains an attitude of pride and not owning their responsibility in the affair, no forgiveness will be received by the unfaithful spouse.

Pray – if we do not ask, due to that pride, if we do not make request for forgiveness, it shows our unbelief that the offended is or can forgive us. It means you don't believe the forgiver when he says, "I forgive you for what you did to me." So you refuse to even ask for it.

Seek my face – if we do not face the one we've offended and look them in the eye, if we refuse to face the guilt in our lives and desire mercy for what we've done, if we avoid him, don't want to talk about it, ignore him, then we cannot receive his forgiveness and have it be active in healing us and the marriage.

Turn from your wicked ways – if the unfaithful spouse refuses to stop the affair by making no further contact with the affair partner(s), is more concerned about the feelings of the affair partner than he is about his own spouse, if he continues the affair or returns to it, and does not stop doing that which is hurting his spouse and destroying their marriage, the hurt spouse can forgive all he wants, but it will do no good for healing of the marriage. To not stop is to say, in pride, "I am not wrong. I want to do this, my way."

If these things are done, however, we are promised that God will forgive our sins and heal our land. If the hurt spouse is able to get to the point of offering forgiveness to the unfaithful spouse, unless the unfaithful spouse is doing the above, he will not be helped by his spouse's forgiveness nor will he and the marriage be healed.

Forgiveness is not an option if the goal is healing of the hurt spouse, the unfaithful spouse, and the marriage itself. While the hurt spouse may not be ready to forgive immediately, it does have to happen at some point in the healing process for the relationship to be restored as it should be. Additionally, the unfaithful partner needs to do the things necessary to receive that forgiveness or they put their own healing and that of the marriage in jeopardy.

Jesus stated it clearly: Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy-seven times." (Mat 18:21-22 EMTV)

To heal, we must forgive and accept forgiveness. It is not an option if the goal is to heal.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Serial Cheaters

The term serial cheater gets thrown around a good bit. Often I think people misuse the term. How do you know if someone qualifies as a serial cheater, and if they do, how can it be handled?

What is a Serial Cheater?

I've searched, but not found an official definition. So I've compiled one by adapting the definition of a serial killer. The standard definition of a serial killer is:

A serial killer is, traditionally, a person who has murdered three or more people over a period of more than a month, with down time (a "cooling off period") between the murders.

My adaption would read:

A serial cheater is a person who has committed acts of marital infidelity--against a person they are bonded to physically and/or emotionally--with three or more people separated by time-gaps between each one.

This would differ from a cheating spree where a person commits infidelity with three or more in rapid succession, or from mass cheating where affairs happen concurrently.

There is a little more gray area, however. When someone is murdered, the fact the victim died is pretty black and white. He either is or he isn't. While the definition of cheating is fairly well held, there are a lot more variations. There are boundaries one can cross that tend to lead to cheating but in and of themselves are not.

I'll use a personal example. I frequently had lunch with a female coworker for a period of time. Neither of us wanted to eat alone. Frequently it would just be me and her at a restaurant.

Strictly speaking, we were crossing a boundary that often leads to cheating. Yet, we never discussed any marital problems, or anything about sex, or ever went any further with the relationship other than being friends who worked together and ate lunch together often. I never cheated, but a third party might have decided we were cheating because so many in that situation easily fall into it.

So even though I have a definition, people could differ about whether a particular person fits this definition based on their understanding of what cheating is.

Why Do We Need to Label People with the Term?

It shouldn't be for the sake of labeling someone, rather to know how to treat and help the unfaithful spouse. There are different types of cheating and the type of solutions that will address it will vary.

One night stand
Online chats, text or video
Phone/chat sex
Sharing photos or other intimate things online
Phone/Skype emotional relationship
Physical, sexual play
Multiple affairs
Serial Cheaters

The motivation for serial killers easily applies to serial cheating:

The motivation for serial killing is usually based on psychological gratification. Most of the killings involve sexual contact with the victim, but the FBI states that motives for serial murder include "anger, thrill, financial gain, and attention seeking".

Let's look at the FBI motives in more detail.


Anger derives from feeling your "rights" have been violated. What one considers their rights comes from how they were raised, their own experiences, as well as expectations that have developed as they grew up. Often these are informed by parental influence. It derives from the violation of one's sense of righteousness.

