Five Tips for Staying After They Cheat

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 by Marla Keller
(Adapted from the article written for meaningfulmommag.com)

We have been married for over 28 years. And I have been happily married for most of that time, absolutely in love with Jami and in awe of his love for me (which is how I feel now, strangely enough). It was 17 years ago that my world came down, shattering around me. I remember being in fetal position with my heart crushed hoping I wouldn’t breath again, but knowing that we had two small girls, ages 8 and 9, who depended on me. Jami checked himself into rehab for relationship issues, and I made sure the girls went to school on time, were fed, and did their homework. All they knew was that “daddy was learning how to be a better husband and father.”
 
What I realized is that his cheating for the first 12 years of our relationship (with different women) was really about my worth, not about him. [Note: Jami takes full accountability for his side of the street, and he also had plenty of things to heal through.] It cut to my core fear of never being enough—not smart enough, not pretty enough, not the right shape—which I had held on to for a lot of years way before Jami came around. I had to do the difficult process on me for “us” to ever work. I realized that Jami is not my “Savior” and I am not his. That was tough. It was my job to save and restore the good in others, because it helped me feel better about me.
 
You know that big word “Codependent?” That was me to a “t.” It’s a big word that simply means that I did for others because it made me feel better when they felt better. I was so angry when Dr. Russ Warner at Family Week told me this! How could I be codependent when he is codependent??? This did not fit my paradigm at all. He did tend to be more narcissistic than I was (another big word that we are all on the scale of that means more selfish), but his issue with other women was codependence. Ughhhhhhh! Needless to say, I was not happy.
 
Every relationship has a control/abandonment cycle. And I was the identified controller and Jami was the identified abandoner. Rest assured, you don’t have to live this way forever, but you do need to identify it and stop it. This is how our daughter and Passion Provokers blogger, Ariel Minter, describes the two types of people:
 
The Controller (More Codependent)
I am in charge. I am aware of most possible outcomes, and I make sure they happen. I like people to perform as I expect. If you don’t clean the kitchen to the standards I am used to, I will clean it over again to make sure it gets done the right way (and hope you’ll watch me do it so it’s done properly the next time). I like to feel as though I have the power. In a relationship, I like security and am willing to do anything I need to do to make that happen. I will vocalize my opinion, and if you act in disagreement of that I will get upset. Most of the time, it’s “my way or the highway.” I use phrases like “You should…” or “You ought to….” I get jealous easily. I like attention, especially yours. If you say no to something, I will probably try to get you to say yes another time. 
 
We all have characteristics of, and most of us can be, a Controller.

Now, what about the Abandoner
 
The Abandoner (More Narcissistic or Selfish)
When things get weird, uncomfortable, or too close for comfort, I will likely just stop responding. Like that time we were arguing and I just walked out of the room, or when I didn’t respond to your text. My “safety blanket” is avoiding or leaving. I don’t usually push my opinion, and if you say no I won’t bring it up again (sometimes I do this to spite you). I close myself off emotionally. I know this drives you crazy. And to be honest, I sort of like that. I often react this way when I feel controlled. It’s the only defense I feel like I have, and it works. 
 
Again, that is an extreme example. But you get the idea. This is fixable, and identifying it is your first line of defense against it hurting your relationship. We learned these things along the way, and teach them to our clients. It’s not easy. What we have done, and what we give to our clients, is a simple process, but it’s definitely not easy.
 
We made it through the tough stuff. I discovered my worth over time, and that I didn’t need to control everything around me to feel safe. And Jami discovered his worth, and didn’t need to abandon to feel safe. We also discovered love again, or really for the first time. We always loved each other, but now we had the tools to love without strings, and to forgive, and to have good boundaries with each other.
 
