Surviving an Affair

Being caught in having an affair or admitting to an infidelity blows the door right off the vehicle that is your relationship. Intense feelings of anger, fear, resentment and sadness to name a few come to the forefront like a flood. If you have gone through this or are currently going through this turmoil in your relationship then you are likely experiencing this and possibly much more. The relationship you envisioned and the safety net you both felt and required become lost.


But, is it possible to not only survive an affair but to actually reconnect in a way that actually improves your relationship? Studies show that through a lot of hard work, dedication, and time, the answer is a resounding “yes.”


(Re)Defining Infidelity

In the digital age we live in, what used to constitute an affair has changed. Obviously a physical, sexual relationship outside your relationship describes infidelity but what too about viewing pornography or flirting and intriguing with others on social media and hook-up apps like Tinder?  Although the relationship may never have reached the physical stage, many would still feel a betrayal by their partner partaking in these activities.  External link opens in new tab or windowRobert Weiss defines infidelity as “the breaking of trust that occurs when you deliberately keep intimate, meaningful secrets from your primary romantic partner.”


Rebuilding Trust

Rebuilding trust serves as the bedrock in starting over. In The Science of Trust, External link opens in new tab or windowDr. John Gottman claims that most of us believe that trust is an idea, a belief. Gottman instead defines trust as an action—more about what your partner does than what they say. Science now tells us that trust grows from how each of us treats our partners.


So, how does the person who had the affair do this? How does he or she begin to put back “trust deposits” into an almost empty love bank?


1. Atone for your mistakes and practice rigorous honesty

In the Gottman Trust Revival Method, the first phase is to atone. The partner who created the pain must first express remorse and takes full accountability for their actions. It is also essential that they too show empathy and understanding of their partner’s feelings. Often times a full disclosure is necessary, allowing for full transparency and openness.


Gaining insight into what went wrong also is recommended. Generative conversations explore the vulnerabilities in the marriage before the affair. This way of dealing with infidelity doesn’t blame the past for the infidelity, but it explores the motivations. It is critical that the betrayer is clear and about their motivating reasons for working toward a new transparency in the marriage.


Weiss too points out that involved partner must not only just come clean but they must also become rigorously honest about all other aspects of their life.  A shift must occur in their understanding of honesty that puts the truth in a place of utmost importance and highest priority. Even the small stuff counts here.


2. Attune

The second phase, attunement, is only possible when a couple moves ahead with forgiveness and is ready to rebuild their relationship without blaming. During this phase, the couple learns to really hear and listen to one another, empathizing with one another, and learning how to effectively deal with conflict. Prioritizing the relationship, to once again feel like a team in that letting others know too of their recommitment.


3. Attach

The third phase, attachment, rituals of connection are established. Sexual intimacy too can be reintroduced into the relationship given the betrayed feels ready. The emotional connection must be present for the true sex to happen.

Recovering from an affair is a complex process. It’s a healing journey that will test your patience, courage, inner strength and will require time for both of you to heal, regain balance and learn to lay down new tracks. The betrayer’s main job during this process is to be dependable, consistent, responsive and comforting.  You can build a more honest, healthier and happier relationship from this hardship.

How is Your Friendship?

It may not seem sexy or even topical, but developing and maintaining a good friendship in your marriage can prove vital to your overall success as a couple.  If we look at the definition of a friend—“A person who you like and enjoy being with”—then it does bring to light the importance of prioritizing this significant ingredient of your relationship.  Friends not only have similar interests but they also tend to share more about themselves and are keenly interested in the other person too. When you consider all of the ups and downs you personally go through, how important do you consider having your spouse as your number one mate?


