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

How to Not Make Things Worse: Community Poll

When we were first working on recovering from an affair, Stephanie would say to me, “How loud do I have to get before you can hear me?!” I’d mumble something about how I heard just fine, thank you, and then we’d be caught in the never ending loop of trying to be understood. Nothing was solved, no wounds were healed, and neither of us left those types of conversations feeling particularly compassionate.

So how do you heal if you can’t talk about what hurts? How can you help if you don’t know what hinders? Being able to talk with your spouse about where you are when recovering from an affair is absolutely crucial to healing. That’s why it’s so difficult, because it takes work. It’s just not natural for us to cram so much hurt into understandable, relatable sentences that allow our spouse to empathize.

One of my favorite studies, a ten year research study by Howard Markman, examined couples in the throes of heated discussions. He learned that people fall into three categories: those who digress into threats and name-calling, those who revert to silent fuming, and those who speak openly, honestly, and effectively. (As you can see, the first two of those responses are hard-wired within us: fight or flight. The third takes practice and a commitment to be intentional since it doesn’t come as naturally.) After observing couples for hundreds of hours, the two scholars predicted relationship outcomes and tracked their research subjects’ relationships for the next decade. Remarkably, they were able to predict nearly 90 percent of the divorces that occurred. But more important, they found that helping couples learn to hold critical conversations more effectively reduced the chance of unhappiness or breakup by more than half!1

I find that research fascinating. If anything proves challenging to couples impacted by infidelity, it’s being able to have rational conversations. Now by rational, I don’t mean that you have no emotion. Betrayal will always be an emotional subject, but you must learn the skill of speaking so your mate can hear you. For example, when your mate starts raising their voice, you probably pay less attention to their words and more to their volume. The ability to speak rationally and respectfully, as difficult as it may be, is critical in survival. Peggy Vaughan’s research2 revealed that couples who could discuss their situation openly and honestly increased their survival rate by 63%.

No matter how many research studies or personal examples I can throw at you showing you the importance and the effectiveness of safe communication, it doesn’t automatically make it easier. Holding constructive conversations is next to impossible for many couples who are trying to heal from the effects of infidelity.  Even when they would like to be heard and understood, the skills to accomplish that goal seem to elude them. The inability to keep conversations safe and constructive then renders couples incapable of resolving critical issues.

Since we know how valuable communication is, and we know all too well how incredibly difficult it is, Affair Recovery wants to help. We want to discover what specific areas you struggle with in trying to talk with your spouse.

We’ve designed a quick, 2-minute survey to help us better understand what barriers couples face in having rational conversations. It’s only a few questions, and we’ll use the results of this survey to compile our next series: How to Not Make Things Worse. We want to hear directly from you, our community, and address your struggles. More than that, we want to see where we can help. 

Please take 2 minutes to complete this quick survey. Thank you in advance for your help!

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/arcommsurvey

 

1Patterson, Kerry, et al. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print.

2Vaughan, Peggy. Help for Therapists (and their Clients) in Dealing with Affairs. Peggy Vaughn, 2002. Print

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Comments

communication

Even though I understand what you are stating in this article, how would I talk to my husband who's had the affair, shows minimal remorse, moved out right after the affair, then came back, then some months later moved out again? At this point I feel I DO NOT want to see him much less talk to him. It takes tremendous amount of effort on my part NOT to physically harm him when he comes to see the kids.

Communication

This could not have come at a better time. I am the betrayed wife in our case. I have so much anger I nearly cannot have a rational conversation with my husband. Big fight last night because I had read an article about Hepititus C and I felt I needed to ask a little different question regarding him having unprotected sex (numerous times with different women). He says he's already answered my questions and doesn't feel like it's healthy for me to "continue" to bring up his affair. So, then is when I usually get angry, sarcastic, raise my voice. He says he doesn't know what I want. Actually it's pretty plain what I want, which is answers even if they are the same question with a little variance. I write my questions and concerns down on paper. I'm pretty demanding, yet giving him the chance to read and know what I want to talk about. He along with everyone else (who knows the story) says I have every right to be angry....every right to ask the same question over and over....every right for this and that......BUT then when I excersize that right.....I am suddenly wrong in his view for "my right". We've been married 37 years..... I had no idea nor the first clue that he had started being unfaithful 28 years ago. Am I angry? Yes. I'm so angry that I cannot have a decent conversation with him still.... and I found out the last of the trickle truth disclosure 10 months ago. He is in a Pure Desire Men's group here where we live and I am attending the women's betrayed wives group. We are making progress.....until I ask questions and he doesn't want to answer.