In terms of serial cheating, ongoing anger with one's spouse could be prompting a serial cheater to continued cheating. Whenever things aren't going exactly as they'd like, their response to dealing with it is anger, and then lashing back in a passive-aggressive manner by cheating on their spouse. It becomes the means to sooth the anger in them.

If this is the motivation, learning new responses to anger via anger management help can break them out of their cycle of destructive response patterns.


There are several types of thrills that could fall under this motivation. In all cases, it involves a person succumbing to the temptation of an addictive thrill, and repeating it enough until it becomes a psychological addiction. Following are three of the common thrills.

The "new relationship" thrill is well documented. Otherwise known  as infatuation. Often mistaken for "true love," given time the excitement dies off, and the serial cheater becomes vulnerable to the next opportunity when "chemistry" shoots the thrill-factor red-lining again. Then it's onto the next person that provides that thrill.

Another common thrill is the sexual thrill. Often, especially men, the serial cheater is addicted to getting the next sexual high. The longer they have sex with someone, like their spouse, the more "ho hum" it becomes. Due to the Coolidge Effect, a new sexual partner can provide a sexual high that the long-time partner can't hope to compete with. Someone addicted to this thrill will always need a new partner if they hope to get the sexual high they crave.

Some serial cheaters are addicted to the sense of power provided by the affair. One, the desire, and often manipulation of the affair partner to keep them on the hook. Two, the power over their spouse based upon pulling off an affair behind their backs. The thrill of secrecy gives the serial cheater a sense of power over their spouse who is kept in the dark. Knowledge is power. To get away with it without being caught provides its own sense of superiority.

The solution in this case will require extensive help to break the addictive pattern, establish boundaries, manage temptations, and restructure one's thinking patterns and life to find alternate means of satisfaction.

Financial Gain

For cheating, the most obvious financial gain is prostitution or the porn industry. A popular motivation for women, but affecting many men as well. Selling one's body and getting paid for it can fuel continued cheating for a spouse desiring that money.

But that isn't the only way. Some people seek out affairs, especially with a person who has some disposable income, in order to get financial help from them. They've discovered that when someone is deep in infatuation, they will "loan" money more readily, or flat out give it away for a perceived need. The affair partner will buy them things, take them out to eat, and lavish other gifts, often without asking.

Serial cheating in this case can also be long cheating sprees and/or mass cheating. The more they can juggle, the more money they can get. The solution to heal this type of cheating is a reordering of priorities, and learning how to adequately take care of financial needs through legitimate means.

Attention Seeking

This one is a bigger factor in serial cheating than it is in serial murders. Even non-serial cheating often starts with this desire. Based upon a low self-esteem, such people find the interest and desire of others for them exhilarating. It could be listed as another type of thrill mentioned above.

Such a serial cheater craves the affirmation of others that they are worth something. To have someone admire their body, pursue them, thus indicating that they can sexually attract someone, is affirming to their self-worth. The spouse's affirmation is often insufficient because they have been that way for maybe several years. It is old news. However, the continual stream of new people who find them desirable is exciting.

The end result of frequent flirting and encouraging this type of relationship with people is some are going to take the flirter up on it. Not only is someone saying they want the flirter, but they are ready to do it with them. It creates a more intense attention-seeking response from the cheater, making an affair hard to resist and inevitable. If you play with fire, you will eventually get burned.

The route to healing this type of serial cheating is through building a stronger self-esteem, establishing firm relationship boundaries, and seeing the need for attention as a negative impact upon their life and desire to change that thinking pattern with help.

Not All Cheaters are Serial Cheaters

Some people sling the label "serial cheater" around too freely. There are two dangers to doing so.

One, the diagnosis of a stranger on the Internet based upon little information can label someone in such a way they don't believe there is hope for themselves. Someone who has cheated once, or even twice, doesn't fit the profile of a serial cheater as defined here. I'd also include multiple on-line emotional affairs grouped into a limited time period as not being a serial cheater. It might classify them as having had a cheating spree, but not necessarily serial. But I often hear someone labeled as a serial cheater because they cheated twice, often with the same affair partner.

Two, even if the label applies, its use can denote to the cheater that their situation is hopeless. A serial cheater is just who they are, so they might as well go with the flow. Many of them have given up fighting it a long time ago if it has been chronic. The label confirms in their mind that they are hopeless, so why even try to do something about it?

If the label applies, they need to realize they can change. With a lot of work and dedication, they can break out of the serial pattern of behavior if they seek out help and dedicate themselves to the process.

