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

Lies We Believe About Our Spouse

A while back a woman sat in my office complaining about her mate. (That’s not unusual; men and women both are forever in my office complaining about their mate.) Her complaint was about never feeling chosen. She gave example after example where her husband had chosen something (or someone) besides her.

After about twenty minutes, she stopped, took a breath, and asked, “Am I the problem?” Without a second’s hesitation, I said, “Absolutely.” Shock and disbelief flooded her face. “How can that be?” “It’s the way you look at your marriage,” I responded. “Let me show you”. Now, please understand, she is not the only problem or the reason her husband had an affair. However, in this instance and in this moment of recovery, her perspective was in fact, the problem. Give me a chance to walk you through it.

We went back to the beginning. When they met, Joe was already a successful businessman. When he began dating Sue, who was nine years younger, everyone was skeptical. She just wasn’t his type, but somehow that didn’t stop their love and appreciation for each other from growing. When Joe proposed, Sue knew what she wanted, and they began planning their life. “I knew it was going to be difficult,” she said. “Why?” I asked. “People tried to warn me. Someone told me, “You’ll always be his mistress,” and I knew it was true. He was so focused on his business and I didn’t see how that would ever change.” “Who told you that?” I asked. She couldn’t remember. She had set herself up for failure from the start, and we had to disempower the lie she had given herself to.

These types of statements forever change our lives. That one sentence created a negative lens through which Sue began to use and continued utilizing to evaluate the relationship. It placed a negative spin on Joe and brought into question whether or not she was really important to him. Was she always going to play second fiddle? Once that lens is put into place, that belief becomes the underlying theme through which you evaluate the marriage.

At the same time, that false belief  began to alter the goal of their interactions. Joe may not have seen it, but as Sue questioned whether or not she was chosen, he began trying to prove that she was. Their marriage was converted into a test where Joe tried to prove he chose her. Because the lens was focused on whether or not she was chosen, if there was ever a time he had to do something for work then she once again felt like “the mistress.”

But the problem went even deeper. As Sue began examining her life prior to Joe, it became apparent that this wasn’t the first time she had struggled with the question of whether she was chosen. Other circumstances in her life had already raised that fear in her mind and there was already a tendency on her part to want to view life through that lens.

Even though this problem isn’t directly related to infidelity, I bet you’re already seeing the problem. A break in the marriage bond can certainly create a lens where the focus is changed to “am I chosen or not?” While we all need to know that our mate is committed to us, if all our mate’s actions, both unfaithful and betrayed, are run through the negative lens of determining their commitment, then the marriage operates from a negative perspective and can never move forward. It sets up a co-dependent system where your decisions and actions are based solely on your mate’s behaviors. If your core belief is that “you’ll always be his mistress,” until that belief is replaced, you’ll never experience anything else. Their best attempts to change this belief will fail miserably and eventually prove exhausting for either spouse.

Keep in mind, both spouses can be guilty of viewing their mate through the negative lens. I typically see it play out as a self-fulfilling prophesy. For example: an unfaithful male sees his wife as cold and distant, so he treats her as such. His wife feels unloved because of the way he treats her, so she becomes cold and distant to protect herself. Do you see the effect our lens can have on our marriage?  

Just for the record, it is more than possible to change. I had an experience with another couple a few weeks ago where that change had occurred. He was telling me how much his wife had grown and what an amazing woman she had become. He couldn’t believe how fortunate he was to still be with her after all he had done and his incredible failures she had tolerated. One of our core definitions of forgiveness is choosing to live with the consequences of our mate’s behavior, and I’d say she’d not only found forgiveness, but was working hard to truly establish a connection.  

As our discussion went on, she was explaining how much he had softened and how she now had the marriage she always wanted. As they talked, I couldn’t help but find it a bit humorous because I’ve been working with them for a year and I know that neither of them has changed all that much. What has changed, however, is that lens through which they both now see each other. Instead of having a negative filter for their mate, they now see each other with respect and they’re focused on positive traits, not the negative traits. Even more importantly, they’ve been able to change the focus of their marriage. Although this seems impossible when infidelity has struck, I can tell you from personal experience and from over 30 years of helping couples heal that it’s more than possible.

Most of us believe the path to a better marriage is through better behavior, but that’s not the full truth of the recovery process. In fact, it might not even be the most important thing. More frequently, the path to a better marriage is through changing the lens through which we view our mate. Rather than focusing on what irritates, we have to intentionally focus on what we appreciate and what drew us to our spouse in the first place. Even more important, I have to change my role in the marriage. If my role has been the “inspector general” and I spend my time evaluating my mate and their performance, then I’m limited by my mate’s limitations and my marriage will always be “co-dependent”. But, if we can grow our friendship and find new meaning and appreciation for our relationship, we can find a totally new perspective in life, in marriage and in recovery.

