Moving Forward After an Affair Without Losing Your Mind

“It is estimated that roughly 30 to 60% of all married individuals (in U.S.) will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage.”    ~Wikipedia (compilation of research studies)

Does this statistic alarm you? As a marriage counselor, the frequency of infidelity in marriages no longer surprises me. Instead, I am honored to have a unique vantage point. You have allowed me to observe what helps individuals and couples recover from infidelity.

Have you recently found out your spouse is having an affair? If yes, I imagine you are experiencing many different feelings. You can’t stop thinking about the affair and feel compelled to find out everything you can, even if it’s painful. By now, you are growing weary of holding onto the fear that the affair will happen again.

How do you recover from this news without losing your mind and yourself? Discover what choices you have in front of you, even if you feel like you have no choices. Your choice lies in how you respond and make sense of the affair. In doing so, you will chose what you are going to do as well as what you are not going to do.

What Not To Do When Your Spouse Has An Affair:

I have listened to you and heard what helps and hinders you from recovering from infidelity. Here’s what I think you’d say not to do…

  • Don’t let the affair tear down your self-worth. You are not any less lovable or attractive. Someone else’s actions don’t have to reflect how important you are.
  • Don’t get stuck on trying to fix your spouse. One of the ways your spouse deals with stress and tension is to turn to more than one person for comfort. Each time you try to fix them, you will be letting them off the hook from fully understanding and learning from this.
  • Don’t over-focus on the affair. While it may be all you think about at first, it helps to look at the bigger marriage or family climate. The affair is typically a symptom of underlying marriage patterns or family stress level.

What To Do If Your Spouse Has An Affair:

Now, you know what has hindered others from recovering from an affair, but what about what helps?

  • Nourish Yourself: Expect to feel the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Find ways to manage worry and practice good self-care.
  • Take Opportunity for Learning: Use the news of marriage infidelity as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and your marriage. What do you want to change to improve your quality of life? What marriage patterns could be contributing to your marriage being vulnerable to infidelity?
  • Recognize Denial for What It Is: If your spouse is denying and minimizing the affair when you have evidence of it’s existence, then he or she isn’t ready to accept responsibility for their actions. And your spouse may also not be ready to end the affair. If your spouse is ready to end the affair, they will do so without you telling them to.
  • Be Clear About Your Position: You have a choice: are you or aren’t you ok with being with them when they are pursuing romantic or sexual contact with other people? Instead of setting boundaries on them that they may or may not follow, let them know what you are willing and not willing to do while they are having an affair.

When experiencing a high level of stress and anxiety, your first reaction may be to tell your spouse what to do. It can initially produce more anxiety to realize you can’t shape up your spouse’s behavior. Find security in knowing that the other person’s actions don’t have to define you.

Being sure of yourself can free you from being consumed with anxiety about the infidelity. It helps you feel more in control and moves you to the present while understanding the past. The affair is turned into an invitation to tend to what needs to grow or change.

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Marci offers face-to-face counseling services in the Kansas City, MO area. Schedule an appointment today to help you move forward.

Or if you are looking for a counselor in your area? There are therapists who are trained to work with individuals on marriage and family issues: Bowen Family Systems or American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy

Care for Any Symptom Like a Hopeful Researcher

Under the weather

Have you ever felt hopeless after receiving a physical or mental health diagnosis? When people receive a diagnosis, it is often assumed that the condition is both lifelong and fixed, meaning it can’t change. This assumption creates a dark cloud of hopelessness on top of the diagnosis.

This hopelessness came over Janice, a married woman in her mid-thirties and mother of a 4-year-old son. For the past 6 months, Janice has been struggling with aches, pains, and fatigue. She loves being active but is finding it difficult to keep up with her exercise routine due to the pain she feels almost daily.

Janice decides to consult her physician who runs routine lab tests. When the results come back normal, her doctor diagnoses her with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain syndrome. He recommends daily medication, and Janice leaves the appointment thinking she is too young to have a chronic condition.

Diagnosis Stirs Learning Opportunity

Some people stay in this hopeless place, but Janice uses it to learn more about herself. When Janice thinks about her pain, she realizes it varies from day-to-day. She is motivated to better understand her pain.

