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What should I look for in a counselor when dealing with an Affair?

What should you look for in a counselor when dealing with an affair?

Some of the emails I’ve received lately left me wondering if those of you struggling with affair recovery know what to look for in a therapist.  Although you may go to a therapist, it doesn’t mean that they are the best person for helping you recover from the affair.

For this reason, I decided it is time for me to share my list of “What to look for in a therapist in dealing with an affair“.

  1. Not all couples go to therapists in order to recover from affairs. About 40% of couples go to them, yet when they go, it’s typically at least six months after discovering the affair.
  2. When your therapist doesn’t share your values when it comes to affairs, you’re in the wrong place.
  3. Affairs are a legitimate problem. If you went to counseling for the problem of the affair, its realistic expecting the counselor to deal with that problem.
  4. The therapist isn’t there as your hammer or your messenger. Expecting them to confront things or say things you aren’t willing to, you’re in the wrong place.
  5. If the counselor has had an affair themselves or have been cheated on, you’ll want to find out how they resolved those issues. Unresolved relationship issues impair their ability to help you.

Oprah is right about “Lies”

Do people tell lies because the truth is boring as Oprah claims?

Over the weekend, while reading through news items I missed during the week, I came across one that grabbed my attention. In the story, Oprah was confronted on why she tells lies. Her response was ‘That’s what people want to hear. The truth is boring.’

It’s no surprise that she has a huge following. She’s partly right. People do want to hear lies.

Lies allow you to believe something that isn’t so.  With lies, you can make yourself into someone you’re not.

A few lies about your accomplishments transform you into a super hero, super lover and great spouse.  A few well place whoppers can have people thinking that you are the greatest.

You can have people wanting to be you and thinking that you have all the answers to life’s challenges.

The lies you tell yourself also allow you to live with any wrong doings that you’ve done, including affairs.

Lies you tell others are about telling them what they want to hear. Lies you tell yourself are about hiding who you really are and what you’ve done from your own conscience.

Although she says “The truth is boring“, I disagree with her on this. The truth may make you less glamorous,  or exciting, but that’s far from boring.

Although the truth may bore her and others, it’s truth that sets you free. That implies that lies keep you locked into relationships and memories. Lies are what people want to hear, but they shackle your mind and heart.

“What’s keeping you from reaching out?”

Reaching out in relationships is often risky.

The death of my father last year lead to times of reflection. During those times I reviewed things I did and didn’t do regarding my relationship with him.

One thing I’m grateful for is reaching out in discussing many things. It was risky at first.

Reaching out made me vulnerable. It meant taking risks in that relationship.

I set aside my fears and broached the topics and issues I was wrestling with. Being vulnerable always has some fears and risks.

We discussed our shared experiences, current ideas and different ways of thinking about the populations we were working with.

Since he was also a counselor, we discussed common problems and solutions to those problems. We didn’t always agree. Our differences led to some really thought provoking talks.

In a relationship where differences of opinion was once taboo they were now welcomed.  We had different views and were alright with it.

Eventually he even asked for my help in reviewing and editing his book. In many ways, it was like going through a recap of his life ministry.

One person taking risks and sharing often leads to risk taking the other way as well. As he often put it, “relationships are streets with two sides“.

Taking the approach I did meant there were no regrets about not reaching out.

Reaching out is important in relationships. It’s even more important in relationships where there have been hurts or disappointments.

The Internal Signs of an Affair

Ignoring internal signs of an affair is at your own peril.

It’s likely that in the recent past that you’ve encountered one of those list of the signs that your spouse is cheating. I’ve seen many of those lists, including the specialized ones of what to look for in the car or on their cell phone.

Those lists are helpful at times. From time to time I’m made aware of new signs of cheating I hadn’t considered.

Although most share many common items, there are times when a few signs stand out. Relationships are always changing as are the signs of cheating.

Consider that twenty years ago, much of the technology cheaters use today didn’t even exist. In the past it was about lip stick, perfume, stains on their clothing and anonymous hang up phone calls.

One thing those lists have in common is their focus on external signs of the affair. They point out things outside of yourself that are signs to look for.

It’s unfortunate that the lists leave off the ‘internal signs’ inside of you that an affair is still active. The cheater can always learn better ways of cleaning up after themselves.

When crime scenes can be cleaned up, so can signs of an affair.

It’s also amazing how some people who never clean up after themselves manage hiding the signs of an affair. In some cases, they are too clean when it comes to the affair.

“Is my spouse committed to recovery?”

How committed is your spouse to your marriage?

One question I've found useful in dealing with commitment is "How serious are you?"  I was reminded of this in a recent conversation with one of my sons about some college courses.

The question has a way of cutting through all the talk of commitment and wanting to conversations. There's always good intentions, but intentions are not commitment.

In asking the question "How serious are you?", I've learned the importance of looking at action along with listening to what's being said.

The British theologian, Oswald Chambers, once said that you can tell what's truly important to a man in terms of what impacts his time and his wallet.  Those things that are truly important touch each of those two things.

How people spend their time and money are markers of their commitment.

In facing affair recovery, you'll hear talk about how committed the cheater is to recovery. You hear all the right words, yet wonder "How committed are they?"

The answer lies in looking at how they spend their time and their money. They make time for their priorities. If recovery from the affair is important, they'll make time for it.

When recovery is important, they'll invest in your marriage and themselves. It's important to distinguish between guilt appeasing gifts that buy you off and real investments.

Saying “NO” to the crazy-making deceptions and lies

Learning to say "NO" is an important part of affair recovery.

