Posts Tagged ‘cheating’

I Cheated! Now I Want My Partner Back!

July 12, 2011

In this post from YourTango.com, Tim Atkinson interviewed Maya Kollman, MA, Imago Master Trainer

John only had a short affair. And it was a long time ago. Years later the truth came to light and his marriage to Maryanne hit the critical list. Maryanne didn’t want the marriage to end. But how could she ever again trust John? John desperately wanted to be forgiven for the past, and find a way for the marriage to continue.

By the time they came to see me for help, they were completely stuck, hopeless and miserable. Unfortunately they aren’t alone. I’ve worked with many other couples in a similar situation, and always my goal is to leave them with a much more rewarding relationship than they ever had before.

Here are the steps that John and Maryanne were able to take, which illustrates how many couples can rebuild trust and transform their nightmares:

Step 1: Make a Clear Decision

When there is an infidelity, there’s a decision to be made. The unfaithful party must immediately cease all contact with the person they have been seeing; no phone calls, no emails, no texts, no cards or notes, no drive-bys. John’s essential first step with Maryanne was to commit willingly and wholeheartedly to emotional and physical fidelity – and to mean it.

Step 2: Shift from Guilt to Remorse

John felt guilty about his affair and horrible about himself. Unfortunately feeling guilty didn’t help at all. It led John to be quiet and keep his distance. But what he couldn’t see was that as a result Maryanne felt shut out. This formed a downward spiral, leaving her feeling even more tense, unhappy, and unloved.

Guilt is useless! Don’t let it ruin your relationship. Guilty people are so absorbed in their own feelings that they can’t even see what is happening for someone else. John’s guilt was driving his wife even further away from him.

The dramatic change came when John made the huge shift from guilt to remorse, and focused on the pain Maryanne was experiencing instead of his own. He got interested in what was going on for her. Feeling compassionate rather than self critical, John was able to begin creating connection with Maryanne rather than distance.

Step 3: Be willing to sit and listen

If you are going to leave an affair behind, sooner or later you have to talk about it. John had to be willing to let Maryanne ask for whatever details she wanted to hear. What’s more, he needed to listen to her feelings of betrayal and hurt in a supportive way. That’s extremely tough to do, which is why John and Maryanne chose to do this part with me, over several therapy sessions.

To make it easier, I taught John and Maryanne a three-part communication skill called the Imago Dialogue. We worked together to bring respect to the dialogue structure by eliminating shame, blame and criticism as John and Maryanne learned to focus on their own deeper feelings and express them.

John and Maryanne found a deep understanding of one another. A deep connection was building, perhaps deeper than they had ever experienced before.

Step 4: Re-imagine your role in the relationship

Although John felt and understood Maryanne’s pain, internally he still had plenty of excuses for the affair. He still wanted to justify his actions to her in some way, but every time he did he undermined his attempts to rebuild trust.

Instead, I coached John to take on a new role, as protector of the relationship.
He prepared himself, like a martial arts expert might. He knew that he would have to be able to absorb Maryanne’s anger and yet still hold his ground. Just like in Aikido. He worked on calming his reactive tendencies with breathing exercises, used music to calm himself, and learned to sit in a grounded position when he talked with Maryanne.

Creating new mental images was another important step. In addition to seeing the pain he had caused, he also recalled positive times in their years together, and all the things that led him to fall in love with Maryanne. All of these actions helped John’s romantic, creative side come alive, and he began to court Maryanne much like he had when they first met.

Naturally, Maryanne responded by beginning to feel more trusting and secure.

Step 5: When it’s time – explore and repair

Up until now, we’ve really only talked about John examining himself. But it takes two to make a relationship. For complete healing, John and Maryanne became a team to understand how their histories and their present day dynamics may have made them vulnerable to an affair.

But it’s important to complete steps 1 to 4 first. That’s because Maryanne can’t feel safe to explore until she truly feels John’s remorse.

This is very tender territory and can be aided tremendously by the coaching of an Imago therapist. Just like steel rods are broken and re-soldered many times to make them stronger, a relationship can emerge from a betrayal stronger than before when the couple are willing to climb the above steps.

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Schwarzenegger, divorce, and an old joke about directions

May 23, 2011

This week we bring you another fantastic guest post by Imago Executive Director, Tim Atkinson that originally appeared on The Relationship blog.

