How do unconscious forces affect what you do in your relationship? Is there a way to get in touch with those things lurking in the shadows of your inner self - so that they can become fuel for positive energy in your life? In today’s episode, we have a return visit from Dr. Keith Witt, integral psychologist and author of the new book Shadow Light: Illuminations at the Edge of Darkness, and we will dive deep into how you can harness your shadow as a force for good!
(If you’re curious to also hear Keith Witt’s other episode, you can check out Episode 13 - Resolve Conflict and Create Intimacy through Attunement)
Defining shadow: Shadow is the concept that there is a lot that influences us of which we are not consciously aware. For example, our nervous systems are always reacting to internal and external cues. Our nervous system processes information from the world within and the world without and sends this information, these stories, to our consciousness. As our nervous systems scan and determine safety continually, we navigate our world throughout the day 1-10 seconds at a time. 40-60% of the information we gather about the world comes from nonverbal cues- from the unconscious to unconscious. If our nervous system concludes we are safe then we are more able to be in the moment. If it reads threat, however, then we go into defense and protective reactions. All this happens instinctively and unconsciously. Our conscious awareness either notices or doesn’t notice. All psychotherapy and healing work is about growing awareness of the shadow self, becoming more and more able to notice and interact with the unconscious itself.
Developing awareness: Developing awareness of our shadow selves is a continual process. It is effortful and easeful at the same time. Difficult and simple. It can begin by simply focusing on our breath going in and out of our nostrils and down into our abdomen. This meditation alone increases our appreciation of the sensation of breathing, and begins to build the mindfulness muscles so necessary to stay in the moment and be with what is. We probably have to practice this awareness of breath 1,000 times before it is a go to resource for us, but it is critical to developing our perceptual awareness, and our ability and capacity to shift our awareness between our conscience and subconscious.
Take the reins: Imagine your unconscious as a group of horses. Our conscious self is the one that should have the reins - the one that chooses the direction if it is in control. You want to shift from the experience of the horses pulling the carriage in any direction (usually more directions than one!) they please, to a centered and directed approach. The conscious self has the potential to direct the development of our unconscious, the potential to choose how to consciously and authentically evolve. Be in charge of the interface between your conscious and subconscious - and invite shadow material to surface. You can do this by asking yourself questions and listening to the answers given by your shadow self (that which is under awareness).
Expect everything to be as it is: Are you finding yourself stuck in repetitive patterns either in your inner world, or in your relationship? If so, there is likely a defensiveness that is creating resistance and repetition. Look under the surface for a clue - ask yourself what fear or expectation are you protecting yourself from? A key to breaking this desire/disappointment cycle, and finding more authentic happiness, is to return to an expectation that everything is and will be just as it is. This shift will help increase authenticity and give the energy to better hear and see ourselves clearly.
Constructive and destructive shadow: As we become more aware of all that influences us at any given moment, we can learn to discern between the constructive instincts and the destructive instincts. Remember, as you do this, that we do not have inherently evil parts of ourselves, and that the parts of ourselves that react and behave in ways we deem destructive are working to protect us. It is critical to our interactions that we become responsible for noticing and naming ways that our more destructive shadow self is showing up in any given conversation or exchange. How are these protective parts of you creating or exacerbating escalations, conflict, withdrawal, etc? If there is a sense that the connection between you and your partner is degrading or diminishing than there is evidence that this protective schema is at play. Shift into curiosity and cooperation - how in this moment can you work with your own fears and pain in a way that allows you to move towards repair and connection? Couples that cooperative and are open to receiving influence from each other are stronger, happier, and healthier.
