Affair Proofing Your Marriage

September 17, 2012

I was at my Mothers of Preschoolers meeting today and the theme for our meeting was marriage (right up my alley!) We were going through some discussion questions and one in particular peaked my interest. The question was “how do you affair proof your marriage?” I would like to share with everyone my thoughts on this subject as well as those of the other ladies who I was talking with, as some of the ideas were new to me. Please note that all of these suggestions were made on the part of women on how to keep their male spouses from having affairs but many of them could be used by males to encourage fidelity from their wives or even with same sex relationships.

I joked briefly that having sex with your partner is one way to keep him from straying but this is also a serious suggestion as well. Many individuals, both male and female, have a need and strong desire for sexual pleasure and the intimacy that sex brings to a relationship. Of course it needs to be within your own comfort level and come from a place of respect but sex is one aspect of a healthy marriage/relationship. You may want to take a look at your partners needs and fantasies and do your best to fulfill what you can.

On the other hand, I think women sometimes forget about the emotional needs of men as they see them as being consumed by sex. I have have several marriage counseling clients come in that the husband has become friends with other females and these relationships have lead to emotional and even sexual affairs. As we get wrapped up into our own lives we sometimes forget to pay attention to our partners need for validation, to help them feel more like a man (or woman), help them feel good about themselves, etc. As they begin to get this attention from another person, it puts the usual boundaries at risk. Some suggestions on how to keep this from happening in your relationship is to set up rules between yourself and your spouse for strict boundaries with the opposite sex. For instance, no meals alone with a member of the opposite sex. Another one of my mom friends mentioned that she works in an environment where she is the only female and therefore her options are to eat with the men or eat alone. In this case she stated that she has made it a point that any of the men that she becomes friends with at work, she gets to know their wives and introduces the men to her husband. You can think about the situations you and your spouse encounter that could become problematic and create rules around these but also make some general ones that would cover situations that you may not anticipate encountering. Overall, the goal is to limit time between the opposite sex that would allow for emotional intimacy to grow.

Of course this is not an inclusive list but just some ideas to get you thinking. Please feel free to share any other ideas you have about affair proofing your marriage!



Typical Feelings After Your Partner Had an Affair

August 21, 2012

If you have ever experienced your partner having an affair, you can understand the many contradicting and negating feelings. What you may not realize, is that they are completely normal and expected feelings. Today I would like to take a few minutes to discuss the feelings and thoughts you may be experiencing to help you realize that you are not alone in this endeavor. Just remember that you may not have all of these feelings and you may in fact have additional feelings not mentioned here, since everyone’s personal situation is different.

All of the feelings stem around a sense of loss,  the first being a loss of your own identity. As you find out that your partner has betrayed you, it will begin to feel like your whole world is crashing down and everything you have known to be true no longer is. You may question your relationship and your place and role in it. You may question what you have done to cause your partner to seek out another person, perhaps even blaming yourself. In this process you may feel a loss of confidence and self-esteem as you feel less special since your partner seeked out someone else. You may wonder about what it says about you since your partner couldn’t or chose not to get all his/her romantic needs met by you.

You may feel as though your parnter respects you less having chosen to betray you and in return may respect yourself less as well. You may lose self-respect as you feel yourself doing whatever you can to try to win your partner back. You may feel the need to suppress the fact that you were the one that was wronged and feel ashamed that you are straying from your values in light of the events.

You may feel a loss of control, over yourself, your mind, your body, your relationship and your whole world. Of course we know we can’t control other people but we expect to be able to control ourselves, but with this news we cannot control our thoughts and even sometimes actions as you may find yourself thinking about the affair and checking up onyour partner seemingly uncontrollably. Along with this comes the loss of your sense of order and justice in the world and understading about how everything should work and happen, the world may no longer make sense to you. In addition, some people will temporarily lose faith in their religion, not understanding how a just God would allow this to happen to them.

It may be hard to make sense of all that has happened, and feel embarassed to tell others in an attempt to seek help. You may not want others to know what has happened, not wanting them to think the same things about you that you have, or you may not want the biased advice that they will give. Either way, you may feel alienated and lonely as you have a hard time reaching out to others. With all of these feelings being compounded, it isn’t surprising that you may also be feeling a loss of the will to live. All of these feelings can be overwhelming and it may seem easier to not have to deal with them any longer. Of course this is not true, however.

