Partnerships and friendships enrich our lives. They give us a sense of belonging, a sense of support, a sense of purpose and a sense of a structure. They guide us, motivate us, teach us and inspire us. If they are healthy relationships, they also check us, confront us and challenge us to be, to do and to give our best. Our “ships” are amazing lifelines; they add meaning to our very existence.
But when there is a breach and break in trust, the foundations of our “ships” crumble and the fabric of our connections tears. We become distant, distracted and depressed as we attempt to understand how the trust that we felt was so secure was so easily fractured. Sometimes when a breach is revealed we no longer feel safe, balanced, protected and cherished. We feel wounded.
We not only feel emotionally and spiritually wounded, we lose confidence in each other, and to some degree, we lose confidence in ourselves. Statements like “I love you” and “I miss you” are replaced with silence, tension, tears and accusations. The emotional glue that bonded your love is replaced with sadness, fear, anger and rage. You have questions, comments, feelings, emotions and needs but they all seem elusive. I understand because I have been there.
As I mentioned in my previous article, breaches in trust affect both partners. One partner feels that she can’t trust the cheater or the liar, and the cheater/liar also hurts because she knows that she is longer trusted. Trust me - nobody escapes the aftermath of affairs; everybody is somehow changed by the indiscretion.
Despite all of the pain, confusion and sadness, I still believe that most relationships can be repaired and restored. The relationship will never be the same, and that’s a good thing. But with enough love, honesty and a desire to reunite, the relationship and friendship can not only survive, but be strengthened and enriched.
Last week we discussed the importance of three principles: Reflection, Realization and Repentance. We reviewed how the rules assist in the healing process and how they must somehow be a part of the healing journey. This week we will explore a few more rules. Again, this list is not THE only path to reconciliation because healing happens differently for different people, at different times based on their difference situations. However, the rules listed below are guidelines, directions and thoughts to consider if you and your partner decide to embark on a healing journey together.
As I mentioned in Reconciliation Rules Part 1, it takes seconds to lose trust, and months and years to rebuild it. Remember that healing and reconciliation are both processes; they are journeys that can not be completed overnight. Also keep in mind that healing does not happen in a straight line. Healing and reconciliation may involve multiple starts, stops and detours before couples find their rhythm or “get in right”. Rebuilding a relationship takes time, effort, patience and most of all, commitment. So let’s review a few more rules.
Remove the temptation, and if you can’t, reposition it. To start the reconciling process, anybody or anything that distracted, enticed, seduced or lured you away from your relationship needs to be eliminated. If you had a sexual affair, stay away from the mistress. Be honest with yourself. You are not going to immediately lose your attraction to her because the affair was discovered or because you confessed. Since you obviously had difficulty managing your attraction to her in the first place, stay away and cease all contact. If your secret lover remains in the picture, there will be little hope and little room for reconciliation.
If it was an emotional affair, same advice: stop talking to her even though it will be extremely difficult to disconnect. Believe it or not, detaching from emotional affairs can be more challenging than leaving sexual affairs. They are harder and more complicated because deep emotional attachments or bonds have been formed. You shared secrets, needs, wishes and your innermost thoughts. You relied on her for affirmation, encouragement, laughter and joy. Not only that, but you probably transferred an intimate connection and some emotional energy away from your partner and on to her, the “outsider”. In some ways you transitioned out of your partnership and/or marriage and allowed another person access to privileged and sacred places in your life and in your heart.
What can you do when it is a sexual or emotional affair?
- Find a therapist or a trusted mentor and talk, read, journal and talk some more. Peel back the layers of the affair. Ask yourself a few questions: what am I missing in my relationship, what am I missing in my spirit, what did I need from my partner but didn’t ask for, what did I need from relationship/partner and wasn’t aware of, what baggage did I bring into the relationship, how is that baggage manifesting now, what behaviors did I allow that didn’t support me, what ways did I behave that prevented her from providing support, how have I or my needs changed, am I happy, do I know what “happy” looks or feels like, what is going on with me? This list is not exhaustive, but it is a good start. Spend time alone and search your soul. The answers are already in your spirit. The answers are just waiting to be exposed, explored, explained and expressed.
- Remember to detach and distance immediately from the 3rd party. Understand that you can not control her (the 3rd party) responses to the break-up either. She may be ok, she may cry, she may threaten blackmail, she may beg, she may retaliate or she many try another manipulative measure. However, she may accept your wishes and lovingly leave. Anticipate everything and be shocked by nothing. Affairs have consequences. Just hope your consequences are not irrevocable.
If the indiscretion involves addiction or money, what can you do?
- If the violation involves drugs or other illicit activities, my advice is the same. Stop what you are doing and seek support. If you no longer have the capacity to say “no” to something, you MUST have the willingness to say “yes” to assistance. Addictions, obsessions and anything else that consumes or controls you becomes an uninvited guest in your relationship. Addictions and obsessions rob you and your relationship of energy, love, respect and most importantly, trust. The addiction must be honestly addressed and treated so that the relationship can begin and continue the healing process.
- If it is a money issue, new financial boundaries need to be implemented because financial issues are more damaging than couples realize. In fact, money mismanagement, misconduct and mistrust are top reasons why partnerships dissolve. Why? Because financial fidelity is not just about money; it is also about the ability to trust your partner with resources. It is about knowing that you partner is able and willing to make decisions that support the maintenance of the household, and support the fulfillment of your hopes/dreams for the future. Financial fidelity is about confidence and faithfulness and speaks to our need for material and financial safety, security and peace. Keep in mind that security in whatever form is a primal need and financial infidelity threatens that need.
