I recently saw a bumper sticker that said…”I live my life with no regrets”. Although this sounds highly “enlightened” I believe that ALL of us have regrets. I contend that it is important to let go of things and move on, however, I also believe that an occasional dose of regret can help guide us down a more conscious path. I recently had a conversation with a couple who is attempting to salvage their 14 year marriage. The cause of the marital turmoil began when it was discovered that one of the partners had been having an extra marital affair. “How could this have happened, I thought everything between us was fine” my client said between sobs. “That’s just it, it isn’t fine, you have not met my needs for years” the “other half” said indignantly. As I listened to their conversation I found myself taking a trip down memory lane, a trip that found me revisiting a place in time when I too was having this conversation with a partner. I have experienced infidelity both as a willing participant and as an unknowing recipient. I can honestly say that actively participating in the act of marital infidelity is one of my biggest regrets. Infidelity is a self absorbed act where very little if any attention is paid to long term consequences. Once revealed, infidelity has an exponential effect, potentially hurting a multitude of people. Once a trust is broken it is very hard if not impossible to restore it. Guilt, shame, anger and rage are common emotional responses when this most intimate trust has been violated.
Lets take a closer look at the mindset of someone who may engage in the act of infidelity and then ask ourselves if this is how we desire to show up in our marriage or relationship. Infidelity is a CHOICE. I always encourage friends or clients who are standing on the edge of this perilous cliff to stop and think about the CHOICE they are about to make. I know firsthand the power of the Ego’s chief weapon, our libido, which can make this an even taller order but one we owe ourselves, our partner and our family.
Old Mindset, NEW Strategies…
Insecurity. Insecure people tend to be implicit communicators. On the other hand, explicit communicators are prone to put their cards on the table and rarely play a guessing game with others. Implicit communicators expect people to “understand what they are thinking and feeling” and often “act out” when their silent expectations are not met. Implicit communicators can be “sneaky” and impulsive. NEW STRATEGY…Speak your truth in real time. Let your partner know how you are feeling. Real time communication can go along way in keeping our relationships in balance. Be explicit but also be respectful in your communication with your partner.
Narcissistic. Narcissists like to make everything about them. “MY partner is not meeting MY needs” or MY partner doesn’t know what turns ME on” are examples of some of the excuses a narcissistic person might use to justify bad behavior. “MY partner should be able to understand why I stepped out on our marriage, if he/she were paying attention to ME we wouldn’t be having this conversation”. Nothing is ever their fault. NEW STRATEGY…For the next 30 days focus exclusively on meeting your partners needs. This will be a challenge but one that will take the focus off of YOU. Refrain from using the words, ME, MY and MINE.
Fault. Blaming a spouse or partner is also routinely used to justify bad behavior. Rather than take personal responsibility for their indiscretion they may attempt to build a case around why “MY partner is not meeting MY needs”. They may also attempt to rally friends and family in an effort to garner support for their poor CHOICES. I know that I employed this misguided strategy when I was confronted with my own poor CHOICES. This was also the rational presented to me when I found myself on the receiving end of infidelity. “The wheels on the bus go around and around”. NEW STRATEGY…Every time we find ourselves blaming our partner for our relationship problems we must stop and turn it around. For example, instead of saying “MY partner is not meeting MY needs” say “I am not meeting my partners needs”. This “MY to I” strategy will help us share responsibility for the challenges in our relationship.
I and YOU. “YOU” is featured in most defensive conversations. For example, “YOU make me angry” or “YOU” don’t understand me”. When communication is centered around “YOU” it is very difficult to open a door to understanding and resolution. NEW STRATEGY…Change the word “YOU” to the word “I”. “I” am feeling angry right now because “I” don’t feel like you understand me”. This simple word switch can soften the tone of a disagreement and allow the other person to explain their position.
Drug. I remember the “rush” I would get during “acts” of infidelity and the crash I would feel when it was time to return “home”. At the time it never occurred to me that I could create the same “rush” in my own relationship if I would begin practicing honest communication with my partner and encourage them to do the same. NEW STRATEGY…Talk with your partner about intimacy and sex. They are two very different things. What turns your partner on? What turns them off? What sexual needs are and are not being met in the relationship? How does your partner define intimacy? Are you meeting their desires? This can be the beginning of a brand new level of intimacy in the relationship with the added bonus of mind blowing sex!!!