John Gottman, a professor and researcher of all things marriage, notes that happy and fulfilling marriages (or long-term relationships) are based on deep friendships and that they provide the bedrock necessary to withstand all of the challenges that certainly do come in all intimate relationships. Friendship is one of the characteristics of a happy and lasting marriage, as well as the foundation of a healthy marriage. Research has shown that couples that have a great friendship have a higher percentage overall of marital satisfaction. In fact, the emotional connection that married couples share is said to be five times more important than their physical intimacy. Couples that are friends look forward to spending time together, and genuinely like one another. Their activities and interests actually become enhanced because they have their favorite person with whom to share their life experiences.


If you are already best friends with your spouse or partner then you are one step ahead. If not, then deciding to build and nurture and truly understand the importance of friendship can certainly strengthen your relationship.  For one, it improves emotional and physical intimacy—yes, better, more connected sex! Solid friendship also provides you with more of core, primal need—safety. When you feel safe and secure in your relationship (and friendship), you can take more risks by being more open and vulnerable which builds further trust and connection.


Nurturing and building that friendship does require practice and takes time and effort. Below are some marital friendship-building skills and techniques to help External link opens in new tab or windowmaintain and strengthen your marriage:

    • Spend quality time with each other. Particularly important if your External link opens in new tab or windowlove language is quality time
    • Communication. Although obvious, you may be surprised at how infrequent and ineffective your communication patterns may be when your friendship takes a back seat. Make the time to meet and talk..set dates, have a “check-in” session with each other on a weekly basis.
    • Make small moments into pivotal experiences.
    • Express genuine interest in your partner.
    • Make everything positive in your relationship foreplay.
    • Make your friendship unconditional
    • Be on your partner’s team.


Really get to know your spouse. We do tend to typecast each other over the years and take things for granted…that can make for a stale union.  Break out of that mold and try to see each other with fresh eyes from time to time. Be curious about one another by asking open-ended questions and really practice your listening skills. The payback you will likely receive back is priceless.


Physical intimacy may fade in a marriage but the emotional intimacy needn't.  True friendship lasts a lifetime. If you and your spouse are having difficulties building or nurturing your a friendship, a Marriage and Family Therapist can help.


Exes and Blended Families

Forming an intimate relationship can be littered with obstacles and challenges. In simple terms it is difficult to do. Now introduce children, ex-spouses or life partners to the mix and you have an ever more complex scenario. Blending a family does present a broader challenge than does a new relationship.  When parents marry new spouses, blended families are created. These types of families are typically comprised of an adult couple and their kids from previous marriages or relationships, as well as any children they may have together. In the modern age, when divorce and second marriages occur regularly, blended families are very common and feature their own brand of challenges alongside family issues that occur in traditional families.


Dealing with the Ex

One of the most common challenges for the blended family couples I see in my practice revolves around dealing with a difficult ex-spouse or partner.


1. The Hostile Ex

What to do if the ex-partner attempts to undermine the relationship…both with you and your new partner and your children? Do they send threatening texts or emails? Do they vent to your children about you and your new family? Dealing with an angry ex can negatively impact your new relationship by creating chaos, discourse, and arguments aplenty.


2. The Non-Compliant Ex

Does your ex not follow the guidelines with scheduling, parenting styles, and communication? This can be quite disruptive especially with children as they balance the mixed messages from both homes and look for loopholes.


3. The Ex with Poor Boundaries

Does the ex send too many texts, call at inappropriate times, or show up unannounced? The meddling ex may have difficulty in letting go of the relationship or worried about their kids are being raised in your household. Regardless of the intention the impact on your relationship can be catastrophic.


How do you set boundaries with a difficult ex-spouse or partner? The first thing is that it need be a united effort. You and your new spouse or partner definitely need to be on the proverbial same page in order to create and implement the necessary rules to manage the difficult relationship with the ex. You will need to protect your new relationship.


In the case of the hostile ex when threats, undermining, and aggressive behavior exist, direct action is necessary. If it is your ex-partner who demonstrates the malicious behavior then you likely need to take the lead in working with them to deescalate.  See if you can have a civil conversation. If that is not possible, spell everything out. The poorer the communication there is, the more important it is to spell out every aspect of parenting time/visitation with the children. In some cases, pick-ups and drop-offs should be specified to the minute.  There should be a 15- or 30-minute grace period if someone is running late, but everything must be in a written order of the court. This puts teeth into the agreement or judgment if there are continuing problems.