Please know that no matter what you are experiencing after your partner has an affair, there is someone out there who is experiencing it as well. What you are experiencing is normal and understandable.

(Information based off the book “After the Affair” by Janis Abrahams Spring, Ph.D.)

It Takes Two to Tango

August 13, 2012

I’m sure you all know the saying that it takes two to tango, and of course literally this is true. We frequently hear it used in terms of it taking two people to engage in an argument, and this is also very true. You may be aware of this already but has this knowledge actually helped your relationship? Chances are it hasn’t. The reason why is you need to know first how you begin to engage in dancing with your partner and then have the tools and skills to do something other than engage in the behaviors that lead to or pour fire onto the arguments.

For some people this could be very difficult to discover and they may need the help of a marriage counselor in order to objectively see how they are contributing to the problem. If you would like to give it a go on your own, however, here are some questions to think about which may lead you to some understanding of what you can do differently.

How do arguments start between you and your partner? Think about past arguments and how they begin. What is happening prior to an argument? What do you do before an argument? Make sure to focus on your behaviors. How would your partner describe your behaviors?  Although I have already acknowledged that it takes two, you ultimately only have control over your own behavior and will need to focus on what you can do differently. On the flip side, by changing your own behaviors you may be able to influence your partner’s behaviors as it will no longer make sense for your partner to respond to you in the same way when you are acting differently. 

 For example, perhaps many of your arguments begin because your spouse tends to make stops on his way home from work, sometimes they are short and other times he may not be home for up to 2 hours after he gets off. You understandably become frustrated, not knowing when to expect him and not knowing when to make dinner, and having to continue to take care of the kids on your own. You tend to “nag” your husband about this as you frequently send text messages trying to find out when he will be home (although these are never accurate either) and complain about all the things you had to handle on your own while he was out. Although the outcome you may like is for your husband to come home shortly after work, your way of trying to get that has not worked thus far and in fact leads to bigger arguments. Perhaps it is time to try something new and different. At the least you know that “nagging” leads to bigger fights and if you can at least stop nagging, you won’t have the arguments anymore.

Once you are aware of how your behavior plays into the arguments, you will then need to look at what you can do differently. Brainstorm different possibilities and think about how your partner may respond to each one. It will be hard to know which one is the right thing, and not everything will work out just how you want it, but you have to try something unless you want more of what you are currently getting! You may choose to do something slightly different or to make a complete 180! For the example above the wife could choose to simply stop nagging, she could begin eating without her husband, she could leave the house with the kids (if she has any) before her husband gets home with or without telling him where she went and when she will be home, or even make positive comments about him going out and/or encouraging him to do so. Part of the choice is knowing your partner and how they are likely to respond to things, although remember sometimes they will surprise you, and the other part is trial and error for that very reason! Make sure to give your changes at least a few weeks to see if anything changes and also make sure that your can incorporate the changes genuinely (no sarcasm while encouraging him to go out!)


Reconnecting with Your Spouse- Through Intimacy

July 16, 2012

Part of what distinguishes a spouse from a friendship is that the marital relationship includes intimacy. Let me clear up right away that intimacy is not just sexual behavior (although it includes that as well) but is behaviors characterized by a closeness that is personal and private in nature. It can be anything from a look, to communciation, to touch, to sexual acts. Today I will focusing more on the physical relationship, however.

There are several things to be aware of before you try to use intimacy in order to reconnect with your spouse. First off, this is not something that can be forced (and I’m not referring to rape but of course that is even more important to remember). I have seen  couples who come into my office looking to reconnect and typically the female does not feel comfortable being intimate with her husband anymore. She feels as though he is a stranger and just as she would not want to be intimate with any random person she meets, she feels the same way about her husband. When she feels obligated to be intimate with him, it builds resentment. In these cases it is best if the couple refrains from intimacy for the time being. It is important that women do not use this as an excuse, however, but work towards feeling comfortable enough to be intimate. One thing that can help in this situation is to be working on the other concepts I have talked about in this Reconnecting with Your Spouse series. It is true that men need sex to feel loved by their wives, and wives need to feel loved in order to have sex with their husbands. So it may be helpful for men to remember women may need to feel the romance and wining and dining prior to trying to be intimate. It may also be helpful to start with less intimate behaviors and gradually work your way up to more intimate behaviors.

