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.