In order to protect your new marriage or relationship, it is necessary to set up appropriate boundaries with your ex-partner(s). Doing so doesn’t mean that they will automatically respect or accommodate them but when implemented and consistently upheld over time, both households just might find a more respectful working relationship.


Are Your Libidos Different?

Differing sex drives presents a common problem for couples. The majority of couples I see in my practice often bring the issue up during counseling—in fact it may be one of the top reasons why they choose therapy as an option to begin with.  Sometimes the difference is evident right from the beginning of your relationship but usually the “honeymoon” stage reflects both parties on the same page. They don’t live together, have spans of time between “dates”, and if they are sexually intimate, both are generally mutually interested in participating fully in that endeavor most of the times when they’re able to be together.


As relationships progress, however, differences tend to show up in all types of ways; particularly how each person prioritizes sex.  Common beliefs may paint the picture that men always want sex and their female partner not so much…but that is hardly the case. Often it’s the man’s drive which is lower in frequency.  The point is that differences occur and they hardly match this misconception.


Couples I see often present the divide in libidos in negative ways—feelings of neglect, rejection, and frustration are common. A big part of the problem is that the person with the higher drive almost always feels rejected by their partner.  They take it personally and begin to wonder if, or even believe that they are no longer desirable. Most often this isn’t the case.  What if the less frequently interested partner is only taking care of themselves by deciding if they are interested in being sexual or not?  Due to this perception, anger is likely to occur.  As for the one declining the invitation, they usually feel a great deal of pressure and guilt, which can turn into anger and resentment if not addressed.  Oftentimes, when this precedent is set and the couple does not discuss and find ways for resolution, the pattern continues indefinitely, sometimes over the entire span of the relationship.


Libido differences can certainly create havoc in your relationship and create a fighting cycle—with one person feeling rejected and the other pressured. So, what’s a healthier alternative to dealing with the mismatched libido?  First, each person needs to recognize that neither are likely very happy—you’re in this cycle together. It’s also necessary to look beyond what’s not working for you and instead being quite curious of how it is like for your partner. Try and understand their experience, ask questions, get in the habit of listening. Talk and listen to each other about what being sexual actually means to you each of you. What do you get out of it when you have it and what is lacking for you when it is not?


One question that comes up often is the idea of scheduling sex. Is it a good idea? Many External link opens in new tab or windowexperts do advocate scheduling sex, comparing it to scheduling other important events in our lives like vacations for example.  While some may see this as unromantic, believing that sex should be more spontaneous, having a sex date on the calendar will get you to openly discussing your sex life—a very important ingredient. In fact, according to External link opens in new tab or windowJohn Gottman’s studies, talking openly about your sex life is one of the 13 key things all couples do that have a very satisfactory sex life:


  1. They say “I love you” every day and mean it
  2. They kiss one another passionately for no reason
  3. They give surprise romantic gifts
  4. They know what turns their partners on and off erotically
  5. They are physically affectionate, even in public
  6. They keep playing and having fun together
  7. They cuddle
  8. They make sex a priority, not the last item of a long to-do list
  9. They stay good friends
  10. They can talk comfortably about their sex life
  11. They have weekly dates
  12. They take romantic vacations
  13. They are mindful about turning toward


Having a different engine need not sink your relationship. Like all differences you encounter, getting in there, taking it on, and not making it the elephant in the room will serve you both well.

Are Differences Okay in a Relationship?

Common beliefs may tell you that it is essential to have the same interests and styles to co-exist happily. Some 64% of married Americans believe that “having shared interests” is very important for a successful marriage, External link opens in new tab or windowaccording to the Pew Research Center. In fact, those surveyed ranked shared interests as more essential than good sex or shared political beliefs. Conventional wisdom goes that couples must have common interests to be happy. But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong?