If the label doesn't apply, applying it can cause someone who isn't one yet to become one by giving up and accepting the meaning of the label as who they are.

While one can talk about serial cheating in general as I've done here--to help someone realize they need to get serious help--it is best to leave the diagnosis of specific individuals to qualified therapists and psychologist. It is too risky to become responsible for contributing to someone's lack of healing through applying defining labels that do little to help the other person.

How would you define serial cheating?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Healing Steps for the Hurt Spouse - Uncooperative Unfaithful Spouse

This is a chapter excerpt from our book, Healing Infidelity: How to Build a Vibrant Marriage After an Affair. You'll find not only other helpful articles in that book, but our story of how my wife entered the affairs, how I found out, and how we successfully rebuilt.


In the two previous articles, we've discussed the general healing steps for the hurt spouse, and the healing steps for the hurt spouse who has a cooperative unfaithful spouse. Now we want to turn our attention to the healing steps a hurt spouse can do when their unfaithful partner isn't so cooperative.

Keep in mind what we mean by cooperative, and how sometimes there are gray areas. But in general, he is uncooperative if he is not doing most of the healing steps for the unfaithful spouse, like being transparent, maintaining no contact with the affair partner(s), being willing to answer the hurt spouse's questions and concerns, etc. In other words, he is doing more rug sweeping, blame-shifting, and excuse making than working to face and deal with the affair issues head on.

When an unfaithful spouse isn't cooperative, many of the steps outlined in dealing with a cooperative unfaithful spouse will either not be effective or perhaps counterproductive. Consider the following example. You come down with cancer. After some screenings and tests, the doctor says that the cancer is spreading through the breast. So he recommends waiting to see what it will do.

"What?" you may say. "You're crazy! Operate now and cut out that breast before it spreads further!" Wait very long, and the patient isn't likely to survive. But what if the doctor said instead, "There is some cancer, but it appears to be in remission. Still, I recommend cutting out the breast." Well, that isn't much better. If it is in remission, wait and see if it goes away on its own, or gets localized enough that a simple surgery to remove the mass will effectively get rid of it. No need to lose the breast when you don't need to.

In short, the treatment for a more severe situation wouldn't work so well with a "cooperative" cancer, and likewise the treatment for a less serious cancerous situation would be too little, too late for a severe situation. The treatment should match the situation. Same for this.

Using these steps on a cooperative unfaithful spouse could backfire, causing them to lose hope. While using the steps for a cooperative unfaithful spouse on an uncooperative unfaithful spouse will either do little to promote good healing, or could make the unfaithful spouse think everything is going good when it isn't. The hurt spouse could end up sending the wrong signals to the unfaithful spouse.

The goal of these steps is to move an uncooperative unfaithful spouse into being a cooperative unfaithful spouse. In other words, if these steps are successful, they will be temporary and not long term solutions. Once the unfaithful spouse starts being cooperative in an area, you will want to shift to the cooperative steps, at least for that one area.

The only situation where these become permanent is if the unfaithful spouse doesn't respond, never becomes cooperative, and the marriage ends in divorce. That possibility should be kept in mind. There are no guarantees that an uncooperative unfaithful spouse will respond positively to these steps and become cooperative. If he is too far gone, he may push further away instead of change course. In which case, there is little you could have done anyway.

However, there is another goal in these steps. We spoke of it in the general steps. You want to approach the uncooperative unfaithful spouse with the same attitude and control as with a cooperative: using respect, confidence, and a sense of your own security established, even if you don't feel it is there. These steps help you to take a reasoned approach and response. If you react with yelling, fighting, extreme emotions, that will not be effective in demonstrating the attitude needed to convince the unfaithful spouse that he needs to take stock and change course. Let him yell and show anger. But if you remain calm, collected, and controlled, what signal does that send?

One, you are serious and not playing around. He either gets on board or he's going to find himself one spouse short. Nothing is more unsettling than someone stating something serious without yelling. Think of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry. He didn't yell it, but you knew he was about to pull trigger if you pressed him when he said, "Go ahead, make my day." It will be even more unsettling if your normal mode of operation has been to yell and fight when these subjects come up. It will say to your spouse, "I'm done playing games. This is it."