Why is intimacy important? If you search the internet there will be many answers to why intimacy is important in relationships, especially ones that aim to answer this on a spiritual level. I don’t want to go to deep in my answer here, so if you are looking for more, do a quick internet search. We are relational and sexual beings. Biologically speaking we have a need to be close to people and for the release associated with sex. Although people have varying views, beliefs, and values regarding sex, on the most basic level it is needed for procreation. If this was our only need, however, we would only be having sex when we were trying to conceive, and there would not be so many sexual acts that do not lead to the possibility of pregnancy. Intimacy helps us feel close to our partner, to feel connected, and gives us pleasure. Although some people do not feel the need for sexual relationships, the majority of people do, and find that it is needed for a well rounded, satisfying relationship. Without intimacy, a couple begins to feel more and more distant from one another.

In addition to sex and sexual acts, intimacy can also include holding hands, cuddling, massage, kissing, caressing, hugging, and bathing among many others. Start out slow and incorporate intimate behaviors in your relationship in order to feel connected with your spouse again!



Reconnecting with Your Spouse Through Shared Experiences

July 2, 2012

Last week I discussed increasing your positive communication in order to reconnect with your spouse. Today I would like to talk about actually doing things together, having shared experiences. Once again, it becomes so easy in today’s society to get caught up with our many obligations and to begin living separate lives. We forget how to have fun, how to share a lifetime. Experiencing positive and even difficult events together can help us bond with one another if handled properly. First we will discuss positive experiences as we are able to initiate these and are more desirable and then will discuss how to handle negative experiences properly as they come up.

When I talk about positive experiences one thing that I am looking at is what is called couple play. If you follow my blog, you may remember other posts dedicated to couple play, if not you can click here to see one of those posts. By incorporating play into your relationship you will enhance the amount of fun you have together. What this will do is help you see the positive characteristics in your mate that you have lost sight of.  It may make it easier to remember why you fell in love with them to begin with. Also, when you are having a good time you are more likely to think positively as you feel happy and these can impact the way you feel about your spouse. It will give you more chances to create inside jokes or have intimate moments and to have positive memories to share.

The other type of positive experience are bigger ocassions. This might be a birth, a wedding, or a new job. Let me state right here and now that these are not things to plan for in order to save your marriage. Too many people try having a baby in order to save their marriage but the problems are still there and now there is the added stress of all new decisions to be made and a small person to care for. When I talk about a birth I am referring to someone else having a child, perhaps you will be an aunt or uncle or a grandparent, or get to celebrate someone else’s wedding (again, not yours in order to save the relationship). The way for these events to help your relationship is to have equal views on them, to talk about them, perhaps remember and talk about your own experiences with these events and how your partner made them the most positive experiences they could be.

Stressful events, although nothing you want to try to initiate, can sometimes have a positive impact on the relationship. This might be an illness, death, or move, for instance. The importance here is that whatever the event is, that you work through it together. You become a united front, support one another to the best of your ability, and make sure that no one feels alone in the situation. By supporting each other through tough times it shows that you are trustworthy and brings to light the benefit of security that is found in mature love. We feel more connected with someone who we believe understands us and someone that we understand. It feels good to know that someone has our back and we will feel more positively towards that person as well.

Remember that none of this is a cure all. These are all pieces of the puzzle. You may already have these pieces fit into place but if you do not, you may want to look at finding them and putting them together in order to make the big picture come into focus!


Reconnecting with Your Spouse Through Communication

June 25, 2012

It happens so easily if you aren’t paying attention, life sneaks up on you and you no longer feel like you know the person who is sitting across the table at you at dinner, if you are lucky enough to even be sitting at the table together. Hint- It’s your spouse! With technology our life is supposed to be easier, but this just isn’t the case as we pile on more obligations and take on more than our counterparts did 30 years ago. In many families, both spouses work, they have children, the children are involved with several after school activities, we feel like we have to be super parents and home makers- baking, cleaning, etc. In our free time we tend to veg in front of the TV, computer, or gaming device. The one thing that you don’t notice here is communicating with your partner and actually making your relationship a priority.