Whereas it’s nice to share common interests there are many other determinants that will likely dictate whether your relationship prospers.  What happens when you like to read and your partner would rather stream TV programs? What if you’re more of a homebody and your mate prefers to go out? What about exercise and fitness? Is she a gym rat and you’re more of a couch potato? Certainly struggling to find things in common can pose challenges but need they be deal breakers, an unclimbable wall or a chasm too wide to bridge? Well, it depends.


Let’s take physical fitness as an example. What do you do if you both just disagree or just prioritize it differently?  Is it true that couples that sweat together, stay together? Well, there is External link opens in new tab or windowresearch that does suggest that jointly participating in physical activity leaves both partners more satisfied in their relationship. Makes sense but what if that just isn’t you?


First, you both need to recognize whether or not your difference(s) registers as a deal breaker—a consistently divisive impact on your relationship. If not, then talking and negotiating a solution is much more plausible. For example, leave the more strenuous activities to the adventurer and instead agree on active outings that both of you can enjoy together. Discussing your differences and not simply ignoring them goes a long way in finding a happier middle ground.


Similarly, when thinking about a problem or conflict in your relationship, it’s important to determine whether that problem is solvable or perpetual. External link opens in new tab or windowJohn Gottman’s research has shown that almost 70% of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems—they are likely not solvable and constantly reappear in your time together. Obviously, your style differences and interests will be reflected here but does that mean that all is lost? No.  What matters is not solving perpetual problems, but rather the affect with which they are discussed. The goal should be to establish a dialogue about the perpetual problem that communicates acceptance of your partner with humor, affection, and even amusement, to actively cope with the unresolvable problem, rather than allowing it to fall into the condition of gridlock.


Once you have determined that a difference is something you are both willing and able to navigate together then you have options. Accentuating what you do have in common and building on those common interests and not letting the differences become the only narrative in your relationship allows you the opportunity to grow both individually and collectively.


Let's Talk About Money

The holidays often bring up a lot of stressors for couples. One of the most common challenges couples face during the holiday season comes down to dollars and cents, particularly so when your financial viewpoint differs from your partner. Thinking about money or your finances during the holidays, with gift buying, entertaining and travel, can be stressful Too often couples feel the pressure to spend more than they are comfortable with to make for a happy holiday even at the risk of racking up credit card debt.


When working with couples in therapy, investigating the meaning of money and each person’s personal history with finances brings up a lot of vulnerability. Too often we avoid discussing this very important subject matter.  How comfortable you are talking about money with your partner can make or break your relationship


External link opens in new tab or windowKathleen Burns Kingsbury, a wealth psychology expert, examined this in her book, “Breaking Money Silence.”  The book looks at the ways couples and individuals can improve how they think and talk about money. Some signs that couples are financially incompatible are obvious, such as hiding purchases or racking up debt, often unbeknownst to their partner.  “Often money is a symbol of something else,” Kingsbury said. “That might be a symptom of trust issues in the relationship.”


But even couples who are on the same page and share priorities when it comes to what they spend money on, say adventurous experiences, may still disagree on where to go on vacation and what equipment they will need once they are there. Getting past those differences comes down to communication. Kingsbury suggests the following tips for how couples can get beyond financial issues:


1. Examine your own individual mindset about money. Understand your own perspective.

2. Look at your reluctance to talk about money.

3. Actively listen to your partner.

4. Go on a money date. Set aside time to discuss topics like budgeting and tracking your finances.

5. Consult a professional if needed.


So bringing all of this into context of holiday spending, what are some ways to come together as a couple and get through the season feeling like you made sound decisions?  The External link opens in new tab or windowAmerican Psychological Association (APA) offers similar good ideas to help you deal with the financial stress around the holidays.


1. Make one financial decision at a time. Simplify your spending by spacing out your financial decisions instead of binging and becoming overwhelmed.