Two, it shows that you are not making decisions based on emotion, but reasoned thought. If you are yelling, he'll figure you'll get over it. You're just flying off the handle, and you'll change your mind within an hour or day of cooling off. But if there is no emotional display, he will realize this comes from something deeper than just being hurt, but an inner decision that you are emotionally disconnecting from him. He is no longer worth getting angry about. That will create even more unnerving because it sends a clear signal to the uncooperative unfaithful spouse that the time clock is ticking, and he'll either need to make a strong commitment and stick to it, or watch as the train pulls out of the station without him.

It might help if we look at it using the analogy Shirley Glass uses in Not Just Friends. In that book, she uses the analogy of windows to show how even an emotional affair ends up stealing intimacy from one's spouse. For when an unfaithful spouse opens a window to another person that should only be opened to his spouse, he will end up closing that window to his spouse. Each secret is a window closed, and each transparency point a window opened into his soul. When he opens a window to another person that he knows his spouse would not approve of, he'll tend to hide it from her, closing her off to that part of his life. Because of that, the unfaithful spouse distances himself from their spouse, even if he never tells and the spouse never finds out. He ends up having a dark secret that he won't tell the person he's supposed to be closest to.

Take that concept, and put it in the hands of the hurt spouse. By closing some windows on the unfaithful spouse, you are communicating to him two things.

One, that you are reflecting the reality of the situation. He is closed off to you, so you respond by closing off from him. The more open he is with you, the more open you are with him. The more closed off he stays, the more closed off you become. You are simply reflecting reality back to them.

Two, you are creating in him a feeling of distance from you. This realization of a growing distance between you convinces him of something many unfaithful spouses have told themselves wouldn't happen in their affair fog: their spouse will leave them. When they begin to get the sense it is headed down that road, it serves as a wake up call for many unfaithful spouses. What they didn't think would happen is happening, and the abstract idea turns into a concrete reality. Failing to make a commitment to rebuild ends up making the decision to leave if he doesn't act. That is exactly what you want to accomplish. To stop the rug sweeping of the issues and force him to face and deal with them so that healing can move forward. Because until that happens, not much else can.

You'll see some relationship between these steps and the 180: a series of steps to help someone recovering from an affair. The same principles apply there as they do here, to hopefully move the unfaithful spouse to a more cooperative posture with the hurt spouse in healing, and if not, to emotionally prepare the hurt spouse for the eventual separation. So here are the steps I'd recommend a hurt spouse take if you've determined that your unfaithful spouse is not being cooperative in rebuilding:

1) Respond to emotional distance with emotional distance. As mentioned above, it communicates the reality to the unfaithful spouse. It often isn't easy to see what you are doing or communicating to another person until that same message gets communicated back to you. What you don't want to communicate to the unfaithful spouse is that everything is okay. That is unfortunately what many hurt spouses end up communicating. They try to win the unfaithful spouse back, which only pushes them away further. Why? Because that affection either rings as not true ("How could you feel that way after what I did to you?") or as confirming that he is on the right track because he is being rewarded for the path he is on.

The bulk of the 180's suggestions are designed with this idea in mind. Don't call him frequently, don't talk about the future, don't plan dates with him, etc. Instead, you make as little contact as possible and when you do, stick to the business at hand or the kids. Avoid any conversations about the relationship or where it is going. Only open up as much as he opens up to you. If he opens a window, you open a window. If he shuts one, you shut one.

2) Be clear and honest in how you feel. That might seem to be going against the first, but not really. When he does open a window, be clear in your feelings. Avoid blaming, pointing fingers, but say what you really feel. Don't pull any punches. You don't want to beat around the bush about how you feel when the opportunity arises to do so. But again, convey them in as unemotional a manner as you can. Think of Sargent Friday's "Just the facts, ma'am" attitude and demeanor. If the unfaithful spouse starts responding in anger or blame-shifting, all you need to say is, "I don't agree, I'm only telling you how I feel." He can't really argue with how you feel. You feel what you feel. If he doesn't know how you feel, he can't be expected to adapt himself to address it.

3) Schedule some events without the spouse. Schedule an outing with friends or relatives. Don't set up any kind of dating relationship. Avoid feeling like you want to get back at him by showing him how it feels. It is too easy for you to end up falling into she same trap as he did and puts you on his level, greatly complicating any chance of rebuilding and saving the marriage. But do go out and have some fun without him by your side. It will send him the clear message that you will be able to have fun and move on with your life without the unfaithful spouse if that's what it comes to.

