Today is Thanksgiving. It’s my hopes that you and your family have a good Thanksgiving.
Although it’s a time when family gets together, for many families, it’s a time filled with stress and conflicts. When you’re recovering from an affair, those holidays that should be enjoyable become something that’s endured rather than enjoyed.
When family members get together, you see and experience many old family patterns. Those old patterns show up when there is tension or unresolved family issues.
Even Thanksgiving becomes a tension filled dinner. Rather than family talking to each other, they merely meet in the same room in fulfilling a required ceremony.
If your family spends more time on the phone than interacting with each other, it’s a sign of trouble. Such behavior amounts to family members avoiding what’s really going on. It’s safer on the phone than dealing with real people.
Somehow crawling into their phones is preferred to real conversation and interactions with each other. If more time is spent on the phone than talking with each other, there’s something bigger going on than the Thanksgiving dinner.
Although I would typically suggest that you issue a ‘no phones for dinner’ imperative for Thanksgiving, when there are affair recovery issues going on, you want to rethink that. Removing the phones means that those issues that have been avoided will be brought to the surface.
One of the strange phenomena that I encountered while in graduate school was "ABD's". An "ABD" is someone who has done all the work needed for obtaining their doctoral degree except the dissertation.
What made "ABD's" strange is that they completed all the work, yet stopped right before the final task. Many actually drop out of college at that point. It just blew my mind considering all the work they did only to drop out right before graduating.
I finally solved the mystery of 'ABD's' when I learned about the 'fear of success'. As odd as it sounds there are people who talk about success, yet actually fear it.
Success scares them so much, they sabotage any chance of success in their life. For them, success brings fears.
I've also seen this 'fear of success' in affair recovery. You may be one of those who fear having a successful marriage.
The prospect of a healthy marriage scares you more than a dysfunctional marriage. This fear makes toleration of the dysfunction preferred over making things healthy.
One of the hallmarks of this fear of success is the inability to receive. One sure way of keeping your marriage sick is the inability to receive.
That inability keeps your marriage in a sick place. It keeps the two of you in a state of unhealthy relationship. That unhealthiness is often used as an excuse for acting out in the form of affairs and drinking.
Perhaps there is some truth to the saying, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas“. On my recent visit there, I encountered some strange events that had my head swimming.
The event in question was encountering a groups of four women walking the Vegas strip. I ran into a group of four middle aged women. Like the thing #1 and thing #2 characters in the Dr. Seuss book, “The Cat in the Hat”, their shirts were emblazoned with “Bitch #1, Bitch #2, Bitch #3 and Bitch #4”.
The shirts even used the same font as The Cat in the Hat characters. I suppose the shirts were doing what they were intended to do in terms of getting attention. The group of four grabbed your attention.
If my visit to Vegas had been for fun and games, I may have viewed it differently. It was shortly after attending a conference session on trauma and negative self-labels.
Stepping out of a conference addressing how victims of trauma hurt themselves in various ways, including name calling, cutting and negative tattoos, encountering this groups was an ‘unreal’ moment for me.
As some spouses, like you, struggle with negative views of who they are, these women were wearing the title of ‘bitch’ for their own giggles. I suppose they aren’t aware that names and labels have power.
I also wondered what happens when someone starts believing what’s on their shirts? What happens when others start viewing them and treating them as a ‘bitch?’
Have you ever considered which comes first, fear or the self-defeating behaviors? Although on the surface it seems like one of those hard to answer questions, there’s a clear answer.
Fear and self-defeating behavior are such close companions, it’s hard telling where one stops and the other begins. When you are surrounded by them, it’s confusing telling the difference between them.
In the case of fear and self-defeating behavior, the self-defeating behavior came first. The fear comes afterwards. You fear others will discover your self-defeating behavior. That behavior hurts your marriage, the likelihood of your success, and your self-confidence.
Your fears effect all your daily decision making. The hard question is “How do your fears effect your daily decision making?”
The affair and dealing with it, exposes self-defeating behaviors. This is one reason why there’s resistance to working on your marriage relationship from either you, your spouse or both.
Your fearful about what might happen or what you’ll do when you discover when the relationship issues become real. At that point, you can no longer hide behind ignorance.
Once an affair happens, there is a label attached to both of you that shapes how you view and deal with the world. Everything is filtered through the affair, including the self-defeating behavior.
Hiding the self-defeating behavior only creates more fear. Facing it means that you and your spouse will make some changes. Changes mean that your self-defeating behavior will be exposed.
Although one of the major traumas in my family happened years ago, one some days those old feelings come back. The good thing is that now things feel safe.
When you don’t feel safe in your own home or family, life is no longer enjoyable. Daily activity becomes an ordeal that you struggle through. I recall being on edge, wondering “What’s going to happen today?”
It wasn’t a good kind of curiosity, it was more like wondering what’s going to go sideways today. I was on guard from attacks on all sides whenever I went home. I dreaded going home, knowing that something was going to happen.
My home was no longer a safe place. It became where I crashed and hung my clothes instead of where I felt safe and secure.
Feeling unsafe in your own home is one of the many consequences that can happen with affairs. When you don’t trust your spouse, sleeping beside them at night is no longer a safe place.
What happened has impacted your body and your brain. You take it personally, even when the cheater claims they didn’t mean to hurt you.