Don’t deny drives: In order to avoid deception, resentment, and the buildup towards an affair it is critical that you be honest about your instinctual drives, and curious about your partner’s. Do not deny them. Be receptive and creative in finding ways to meet each other’s needs. If you want to have a solid marriage, you must be willing the make sacrifices and make sure you allow your partner to be fulfilled, emotionally, erotically, relationally, spiritually, parentally. Long term relationships require will and effort and conscious acts of creation. If you are not willing to exercise that choosing and dedication, then fleeting passionate romance and affairs might shine brighter in your life and distract you from what is possible and waiting in your marriage. Turn towards the questions below to help clarify your knowing about why your partnership is worth the effort:
Ask questions to explore these 5 dimensions that are critical to intimacy:
The hero/heroine journey- The last question above is so integral to a fulfilling relationship in that it reminds us that we cannot have a fulfilling love life if we ignore that which calls us forward. We are each on our own sacred heroic path, and our partner is as well. This journey must be celebrated, honored, protected, and nourished. Get in touch with what archetypal forces are influencing you- finding the ones that shut you down, or light you up- and begin to bring the concept of the hero/heroine’s journey into your long-term relationships. How can you use archetypal metaphors to understand each other better? How can you experience yourself as your own hero/heroine of your autobiographical narrative, and your partner as a companion, and vice-versa. Becoming clear about your sacred purpose is critical not only to living authentically, but also to loving authentically. Your partner may, at first, wish for you to choose them over your own sense of purpose and desire, however ultimately, you will be diminished, weakened, and likely lose attractiveness in their eyes if you do not dedicate yourself and follow your knowing. Trust, together, that following your truth and honoring your mission is one of the most loving things you can do to create a fulfilling and stable partnership.
Be a magical aide: Witt explains “if you have a partner that is deepening intimacy with you, you’ll feel that partner joining with you and supporting you on your quest. Your partner will become a source of magical aide for you, and one of your allies. And you want to be a source of magical aide for your partner too on his/her epic journey”.
Summoning the archetypes: Not sure how to identify inspiring or informative archetypes? Begin looking around, in your mind and memory, in your lived experience, in stories, movies, religious scripts, etc. in order to find heros. Identify their characteristics- what calls them forward in the world? Once you have identified archetypes that speak to you, you can find that part in yourself, and in doing so, find the parts of yourself that are stopping you, or afraid of being that big/bold/courageous/generous/etc. This “want” vs. “can’t” is an ordeal. There is something you want to do, but you have a fear that is blocking or protecting you from fully embodying these characteristics and doing that thing that you want (asking for a raise, learning to surf, asking your wife to explore sex more with you…). Whatever your ordeal is, if you take your ordeal on and do your best with it, you WILL discover more of your warrior self and strengthen your warrior self in that ordeal, and that leads you a little deeper. Have conversations with your archetypes! Find them in dreams! Do meditations! Spend time with them. Summon them as needed.
Illumination at the edge of darkness: Never ever say “that is just the way I am”. Even if you think this, do not say it! Say, instead, “I’ll work on it”. In order to build intimacy and grow your love life, move towards discovery. Become curious and learn about your shadow side and how it is influencing your desires or fears. Go to the interface between the known and the unknown. Be in this interface without judgment, but with curiosity and acceptance, and with discernment for what is healthy and unhealthy. Be in that interface between constructive and destructive shadow with caring intent, always working to reach towards health.
This, of course, is not as easy as it sounds and it requires effort and courage, however as we know, when we act with courage we discover more courage! Remember, as Witt explains, that “focused intent and action in service of principal, driven by resolve, is a human superpower!” If you have focused intent and action in service of loving your partner better, and you are resolved to do that, you are going to create better love with your partner. And if you both do it, you are going to create better love, and will continue to discover more and more about each other and the world. This is illumination at the edge of darkness!
Find the courage to share: We have a cultural dissociation around eroticism in the West, or maybe it is everywhere, maybe it is a human thing in that human societies tend to control people’s sexual choices. Either way, it is up to us to overcome this silence, and to be able to open to each other in order to keep erotically alive. One exercise to help with this courageous conversation is explained below:
Create a lust map: Try this exercise in order to help clarify, communicate, and celebrate your sexual desires. Get a big sheet of paper and draw a circle in the middle. Using colored pencils, markers, collage materials, etc. write and draw things around the paper that light you up or turn you off and draw lines connecting to the center circle, and to anywhere else on the page- building a web. Be specific! Write down activities, behaviors, thoughts, fantasies, longings, etc. Get big with it - make it a masterpiece. When you finish, take turns showing your maps to your partner, explaining the different discoveries you have made. This sharing inevitably wakes things up - good or bad. You may find yourselves more turned on and connected, or perhaps triggered and intimidated. If the latter, it may be helpful to seek a therapist together in order to be held as you navigate discrepancies that arise from differing desires. Ask yourself: “is there room for me to help you have a better time during lovemaking, or vice versa?” Know that this exercise, however vulnerable it is, has powerful effects.
