In the past few months I found myself learning lessons about ‘hard truths’. Hard truths are those items that are true, yet for some reason you don’t want to accept them.
Refusing accepting hard truths don’t make them go away. In my case, the hard truths took me out of my comfort zone. They reminded me of my vulnerabilities and limitations.
No matter how much I viewed myself as a superhero who can handle whatever comes my way, I learned that I was fooling myself. I was neither all powerful nor all powerless.
I encountered hard truths in dealing with parental illnesses and death. Although each had some unique twists the experiences had much in common. I had to face cold, hard truths that I didn’t want to face.
Like an uncomfortable look in the mirror, I found myself looking face to face with uncomfortable issues that were not on my terms.
Affairs bring ‘hard truths’ into your life as well. Whether it is people, actions, things or outcomes, you have to face them. There are times when the events are not on your terms.
One way of dealing with those hard truths you don’t want to accept is simply lying about it. Lying is one of the common ways of dealing with unacceptable truths.
In recent years, I've learned to love GPS. It's especially wonderful when you rent a car equipped with GPS maps and directions. When I have GPS navigation, my stress level drops dramatically.
In previous decades, I navigated with maps. I plotted out what I thought was the best pathway. During my journeys, maps were my way of tracking progress.
Although maps help, there were times I resorted to the dreaded asking for directions.
There's something inside of me that cringes at asking someone else for directions. It's humbling asking total strangers for directions.
Those moments forced me to face my own limitations. Asking directions taught me many lessons about people.
With the use of GPS navigation, you no longer have to ask for directions. Although I like the navigation, it also brings the loss of those humbling moments of admitting that "I'm lost and need help".
You get all your answers with no embarrassment, humility or help from others. GPS empowers your ego and the "I can do it by myself" part of your brain.
I suspect this one of the reasons that cheaters going through affair recovery have a harder time these days than previous generations. They no longer have to admit "I'm lost and need help".
When photos of my 40th high school reunion were posted online, I looked at them and pondered whether I made a mistake in not attending it. Seeing the familiar faces brought back memories, and feelings for me.
My questions about whether or not it was a mistake were soon answered at a conference I attended. At that conference, one of the presenters, Dr. Merrill Norton, shared a story in illustrating a point he was making about brain chemistry and triggers.
He opened with a declarative “Do not go to high school reunions!” delivered in his thick Georgia accent. There was something about how he said it that gave it a down home, common sense aspect.
He used the story in illustrating how reunions trigger old feelings and how one of his close friends ended up having an affair after attending one. His story answered my question.
His explanation included detailing of the brain chemicals released when those feelings are triggered. It became clear that it’s not just nostalgia. There’s something bigger going on.
When the brain chemicals are released, they begin impacting your body, including your brain. It’s not that you suddenly become stupid.
What happens is that the brain chemicals start turning switches on and off. You’re literally re-wired within a matter of minutes, whether you intended to be or not. Your brain once again transforms into your high school brain.
Have you ever noticed that it's easier seeing unhealthy behavior in other people's marriages than it is seeing it in yours? Relationship blind spots make seeing unhealthy behavior in your own marriage challenging.
If you're like most people, you don't see the blind spots until an affair happens. You only see the dangers after being hurt. You may even ask yourself "Why didn't I see that before?"
Hurt has ways of waking you up to unhealthy behaviors. It grabs your attention.
Even though hurt wakes you up, you may still not see all the signs of an unhealthy marriage.
That's why I'm going to share a list of the characteristics of an unhealthy marriage.
-No longer fun
-Spouses feel controlled
-Feelings of being taken for granted
-Using violence and threats to get your way
If your marriage has any of these qualities, action is needed NOW. These are danger signs, not just warning signs. When these show up, your marriage is in trouble.
When these signs are present, your marriage is no longer in the caution zone, it's in the DANGER ZONE. When these bad behaviors become habits, the problems are entrenched. It's no longer 'just a phase', it's a real problem.
One of the memorable one-liners delivered by President Ronald Reagan was, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
At the time he spoke it, some were shocked, others laughed, and some even gnashed their teeth. There’s something powerful about choosing the right words in expressing ideas.
At the time, he referred to the relationship of the public with the government. People have a relationship with government that requires trust. Although Reagan didn’t mention trust specifically, trust is what his statement was about.
Now, decades later, I see a deeper truth in his quote that I initially missed. Although Reagan’s focus was on the government, another meaning struck me.
The meaning I’m referring to is that ‘relationship trust’ is scary. Family therapist Robert Ackerman expressed it better, “The Scariest of all trusts is relationship trust.”
You know the terrifying reality of that in your marriage. After an affair, trusting the cheater is scary.
With scary movies, you know that the scary parts will come to an end. With an affair, you live in the uncertainty of ‘Will it ever end?’
You’re no longer sure of what happens and whether or not you can believe what they tell you. Each day is a gamble. You wonder if they’re going to do it again.
You seldom feel at ease. That constant tickle in your mind keeps you wondering about what may happen.
During my teen years, I found myself receiving my share of tickets for various traffic offenses. After receiving several, the decision was made that I needed to learn a lesson.
To this day, I don't know if it was my father's idea or his lawyer's idea that was behind the lesson. What they decided was for me to stay in Pasadena traffic court all day and sweat out what may happen.
They kept the fact that the offense was dismissed from me to 'teach' me a lesson. So, for several hours, I sat nervously in the courtroom waiting for my name to be called. I suppose they were entertained by the idea, but I wasn't.
The episode illustrates the principle of "Prices teach us." When you pay the price for something, it's part of your education. In my case, I paid the price of sitting in court all day.
Prices are for more things that are merely stating value. They also teach us that there are consequences to actions, along with showing you where you are behaving in an unhealthy manner.
When your spouse cheats, it's important that they experience the price of consequences. Those consequences are a way of teaching them things.
For many, when there is no price, they don't learn the lesson being taught. The exceptions are life-threatening situations and when the consequences hurt your family.
When I toured the Mark Twain home, I learned things about him that I had been unaware of. Although he was entertaining and often quoted, some of the sayings attributed to Twain were never said by him.
Perhaps that’s one of the things that happens with notoriety. Quotes are attributed to you that you never said. One of my favorite quotes attributed to Twain that he never said is ” “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
The quote is one of those sayings that he would come up with. His sayings were colorful and full of wit. I find that thinking through them often gives me some insights.
The believing something that ‘just ain’t so” is one of those sayings that gives insights. When you believe something that isn’t so, it’ll get you in trouble.
Your false conclusions lead to bad decisions. In the aftermath of an affair, you likely have plenty of conclusions. Some of them are true and some ‘just ain’t so”.
The risk of false conclusions is even higher if you grew up in a dysfunctional family.
Learning ways of distinguishing between them is challenging. It’s hard determining what’s a valid conclusion and what’s a false one.
Anyone who’s gone through the kind of traumatic event like an affair faces false conclusions. Although some people move past it, many of them don’t.
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?’