2. Track your spending. Research shows that tracking can be an effective tool. Keep a daily list of how you spend your money.


3. Identify your financial stressors and make a plan. Take stock of your financial situation and where money causes you stress. Write down ways you and your family can reduce expenses or manage your money more efficiently. Then commit to a plan and review it regularly. Although this can be anxiety-provoking in the short term, writing a plan and sticking to it can reduce stress.


4. Recognize how you deal with stress related to money. In tough economic times, some people are more likely to relieve stress by turning to unhealthy activities such as smoking, drinking, gambling or emotional eating. The strain can also lead to more conflict and arguments between partners. Be alert to these behaviors — if they are causing you trouble, consider seeking help from a mental health professional.


Regaining Trust

A simple truth is that relationships flourish when partners trust one another. A feeling that your relationship reflects honesty, fidelity, respect, kindness, and the consistent ability to deal openly with conflict makes for a grounded union. But what happens when trust is broken? Well, relationships stall, they get stuck, and eventually they can fade away. Trust turns out to be the glue that holds it all together. In fact, trust and communication issues present the biggest challenges in marriages and committed relationships.

Each couple shares a sort of bank account, not an account built on currency, but rather one supported by trust. When the relationship is negatively impacted, your trust funds are depleted. Certain actions or behaviors can withdraw a large amount of trust and shake the very foundation of the relationship. The idea is to not bankrupt your account!

Obvious trust-buster behaviors include having an affair , lying about your financial situation, and simply not engaging as a parent.  All three of these can essentially make a huge dent in your trust bank…but there are many other, more subtle ways in which trust can be eroded. What if your partner consistently says he or she will do something and never delivers on the promise? What if your partner is emotionally unavailable to you during a trying time? These situations may not destroy trust, but they can certainly threaten it.

External link opens in new tab or windowBetrayal can come in many forms, such as dishonesty, disloyalty, unfaithfulness, or withholding. Each of these feels like a violation that cuts to the core of feeling safe—is he going to hurt me?  Is she going to disappoint me?  Although harmful, betrayals need not be the end of your relationship. For some couples, working through the betrayal can make the relationship even stronger than before provided the wounded party is first able and willing to consider forgiving. It’s a start because while forgiveness is necessary to the reconciliation process, it is not sufficient for being able to move forward with a relationship. Whether a relationship can be repaired depends primarily on whether or not trust can be restored.

Rebuilding Trust

If you are the person who has been hurt, the first thought may be the need to forgive the person who hurt you but forgiveness needs to start with yourself. We often blame ourselves—if I was a better person in some way, maybe this wouldn’t have happened to me. Self-forgiveness requires self-compassion. Same goes if you are the person who broke the trust bank. Forgiving yourself and treating yourself with self-compassion will go a long way in allowing you to make the necessary changes to not repeat the behavior.

Forgiving the other person allows the space and freedom to truly heal. Many people struggle with forgiveness because they don’t want to let the other person off the hook for his or her bad behavior. It is important to realize though that forgiveness isn’t about giving your power away to the other person but rather taking it back.

2. Trusting yourself and your partner.
Similar to forgiveness, it is nearly impossible to trust someone else unless you first trust yourself. A good deal of the fear that people feel when they think about trusting someone who has betrayed them comes from the belief that they will not be OK if it happens to them again—that they could become emotionally devastated by being hurt again. This is where the work needs to be done. Instead of focusing on why you won’t be okay, it is important to know why you would be fine and still be able to live a good life without the other person.

The truth about trusting someone else is that the only certainty is that there is no certainty. There is always an element of faith in the trust we give to someone. After a betrayal, all you can do is assess the situation and make an appraisal about what you think is likely behavior in the future. Does the person seem sincerely apologetic and willing to make amends? Does the person act with integrity in other areas of their life? Were there circumstances that played a role, or does the betrayal seem to reflect their overall character? Has he or she broken your trust in similar ways in the past? In the big picture, is there more good than bad in the relationship?