What possibilities open up? The art of intimacy is really the art of believing that you can engage in relationships that have endless levels of intimacy. There are a zillion ways to have great sex! For example, what possibilities open up if we aren’t following orgasm? We are all wired for sexual satisfaction, however how we define this is very open to interpretation. In the West, we may have become too dependent on the dopamine rich climax result as our definition of sexual ‘success’. Tantra, for example, helps to break the unconscious sexual dissociation barriers that have become so pervasive. It helps us to open again to an expansive, inclusive, and spontaneous exploration of what defines our own sense of sexual satisfaction. This expansiveness inevitably leads to a more fulfilling, awake, nourishing, and conscious sex life. By committing to authenticity and transparency you will find that you are able to go deeper together into a space of more and more personal and erotic growth.
Interesting fact: The average time couple’s spend engaging in foreplay increased from 7 minutes in 1940 to 14 minutes in 2000. This is a doubling in 60 years.
Read Keith Witt’s new book Shadow Light: Illuminations at the Edge of Darkness and buy the workbook too!
Explore videos, resources, and more on Keith Witt’s School of Love website!
Read more about the concept of shadows in successful marriages on his blog!
www.neilsattin.com/shadow Visit to download the show guide, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the show guide to this episode with Keith Witt.
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How do you speak your truth (effectively) in your relationship? And what can you find out about yourself from the requests that you make of your partner? In this week's episode, we talk about powerful ways to communicate what's really going on with you - to get you to a deeper connection in your relationship. Enjoy!
How do you foster more fun and creativity in your relationship? How do you change things up when they get boring? How do you keep them from getting boring in the first place? How do you bring your authenticity into the “fun”? In today’s episode, we’re chatting with Cathy Salit, author of Performance Breakthrough and one of the world’s experts on how to use improvisation for personal development. Her expertise offers answers to these very questions - so...on with the fun!
Are you finding ways to engage with curiosity? We are constantly in relation with what the world brings to us. By bringing the concept of improvisation into our lives, we begin to see all the possibilities and potential scenarios that each new moment offers. We shift from a stuck pattern of habitual response, into a place of curiosity and (sometimes) humor. We can even learn to delight in the fact that we are performers capable of changing the scene and scenario in new and surprising ways!
We are all natural born performers: We are all natural born performers; just watch children as they play, imagine, create, and experiment. We lose consciousness of our capacity to play as we age, however we can reconnect and reinitiate this capacity as adults in ways that allow us to grow and to stretch. Choose authentic play. Put yourself in spaces that cultivate this young and open energy, remembering that we are not only built to play, but we are built through play. Carve out places in your life and in your relationship dedicated to improvisation; create safe places in which it is healthy to be messy.
We contain multitudes. Living into this concept of ourselves as performers we begin to connect with multiple versions of ourselves. Not in a disjointed or splitting way, but rather in a full of possibilities way. Inside each of us, and inside each interaction, is the potential for MANY different outcomes. See how many ways you can respond differently from your habitual script. Expand your own expression and vocabulary of your authentic humanness. You are not set in stone, you are not programmed or trapped, instead you are full of surprises! Living into this belief can have profound impacts on your love life, allowing you to feel more confident and connected.
The Becoming principle: The becoming principle is based on Salit’s idea that “we are not just who we are - we are who we are and who we are not yet, meaning who we are becoming.” When we improvise and perform in ways we have not done before, we begin to explore and discover new internal territory. We expand ourselves into new ways of being, and learn about parts of ourselves that we do not yet know exist! By getting outside of our habitual ways of reacting and being in relationship and in the world, we free ourselves to imagine AND become more than we thought we were or could be.
When it comes to dating... Is the process of dating becoming tedious, or daunting? Try choosing a new way to perform. Is it possible to try on the role of someone who is really interested in getting to know lots of people? This internal shift alone may make you focus on qualities of the experience that actually make it true for you. Play around with how you interact with challenges, looking more for the opportunities they provide than the struggle.