Handling lies is a huge part of affair recovery. Lies are problematic for the cheater and for yourself.

One of the problems with the lies and double-messages that cheaters use is that after a while you may start believing them. You may find yourself filled with self-doubt based on what they are doing.

You may tell yourself that you'll never be loved or that you aren't worth loving. The lies and other crazy-making behavior lead you to start believing what they are telling you.

At one time, you could believe what they told you. Part of you wants to believe them.

When they start lying to you, it leads you and them in believing things that aren't true. It's bad enough that they lie to you, but when you start believing them, you suddenly find yourself sinking in deception.

Like quicksand, the deception surrounds you. You hear many messages, but aren't sure what to believe.

On one level the cheater has let you know what they are going through. At such times, they aren't sure what to believe either.

That sensation of being stuck is not just your imagination. At those times, both of you are stuck in the deception of lies.

The first step of getting out lies in identifying what are lies and crazy making behavior. Once you see what they are, you are less vulnerable to their impact.

The importance of training wheels and Support Groups in Affair Recovery

What can learning to ride a bicycle teach you about affair recovery?

Do you know how to ride a bicycle? There's an old saying that once you learn, you never forget. I can't attest to whether or not that saying is true, yet I still remember learning to ride without training wheels  on the sidewalks of Sulphur Street with Kevin Rath.

In the days when I learned, training wheels were still popular. I felt like I could ride anywhere as long as I had the security of the training wheels.

They provided the added stability I needed as I learned about balance, the laws of science and how to fall off of a bike.

After a few tries without my trust training wheels, my steering was wobbly, but day after day it improved until I mastered the skill. On mastering the skill, I felt like it was a big accomplishment.

Learning to ride without training wheels involves a series of balancing gestures and shifting weight. Now those gestures happen unconsciously.

In recovering from the affair, you'll face times when you are wobbly and in need of support. During those times you need additional support.

It would be nice if there were training wheels for affair recovery. The closest thing to training wheels is a good support network.

Having a support network helps you through those times. It may consist of friends, support groups, pastor, family members or an understanding counselor.

A New Conversation or a ‘Real’ Conversation

Perhaps it's time for the two of you to sit down and have a talk.

One of the scariest phrases a spouse can say is "we need to talk". Those words strike fear into the hearts of many of you.

There's something about conversations regarding affairs that turns talk into a struggle. The relationship therapist Esther Perel often says, "We need a new conversation" concerning this issue.

On the other hand, my father, who was a pastor said that we need more sermons and preaching on sex. He went on posing the question, "When was the last time you heard a lesson on sex?"

Both agree that conversations are needed when it comes to sex and affairs. I'm not sure if we need a new conversation or find the courage for bringing up the topic in an honest discussion.

With affairs, it's easier condemning what happened than attempting to understand it. Keep in mind that understanding what happened is very different from approving what happened.

It's hard hearing that you are no longer the love of someone's life. Listening to them explain what happened along with their version of why it happened is torturous.

Not only is it torturous, your mind froze at hearing about the affair. You likely blocked out everything after that. Even if the cheater is a great communicator, when your mind freezes, you can't talk about things.

“I wonder if I shouldn’t leave..”

Ambivalence follows you around like a homeless dog.

One of the hurdles that bogs you down in affair recovery is ambivalence. It shows up as being torn between staying with the cheater or leaving them.

Ambivalence stays with you all the way through recovery from D-Day until your recovery is complete. Like a homeless dog, it's always follows where you go.

Anytime you look behind you, there is ambivalence staring back at you.

A reader experiencing this wrote, "My problem is I will be reminded of the affair and the hurt and pain seem fresh and my entire mood changes..so much so I wonder if I shouldn't just leave....it's been almost a year....what can I do?"

This is one of the obstacles with affairs. Each time you think of the affair it triggers reactions all over again. The good thing is that the intensity of the reactions lessens over time. The time is needed for allowing your brain and emotions to make changes.

A year can be a long time. The usual time adjusting to a trauma like an affair is about 18 months (1 1/2 years), with some taking a little longer or shorter.

In terms of what you can do:

If you choose to stay, the two of you may want to try some new ways of having fun with each other. When couples play it shortens the healing time. Doing some fun, new activities together creates new neural pathways that can help over ride older ones. After an affair many couples forget how to 'play'.

The Benefits from Thinking about Forgiveness

Just thinking about forgiveness has benefits.

Did you know that just simply thinking about forgiving the cheater has benefits? The researcher Frederic Luskin of Palo Alto,  found that thinking about forgiving an offender was  found to improve cardiovascular function.

Imagine the benefits you could experience by actually forgiving the cheater. If just the thought of forgiving them helps you, consider what happens when you follow through on those thoughts.

You have enough stress in your daily life without a grudge complicating things. In some of the same studies, those who focus on their grudges experienced faster heart rates and higher blood pressure.

Who knew?

When you consider that the annual cost of just blood pressure medication runs from  $740 to $1200 a year, it makes sense considering the option of forgiveness when it comes to the affair. That's just the cost of the medications. If you throw in visits to the doctor to monitor and prescribe those medications, the price increases $454 for that year.

Contrary to the rumors, forgiveness doesn't mean you're doomed to remain the victim forever. It also doesn't mean that you automatically forget what happened.

You may want to think of it as a gift you give yourself. By forgiving, you're taking steps benefiting your physical and emotional health.

Who wouldn't want a gift that improves your health, your outlook and your marriage? Surprisingly some of you choose not to forgive.

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