Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Mastering Marriage Part 1: Interpreting Plateaus in Marriage and Recovery

Mastering Marriage - a 2 Part Series:

Part 1: Interpreting Plateaus in Marriage and Recovery
Part 2: Coming Soon!

Registration for EMS Online--our life-changing, online seminar for couples--opens soon.

Subscribe to Registration Notifications!

This week, we discuss three different responses to infidelity and its recovery journey. The names of these responses may seem silly to some, but they are very common, and it is necessary to name them as parts of us that wrestle with betrayal trauma.

Think about it: anytime we have ever endeavored to learn something new, there is a struggle, a wrestling with the new material as we try to integrate it into our existing way of being. My experience says that infidelity recovery is no different; we must find a new way of looking at ourselves and our relationship. Struggles are necessary to not only overcome but also to master any new skill or talent. The same is true for marriage and dealing with the consequences of infidelity. When we endeavor to heal from any major crisis or trauma, the power is most definitely in the process of the journey. Every one of us is on a journey, and no two of us have exactly the same journey, even within a married couple.

One afternoon, when I was in sixth grade in Leeds, AL, I asked my dad if he would buy me a tennis racket at the dime store in town, TG&Y. I think he paid less than ten dollars for both the racket and a can of tennis balls. The next day, I met a friend at the tennis courts and began to learn how to play. Dad would pay for lessons when we could afford them, but, for years, I was at the courts every chance I got, practicing groundstroke after groundstroke after groundstroke. My dream was to be as good as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. I saved all my lawn mowing money to buy the same racket that Jimmy Connors played with, the Wilson T3000. I paid for a subscription to Tennis magazine, and even read "The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance"*, by Timothy Gallwey, as an eighth grader. The discipline and the repetition of practicing every day never got boring for me.

I made the varsity tennis team as a freshman, and then we moved to Houston. I still loved the game, but I lost my tennis community and then, in turn, the discipline to play every day. I still played tennis, but not as voraciously. Dad was no longer able to take me to the courts. Eventually, I lost interest altogether. I often look back on that time and think that it was the dedicated practice, the process of learning and becoming, that was life-giving for me.

The time I spent practicing tennis in those earlier years--and now a daily yoga and meditation practice--taught me that mastery of anything, whether it's an athletic sport, yoga, meditation, or professional and relationship skills, takes time, patience, and a willingness to stick to our goal even when the rewards don't seem to come. Learning to do anything well takes ongoing effort and practice, even when you're on a plateau where it seems nothing is happening. And most of the time, it takes a mentor, coach, teacher, or a guide.

The Affair Recovery staff is currently reading George Leonard's book "Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment". In it, he suggests that the reason we tend to fail is our resistance to continue when our efforts don't produce the immediate results we desire. We fail to recognize that mastery isn't getting it right or having finally arrived, rather mastery is about the process or the journey. It's not reserved for the super talented or for those who got a head start, rather it's about a willingness to get on the path and stick with it, even when it feels as if no progress is being made. We do love our quick fixes and immediate gratification, but the process of mastery is counter to what we've been taught to expect. Quick fixes and immediate gratification actually prevent us from developing the necessary skills for a solid relationship and even threaten the stability of our families.

What if we spent more time trying to be masters of relationships instead of mastering our golf game or yoga practice. Can you imagine the profound impact it would've had on your marriage, family, friends, and community? Heck--on the whole planet!

What would happen if we spent 20 minutes each day with our spouse just learning and listening to their world without trying to change or correct or fix anything--just listening generously to their inner world? What if we practiced the skills of generous listening and respectful speaking as we engaged with one another? Instead of practicing these helpful skills, many of us assume things will just work out, and we falsely believe that if they don't, then the failure is my mate's fault, not mine. In short, I wait for my partner to change first.