Let me encourage you to look for what you appreciate. Keep an attitude of gratitude. For 5 days, I’d like to challenge you to  try and focus on what you’re mate’s doing right, rather than what they’re doing wrong. You’ll find it makes a difference. Remember, this challenge is for both the betrayed and unfaithful spouses. Both parties are often guilty of viewing their mate through a negative lens.

If you would like some help deciphering what type of lens you view your mate through and how to go about changing your perspective, try joining a Harboring Hope class. You’ll find it difficult to change the lens without some outside help, and Harboring Hope provides a support system you may be missing.

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This is so true you have

This is so true you have nailed it again. It is what made my healing possible. Before my wife's infidility I had begun to look at my wife as a burden so what happens you start to pull away and once this happens it is only a mater of time before one of you fall victim to the trap of infidility. When I found out about what had happened it hit me like it does everyone, hard can't eat, do not care to eat, what to do what did I do wrong all of it I was a mess. The difference was at the begining I had asked Christ into my heart because I knew I could not keep a marriage together with out him. That said I knew I was not alone so with that my first and real plan of action was to love my wife back but to be able to do that I had to have a great view of her in my head and heart. I made it an effort to only think on the begining ti good stuff I spent a lot if time looking at our wedding pictures and shared them with my wife. I brought up memory of past good times and again shared them with her. I did not dwell on the bad at all had to keep only good things in my mind. The change was unbelievable my love for her was growing and growing stronger. My wife started to stiffen I was able to heal in months I was about 90% healed by the time we started EMSO about 4 months later our marriage healed much faster because I show little or no bitterness to my wife. I had gotten angry and shouted at my wife just one time at about 5 month mark the last time I ever felt a trigger cause a reaction in me. I have never been disrespectful to her or called her names all be caused I made a decision to love her and forgive her then change the way I look at her. Now at about 9 months I can honestly say I love her more now then ever before our marriage is better then it ever has been and I am excited thinking were we are going next in it. Now I have to admit it was now easy at the start but over time it took over on it's own and it has effected my wife also but haven been married 25+years now there were plenty of good times to look back over it was a shame the for many of them I had to look so long back. I do not plan on letting that ever happen again. You have to change the way you look at each other if your marriage has any hope, over time we tend to get lazy and not keep that lens clean and once it starts to get dirty it gets harder to see the good in them.
David

David - what a precious vision you have

I was the horrible, selfish betrayer. I did it because I liked the attention from my AP. My husband figured it all out long after it had stopped and DDay was well over two years ago. I'm proud of the progress my husband made, but he yelled, was violent, wrote horrible things to me, told all our family and friends, which has left me in massive shame. I guess I deserve such shame and punishment, but even though we struggle along together and are doing better, my husband still uses that negative lens, even though I've been trying to look through the positive one. Very often when thinking of something lovely from our past, he'll say something to insinuate that it was false. I think that negativity and those hurtful jabs will drive me to my grave. But David, your attitude is so wise. I'll try to be more positive and loving myself. Instead, I was turning colder because it,s a protection mechanism against those jabs.

Prior to her affair, I never

Prior to her affair, I never looked at my wife through a negative lens at all- yet she went out and had an affair. I thought I did everything right- I loved her, respected her, sacrificed much to be a family. Obviously we had other issues. Her affair went on during a very difficult time for me personally- it is hard to imagine the person who I was looking at could have done such a horrible gest at such a sensitive time. I’ve read all of the support material on this site, and it makes good common sense- I would likely be saying some of the same thing to a frienif he was going through what I have lived- yet when I look back at what went on and when, it is still very challenging to get through and move past. Her affair completely shattered that positive lens for me and left me heartbroken. I still feel that way often. Maybe my image of her was too unrealistic, but I don’t think that expecting your spouse to be true to her vows is that unreasonable. Sometimes I worry that I do not really know this person, and I often wonder why I am still in the marriage. What else has gone on in the past? And if it happens again?

Maybe I just do not truly love her. Maybe I never really did. Rick you wrote in a previous post that you see people that really do not understand what is true love. That many times people only love the way their partner makes them feel, rather than really love the person. I wonder if this is not my situation- and given how she has made me feel- so horrible about myself, about what has been lost- and the anger and frustration regarding this- this complete opposite of what I thought this person was and made me feel, if there really is a future.

This looking through a positive lens makes great sense- as do many of your posts. Putting them into practice, given the circumstances around her affair, is well, quite another matter.

making a choice

Take the story of Joe and his wife...now make the wife the betrayer. There's my story.
It is all in how she saw herself in our marriage. We both contributed to the issues, but she was the one who had the affair.
Now it IS a matter of choice. ..As I chose to stay. I question that daily, but I know it was the right decision.
After your spouse has an affair...you chose your path, how you react, what you believe and if you're going to stay.