The break-up between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver reached such epic proportions of tragedy last week, that I prefer to start this post with a joke.

I was visiting Washington, DC, and got horribly lost.  I asked a passer-by directions to the White House.  He looked me up and down and finally said “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.”

A colleague and I were just talking about a study that’s due to be published soon, which says that people who get divorced usually don’t get any happier as a result.  So imagine yourself in the situation of the ex-Governor of California and his delightful actress wife, with their 25 year-old marriage and four children.  I guess you heard the news, it turns out that there’s a fifth child, by another woman, born over 8 years ago.  Ms. Shriver only just heard about it.  You can read all about it in the NY Times and probably every other publication in the country.

It’s a pretty spectacular “infidelity” story.  But for most of us, lacking the amazing thick skin and tolerance of major celebrities, it only takes an affair, and perhaps a little lying to our partner, to put us right at the kind of relationship low-point that appears to be a “Terminator” (groan!) for this couple.

Now, if you believe the stats that divorce isn’t going to make you happier,  I would say that if you want to be happy in life, you probably don’t want to start off at the point where your partner is furious that you were unfaithful, and has lost complete confidence in you because you lied about it for a long time.  Or even a short time.  Although if you are in that position we did recently publish an article in YourTango that can show you the way forwards.

I am talking from first-hand experience, from my first marriage.  I did divorce my first wife after she was unfaithful, and although the story wasn’t as spectacular as California’s previous first family, it felt pretty awful to me.  And the divorce was followed by a ghastly period in my life, until my second wife rescued me from misery.  I’ve learned a great deal about couples therapy since then, which is probably why I’m enjoying my marriage more each day, after over a decade of wonderful experiences.

Flickr / orvalrochefort

I think there is a simple lesson from the news about Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Don’t ever let if get that bad.  I’ve been surveying couples for quite a while now, and it seems to me that many of us have quite a high tolerance for relationship problems.  We will unhappily slog on, putting up with coldness, distance, anger, fights and all the rest of it, believing somehow it will sort itself out somehow.  Meanwhile things get worse, and that’s when people get vulnerable to a kind word from an attractive, caring person, who provides the attention and admiration that they are missing from the marriage.

Who can blame a partner for seeking the love they need elsewhere, if they can’t get it from their spouse?  But if you want to be happy, and most of us do, it just doesn’t seem to be the best way to go about it.

Sadly for many couples, they don’t actually see much alternative.  I surveyed a couple of hundred visitors to our website, and asked them why they were a bit hesitant to try out couples therapy.  It turns out that most people I surveyed are worried that their relationship is beyond hope, because somehow they are with the wrong partner.  They see therapy as a process which will just stir up all sorts of hidden problems, and make things worse.

Gosh – there has to be some good news here somewhere.  And there is!

There are hundreds of thousands of couples, who through Imago, discovered that they really did get it right when they fell in love with their partner.  When people fall in love, we don’t get it wrong.  We’re attracted to our partner for very real and important reasons, often closely connected with our past, and our emotional needs.

Here’s another piece of good news.  Practically every couple goes through some kind of struggle together – we call it the power struggle.   The reason that’s good news, is because if you are in a struggle with your partner, it means that you are just like the rest of us.  If your struggle is harder or more challenging, then it might mean the forces that attract you are stronger too.  And if your energy has gone flat, and the relationship feels dead, it might simply mean that you are the kind of people who tend to protect yourselves against difficult emotions.

So let’s revisit the old joke about directions.  If you want to be happy, try to avoid having to start by picking up the pieces after infidelity.  If you want to be happy, a great place to start is where you first find you are having problems in your relationship.

Flickr / Dano

Your relationship problems are the direction arrows to deeper love and more connection.

Now when I read sentences like the one above, I often get a bit worried.  Maybe it sounds a bit too optimistic?  A little too hopeful?  Unrealistic?  Impractical?

Not in Imago.  Imago is all about going underneath the problems and frustrations in your relationship, and finding out what is really happening at a deeper level of emotional need.  It’s a non-judgmental process, no-one gets blamed, or comes out as the bad guy.  You come out feeling good, and finding ways to live your life in a richer way.  It’s an amazing experience, getting to know your partner on a deeper level.  But please, if you want to be really happy, try it out when the problems first come up.  Don’t let yourself get to a place where divorce seems unavoidable, because the chances are breaking-up won’t make you happier.