My first rule for reconnecting with your spouse is to increase the amount of positive communication between the two of you.  Another hint, in order for this to happen you may very well need to turn off the computer, cell phone, TV, gaming device, or any other electronic that commands your attention on a regular basis. It amazes me how many couples sit on the couch and watch TV every night, do not communicate, but expect that because they are sitting next to each other watching the same show they should feel connected. Don’t get me wrong, this is fine to do on occasion and even a few nights a week especially if you are physical people who enjoy cuddling with one another, but will not be helpful if it is most nights.

So what should you do if you are not watching TV or using other electronics? Talk! Communicate! Share with one another! I usually advise my couples to pick a night of the week that is good for them and to create a ritual around it. So it may be that you decide that every Friday night is your date night and you will have wine and cheese after you put the kids to bed and sit and talk with one another. Another couple I see reported that they would pick a different country each week and cook a dish from that country together. Some choose to go for regular walks around the block after dinner or to do more physical activities which they can still talk to one another. The options are endless. As John Gottman, a well known figure in couples counseling, has stated- you need 5 positives to cancel out a negative. So the point of this is to increase the positive communication before or at the same time you try to change the negative.

I like having a day scheduled since it is more likely to be remembered and held as a priority. Of course things come up and in that case, if you are still only having alone time once per week then it is best to reschedule it to another day. If you have incorporated multiple activities throughout the week it is okay to agree to miss one when something comes up. After doing it week after week it becomes something that you look forward to as it becomes more familiar and represents who you are as a couple. When you first start out, it is important to keep the conversation positive by steering away from high conflict areas of conversation.

I hope you enjoy finding your own way of incorporating this idea into your marriage. Please feel free to share your ideas of rituals that you like or use.

Reconnecting with Your Spouse the Way You Once Did

June 18, 2012

Once couples begin to slide down the slippery slope of feeling disconnected, it can sometimes be hard for them to see a way out. Although they frequently look to the advice of a counselor to help them reconnect and for other answers on their path of healing their marriage, there are times when I feel the need to refer them back to their own insight into their marriage. This is most likely to be the case and to work when there are not other serious issues that are getting in the way of the reconnection such as infidelity or betrayals which will need to be worked on simultaneously or before reconnection can occur.

So what insight into your own marriage might I be referring to? Well you were able to connect with your partner at least once, and may very well have reconnected with them on multiple occasions throughout your relationship as regular life or special circumstances created distance between you. My question is, how have you connected in the past? You may have connected over volunteering together for a cause that is meaningful to the both of you, or by exchanging quips about each others favored sports team over beer and a game. Other people mention some of the romantic gestures they used to engage in such as love notes and date nights. It doesn’t matter what the activity is- within normal and legal limits of course (sorry my previous work as a counselor in juvenile justice makes me feel the need to identify legal activities and not ones in which people bond over committing crimes or murdering together! lol) but that it is something that you have found to work for you in the past. Why recreate the wheel when you can start with some of the tried and true.

In certain circumstances this may not work as well as hoped. For instance, sometimes one or both individuals in the couple have changed so drastically over the period of time since the relationship began that these same behaviors will not have the same impact. This is something you will need to determine. You will also need to make sure that they will be received as genuine and not as something you are doing just to get back into the good graces of your spouse. Many times I hear one partner say that the behaviors just don’t seem genuine because it doesn’t acknowledge all of the problems that the couple currently is going through (this is often the case with love notes or letters, in which case be careful to word them genuinely). Another frequent request, and rightfully so, is to only engage in behaviors that you feel you would be able to continue on a long term basis so it does not build up your spouse only to let them down when you cease the behavior.  Again, as stated earlier you will also need to determine if it is a simple case of drifting apart due to life circumstances or if there are bigger issues that will need to be worked on.

It is also important to mention that these should be activities or behaviors that promote positive communication between you and your spouse. The movies would not be a good choice unless the both of you really enjoy discussing the plot line, special effects, etc in detail afterwards. Make sure it is something that both people enjoy and focus on each other while you are together. The point of it is to communicate, show understanding, and caring towards one another as well as show your good qualities and look for the qualities you fell in love with in your spouse. Next week I will discuss some more ways to work on reconnecting with your spouse.