How would someone else do this? What if you see your relationship as if it were an ensemble? Each person has their strengths, their weaknesses, and together you can build off of these. Be playful together- when situations or issues arise, especially the ones that you have repeated over and over again, begin to ask each other ‘what else can we do?’ What can we try in order to be able to change some aspect of this scene?’ What might someone else do or say in this situation? How can we experiment in this moment? Try it on. Sing your complaints! Speak in accents. Make your woes an opera. Laugh at yourself. Repeat the scene as if it was a melodrama. Obviously this level of playfulness is not always appropriate, however it is helpful WAY MORE than it is harmful. Any shift from the predictable stuckness will open the door for the entire gestalt to change. The energy between you and your partner, and the tone of the conversation will transform in a way that often gives both of you a chance to look at yourself and the ‘scene’ with more of a distance and more of an ability to find a new perspective.
Role play: Another way to perform is to act as if you are your partner. Try them on. Get inside their point of view in order to learn more about your partner’s experience, as well as perhaps more about yourself as you begin to see your own actions and behaviors through their lens. Experience yourself through the way your partner portrays you. Role playing also gives you a great opportunity to educate your partner if you notice that their portrayal of you is off. These types of activities are critical as they help us examine and explore the HOWS of our interactions, versus the WHATS of our interactions, thus allowing us to see more clearly the hidden beliefs, habits, and needs that are constantly influencing communication and connection.
Create with Crap: So much of what we deal with in our day to day is far from roses and rainbows, and it takes courage and creativity to sustain our energy. ‘Creating with crap’ is the idea that we try to find creative and new ways to address old problems so as not to be demoralized, depressed, angry, or humiliated by it. We need to find ways to let the light in. For example, instead of focusing and ruminating on the fact that your partner is always late, make a new rule that for every time they are late you are going to dance together for 5 minutes. Find little gestures that invite magic in, and help turn painful moments into moments for connection.
Applaud mistakes! It is key to create a culture in your relationship that encourages mistake making. Enormous growth occurs when mistakes and messiness are welcomed and applauded. We are human and we constantly make mistakes. The question is, how can we grow from this? How can the relationship grow from this? Sometimes it can be very helpful, and empowering, for one of you to turn to your partner and say ‘well, that went really badly- that was a mistake and I didn’t do that as well as I could have’. Make a mistake, and then take a bow! If your partner takes responsibility and owns their mistake, then applaud them! Make this the rule. By celebrating mistakes and vulnerability you move the relationship out of a dangerous shame and blame paradigm, and into a collaborative place in which together you can figure out how you could have changed the scene, thus reinforcing the container of the relationship, rather than degrading it one mistake at a time.
Yes, and! The day to day of partnership can become pretty mundane and quotidian, we all know it. In improvisation there is a fundamental rule in which each person listens with an openness and responds with “yes, and…” to everyone and everything that is presented with them. This rule is the key to creativity and connection both on and off the stage. Bring this attitude and practice into your relationship. Tune into what your partner is offering to you in every moment. In addition to this changing the nature and culture of your conversations (especially during disagreements), you will end up going places you would not have gone otherwise. By saying “yes, but…” you stay stuck. Some people feel temporarily more safe when they say ‘no’ and stick with what they already know/what is certain, however in time this actually becomes more dangerous. Choosing to be vulnerable, and taking risks, allows your relationship to grow, to develop, and to repair in ways that are essential for its integrity.
Read Cathy Salit’s book Performance Breakthrough
Check out her organization Performance of a Lifetime
Sign up to receive Cathy’s newsletter here
www.neilsattin.com/performance Visit to download the show guide, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the show guide to this episode with Cathy Salit - and qualify for the book giveaway!
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It’s an exciting week around here. For one thing, it’s my birthday week! I celebrated the day differently than I have in year’s past - taking a ton of down time, and enjoying some mellow moments with Chloe. Allowing myself the freedom to do NOTHING for a day. Of course, I didn’t do nothing, but what I did do felt sweet, special - and I appreciated all the little birthday greetings that came in from friends around the globe.