Lens

I see myself in this article, my husband cheated on me for 7 years and I stayed and gave him chance after chance and while I agree with what you are saying how would I go about doing this when my husbands attitude and the way he has treated me after getting caught ( 5 years ago ) he has refused to be honest and has taken all his hurt from the married girlfriend ( after getting caught 3 times he found he she was sleeping with 4 other men besides him ) his attitude with me has been get over yourself, no compassion for anything he put me and our kids thru. After taking all this out on me and the kids with no regard for the hurt I have felt all this time, he decides he's " done" and how I feel is irrelevant I just need to get over it. His answer for everything is look at what I pay for ? He is fine and say's I'm the problem which I guess is true but how do you see that thru a different lens ? How do you look for the " good" when he has refused to deal with any of the hurt he has caused me as if it doesn't matter. He say's it doesn't matter if he hasn't been honest and it doesn't matter how he has treated me because as of today everything is in the past ?
I have tried to see the good and I'm not saying he doesn't do things for us because he does, but it's the attitude and not caring about hurting me or how I feel that ruins anything he does. He's happy going on with his life, but he has left me to clean up the damage he did to his family, he say's it's over and it isn't necessary for him to do anything that matters to me I just need to get over myself...How do you see any of that thru a different " lens" I've tried believe me but I'm the one that has failed to move on but not for lack of trying. Many nights I have cried myself to sleep so hurt that I'm sick and I've tried to tell him his attitude and the way he has treated me has kept me from getting past this and he looks at me and asks me what I'm cooking for dinner. The way he has treated me after the affair is almost worse, at least when he was cheating I didn't know why I was so unhappy...I'm am trying to move past this and see the good like you are talking about but I just can't seem to get there.

viewing the positive

So ironic - my husband was diagnosed with a 'sexual addiction' due to his serial affairs, and I have been looking at him through this lens for the past four years, although he has been in treatment, been faithful to me for that time and totally devoted to healing our marriage. Today, after a rather hectic morning, we decided to take a nap together. He expressed disappointment that I got up after an hour instead of having afternoon sex with him (we had sex last night). My thought was "What a sex addict - can't even go one day without it". Feeling irritable, I sat down at the computer - and there was your article. I think I will now go back to my husband, tell him what a beautiful, passionate man he is, and make sweet afternoon love on this beautiful rainy afternoon. Thank you for turning my day around!

Anon you are correct we have

Anon you are correct we have to make a decision and not only do we have to make that decision we have to make it when it seems our world is coming apart. And add on top of that make that decision even when you have no real assurance it will be returned. And as in my case it took time before I really saw any real change in her, and that maybe the hardest part to be pouring your life back into someone who may still care more for the other and also in away still justifying why it happened. But if you are able to still through all of that stay the course and love her as you should as they are not for what they had done your hope for healing and repair of your marriage is real good and what you have on the other side Wil be much better then you had at it's best.
David

True! And I would add...

I love the analogy of the positive or negative lens and I totally agree with your article, Rick. I would add something that helped my spouse and I on our healing journey after infidelity, and that is to spend concentrated one on one time bonding with your spouse. Not watching TV or doing chores, but truly "date time", conversing, connecting. In the first 9 months we committed to spending 15-20 hours together per week! We gradually began bonding again. I believe the "positive lens" and all the bonding time truly made all the difference for us!

Recovery under a negative lens

I was diagnosed with severe anxiety, clinical depression, and PTSD after the discovery of my husband's latest affair last year. For 20 years of marriage, he held me in a highly negative lens, because he wanted to live a life similar to his single friends and resented being the only one in his peer group who was married and a father. I suffered a lot of psychological abuse on top of sometime blatant indiscretions as a result.

During the early phase of discovery, I was severely depressed, and was left alone to deal with it. We were on vacation, and I had to stay by myself in a hotel while my husband stayed with his family. I had several crises during those days, and a couple of times, I nearly committed suicide. When I called him for help after I spoke to my psychiatrist and was told to not be alone, or to go to the nearest ER, my husband's response was to be angry with me because I was being inconsiderate and ruining his family reunion.

This year, we had a repeat of that. During vacation, I was shocked and offended by my sisters in law and their behavior toward me, my husband's suddenly cold and aloof treatment of me, which according to him was my fault for not letting him have a normal life with all my fears and rules for him. I ended up having to leave the inlaws' home and stay alone in a hotel the remainder of the vacation... well, that's when the flashbacks overwhelmed me and in a moment of panic, I had the first self-harming thought in months. I texted my husband trying to calm down and his response was that he didn't have enough time to pay attention to me while in the middle of bowling with his sisters and nephews. When we got back home, he admitted that he resented my actions because he thought I had been childish to leave to be alone and then I had been inconsiderate to expect him to disrupt his family time to come and pacify me.

Even now, when the weight of that knowledge is setting back all the progress I had made in my treatment, he is acting impatient and irritated at me for crying and not focusing on moving on.

I'm not sure if I'll ever overcome that lens of his. It's been polished and refined for 20 years, and it may end up costing me my life soon. I am heartbroken that I may have no choice but to call it quits for my own sake, and because it's starting to feel like he'll never be happy with anything I do short of complete docility and submission to his wishes. In other words, as it was in the beginning of our marriage.

I don't know where else to turn.

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