You start questioning what you say and how you say things. It takes all your energy in controlling the drama that goes on around you.
You give up trying to get ahead or rest. Instead, daily life is about keeping your head above water. The problem is that with each day, you lose a little more of your coping abilities.
When counseling with couples there often comes a time when one spouse comments "That's exactly how I feel'" At that moment, there is a sense of connection.
The amazing thing is that on making such a connection, the whole relationship and energy in the room changes. The spouse feels validated. Their experience is finally put into words that another human understands
That sense of 'validation' and connection is powerful. It's at those moments that relationships start changing.
The paradox of validation is that they often involve painful emotions. The better I can express the painful emotion they are experiencing, the greater the expression of relief comes out when making connection.
I was reminded of the 'paradox of validation' when a reader commented 'spot on' to a recent post. His comment told me that although I addressed a painful topic, he experienced some relief in that someone else understood what he's going through.
There are times in your life when you suddenly feel hopeful at the moment someone else understands. Expressions like "You get me!" or "Finally!" are common ways of expressing this.
At such moments, you feel like someone is now on your team. Things finally make sense!
There's something hopeful about when you're finally listened to and understood. When you are finally able to put into words all your internal angst and turmoil, there's relief.
A few years ago, my wife and I took salsa dance lessons. Each week we drove to the other side of Austin for our weekly lessons.
Each week our skills improved and we started looking like we knew what we were doing. The teacher even made us a practice CD filled with salsa tunes.
One week my ankle was inflamed. That week each step and move increased my level of pain. What had been an enjoyable form of exercise now turned into subtle torture.
The dance class suddenly turned into something I no longer enjoyed. I didn’t hate salsa, but the moves were hurting me.
I recalled the story of dance pain on coming across a reference to “the toxic dance of staggered disclosure“. When it comes to affair disclosure, having the truth come out a little at a time makes things worse.
Although I wish I’d coined the title “Toxic dance of staggered disclosure”, it is fitting. When disclosure is eked out a little at a time, it turns toxic.
One of the toxic effects is that it poisons trust. It leaves you unsure as to whether or not you can trust your spouse. You’re never sure if you know all the important facts or if the other shoe is about to drop.
The other week, I read a story about the performer, Shania Twain. In the story she relayed how her spouse cheated on her as she struggled with Lyme disease.
Prior to her medical condition, her career was promising. She was attractive and going places. She won five emmys and was the preeminent female entertainer. At that point, the world was hers.
Things changed when she was struck with Lyme disease. When her conditioned worsened, she found herself losing control of her body and her marriage.
As she struggled with her illness and its crippling effects, her spouse cheated on her. She had fame and fortune, but it didn’t protect her from infidelity.
At the time she needed a supportive husband, he wasn’t there. She was left a physical wreck and her marriage was broken.
I suppose that her spouse didn’t remember the wedding vows about ‘in sickness and in health’. He made the choice to cheat. She trusted him. He was not only her husband, but also her producer.
In my mind, cheating on an ailing spouse is one of the lowest things you can do. I know they have struggles as well, but that doesn’t excuse their solution to their situation.
Shania struggled with what to do. The feelings were intense.
“Getting a divorce with the person that you work with for 15 years of your life, is getting a divorce from every element of your life.”
Around my home, we joke about getting our ‘daily fix’ of coffee in the mornings. There’s a sensation that comes with that morning fix that gives a reassurance that “I can handle whatever comes my way.”
Although I’d never thought about the assurance that comes with my regular morning coffee fix, it’s there. I realize that the comfort comes not just from any coffee, it has to be my coffee in my mug.
It becomes a comforting ritual. When the morning fix goes well, there’s the hope that the rest of the day falls into place as well.
There’s something about first shot of our Guatemalan coffee in our favorite mugs. Each of us has our own mug.
You don’t mess with our coffee mugs and give the wrong cups to the wrong person. One of the stressors about having weekend overnight guests is that they often drink from the wrong coffee cups.
Although I jest about my daily fix, there are some of you that have daily fixes as well. Some are positive and others are negative. One of the traits of living with a sexual addict is needing a daily fixation over your spouse’s addiction.
In the case of your daily fix, when it comes to living with a sex addict, it’s a negative fix. There’s a daily rumination about fears of what may happen. There’s your obsessing about the addiction and what it brings.
Although I hate admitting it, there are times family members have told me “You are your own worst enemy!” Each time I hear the phrase, I cringe.
At those moments, I come face to face with some self-defeating behavior I’ve been doing. The one that I most guilty of is over-complicating things. This often shows up in my home repairs. For some reason, I make choices that complicate rather than simplify solutions to a problem.
Self-defeating behaviors are bad habits. I often have to get so totally frustrated I change my ways. It’s only at that point that I am willing to look at other choices.
I’m sure that my habits frustrate my family as well. When they ask ‘why’ I do it, they receive a justification for the my complication of things. They hear my reason for doing what I’m doing rather than receiving an honest appraisal of the situation.
They have learned that anytime they ask “Why” when I am in a self-defeating mode, they’re just going to get excuses. Self defeating behaviors and “Why” questions are a toxic mix.
Asking someone in the middle of a self-defeating behavior “Why” only gets you their justification and excuses.
I know that they’re wanting me to reconsider what I’m doing along with finding other options, but asking “Why” is not the way of accomplishing that.