While you may not be experiencing pain like Janice, maybe you have been diagnosed with depression, panic disorder, or a different physical syndrome. Or maybe you struggle with stand alone symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, irritability, or overeating. Whatever your symptom, I imagine it varies by day, week, or month too.

Making sense of the variability is the key to managing the symptoms that accompany the diagnosis. In doing so, the diagnosis doesn’t define you, it becomes  a messenger. Most symptoms are trying to tell us something. Instead of feeling hopeless, you can see it as an opportunity to learn something new.

Think Like a Researcher Observing Symptom Variability

How would a researcher look at this diagnosis? Think about the questions a researcher would investigate to get a better understanding of what it’s like to be you living with your diagnosis.

Step 1. Identify the problem/symptoms you want to observe : Pick one symptom, such as pain, fatigue, insomnia, overeating, irritability, etc to rate each day from 1-10. Make sure it’s a problem or symptom that is very important to you.

Step 2. Make a hypothesis : There may be many factors that contribute to symptoms increasing or decreasing in intensity (exercise, nutrition, external stress, loneliness, over-functioning, etc) Make your best guess at the variables you want to observe as possible contributing factors.

Step 3. Record daily observations with no judgement : Use a private mobile app or small notebook to rate your symptom daily for at least 30 days. Also rate at least 2 other variables daily, using descriptions and numbers. Record both good and bad days in your journal with no self-criticism – it just is.

Step 4. Interpret your evidence : After at least 30 days of noting the symptom and variables, read through all your notes at one time. Based on your evidence, did you prove your hypothesis right or wrong? What is your symptom trying to tell you?

Step 5. Determine what helps manage the symptom :Identify what helps improve the symptom as well as what makes it worse. Now you can write your own treatment plan. You have gathered invaluable evidence, so decide what to do with it.

Usefulness of Self-Observation

Wondering what happened to Janice? She is still rating her pain on a daily basis, including before and after exercise. She also records: length of sleep at night, external stress level, and degree of connection/anxiety in relation to others. Janice hypothesized that it was exercise or poor sleep making her feel more pain.

But what Janice observed tells her something different about her pain. She learned that her pain isn’t a marker of how well she sleeps nor whether or not she exercises. Sometimes she feels great after exercising and sometimes she feels moderate muscle tension. In fact her pain level isn’t fixed, it is different every day.

The biggest predictor of a higher pain level was how well Janice did at defining herself when faced with tension, stress, and pressure. When she takes others distance or negativity less personally, she would feel less pain. Or if she held still when others pressured her to be responsible for them, she could actually decrease her pain level. Janice’s pain is literally trying to tell her to keep her relationships, but get better at defining her boundaries.

While she still has occasional hopeless thoughts, Janice is caring for her pain without medication, experiencing more good days than bad, and enjoying being active with her son again. In Janice’s case, her observations were more hopeful than the diagnosis. What about with you?

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Marci offers face-to-face counseling services in the Kansas City, MO area. Schedule an appointment today to explore what your symptoms are trying to tell you.

Note: All names & identifying information have been changed in this article. This post is for educational purposes only, not a case study. (Photo Credit: “Under the Weather” by Shena Tschofen)

Myths about Communication

Most couples come into my office thinking they have a communication problem. Then most say their partner needs to listen better or be more open.

It can be a challenge to see our part in the “communication” problem. We are usually so busy reacting to what our partner is saying that we aren’t really hearing them. Instead we are listening to our assumptions, putting up walls, or formulating our next point.

What if you were better able to manage your own emotional reactions with your partner? The challenge isn’t getting your partner to listen, it is getting yourself to stay interested in your partner without defending, attacking, or withdrawing.

If you are looking for a different perspective on opening up couple’s communication, then I invite you to listen to this video from The Bowen Center’s Family Matters interview series on “Myths about Communication.” As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Kathleen Cauley shares her thoughts on common communication challenges among couples:

In the video, Kathleen shares common assumptions many couples have about good communication. She also proposes a new way of thinking about communication that involves calming yourself down instead of getting your point heard. I would love to hear your thoughts and reactions to this video in the comments section.

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Subscribe to Family Matters on You Tube to hear more videos. The mission of the Bowen Center is “to assist families in solving major life problems through understanding and improving human relationships.”