Communication Problems?

“My wife says I have two faults. I don’t listen and something else.”


“Women expect their men to change…and they don’t. Men expect their women to not change…and they do.”

Communication problems? By far, the number one reason why couple’s come to therapy. When you think of it, it’s the number one problem in most relationship issues—family, friends, and work to name a few. Communication issues are far-reaching and impact each and every one of our relationships, particularly intimate and committed ones.


The topics vary too.  Perhaps you have difficulty in talking—and listening—about finances, parenting and sex to name a few. For some, just recounting what happened in your day or trying to bring up previous conflict that feels unresolved proves impossible and turns toxic.  Trying to get on the proverbial “same page” often proves maddening.


So, what are some exercises or practices couples can learn to help with their communication? Here are a few that often find their way into a therapy session.


Active Listening

Listening may be more important than actually talking if you scrap the words, “may be.”  Often when couples get heated discussing matters, listening comes to a halt and things break down soon after. A basic skill is to practice active listening where you practice listening without interrupting and then repeating back to your partner exactly what you heard. Many couples therapy exercises are based around practicing skills that will make you and your partner better listeners. Active listening is designed to not only make it easier to converse about sensitive issues but also to actually deepen your understanding and appreciation of your partner.


It is important to use “I” statements. A common communication pitfall is when words like “you”, “should”, and “could” are used during self-expression.  These words result in a defensive reaction, while the individual feels attacked, blamed, and criticized.  This assertiveness training activity teaches couples how to eliminate these words by educating them how to express themselves in an “I statement” format.


For this activity, set aside time to talk with your partner and either select a topic to talk about or even keep it more short and specific—explain what you really need from the other person in that particular moment. Take turns where one of you is the speaker and the other the listener. The listener may take notes. The listener is not to interrupt but to instead stay engaged and listen. It may be wise to set a time limit—start out with one minute, then two minutes, and work your way up to five minutes. After the speaker is done, the listener is to mirror—or repeat—back what they heard and then validate with the speaker if they got it correct.  Switch roles and repeat.


Again, rather than communicate as you normally would, create more structure in the dialog by using mirroring, validation and empathy. Mirroring is repeating what your spouse said in your own words in a way that expresses curiosity/interest. Validating in a conversation is conveying understanding. A simple, “I get what you’re saying” is all that is needed. Lastly, empathy is expressing interest in how your partner feels by saying something along the lines of, “How does that make you feel?”


Conflict management

Often when we are in conflict mode, we are living in response to our history. Old stories or tapes are running and we get triggered. A External link opens in new tab or windowvery effective Gottman Method technique helps to manage conflict and how to deal with the aftermath of a fight. One practice is to process a past regrettable incident that allows each partner to be fully heard and hopefully understood.


  1. Discuss your feelings about the incident. Share how you felt and avoid commenting on your partner’s feelings
  2. Describe your realities of the incident. Recall how you saw it. Take turns and then summarize and validate a part of your partner’s reality
  3. Discuss your triggers. Share what experience or memories you’ve had that might have escalated the interaction and the stories of why these are triggers for each of you
  4. Take responsibility in your role in the incident by acknowledging how you have contributed to the fight or regrettable incident.
  5. Make constructive plans. Plan together one way that each of you can make it better next time.


Are you in a Codependent Relationship?

Codependency sounds like a dirty word. We know it sounds bad, must be bad, but what is it really? How can you tell if you are indeed in a codependent relationship? Many people find themselves repeating the same unhealthy relationship patterns despite knowing better.  Do you find yourself making lots of sacrifices for your partner’s happiness, putting your own life constantly on hold?


What is a codependent relationship?

