Thursday, June 19, 2014

Transparency: Soul Windows

There are two primary losses a hurt spouse endures: the loss of intimacy with their spouse and the loss of trust. Trust is the heaviest casualty in an affair.

As bad as it is, an affair can be ended and in due time, forgiven by most spouses. The transgression can end, no contact established, and it can become a distant memory in time. If that was the sum damage done by an affair, you'd have fewer broken marriages over them.

But it is trust on several levels that does the most damage.

Lack of trust, if not successfully rebuilt, will linger and poison a marriage long after the affair has become ancient history. Time will not heal it, only multiply it. Here is how:

1. Lying during the affair. Few unfaithful spouses are in a frame of mind to confess during an affair. They will often go to great lengths to hide it from their spouse, including denying any accusation, gas lighting, creating marital drama to artificially get angry with the spouse, lying about where they're going, been, what they did, etc.

2. Lying when they get married. Committing infidelity involves breaking one's wedding vows, making what was vowed before witnesses a lie.

If an unfaithful spouse confessed shortly after ending an affair, or in order to end one, that would be the extent of the deception. A definite blow to being able to trust one's spouse, but rebuildable in most cases. Unfortunately, many unfaithful spouses compound that deception by doing the following:

3. Lying after the affair is over. A majority of unfaithful spouses don't confess to the affair to their spouse. Usually in the mistaken belief they are saving the spouse from being hurt. Too late. The damage has already been done. Lying to one's spouse about the condition of the relationship only compounds their hurt. Should the spouse find out about it, as is often the case, the consequences of the deception will grow like interest in a high-yield investment account.

4. Lying after discovery day. Otherwise known as the trickle truth. The unfaithful spouse, fearing losing their spouse or hurting them further, only tells as much as they believe they have to. But each secret is like a land mine waiting to go off during the rebuilding of the marriage. Each new revelation to the hurt spouse destroys trust more than it would have if told at the beginning, making rebuilding trust much less likely to be successful.

A healthy relationship is founded upon mutual trust, honesty, and respect. Destroy that, and you destroy the glue that holds a marriage together. If an unfaithful spouse sincerely wants to rebuild their marriage, rebuilding that trust is the number one priority. Fail there and the rest either won't happen or won't matter.

The antidote to deception and the quickest route to rebuilding trust in a marriage where trust has been destroyed is transparency.

Transparency, as well as no contact with the affair partner, is one of the immediate task an unfaithful spouses is expected to do to rebuild once the cat is out of the bag. This is often translated to mean the unfaithful spouse must allow the hurt spouse full access to all communication venues: email, cell phones, Facebook and other social sites, at any time they want, without the need to sanitize it first.

That is part of it, but it goes further than that. Shirley Glass in Not Just Friends uses the analogy of opening and closing windows. When an affair happens, the unfaithful spouse closes some windows to their spouse in order to open them with the affair partner. Each closed window into the unfaithful spouse's life represents an area of their life closed off to their spouse. It lessens the intimacy and hurts the bonds of marriage.

How, you may ask? As listed in my marriage articles at the beginning of this blog, the marital bond is composed of several strands: physical, emotional, social, legal, and spiritual. Each type of bond represents a degree of intimacy. For example, the legal bond represents the willingness of both spouses to be legally recognized as one entity with its legal benefits and responsibilities. It indicates a higher degree of commitment to one another because it cannot be so easily broken.

An emotional bond is strengthened by closeness, openness to each other. In other words, transparency. The more of your secrets you tell someone, the closer and more intimate of a friend you are to that person. It is that closeness that creates the emotional feelings of being in love with someone.

So the more windows that are closed to the spouse, the more secrets a spouse has that the other is not let in on, the less intimacy and emotional closeness the relationship will have.

This dynamic is often illustrated in affairs themselves. It is frequently the case that the unfaithful spouse and the affair partner share more of their emotional lives with each other than the unfaithful spouse does with the hurt spouse. In my case, my wife talked with me only 5-10 minutes a day prior to discovery day. Meanwhile, she spent hours everyday via phone and text conversing with the affair partner.