Growth is never a simple, linear progression. As we try to master anything, such as an instrument, a sport, and especially recovery from infidelity, there will always be peaks, valleys, and plateaus in which it seems no progress is being made. Learning occurs in stages, and time is required for new knowledge to be integrated into both our nervous and belief systems. After working with more than one thousand couples over the past sixteen years, I wish spouses could "get" each other faster than they do, faster than we do. The truth is, it just doesn't work that way. To do so first requires intention, getting clear about what you want, what kind of relationship you want. And then, it takes dedicated practice. It will feel unnatural or scripted in the beginning. It will take weeks or months for new ways of communicating to feel natural. Just like in my early days of playing tennis and now yoga and meditation, for mastery, you practice for the sake of the practice, being mindful of how the practice, the right action feels to you, regardless of how your spouse does or does not respond.

Leonard identifies three characters who have unique struggles on the road to mastery: the Dabbler, the Obsessive, and the Hacker. Each of these types go through life and recovery their own way rather than choosing a course of mastery. See if you identify with any of these characters.

"The Dabbler" approaches each new sport, career, or relationship with enthusiasm and loves the first stage of starting something new.

When they see spurts of progress or reward, they are thrilled and can't wait to show friends and family what they've accomplished. They're the ones who can't wait for the next lesson to continue their progress. The plateaus of growth are unacceptable and disorienting, and they see those stages as stagnation rather than integration. The Dabbler specializes in the honeymoon stage and loves the feelings generated as they share their life story and the ensuing validation from their partner. When the excitement generated by first experiences begins to cool, they begin looking around for something else. They are like a big kid, always looking for the next adventure or shiny object.

"The Obsessive" is a bottom-line type of person who refuses to be second best.

What's important are quick results, and they're constantly looking for the validation of how well they've done. In the beginning, they are always reading books, watching videos, and attending seminars trying to achieve perfection at record pace. When the Obsessive hits the inevitable plateau, they oftentimes redouble their efforts and may even be tempted to take shortcuts to get the desired results. Unlike the Dabbler, when the passion in their marriage begins to cool, they don't look elsewhere, rather they try to maintain the passion at whatever the cost: extravagant gifts, romantic rendezvous, or erotic escalation. Plateaus are anxiety-provoking for them, and so the relationship swings back and forth between ecstasy and tragedy. The inevitable breakup results in a great deal of pain for both parties with little in the way of learning and personal growth. When the Obsessive is unable to maintain what feels like continual forward progress, the ensuing failure leaves them hurt and ashamed that their efforts couldn't save the relationship.

"The Hacker" has a different perspective. This person doesn't mind the plateau; in fact, they're willing to stay on the plateau indefinitely.

They lack the drive to achieve mastery through long-term dedication. They don't mind skipping the necessary steps for mastery. Their interest lies in hanging out with other hackers. "Good enough" is their motto. They are the teachers and professionals who don't bother with professional meetings because they're just interested in getting by. At work, they do the minimum requirements, always leaving on time and taking all their breaks, and they're confused as to why they don't get promoted. In marriage, they tend to be content with living as roommates. They are willing to settle for static monogamy, an arrangement in which both partners have clearly defined and unchanging roles, and in which marriage is primarily an economic and domestic institution. While that may serve as an ideal situation in their mind, rarely do they marry someone who's satisfied with that arrangement.

Remember, mastery is about a journey, a process, not a destination. We want to improve every day. It's not a matter of how well we're doing, it's a matter of how well we're working at what we're doing. The Dabbler, the Obsessive, and the Hacker must learn that life isn't about being right. Brené Brown talks about how the real goal is to stay focused on getting it right and to commit to continually practice the process of relating to ourselves and one another.

The Dabblers, along with the Obsessives, need realistic expectations. Life isn't about a continual series of peaks; there are always valleys and plateaus on the journey. Mastery in marriage is about continuing to intentionally do the work even when it seems nothing is changing.