4) Separate your financial accounts. Set up and fund your own bank account that your spouse doesn't have access to. Add money to it regularly as a financial security blanket. This has a practical as well as motivational basis. Not only does it make clear that you are becoming more independent, but if the unfaithful spouse doesn't become cooperative and the marriage comes to an end, you won't be left holding an empty money bag.

Additionally, in many cases the unfaithful spouse is spending money on the affair partner. Sequestering some or most of the money away ensures he won't end up spending it all and leaving you with unpaid bills. "But won't he be doing the same thing?" Yes, and it is likely he has already done so before you found out about the affair, in order to hide his spending and tipping you off about the hotel bills you don't know about. Because he is doing that, you need your own as well. Remember, respond in equal portion to the degree he is responding to you.

5) Have an initial consultation with a lawyer. "But I don't believe in divorce," you may respond. "I don't need to do that step." You may not believe in it, but that doesn't mean your spouse won't push you into one. It takes two to make a marriage, and if one spouse has given up, for whatever reason, no amount of not believing is going to stop the divorce from happening.

What you want to do here is prepare for the worst. The unfaithful spouse doesn't even need to know you've done this. But if push comes to shove and the divorce comes, either because you or the unfaithful spouse decide he wants out and won't consider anything else, you need to be aware of your options legally in your state and/or country. If you don't know, you are at a disadvantage if and when it happens. As long as the unfaithful spouse is uncooperative, the possibility of ending in divorce is always present. Better to be prepared and not need to use that information than to be caught flatfooted and lose some important concessions you could have had.

6) Assume the unfaithful spouse is still cheating. The only way you can be assured that the unfaithful spouse is maintaining no contact and the affair is over is if he is totally transparent and ready to talk about it. If he is hiding anything, it is a sure sign he doesn't want you to see something incriminating. He'll say it will hurt you, which is all the more reason to consider the affair still ongoing. Until the unfaithful spouse becomes cooperative, there is no way to verify that the affair is over. There is no trust level that the hurt spouse can have in any statements by the unfaithful spouse to the contrary.

If the affair is really over, his actions would demonstrate that. You can't believe any denial of a continuing affair until he's proved himself by opening up his full life to you without reservation. Even then, it will take some time for the hurt spouse to stop feeling like he might still be cheating. But as long as he is closed off and uncooperative, assume he is still cheating. Then future revelations will not be such a surprise and you will keep a real distance from him that reflects the reality.

7) Refrain from a sexual relationship with the unfaithful spouse and get tested for STDs. This one goes along with #1 above, in that obviously if you are creating emotional distance, refraining from sex is one way to do that. But it can be one of the harder to do depending on the person and has more consequences, which is why I'm highlighting it.

First, if the possibility exists that he is still cheating (see #6), then you do not want to reward the unfaithful spouse by also having sex with them. He needs to know that he cannot have both. Until you feel secure that the affair has ended, it would be counter-productive for you to continue a normal sexual relationship with him. Because sex is a commitment to another person, whether he means it that way or not, to be bonded with him, to have children with him. Because even in the most careful situations there is always the possibility of a child that binds the two together. Even an abortion doesn't erase that fact. Having sex with someone other than one's spouse destroys that bond with the spouse. Until you can know you are the only one, it is destructive to the other spouse to continue to give yourself to him sexually.

But the more practical reason is also because if the unfaithful spouse is still sleeping with others, there is the potential at any time, if not already true, that he could pass an STD to you from someone else. Even with a cooperative unfaithful spouse it is a good idea to get tested for any STDs, but especially if you feel he hasn't ended the affair yet. If you do have any STDs from the affair(s), it could be a bone of contention in any possible divorce proceedings. If the tests don't reveal any STDs, you at least don't want to continue subjecting yourself to the "Russian Roulette" of the STD gun by continuing to have sex with your spouse. Not until you are confident he has stopped any relationship with another, has been tested for STDs, and is clean.

When you do feel the unfaithful spouse is ready to commit to a totally exclusive relationship with you again, make it clear that by having sex with you, that he is making an irrevocable commitment to you of fidelity, and that failure to keep that will have serious consequences as far as the marriage goes.

"But what if you believe they've had only had an emotional affair and there was no sexual relationship?" First, can you really trust that he hasn't? Many unfaithful spouses do the "trickle truth" where they don't tell you everything up front, so they'll say they talked, maybe held hands, but didn't have sex. But then in a few months you find out evidence they met in a hotel room, or other piece of evidence that suggests the likelihood of a sexual relationship was high.