Five Tips for Staying After They Cheat

  1. It’s okay to be angry and hurting. You may feel guilty for feeling this way. Or you may feel justified. And probably you flip back and forth between these two feelings. And that’s okay. But please remember this: acting from your anger and hurt often will begin to create a barrier between you and your partner. Process them through journaling, and then picturing what your ideal relationship and life look like. Then bring your anger and hurt to your partner. Process them together, but friend don’t live there. Staying in this place will only cause you bitterness and disappointment.
  2. It takes time to trust again. And that’s okay. You are going to have good days, and you are going to have bad days. It took me up to 2 years to fully trust Jami again. I began to trust him over time, but to fully trust again took the whole time. I still have moments when I’m fatigued that I drop into that pain. But it’s never the same pain, and Jami is great at hearing my pain, acknowledging it, and letting me know that he is truthful, faithful, all-in, and aware of his conscious states (because that was one of our main problems, awareness and not choosing to become numbed-out). And I heard this statement over and over again when I was hurting or angry, and it was done with humility each time. Bless him. It does take the humility, so if you’re not seeing it in your partner this is a fundamental issue.
  3. I am not the “Savior” of the world. I couldn’t even save myself, and you can see that I was no good at saving Jami. Remember, you cannot save your significant other. They must do that themselves. This all comes with my controlling nature. As Disney so well puts it, “Let it go…” (and you know you just sang that song).
  4. Forgive yourself and your partner. Forgiveness does not make what happened okay, does not let anyone out of being accountable for his or her actions, and is in fact the best first step for building healthy boundaries. So why wouldn’t you do it? Because it’s hard. But it’s important! Check this blog out for more info on forgiveness and it’s a choice wayyyyyyy before it’s a feeling. You need to forgive your partner for what they did, and you need to forgive yourself for not seeing it, or not preventing it, or, or, or…
  5. Good boundaries are important. Boundaries are really a matter of will. This is why we often teach people that what you say your boundaries are is far less important than really believing you are worth keeping that said boundary. And you must forgive before you can have better boundaries. I can state (and I did) that if Jami ever cheated on me I would take the girls and go. Why do you think he didn’t share his struggles with me for so long? I said it, but apparently I didn’t mean it. Each situation is different. So stop making up why someone cheated, and start supporting coupleships that choose to stay together. We need each other, and we need support. Check out this blog for more info on healthy boundaries.

 
We all have hurt and pain. And we need each other to get through it. I promise that if you follow these guidelines you will find peace, empowerment, joy, and love again. It’s not easy, but it is most definitely worth it!


Leaving After Cheating–To Divorce or Not

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by Marla Keller
(Adapted from the article written for meaningfulmommag.com)

Note: If you are in a relationship where you are afraid for your safety physically and/or emotionally, please find a safe place to go, and leave immediately. Call this number if you do not have a safe place to go: National Domestic Hotline 800-799-7233.

To be clear from the beginning, cheating is a very broad-spectrum word, and every person has their internal boundaries regarding what is and what is not okay for their partner to do. Viewing pornography secretly for some is cheating, having an emotional affair or a “work wife/husband” for others is cheating, and being a flirty, really nice guy is not okay for others. And the bottom line that we have come to with over 20 years of helping couples repair after the affair is that affairs are always about approval. It’s not about the sex, and it’s not about the emotional connection. It’s about the need for approval and the adrenaline rush that comes with doing something “forbidden.”

My choice to stay was my shear will to do whatever it took, and then I’d know I’d done everything if it didn’t work out. It was also Jami coming to the healing table with humility, sorrow, empathy, rigorous honesty, vulnerability, and the decision to get whatever help he needed to find healing for his desperate need for approval. These are all key components to healing and while they don’t have to have all of them at first, they do all have to be open to discovering them and practicing these “skills” to heal a relationship. And it was a good choice. It doesn’t always end up that way…

In my previous blog I shared with you my story about staying. And I often say that I would go through it all again, as hellish as it was, to be here now in this beautiful love story. In light of this, friends, be compassionate towards your girlfriends/friends who have chosen to stay even though you don’t get it, and every fiber in your being is telling you to tell them to leave. We all have our stories, our reasons, and our consequences, some of which can be very beautiful in the end. If you haven’t already read the blog, and are in limbo about staying or leaving, here is the link so that you can see both sides before deciding.

Over the course of 20+ years of being relationship coaches, there have been a few times that Jami and I have recommended separation/divorce. Actually, I can count on one hand how many times that has happened, and we have coached hundreds of couples. Ninety-five percent of the time, the relationship is not only fixable, it turns into a love of a lifetime. I realize that sounds sappy and sentimental and gooey, but I’m being for-real here. True story.

