Dealing with someone you love who feels distant, uncommitted, and is possibly having an affair can be gut wrenching and painful. The sting of betrayal, the lousy levels of intimacy, and the all around detachment is the last thing you thought you would end up with, especially when you told yourself you weren’t going to be one of those women “who got walked all over and abandoned.” You told yourself that you would remain independent, support yourself as best as possible, because you knew all too well the pitfalls of a man who doesn’t REALLY love you. Or are you the more patient type, saying to yourself, “I was taught to love him through it and I will stay” but the whole time you’re feeling victimized, praying for mercy. This may have well been one of your greatest fears….
Does this sound like you? Are you relating to the situation? Couples going through scary and challenging times in their relationships often ask, “Is therapy really worth it? Is he going to be worth all the work I have to do if he’s just going to keep cheating or remain uncommitted?” One spouse states, “I’m going to keep coming even if she doesn’t, because I see the benefit of what I’m learning here.” This particular case is around a spouse who is having a tough time allowing herself to feel the emotions of her painful and abandoning childhood, so she attends sessions more sporadically, while her husband attends regularly. The preceding case involves addictions with Internet porn, sex-ting, and emotional affairs. The husband’s vague and dishonest responses to his wife’s constant questioning about nude photos of his female friends drives his wife to the edge, leaving her further isolated, desperate, and void of affection, like a starved dog.
What becomes clear in the counseling sessions are the family backgrounds that have influenced the break of intimacy this couple and many couples come to face in marriage. What therapy provides is a clearer picture of truth about who each person is in the marriage, rather than just a “cheater” and a “victim.” The music and dance that the couple is performing is perfectly orchestrated by their childhood and current life situations. One desperate to get away and the other desperate to be closer. When each person in a relationship is resigned to desperation, feelings of abandonment, betrayal, cut-off, lack of affection, lack of being understood, and of belonging are fiercely triggered. Basic needs are not being met. Eventually, someone will respond as best as they know how, which may cause pain for the other. These basic, core needs are similar to our younger, childlike needs, which are crucial to our survival. So the painful dance between the two continues and progresses, however viciously and disconnected, recreating the feelings of our past and become expressed and real in our present. This is often followed with anxiety, panic attacks, shame, guilt, addictions, pain numbing behaviors, or emotional and physical cut-off, and sometimes abusive behaviors. Once these types of behaviors are occurring, gaining clarity in a nightmarish storm is almost impossible without some guidance. Without therapy, the dance becomes a way of life, both people lost in the shuffle, or should I say, “The Hustle….”
The real issues the couple is facing can resurface with therapy, with some guidance for a deeper understanding of truth. In the end, the real issues are not about the betrayal alone. The behavior is simply the dysfunctional intimacy revealing and expressing itself in a final act of desperation. The work is to continue looking deeper, to gain clairty about the motives and intentions that drive the behaviors. To remain focused on the pain experienced from the behavior is only the beginning. If each person in the relationship is dead set on blaming and pointing the finger at the other, then a smoke screen is being created by someone who is being motivated not to see themselves in the mirror of their relationship. Just saying “Stop doing what you’re doing because it’s wrong and you’re a terrible person” does not work. True recovery begins when each person’s shame, guilt, low self-esteem, pain, anger, and lack of trust can be managed enough to see the other person’s flaws in a non-judgmental light. Without the reactive filters of severe pain, one can forensically see the other person with less judgement. The cheating husband is no longer a villain in a bad movie, but with a lot of patience and grace, each spouse can see the other for the broken, highly functioning dysfunctional person they chose. More importantly, each person can see themselves in a more truth filled light. An illuminated view that eventually becomes more empowering compared to the “Whoa is me, I’m a victim” stance.
Whatever the addiction, workaholism, approval seeking, sex, people relationships, gossiping, shopping, drinking….all create a lack of intimacy with others and worse, yourself. Treating the behavior is not enough. Once the behavior stops, the feelings that were being managed by the addiction will erupt. So the choice is to blow yourself up or seek therapy. Choose the latter, even if you are the only bloom in the dessert, at least you have yourself. You will gain the most important person you lost, YOU!