There are many working definitions of codependency. Dr. Shawn Burn, author of External link opens in new tab or windowUnhealthy Helping:  A Psychological Guide to Codependence, Enabling and Other Dysfunctional Giving explains codependency as “one person doing the bulk of the caring, and often ends up losing themselves in the process.”  There is a giver and a taker. Givers display an overbearing and compulsive need to keep their relationship alive—the fear of being alone causes them to overexert themselves physically and emotionally in order to please their partners.  Takers, on the other hand, gets much more than they give and to lack maturity and empathy and are commonly linked to forms of addiction or a personality disorder, says Burn


Scott Wetzler, Ph.D. at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, describes codependent relationships “signifying a degree of unhealthy clinginess where one person does not have self-sufficiency or autonomy.”  Melody Beattie, author of External link opens in new tab or windowCodependent No More clarifies:  “Codependents are reactionaries. They overreact. They under-react. But rarely do they act. They react to the problems, pains, lives, and behaviors of others. They react to their own problems, pains, and behaviors.”



Signs of codependency

How can you tell if you are codependent? Well, there are some telltale signs. A External link opens in new tab or windowgood article on six signs of codependency provides a guide to determine if your relationship falls into this category:

  1.  Does your sense of purpose involve making extreme sacrifices to satisfy your partner's needs?
  2.  Is it difficult to say no when your partner makes demands on your time and energy?
  3.  Do you cover your partner’s problems with drugs, alcohol, or the law?
  4.  Do you constantly worry about others’ opinions of you?
  5.  Do you feel trapped in your relationship?
  6.  Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?


External link opens in new tab or windowOther sources also tell us to watch out for these signs that you might be in a codependent relationship:

    • Are you unable to find satisfaction in your life outside of a specific person?
    • Do you recognize unhealthy behaviors in your partner but stay with him or her in spite of them?
    • Are you giving support to your partner at the cost of your own mental, emotional, and physical health?


Why do people get into codependent relationships?

Codependent tendencies often trace back to childhood when we start to develop patterns in how we connect with people. Often those who directly or indirectly observed conflict between their parents growing up were more likely to become codependent in adulthood. Attachment theory or attachment styles--a psychological model attempting to describe the dynamics of long-term and short-term interpersonal relationships between humans—points to the inability to have secure attachments with our parents as a key ingredient.


In the give and take dynamics in codependent relationships, givers tend to have anxious attachment styles—they define themselves by their relationship, and will do whatever it takes to stay in it. Takers, on the other hand, tend to have avoidant attachment styles, meaning they try to avoid emotional connection at all costs.


What to Do About It

Seeking professional assistance via therapy can help. Through therapy, codependent relationships can become more balanced and fulfilling if both parties are committed to making the necessary changes. When both partners are on board, therapy can help identify both the insecure attachment styles as well as the rigid system that keeps them stuck in the cycle. Creating a partnership of equals, strengthening friendships and hobbies outside their relationship and being able to initiate meaningful conversations with each creates a better balanced and happier union.


Journaling Saves You Time

In my practice, if I received a dollar for each time I heard from my clients, “I was too busy to write this week,” I would be a wealthy man. Like many things that are actually good for us, journaling or dialoguing often get put aside or buried by the busyness of life.  Somehow putting a high priority on writing wanes as we get caught up in the day-to-day commitment to work, family, and other pursuits.


I’ve come to believe that a formula must exist that calculates the power of introspection: Fifteen to 30 minutes of introspection equals one hour of productivity. Dialoguing takes time but it actually gives you time. It removes obstacles, clears the path for, well, work, family and other pursuits. In business terms, dialoguing mirrors planning. If you are too busy to plan in the business world and instead mire yourself in the tactical, day-to-day tasks, your business will soon be sunk. Planning out (strategic) your course of action is a necessity…so why is that a necessity in your personal world?


Developing empathy for yourself is a must and is always the crux of the work. We have a whole series of compensation mechanisms we create in our bodies and our personalities that help us hide or otherwise ignore the root of our issues. Empathy plays a huge role in helping map where it all starts, so we can fix it.  So as we strive to give more empathy to others, we also need to remember to reserve some of it for ourselves. If we don't have the ability to be a student of ourselves, we're going to have a hard time getting through life.