Refusing to accept mediocrity is essential for the Hacker. A great relationship--or whatever we want to master--is an outcome, not a goal. How many professional and amateur athletes practice the fundamentals throughout their whole career, or even their entire life? To develop a great relationship, you must practice the process. It's about respect, support, compassion, and empathy for each other.

Of course, one person rarely fits any one stereotype perfectly. I can certainly see different parts of me that represent each style. However, for the sake of personal growth, these categories can help you identify what may stand in the way on your path to personal or marital recovery. Hopefully, your goal is to figure out what works for you and continue your own path with new momentum and new resolve for the process of healing.

If you're not sure how to get started or what process you should be following, check out EMS Online. We can help you identify the roadblocks to mastery that may be getting in your way and point you in the right direction for personal or even marital restoration.

Don't forget! Registration for EMS Online--our life-changing, online seminar for couples--opens soon.

Our Emergency Marital Seminar Online, better known as EMSO, isn't a one-size-fits-all program for couples. Over decades of experience exclusively in the field of infidelity, our methodology has been honed to better serve couples as they address the betrayal, reconnect as partners and restore their lives.

"Affair Recovery's EMS Online course literally saved our marriage from divorce. We had tried other professionals, which only led us to more pain in our marriage. It was a relief to find someone who understood our pain. It was comforting to know that others were feeling and thinking the same thoughts as us. We were not alone on this journey. Our marriage has been enriched by the valuable lessons we have learned through EMS Online." — K., Alabama.

Spots fill up quickly, so don't miss registration! Subscribe to registration notifications for EMSO using the button below.

Subscribe to Registration Notifications!



RL_Media Type: 

Add New Comment:


The 3 Characters

What a Wonderful Exposition and insight into the probable reasons why my husband (&his addictions) & our marriage (?) Likely has over time & Most likely Ultimately End. THE DABBLER is the person who waa the PERFECT CON/BETRAYER (bad enough). However it is THE HACKER (the leftovers for me) that bring soooo much sadness. For him he just wants to b comfortable (Narcacisst/Extreme). He even said to me after we made "love", I'm sorry I'm not as Happy and Funny as I used to be. I'm older and don't have the stamina I used to.... For me I have known for awhile, he won't ever really b happy again until he can "dabble" in whatever addiction he can get away with/or more Aptly hide (Hyde). Its been almost 4 yrs now since the cracks appeared and ended in Disclosure of a hidden life for 35yrs. I have never doubted there is soooo much more I will never know (pathological lying). The Beauty is I can continue my own recovery and eventually have a life that lives & breathes again!! For him the Grandiosity Gap will slowly grow wider and wither altogether except in fantasy. All I can see now is a Left Over of a life so sadly wasted for so many years--a constant plateau..You are correct in stateting they usually do not marry partners who can accept that status quoe. WE WANT TO LIVE!!

The other character not

The other character not highlighted is the narcissist/abuser. There is no healing with Mr. Hyde because he cares only for himself anyway and always will. Even the hint of remorse comes out of his own self pity and not at all about the pain his hurt Spouse feels. He will continually blame his spouse for one thing or another... starting with the affair. He is the one who insists he's the one who was rejected even when he has been the one to stop all counseling.

Where's the "Correct" or healthy perspective?

All these are very good, (including the "Abuser" suggested above by another user), but where is the outline for the healthy profile? Would be nice to see a profile of something to work towards, or strive for. I see a bit of myself in two of the profiles described, but not in a complete or whole way. We all may show some attributes of every profile, but I would like to know where I am as far as the healthiest prospect goes. Something to contrast the negatives outlined above.

What type of affair was it?

Our free Affair Analyzer provides you with insights about your unique situation and gives you a personalized plan of action.
Take the Affair Analyzer

Free Surviving Infidelity Bootcamp

Our experts designed this step-by-step guide to help you survive infidelity. Be intentional with your healing with this free 7-day bootcamp.
I would highly recommend giving this a try.
-D, Texas