Granted, that window, prior to the affairs, wasn't open too much, but once she opened that window to her affair partner, he knew more of what was going on with my marriage than I did. In effect, they shared a transparency that I didn't. I was clueless while the affair partner even knew how often my wife and I had sex.

Soul Windows

True transparency is deeper than giving your spouse your passwords to everything. It involves opening windows to your soul to share with your spouse. It means not only providing openness to your forms of communication, but allowing them to see you as you are, faults, mistakes, good points and all.

It means keeping few, if any, secrets. Most certainly keep no secrets about the condition of the marriage. The more such secrets are kept, the less emotional connection you'll have, the less emotional love you'll feel. The less trusting the hurt spouse will be.

There is the key to transparency: to allow the hurt spouse into your soul and life so they can feel they know you again.

They can experience the honesty and the real you. Without that, giving the hurt spouse passwords and access to accounts will only be a band-aid on a gaping wound. If they still don't feel like they can trust the unfaithful spouse, they'll assume there are hidden accounts and cell phones they don't know anything about.

How Can I Open Soul Windows?

First, spend more time communicating. Just talking more won't insure opening soul windows will happen, but without it, it simply will not happen. You can't have quality time together without also having some quantity. A good goal is to spend 15 hours a week together. A good bit of that time can be conversation.

Second, read good marriage and infidelity books to each other. Pause to discuss points or participate in exercises suggested. My wife and I have had some of our most productive discussions this way.

Third, participate together in marriage counseling. Sometimes a guide can help discuss issues that need to be brought out in the open that a couple might be blind to.

Fourth, participate in activities together. Transparency and opening soul windows involves more than talk, but sharing your time with each other. Transparency of your life.

Fifth, set aside some time to discuss issues that need to be addressed concerning the affair. The hurt spouse needs to only ask questions they really need to know the answer to, and the unfaithful spouse needs to answer them as honestly and completely as possible.

One good suggestion is to create a discussion jar. The hurt spouse can write their questions on pieces of paper and put them in the jar. The unfaithful spouse can look at them as needed. When the time comes to discuss these issues, the unfaithful spouse can draw out the question(s) he wants to answer. A virtual discussion jar using an email and storing them into a folder could accomplish the same thing.

Does this work? Think about it. These are the kinds of things the unfaithful spouse and the affair partner were doing that fueled their fantasy and made it exciting. They spent massive hours each week communicating. They did things together. They shared themselves with each other heart to heart. Is it any wonder they fell in love emotionally?

In short, they were flinging soul windows open to each other. They were becoming transparent to each other while the relationship with the hurt spouse grew less intimate, more closed windows, less feelings of love. Which is exactly where the saying comes in, "I love you but I'm not in love with you." In other words, I love you in my mind, but I'm not feeling it.

To rebuild trust, the unfaithful spouse needs to shut those windows to the affair partner (no contact) and open them fully to the hurt spouse. Over time, if the hurt spouse senses they are seeing the real you, that you are being honest, faithful, and repentant, trust can be rebuilt.

Likewise, the hurt spouse needs to be willing to open their windows in response to the unfaithful spouse's open windows. While it may not happen immediately (you're gun shy), it will do the marriage little good if the unfaithful spouse opens his window but the hurt spouse never does. Unfaithful spouses need to be patient, but transparency in marriage is a two-way street. When transparency is one-sided, it becomes the means of emotional abuse, like infidelity.

What are other ways you've discovered to become more transparent with your spouse?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Pull the Trigger on Triggers

Dealing with emotional triggers is a common problem for hurt spouses. Repentant unfaithful spouses establishing no contact also deal with triggers.

What Are Triggers?

Triggers are any reminders of an emotional trauma that renews the negative emotions of that trauma.

For example, someone involved in a wreck with a semi-truck will feel the emotions of fear while driving in the vicinity of a semi on the road. Seeing a semi on the road serves as a trigger to activate that fear and hurt again.