Following my blog on Staying After He Cheats, I received a comment from a woman who expressed that, after trying everything following her spouses’ affair, she chose to leave. She had been involved with a very selfish man, whom she identified later as being highly narcissistic (a look at clinical narcissism HERE). This was my response to her:

“Thank you, _________. Sometimes, like in your situation, you are healthier because you didn’t stay together. And being with a true narcissist, which Jami was not, is very destructive to your self-love [and worth]. A great book I read recently on narcissism talks specifically to the choice to stay with the narcissist, and clearly states that you will have to have an immense amount of empathy and patience, and stay strong in your own emotional well-being, and you may see changes over time for the positive. It’s a very long game and a very difficult one. The title of the book is Disarming the Narcissist and we highly recommend it for both those who choose to stay and those, like you, who separate. And there is no shame in choosing the later. I’m proud of you and your journey of healing!”

She made the painful, and powerful, choice to leave. And she still feels the echoes from that relationship, but is on a healing path. It is vital to do the healing work for yourself no matter what your choice about staying in a relationship.

There are 4 circumstances when we decisively  recommend divorce or separation.

  1. Physical Abuse—Physical abuse does not necessarily leave bruises. Pushing, grabbing, forceful sex (when not mutually agreed upon ahead of time), etc., are definitively physical abuse. As is a partner who fits the description above for narcissism.
  2. Emotional Abuse—Emotional abuse can be even harder to identify. An exceptionally bad fight does not mean your partner is emotionally abusive. Here is a link to a great Huffington Post article by Abby Rodman  She describes emotional abuse this way: “You’re filled with a sickening dread every morning knowing you’re facing another day of psychological warfare. You’re perpetually drained because all your energy is expended trying to keep your partner happy (and, you’ll eventually come to realize, those efforts are in vain). You’re nauseous, anxious, fearful — one or all — when interacting with your partner. This is your life every other minute of every day.”
  3. Your Partner Isn’t Interested in Working On Your Relationship—He calls you crazy, jealous, ridiculous. She continues to keep secrets from you, and doesn’t allow you full access to her phone, email accounts, social media passwords, etc. You have done everything, you have gotten help yourself, and your partner believes you have the problem and they don’t think they have a part to play in the tensions within your relationship. Friends, it takes two to tango. It is never one-sided. Yes, take personal responsibility for your crap. And realize that these are all red flags. There needs to be rigorous honesty, vulnerability, accountability, and a clear path of healing your partner’s need for approval implemented into your relationship after an affair for trust to be rebuilt. And stop blaming yourself, and start loving yourself by getting the heck out of that one-sided, unhealthy relationship. You’re worth it!
  4. The “I’m just a flirty [or super friendly] person, and you’ll have to get over it” partner—NOT okay, especially when there has been cheating. She cannot continue to flirt for you to be able to trust her again. His heart and his gaze belongs to you, not any pretty girl that flutters her eyelashes in his direction. And he needs to be open to you saying, “Hey, I’m not comfortable with that girl. Please be extra careful.” Trust your intuition, and know that if he’s flirty in front of you, it’s probably more so when you’re not around.

Take note that cheating is not one of the reasons to leave, but if cheating continues along with one or more of the above reasons to leave, then I think you have your answer. Cheating has it’s health risks for you both, so your personal safety is at risk.

I have people, both men and women, tell me all of the time that they could never stay with someone who cheated on them. Heck, I said it all of the time before I knew. But you really don’t know how you’ll react until you’re in it. And there are so many voices telling you to get the hell out of Dodge. You are the only one who can decide what you’re willing to go through to find healing in your current relationship.

And honestly, if Jami had been constantly defensive and unaccountable, telling me to “Get over it already,” I promise you that I would have been out of there. And my story would be very different. Here me clearly when I say it’s not okay to live in that space where you are not allowed to share your broken heart without fear of the negative response you will get from sharing your pain.

To stay or to leave… Follow the compass of your heart as you make note of the 4 reasons above. If your lover falls into one of those bullet points, confront that and let them know that it is not okay, and that to have healing you will need a few things from them. If they are open, awesome! Move forward in healing with them. If not, your exit path will be more clear. And if you need any extra help with either choice, you can email me at [email protected] or through our Contact Form. I wish you well along the way, and honor your decision.

*Listen to Betsy Chasse, Director of What the Bleep Do We Know, interview me about my articles for Meaningful Mom about Trust, Marriage, Infidelity and how you can build your own foundation of trust with in you! Listen now!