Handling grief is a big part of dealing with affairs. Grief is not one of those fun or exciting issues to deal with. Although it’s not fun, it’s necessary.
There was a time that I thought to myself that I could fast-track grief after a major loss in my life, when my father-in-law died. I assumed that since I was a therapist, I knew what was coming and how to deal with it.
I assumed that all that knowledge meant I could fast track the grief. I thought I could drive past the pain quickly. I don’t like hurting and thought that it was possible to move through the pain of grieving after a family member died.
I didn’t want to go through all the messy emotions that come with grief and loss. My strategy at that time consisted of using a touch and go approach. I would touch on the issues ever so briefly and then quickly move on.
My strategy didn’t work. I still had to go through the grief.
I ended up hurting and going through all the pain of the grief. My shortcut strategy didn’t work.
The incident taught me that I can’t take short cuts with grief and couldn’t speed past it. I still had to face and go through the discomfort and painful experience.
One of the struggles during the teenage years is that of blemishes. It’s not just having the blemish, there is also how you hope others don’t see it.
Those struggles are real. I recall feeling like everyone saw my blemishes and talked about them behind my back.
Adults used to tell me that “It’s just a phase” and treat them like it’s no big deal. To me, blemishes were a big deal. Besides being unsightly, they left emotional scars and took their toll on my confidence.
I never liked them. I was told to ‘be thankful for everything’. Blemishes are one thing that it was hard to be thankful for.
The other day, I discovered that ‘blame’ comes from the same root word as ‘blemish’. That common root explains how blame triggers some similar reactions as blemishes, especially with affairs.
You hope that others don’t see your flaws. You also wonder how you’re going to regain confidence after it happens. Even when you’re the betrayed, there’s a sense that somehow you’re flawed.
Once again, there are ‘adults’ around you telling you ‘it’s just a phase’ and act like the affair is ‘no big deal’. It didn’t help much then and helps about the same amount now.
A reader wrote to me asking, “In your worldview does the Cheater suffer any consequences? Or is it only the betrayed person who has to do all the work?”
First, the cheater suffers consequences. There are always consequences when a person violates their promises and betrays their spouse. Whether you call it the law of sowing and reaping, karma or the tao, there are consequences for the violations that happened.
When you don’t do what you promised to do, there are consequences.
How those consequences show up, when they show up and how the cheater deals with them are individualized. When you don’t see the consequences or they are delayed, you wonder if they are experiencing them at all.
The cheater may deny having any issues or discomfort, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Some cheaters, in a manner similar to sex addicts, take a hair of the dog approach in dealing with their pain. They plunge even deeper into the affair to avoid unpleasant issues.
The structure of the question comes across as an ‘either/or’ situation. On one side is the hurt and consequences and on the other is the betrayed doing the work.
The affair situation is not so easily broken down as that. This combines the concept of cause and effect with a variation of the guilt/blame balance.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re hurting, you talk yourself into things you wouldn’t normally do? I know I have. When those times of hurt or pain come around, I’ve talked myself into things that weren’t good for me.
When the pain and discomfort are there, I find myself looking for what’s going to get me out the pain or discomfort. At that point fast relief is more important than doing what’s right or what’s actually good for me. That’s one of the reasons they call these situations, “self-serving crises”.
The real gist of these painful crises is doing what you want to do. The pain, whether intentional or unintentional is used to justify the unacceptable behavior.
Truth be known, at those moments, I exaggerated the pain in order to not feel so guilty for doing what I shouldn’t have done.
In my mind I told myself “I was hurting” or “I was lonely” or “It was more pain than I could handle”. Even when I knew in the back of my mind that the discomfort would eventually pass, by exaggerating the pain, I excused doing what shouldn’t have been done.
This is one reason you find families with addiction problems go from one crisis to another. The crisis gives you the excuse to indulge in the unacceptable behavior.
That sensation of slipping on a slick surface and falling down is unsettling. When I was younger, falling was no big deal.
If I fell, I just dusted off the dirt, got up and went about what I was doing. Even when I was in football, the coaches had us perform drills where we fell and got up. We even had to throw ourselves down and then get up. Back then, a fall was something you got up from.
With all the drills of hitting the ground, I grew accustomed to it. I also knew how to quickly recover from those falls.
Now that I'm no longer a teenager, falls bother me. All it takes is a slick surface or misplaced step and I find myself on the ground. Although the slip happens quickly, the experience of falling feels like the world suddenly goes into slow motion.
In that moment, I am out of control. I know that I'm going to hit the ground and there's little I can to stop it. All I can do is brace myself for coming impact.
Even watching movies, I find myself wincing whenever someone falls hard and exclaim "That's gotta hurt!" or some other remark. Before, the falls never bothered me or triggered reactions.
Having experienced several falls, I now take extra precautions on when surfaces are slick or icy.