Keep in mind, we're only talking here about an uncooperative unfaithful spouse, not a cooperative one. If he is still hiding things from you, the likelihood he has told you everything is slim. If he is not being cooperative, you can only assume he is still hiding the full story from you, and you'll have to assume there was physical contact until the time you feel fairly confident there wasn't. Which usually doesn't happen until some months have passed in a healthy rebuilding with a cooperative unfaithful spouse. Once the unfaithful spouse has become cooperative and has made a firm commitment to rebuilding the marriage and not being with anyone else, only then can the hurt spouse feel confident in resuming sexual relations with him.

Second, an emotional affair in most cases involves mental adultery. That is, even when one has refrained from sex with an affair partner, there is usually an inner desire to do so, whether it ever gets fulfilled or not. Sometimes it is denied by the unfaithful spouse even to themselves, but other times it is a conscious thought, "I would love to get her in bed."

My wife sex chatted with several men during her affairs. I happened to read through some of the communications she had on MySpace. One in particular she sounded like she was ready to hop into bed with him. When I told her about that, she denied it. Said she would have never done anything with him, and didn't think she encouraged him. I told her she most certainly did encourage him. When she went back and read the message in question, she couldn't believe it. She literally had told him when he talked about coming to our city to meet her and what he would do to her sexually, that she would really like that experience. She hadn't realized at the time just how much she really sounded like she wanted to have him.

But the fact is, if there is desire, it is an adulterous affair even if the deed is never done. Even if the person only liked their company, spending that amount of time texting and talking, having much more intimate communication than with his spouse opens a marital window to someone other than his spouse and is moving toward the eventual destination of at least wanting to have sex with this person, if not actually doing it.

8) Use separation if needed. Sometimes it is hard to establish minimal contact with the unfaithful spouse due to tight living quarters, both working from home, or other issues. It is generally recommended if you find yourself in shouting fights with the unfaithful spouse and hard to avoid them, a time of separation is in order.

The downsides to separation are you can no longer keep track of the unfaithful spouse's activities as before. There is no easy way short of hiring a private investigator to keep watch over his apartment, to know that his affair partner isn't stopping by for regular visits. He is free to go out on the town and stay out until the wee hours of the morning without worrying that you'll find out about it.

Even if the affair partner is sleeping over, there is one reality that the unfaithful spouse experiences in all of this: what life will be like without the spouse and the children, if any. It may take a while, but at some point he'll feel the loss of his marriage and the kids. That can also get contrasted with the now easily available affair partner. Waking up to them may not be as exciting as those secret meetings in the night.

I wouldn't try this first thing, but if putting some emotional distance between you yields no significant results, then if it simply hasn't sunk into the unfaithful spouse's head that the marriage train is about to leave the station and he hasn't boarded it, this can make that reality more real. A final warning shot over his bow saying, "I'm not waiting much longer. Either get aboard or it's bye bye." If a separation doesn't wake him up, then there's not much that will.

If he decides to come back from a separation, this is your opportunity to lay out the conditions for their return. Write down a "contract" of sorts, listing out your expectations, the length of time any will last if applicable, and what happens if the unfaithful spouse fails to live up to those expectations. It is easy to say, "Yes, I'll be transparent," but much harder when the hurt spouse has their hand out, wanting their cell phone, to give it to him because the unfaithful spouse may have some embarrassing material on it. Once he is back in the house, it will be much easier for him to go back on their commitment thinking you won't really follow through or throw them out for it. So be prepared to do just that, should it come down to it.

What you don't want to do is have him come back in without extracting some serious commitments about how things are going to be. The only way to move them to being a cooperative unfaithful spouse is to establish the steps he'll need to take to get there. Moving back in from a separation is the most leverage you will have as a hurt spouse to accomplish that goal. Don't waste it.

9) Reward movement toward being cooperative. Assuming these steps have the desired affect, and the unfaithful spouse becomes cooperative, respond by also opening that window so that he will know he is on the right track. But you may need to open the window slowly, in shifts, until it is fully open.

For example, let's say the unfaithful spouse has been reluctant to become fully transparent. But due to you not being full transparent with the unfaithful spouse, he begins to realize if he wants to keep you, he needs to do that. So he lets you see his cell phone, text messages, Facebook account, giving you the passwords, etc. Let's say you set up that private bank account. You may at that point decide to tell him that you have it. You might avoid telling him at what bank, or how much is in it, or any other details. But you've cracked the window open.