your program

Thanks for all that you do. My husband and I are coming up on the anniversary of D day last year. Every day gets easier. I have my moments of doubt and worry. I am the hurt spouse. I try to spend my time in the moment of now. When I think of the past I go a bit nuts and I still have a hard time thinking of the future. For now it is better to focus one day at a time. Still lots of triggers but they are not as sharp and focused as they were. Thanks for being there!!!!

tone

it is difficult work to be calm and start to detach from the emotional end of discussion when it comes any relationship , no less one that was betrayed.
but , as with a child if you stand your ground and remind yourself, you are not a victim ,nor is the child , and that theses are just rules.> you want to protect them and love them , help them to be better,. if you try to control through your emotions , you hurt and bully and become the thing you hate.
if it gets to difficult , advise you will be leaving until you can regain your emotions and at that point you will return.
my hubby's deed was long gone, but he reintroduces emotional abandonment of family for the wicked game of being a scoiapath,
I made a choice of commitment and allowing him to know I would be safe and that starts with my emotional control, DIFFICULT ,. but now I see a future with love , family boundaries and growth.
so, I say yeah to this article is the most important place to start <

communication

My husband continues the latest affair and tells so many lies that we no longer live together or even communicate. He appears to be living in denial in another world.

Looking forward to this series

My husband only came to me 2 months ago and told me he had been having an affair for about 2 months. It was thankfully short lived in the physical sense, however he and the AP are still having daily contact via text. I am loosing my mind trying to not check his phone and call records daily (when I do I always feel worse about myself and I cannot stop him so not real sure what I am hoping to find when I look) I tend to be a very outspoken and driven woman. I am not secretive about how I feel and he can read me like an open book. We have always been very close and insync as a couple - a fact that made his infedelity so difficult for him to continue doing and hiding from me.

I am constantly the one who initiates the conversation once a week on "how we are doing" or "where are you and the AP at in your process of ending things" and I am always worried about how to communicate with my husband in a loving and honest way without pushing him back into her arms and yet also being true to myself and our marriage.

I will say that so far no matter the tone I have taken he has always been remorseful, open to listen and eager to comfort me. He is not open to initiate the conversations veru often and says he just doesnt want to hurt me or us any more than he already has. I can also say that the more calm and compassionate that I have been the more responsive and willing he has been to open up and speak candidly about what he is thinking, feeling and how he is honestly doing with ending it for good. I know that every relationship is different and I have unfortunately went through infedelity before with my ex-husband.. But all situations are different. I look forward to learning how to communicate better.

Thanks for all you are doing to help those of us in this mess right now. It is the worst possible pain immaginable.

Forgiveness means never ever bringing it up again

Or at least that's what my wife seems to think. I forgave her for the affair partners she's had and to me, that means I'm accepting I can't change the history we have, and that I am in good faith working towards the salvation of our marriage. To her, me saying "I forgive you" means I can never bring up anything she's done in the past. I forgive her but I still have a ton of questions and concerns and anxiety and desire for intimacy. But if I even for a second show that I am impacted by what she did, it seems like our relationship takes a sudden nose dive into ugly territory. I /WISH/ that she and I could have reasoned conversations about this. Especially when I notice signs that she is backsliding. Like when she emails one of her affair partners and then says it was nothing and why am I even snooping on her if I've forgiven her?

It's just such a difficult situation. And dramatically hampered by our inability to communicate well. I just have no idea what to do some times. And I can read these messages that Rick posts and think "Yes, obviously! We need to communicate better!", well, that only helps me communicate better and try harder, since she doesn't read this stuff and doesn't seem to acknowledge the places she needs to change.

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