Trust issues are caused by all types of breaches and removing the breach and/or getting help to manage the breach shows your commitment to yourself, your partner and to the relationship. Never forget that being trustworthy is not about having the right thoughts and doing the right things. It is about having the wrong thoughts and doing the right things anyway. It is about integrity.
Restructure the relationship so that it better supports you and your partner. Many times when people start relationships and/or friendships they feel chemistry. Both parties feel a connection based on shared beliefs, interests, needs, goals and overall values. They bond over a sense of mutuality and reciprocated respect.
After a few months or years, differences begin to surface or the focus on differences increases. As a result, people become disappointed and discontented with the “ship”. Every negative feeling and every pessimistic thought that does not get expressed or every negative feeling and thought that goes without resolution creates emotional and spiritual holes. And unfortunately, the holes, unconsciously or consciously, start to sink the “ship”. When the ship begins to sink, we sometimes reach for a life preserver, a person or a thing, not aware that the best life preservers already reside in our hearts and souls.
So how do people get to this point?
Expectations – People have expectations of what friendships and relationships “look like”, and if they look different than their expectations, they lose interest or lose hope.
Roles – Many times we enter into relationships and we accept roles. Sometimes we discuss the roles, but many times we just “fall” into roles or ways of functioning without really accessing if the role really works for us. When we operate and/or function in ways that don’t support us and we don’t express our discontent, we secretly get resentful. If we fail to address the internal conflict with our partner and/or fail to address the internal conflict within ourselves, we reach outward for something or someone.
Growth – People change, evolve and develop; people are dynamic. Every event, experience or engagement has the ability to inform or influence you. If you get a new job, find new friends, graduate from school, have a child or any other life changing event, you may change. You may become more assertive, more self-sufficient and more self-aware. Maybe you may not want to adhere to old roles, be confined by assumptions or be responsible for certain responsibilities. Maybe you need to be listened to differently, touched differently, loved differently and/or spoken to differently. You have grown and the growth has changed your relationship and has changed how you want to be in a relationship. If you have grown and you are not able to operate in your “newness”, you look for opportunities to do so.
Communication – Communication is the essence of our “ships” because communication is how we connect and express our thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, needs, expectations and fears. Everything we do is a form of communication – our tone, our gestures, our tenor, our body, our voice and all of the other ways that we convey meaning and transfer messages. When we communicate, we share ourselves with the hope that we are being listened to, understood and accepted. In fact, one of the greatest human’s needs is to feel heard. And if/when we don’t feel heard by our partners or friends we consciously or unconsciously look elsewhere.
So how do you restructure your relationship?
To restructure your relationship, both partners should honestly and carefully conduct their own relationship inventory. Each partner should list and discuss what worked and what did not work for her. For example, if you never had any voice or choice when it came to financial concerns, explain how that contributed to the demise of your relationship. If you could never initiate sex, explain how that affected you. If you felt over-powered, discuss what impact that had on your spirit and your willingness to negotiate. If you felt that your feelings were not acknowledged and that there was little empathy, express it. Put it all on the table. Be honest, transparent and courageous. Then get to work!
What do you do? Redistribute duties. Rearrange schedules. Reorganize finances and financial responsibilities. Reschedule dates. Repair communication. Revitalize fitness programs. Reestablish rules for debates and discussions. Re-commit to learning and/or individual and couple therapy. Relearn love and apology languages and learn to speak them fluently. In other words, identify what was not working and work on it.
You can’t make all of the changes immediately and you can’t tackle all issues simultaneously. I recommend that you start with the “pain points”, the areas that you feel most contributed to the infidelity and/or breach. Approach the relationship restructuring consistently, earnestly and courageously. Be flexible and do not expect perfection. Remember when anything is “under construction” it is messy, requires detours, requires patience and is inconvenient. Just think of a construction site. You get the picture J.
Allow for humanity, transformation and reform. Visualize being what you hope to be for yourself and for your partner. Keep in mind that it didn’t just take two weeks for your relationship to develop or for issues to surface, and it will not just take two weeks for you to fix them either. Invest your time and attention because you and your partner are worth it.
Most importantly, create a vision for your relationship. A vision will guide you and serve as a barometer to judge your actions and your interactions. A vision will challenge you, inspire you, correct you, motivate you and encourage you. Together create goals that reflect your values and your renewed commitment.
Reconciliation is never easy and it can be uncomfortable. But learning to trust again is possible if/when you value yourself and the relationship enough to give your best. No, there are no guarantees that after you make changes and remove the distractions that the relationship will survive or thrive. But in life and love, there are no guarantees without commitment. Commit to being honest, commit to trying new ways of functioning, commit to loving differently, commit to communicating clearly and commit to being the BEST YOU!
What sometimes looks like an ending is really an opportunity for a new beginning. It is an opportunity to break down barriers and unpack emotional baggage. It is a chance to see your partner and yourself with new eyes and through new filters. It is an opportunity to learn new skills and practice new ways of being, living and loving.
I look forward to continuing this series in the coming week so stay tuned. Blessings on your healing journey.