Then a couple of weeks down the road, you discover a secret Facebook account that he didn't tell you about. You shut the window back down and say nothing more about the bank account. Wouldn't even hurt to use a little gas lighting on them, "I never said anything about a bank account. You must have been dreaming." Or maybe after a couple of weeks, it appears nothing new has come about, and you can find no evidence of further hiding, you might reveal which bank the account is at. And so on.

You may not want to use a secret bank account to start with, this was just an example of what I meant by opening the window in phases and rewarding the unfaithful spouse. It could be anything, to more willingness to discuss the marriage, to sharing your email and Facebook passwords as well. As he moves in the right directions, you want to reward him by opening your own windows in response to him opening his. Remember that a window open to you is one closed to the affair partner.

10) Keep the goals in sight, and avoid shifting to new one's. What I mean by this is sometimes in dealing with these type of steps to gain emotional distance in response to the unfaithful spouse's emotional distance, it can lead a hurt spouse to shift their goal from saving the marriage to getting out of it. Sometimes it is a subtle shift, but a shift nonetheless.

You can detect it when you fail to respond to the unfaithful spouse's positive advances in being cooperative. Instead of opening windows, you keep them shut. The emotional distance can feel like freedom to a hurt spouse filled with anger, who is having trouble dealing with the reality of what the unfaithful spouse did. The hurt spouse may find safety in not depending on the spouse for their sense of security. In the beginning days, it is natural to feel that way. He's hurt you, and you don't trust him to not do it again. So when he makes that movement to more honesty and openness, it isn't easy for the hurt spouse to feel good about opening himself up in response.

But when the hurt spouse stays there for weeks, months, or even years, whether he has consciously made a decision to rebuild or not, it is in effect a decision to end the marriage. Just as an unfaithful spouse needs to be cooperative for rebuilding and healing to work, so does a hurt spouse need to cooperate and respond with the unfaithful spouse. If the goal to help the unfaithful spouse move toward being cooperative and rebuilding the marriage is lost sight of, and the hurt spouse gets stuck in the security of being distant so he doesn't get hurt again, that is in effect a decision to end the marriage. It might take a while, but at some point the unfaithful spouse will give up and the marriage will end.

Unfaithful spouses need to be aware that it may take the hurt spouse some time to deal with what has happened to him. These are situations that take months to heal, and that's if everything is done to heal as discussed earlier. If it takes a few months for the unfaithful spouse to open up and be transparent, willing to discuss all aspects of the affair until the hurt spouse is satisfied, and for the unfaithful spouse to really accept his responsibility in the affair and work diligently to heal himself, that adds onto the time it will take for the hurt spouse to heal. For he can't heal until the affair is over. For the hurt spouse, it isn't over until he feels it is over.

That said, hurt spouses have a responsibility if they have committed to rebuilding the marriage. It isn't a good idea to say, "Yes, I'm willing to rebuild," but then when it comes down to it, shift goals on the unfaithful spouse. There are always things that the hurt spouse doesn't anticipate, feelings he didn't realize he would have. Obsessive thoughts that he has a hard time dealing with. Those are all going to happen, and if the unfaithful spouse is fully on board with rebuilding, he will expect and stay with you as you go through them. But if the hurt spouse stands in the way of healing, at some point the unfaithful spouse will lose hope and stop trying.

If, however, you keep the goals in mind when you are doing these steps, they will become ways to help the unfaithful spouse see your seriousness about the broken marriage and get serious himself, and if possible, move him from an uncooperative unfaithful spouse to a cooperative one. Because the ultimate goal is healing, and an uncooperative unfaithful spouse will not bring healing.

That concludes the three articles on the "Healing Steps for the Hurt Spouse. They are not intended to be comprehensive by any means, but will give the hurt spouse some stepping stones to further progress and perspectives to see the next steps to be taken.

Also, use these steps in the three articles at your own risk. That is, these are my best steps to healing, but there are no guarantees when dealing with people, nor can I foresee every possible outcome from using these steps. They may or may not work for any one individual situation. Each person, knowing their circumstances and those involved, should evaluate and use them at their discretion, and preferably with the aid of a counselor. But I think in general, these are the paths to healing for the hurt spouse. I pray they will be helpful.