Benefits of Dialoguing

One of the ways to deal with any overwhelming emotion is to find a healthy outlet in which to express yourself—that makes a journal a helpful tool in managing your mental health. Journaling can help:

    • Manage anxiety
    • Reduce stress
    • Cope with depression

Journaling helps control your symptoms and improve your mood by:

    •  Helping you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns
    • Tracking any symptoms day-to-day so that you can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them
    • Providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors


When you have a problem and you're stressed, keeping a journal can help you identify what’s causing that stress or anxiety. Then, once you’ve identified your stressors, you can work on a plan to resolve the problems and, in turn, reduce stress.


Setting up a Dialoguing or Journaling Practice

Like most healthy habits, it’s best to structure your writing at the beginning of the day. Before you get into the trappings of the day, set aside some structured time to write. Try to set aside time to write several times per week and make it easy for yourself to follow through with it. If you prefer to physically write, buy a cool writing journal and keep it nearby at all times. If you prefer electronically, consider setting up a blog or use journaling software to keep it interesting.


Keeping a journal helps you establish order when your world feels like it’s in chaos. It helps you get to know yourself by revealing your innermost fears, thoughts, and feelings. Look at your writing time as personal relaxation time, a time when you de-stress and wind down. Write in a place that's relaxing and soothing—maybe with a cup of tea. Look forward to your journaling time, and know that you're doing something good for your mind and body.


I'm Getting Better...Why Isn't My Relationship?

I'm getting better...why isn't my relationship?

Men who come to see me for recovery from sexual compulsive behavior, such as serial affairs, often expect a sort of linear course for regaining their lives. “I will put 6 solid months into counseling; my wife will trust me again; our marriage will be back to where it was; and I will never do this again.” Unfortunately, only our compulsive behavior is linear—you CAN expect your behavior to grow and progress over time if not checked. Instead, recovery is more like a scatter diagram, with many ups and downs.

A common frustration often voiced during the recovery process reflects this expectation.  The flaw in this thinking is that a committed relationship, like a marriage, contains more than just the individual. We may work diligently on cleaning up our act but that does not simply translate to a better union. How come?  Think of the Venn Diagrams we learned in early math classes:

The diagram illustrates the two outer circles as individuals and the overlap as the relationship itself.  You alone changing your part of this delicate equation is only one-third of the solution. Another way to think of it: "If I'm changing, how is my partner changing and how is our relationship changing because of that?"

Your Relationship is a system

Think of your relationship as a system—with rules, patterns, beliefs, and expectations. Therapists often use a “dance” analogy to describe the balance. If you are used to a certain way you both dance, what happens when one of you changes the steps? So, if you are making personal changes to address your compulsive sexual behavior, isn’t that like changing a pattern you’re both used to? While change is necessary, so is communicating and sharing what EACH of you are going through during this change. If you are merely changing your behavior to “save” your relationship then you may be disappointed with the outcome. Gaining traction will not in and of itself save your relationship…but it is a prerequisite.

Changing your role…the both of you

Men often assume the role of the Identified Patient (IP) in a relationship…or in layman’s terms, the screw-up, but they are indeed only at least half the story. It is important that you learn to accept that you and your partner are peers and need to learn to act in such a manner. Your wife or significant other is not your parent or authority figure and the process of change includes learning how to change your role in your relationship, and that includes your partner.

Individual and Couples Counseling

When men come to see me for counseling, they are often in a hurry to “fix” the problem and want to get into couples work immediately. Understand that both you, and likely your partner, may both need individual attention and help before you take on couples work. Referring to the diagram, you will notice the vast majority of the circles reflect each individual. You each brought your personal histories into the relationship and forged the inner circle (the relationship) and you both need to look at the roles within the system in your relationship.