For hurt spouses, triggers vary widely depending on the circumstances. What triggers one spouse may not trigger another hurt spouse. Not everything that could be a trigger becomes one.

Nor do hurt spouses chose what will trigger them. It is an automatic emotional reaction to something that they experience. They cannot will to not feel that way. It just happens. Most of the time, the hurt spouse wishes they did not have these triggers. They don't want to experience that pain again.

There are three main classifications of triggers for hurt spouses.

  1. Words used during the affair.
  2. Things used during the affair.
  3. Events/places that are related to the affair.

Words are grouped into three sub-categories: words/phrases used on the affair partner, used on the hurt spouse particularly during the affair, or words that appear deceptive and non-transparent.

If the unfaithful spouse referred to his affair partner as "Sweetie" and the hurt spouse knows this, and has never been called that before, being called sweetie post-discovery day could trigger a hurt spouse into recalling the betrayal.

If the unfaithful spouse said, "You're my wild flower," during the affair to the hurt spouse, continuing to use it could remind the hurt spouse of the affair.

Telling the hurt spouse, "Hold on. Let me do a couple things before you use my cell phone," can sound like the unfaithful spouse is hiding something, precipitating the suspicions the hurt spouse felt in the days leading up to discovery day.

Things can be any physical object used during the affair. Gifts given to or by the unfaithful spouse and affair partner, vehicles used--including color, make and model--, a bed, mementos retained by the unfaithful spouse, music listened to, or a credit card, just to name a few examples.

Events and places can be any holiday that was tainted by the affair--like discovering the unfaithful spouse was with the affair partner on Easter. The couple's anniversary, a job, the gym, a restaurant, sex, or company picnics.

Unfaithful spouses also have triggers involving two main areas: guilt/desire for the affair partner, and once guilt for the affair sets in,  the same list for hurt spouses can remind the unfaithful spouse of what they did, triggering shame and more guilt.

How To Deal With Triggers

There are seven main ways of dealing with triggers.

One, realize they are going to be there. All hurt and unfaithful spouses will run into these triggers. The main strategy is to minimize and deaden them as much as possible.

Two, remove as many as you can. This might involve getting a new job, a new vehicle, new furniture, avoiding restaurants that are triggers, deleting/getting rid of mementos, moving to a new city, etc.

Three, get back on the horse, even if the affair partner was riding it before. My own example is my wife met the second affair partner at the gym. I started going to the gym with her. Initially, it was awkward and uncomfortable. But after a week or two, I relaxed, and no longer felt triggery about the gym. Creating new memories with her at the gym rendered it ineffective as a trigger.

Four, invest new meaning into a trigger. Anniversaries--both marital and discovery day--tend to be big triggers. As our first discovery day anniversary approached, we'd been successful at rebuilding so that we both had a lot of hope for the future. A year prior to that, I didn't know if we'd still be married by that point. So our first discovery day anniversary became a celebration that we'd made it that far in good shape.

If you can't do that, due to a rough and uncertain rebuilding, treat it as a memorial, like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor is nationally. Be grateful for lessons learned and any progress made, no matter how small, while acknowledging the losses.

Five, hang on, they do deaden with time if not reinforced by new occurrences of the affair. Time may not heal the wound, but it will lessen the impact of the wound emotionally. The safer the hurt spouse feels as time goes by without new cheating, the less impact triggers will have.

Six, focus on strengthening your romance. Couples who feel in love with each other will not be as negatively affected by triggers. The book, His Needs, Her Needs is an excellent tool to aid in that process.

Seven, both hurt spouses and unfaithful spouses should realize that feelings are not controlled directly by will power and reasoning. They can influence emotions, but can't turn them off and on like flipping a light switch. It takes time to modify emotions. This is true whether we're talking about feelings of pain and anger from a hurt spouse, or the unfaithful spouse feeling in love with their affair partner. Because a trigger flairs those feelings up from time to time doesn't mean the person has gone back to square one.

There are perhaps other methods of dealing with them. What has worked for you?