Elisabeth, whose husband David had cheated more than once, began digging her heels in during one argument by demanding that he tell her the “truth” about his affairs. New details had emerged that didn’t match what she thought she already knew and she was trying to get to the bottom of it. The more she demanded he be forthcoming with the truth, the more he resisted, the more she tried to toughen herself up, the more she felt battered and bruised. In her mind she kept saying to David, ‘You will not destroy me! You will not destroy me!’ Elisabeth was positioning herself for war with her on the losing side. Here’s the hard reality as to why.
What Elisabeth was really demanding was reassurance, understandably so, but this gets super tricky, as perhaps you already know. She was asking for someone she didn’t trust to reassure her. Put another way, she was looking for David to get her to believe him more than she believed herself – because the reality was she didn’t believe anything he said, no matter what he said. Not a winning strategy, but a common one – even one encouraged by mainstream psychotherapies.
This blog takes a fundamentally different approach.
Trust cannot be rebuilt. Once you’ve seen the wizard behind the curtain it is not possible for you to believe the smoke and mirrors show anymore. Not unless you are OK with walking around feeling crazy. The good news is rebuilding trust is not what saves a marriage after an affair. Honesty is. Most couples believe they can have reassurance and honesty at the same time. You can’t. Which is exactly the problem Elisabeth and David were running into. Looking at the truth after an affair is not reassuring. Paradoxically, there is something fundamentally soothing about deciding to face hard truths. Not unlike the sense of self-respect or dignity you feel while doing something difficult and meaningful.
Get Your Kung Fu On!
So, let’s talk about how Elisabeth got her Kung Fu on.
What we don’t like to deal with in our culture is suffering. We avoid it like the plague. In fact, it is such a way of life that what we have designated as conflict avoidance is actually contact avoidance. Kung Fu puts us right there in the middle of the ring, not with our dukes up, but with our senses alert and awareness of ourselves and other quite balanced. Elisabeth couldn’t even approach balance until she stopped doing the very thing that was getting her off balance.
Check out what empowered Elisabeth to get her Kung Fu on:
1. She realized when she was demanding the truth out of David she was really begging for reassurance.
2. And shooting herself in the foot.
3. She stopped denying the fact that even if David had answered her with the “truth” she wouldn’t have believed him anyway.
4. Her self talk during tough conversations changed from ‘You will not destroy me!’ to ‘I will grow from this.’ And ‘I will not destroy myself in this.’
5. She started focusing on self-control and she learned to reassure herself.
6. She started dealing with the actual conflict at hand – like the subtle and not-so-subtle ‘screw you’ messages David had been lobbing off at her since even before the affair.
7. She stopped accusing him of lying to her at every turn and instead started dealing with the bigger issues at hand – like the ‘screw you’ messages mentioned above, like his choosing his parents over her, and like his inability to quiet down and get emotionally intimate with her.
With help in therapy, David began to take responsibility for himself. He stopped the screw you messages, set boundaries with his parents, and learned to get quiet and personal and warm with his wife. Elisabeth and David began to meet each other in peace having taken responsibility for themselves rather than blaming each other. There is hope not just for survival after an affair, but for happiness and love.
In the Helping Couples Grow blog and in my upcoming book (title to be released!) the concepts and principles you’ll read about:
- How to get you Kung Fu on (you’re here!)
- Trust is the last thing you should be working on now
- No, really, trust is not the first task of growth after an affair! It is perhaps one of the last.
- It’s not about standing up for your self.
- For the partner who cheated: A Leg to Stand On
- Also for the partner who cheated: What to do when you’re in love with the other
- And many other posts on general marriage issues, sex, and parenting.
Check them out and leave your comments. I’m here to help you through this difficult time.
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