The experience of being chased out of a business is embarrassing and awkward as well. In some cases, I suppose it could be fun, yet I haven't had one of those situations yet.
In my case, I was chased out of businesses twice and a school once for collecting debts. It was hard enough asking people for money. When they hide from you it makes it harder. Some people complicated things by lying to me. It was awkward being chased out, especially when I was just doing my job.
I recall one episode when the person I asked to speak to lied directly to my face about her not being there. I thought, "Well, no harm, no foul. If she doesn't work here, there's nothing else for me to do here".
At that moment, some large authoritative figures came through the door toward me and proceeded ushering me out. I realized in a flash that I'd been lied to. To make matters worse, afterwards she sued me on top of that.
There were also situations I had to run away from. When guns came out, it was time to run.
I learned many lessons about people and how they change when you get down to real issues. I learned what needs to be faced and what bad situations you need to run away from.
Although the present generation uses the term ‘gamers’, they also existed during the decades I grew up. During that time, gaming was not dominated by electronics.
Instead, it was dominated by large board games with hundreds of pieces. That time of the 70-80’s became known as the golden age of board gaming.
Our games were like Risk on steroids. Not only were there more pieces, they went on for hours and challenged our thinking in new ways.
When I gamed, the boards were laid out on dining room tables and the game pieces painstakingly laid out with historic accuracy from all ages of history. My friends and I spent hours replaying historic battles.
Through trial and error we learned strategy and tactics. We learned what worked and what didn’t. Surprisingly one of the people I played with went on to West Point and ended up beating the upper classmen when they trained their skills with board games. He later went on to become a colonel.
With all that game playing, we learned the importance of following the rules as we replayed historic military threats. The rules helped us make sense of the maps and pieces spread out before us and for us to have a good time.
Games, be they board games or relationship games become frustrating and stressful when the rules aren’t being followed. When one person cheats , it changes everything.
The influence of friends in your life is immense. They can inspire you to become your best or talk you into doing things that take you down a dark path. They have a way of talking you into things that you wouldn’t have otherwise done.
I know in my life, the Marty’s and Danny’s had ways of talking me into things that I didn’t think I was capable of.
When you’re young, you do things because your friends did it. I know I did. They were my friends, they were cool, and that was the final word in my mind.
Whether you attribute this powerful influence to role modeling, wanting to fit in or just to be considered cool, the bottom line is that you followed your friends. If they did good things, they were a positive influence. If, on the other hand, they engaged in criminal behavior or hooliganism, they were considered bad friends.
You looked at your friends based on their loyalty, acceptance and fun times. In your mind, this is what was important.
Now that your older, friends continue being an influence on you and the cheater. They continue talking you and your spouse into doing things whether or not those things are in your best interest.
During recovery, it’s important that you and your spouse hang around those who are supportive of your marriage. When you avoid those friends and instead associate with those who are crazy, impulsive, drug using or sleeping around it has consequences.
You’ve likely come across those ice breaker questions about what ten people from history you would want to host at a dinner party. I find such questions thought provoking.
It stretches my mind thinking about who would be there along with what kind of conversations would happen. Given that I’ve attended ‘boardroom dinners’ where specialists from various fields are brought together, I’ve had a glimpse of what may happen.
In real life, I’ve been blessed having met with many of the leading thinkers and counselors. I made it a point to either meet or hear them through the years. I suppose I could’ve literally had a dinner conversation with the top 10 figures from counseling and psychology.
One of the leading counselors I met was Terence Gorski, who’s THE leading figure in relapse prevention. Since I make it a point of collecting nuggets of knowledge and wisdom wherever I can, I was eager to hear what Terence had to say.
The nugget I found most intriguing from what he said was that “Relapse works from the inside out“.
Think about that for a moment.
The expert in relapse prevention just pointed out where the relapse begins. It starts on the inside. This is where the trigger that sets off relapse is located. This is where you want to intervene.
The relapse doesn’t start from someone making a pass at them, or some neon sign luring them in. It starts with the person making choices inside.
One of the challenges I face as a counselor is deep diving into lies. Deep diving into lies often involves sorting out what kind of lies are being told. I also face the challenge of considering what the payoff of the lies are along with where the lies are going to end up.
I also have to consider whether they are believing their lies or even know that they are lying. Surprisingly, lies surround us so much, they are often not even recognized as lies.
You are surrounded by lies in the form of advertising, fake news, political speeches, sports talk or even gossip at the beauty salon. Being surrounded like that desensitizes you to many of the lies.
I even read a book entitled “On Bullshit” in my research on lying.
Most people never deep dive into lies to such a degree. You just know that you hate being lied to. If you’re really on top of your game, you start recognizing some of the lies.
An irony about lies is that people often get angrier when you tell the truth than when you tell them a lie. Although it seems that telling the lie should make you angrier, that’s not what generally happens.
You may even want to test it out. When you really got angry, was it because someone told you a truth you didn’t like or was it when you were lied to?