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.