Evening the score. I am amazed by how many people engage in extra marital affairs as a way of exacting revenge or “evening the score” with a partner. If you are the “victim” of an affair you are well aware of the emotional scarring it can cause. It is a direct assault on our person hood, one that we may never completely recover from. Those who CHOOSE to remain in a relationship where infidelity has taken place may also carry around the feelings of weakness that come from not being strong enough to speak their authentic truth or leave the relationship. NEW STRATEGY…When thoughts of revenge begin to surface in a relationship we must make a conscious decision to NEVER use sex as a weapon. We must make the decision to either stay in the relationship and put our energy into working through our differences or we must make the decision to end the relationship. We must take SEXUAL REVENGE off the table!
Lack. When we contemplate or actively engage in the act of infidelity we are residing in a place of scarcity and lack. We are communicating to the universe that our partner is NO LONGER living up to the expectations we “demand” of them. We are also sending a clear message to our partner that they were only worthy of our “love” as long as they were at the top of their game. For example, a change in economics or health can be a very challenging time in a relationship but not a valid reason to run into the arms of someone else. NEW STRATEGY…When confronted with a significant challenge in our relationship, it is important to talk about the problem at hand and then make the decision to work together to find a solution. Life often happens when we are making other plans. Infidelity is avoidance that features long term consequences.
Immaturity. As children, many of us stomped up and down until we “got our way”. This is what is commonly referred to as a “tantrum”. As adults many of us throw “tantrums” of a different type, “affairs and flings”. Whether it’s a one night stand or an extra marital relationship lasting 5 years, infidelity is an immature act. An emotionally mature person is willing to cut ties before seeking a new “playmate”. NEW STRATEGY…When confronted with a sexual temptation (they will surface if we are receptive to them) it is advisable to stop, take out a piece of paper and do this exercise. Draw a line down the middle of the paper. On one side write the word BENEFITS. On the other side write the word CONSEQUENCES. Write down ALL of the benefits you will receive by engaging in the act of infidelity. On the other side make a list of ALL of the potential consequences that may arise if you are found out. Weigh them and proceed accordingly.
Theft. When we engage in infidelity we are stealing from the emotional bank account of our relationship. This emotional bank account contains deposits of faith, hope, love, dreams and most importantly, trust. Once the emotional bank account has been pilfered it will be difficult if not impossible to build it back up. NEW STRATEGY…When we find ourselves angry, bitter or feeling vengeful, we must strive to find a way to make a deposit into the relationship’s emotional bank account. Every time we make a “withdrawal” we are moving the relationship closer to emotional bankruptcy and every time we make even a small deposit we are securing our future. The CHOICE is ours.
Yukky. The bottom line…infidelity is a yukky mess that is very hard to clean up. NEW STRATEGY…Keep your clothes on while you decide to stay and work on the relationship or leave. There is enough pain in the dissolution of a relationship without adding an additional layer. A “clean break” should be just that…CLEAN.
3 Models of Relationship…which one best describes yours?
1. It’s all about MY needs. In this relationship model everything is about ME. What can YOU do for ME that will make MY life better. This is by far the most unconscious way to be in relationship and the chances of success are very low.
2. Let’s trade. I will do things for YOU in accordance with what you are willing to do for ME. For example, I will go to the game with YOU if you will go to the opera with ME. This model is a slight improvement over model # 1 yet still represents an unconscious way to be in relationship. Once one of the partners tires of “horse trading” the relationship is doomed.
3. It’s all about my partner. In this model my focus is on my partner. I am committed to meeting his/her needs rather than my own. At first this model may seem confusing as most of us have grown up with an “it’s all or mostly about me” mindset. When both partners are living in this relationship model they are each getting their needs met on a regular basis. This is a win-win model in which there is very little need to “roam” around the pasture.
Most of us float between model 2 and 3. Our goal is to reside in model 3. When we live here our chances of stepping outside the relationship will decrease dramatically.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.