Here’s another piece of exciting news. A little background on this: You may know that Chloe and I have a 7-week course, called Thriving Intimacy. It’s a comprehensive journey through all of the things that they should have told you about how to do relationships well in school, but didn’t. We’ve been fortunate enough through our work with clients and the conversations here on the podcast to put together this 7-week course that’s comprehensive and represents the state of the art on how to do relationships well. We’ve had great feedback on the course - and if you’re interested in that, you can text the word "INTIMACY" to 33444, or you can visit neilsattin.com/intimacy and find out more. But that’s not why I brought this up...
After creating the Thriving Intimacy course, we started up a conversation with the site DailyOM. They were looking for a course on relationships that would have the potential to completely transform a relationship in 21 days, and asked us if we would be willing to put that together for them. So what we did is we looked at the framework that we put together for our 7-week Thriving Intimacy and thought - ok, if we were going to take someone on a 21-day journey that touched on all of these points in a way that made sense, what would it look like? How far could we go?
And that’s how our new course 21 Days to Deeper Intimacy was born. Actually I’ll let you in on a little secret - it was originally going to be called "21 Days to a Deep Sense of Safety in Your Relationship". I guess they thought that was too long or something. So it’s called 21 Days to Deeper Intimacy. And it’s a course that you can take with your partner, or alone. Over the course of the 21 Days, you will
And DailyOM released it yesterday, on my birthday! That wasn’t planned, by the way. The course is already in their top 10 - which is really exciting for us as it means that it will be seen by the thousands of people who visit their site. And of course we wanted to tell you about it as well. One of the interesting things is that you can actually choose what you want to pay for the course. So hopefully that makes it accessible for you.
The way to find out more about the course is to either visit neilsattin.com/21days or you can text “21DAYS” to the number 33444 and I will send you a link so you can check out the course.
So whether you want a 7-week journey, or a 21-day journey, or both - we designed the two courses so that they would complement each other - there are some great options for you to take what you’ve heard here on the podcast and get some guidance on how to apply it in your life.
Next week, for Valentine’s Day, we’re going to release a fun episode with Cathy Salit on - well - basically how to foster fun in your relationship. See you then!
How can you heal your relationship after one of you has had an affair? What does it take to restore trust and come back to a place of mutual love, passion, and understanding? And how do you “affair-proof” your relationship to begin with? In today’s episode, we’re chatting with Michele Weiner Davis, bestselling author of Divorce Busting, and author of the new book Healing from Infidelity, which is meant to be a guidebook for couples who are trying to answer these very questions. Michele’s work draws upon decades of experience and is focused on the strategies that actually work - both for rebuilding your relationship after an affair, and for preventing affairs from happening in the first place. It can be challenging, but the rewards are most often a stronger, more connected relationship than what you had before.
Healing from infidelity takes courage: Shame is one of the largest roadblocks to recovery. After infidelity has been discovered, both the betrayed and the unfaithful partners can feel shame, although for different reasons. The unfaithful partner takes on shame around having being dishonest and hurtful, and the betrayed partner takes on shame that they would even consider staying with a partner who cheated. While this shame is worth listening to for any wisdom it holds, you must also hold onto the truth that choosing to work towards repair is anything but cowardly or weak. Acknowledge ways that shame is showing up for you, and choose to work WITH it. Professional help, especially during the crisis stage immediately following the discovery of infidelity can be incredibly helpful in building the tools, and the courage to address your relationship.
Note: Seek experienced help! If you choose to go see a therapist, be sure to vet them first. Most therapists do not have training on how to help couples deal with infidelity, and so it is worth asking them beforehand about their level of experience walking couples through infidelity. Also do not hesitate to ask your therapist what percentage of the couples they work with end up positively working things through. Be direct with your questions because you deserve highly skilled professional support!
Stronger through the struggle: Whether ultimately you choose to stay in your relationship or not, the work you do now will not be in vain. Many couples share that through confronting what led to the infidelity and tending to what needs rebuilding their relationship became stronger than it had ever been before. Additionally, if you do not stay together, you will both have gained insight and skills that will be invaluable in your personal growth, and future relationships.
Immediate and opposite reactions to infidelity: Often, the unfaithful spouse experiences a certain amount of relief when an affair is finally public. This is true because affairs are not all cakes and rainbows. While the affair has likely been fulfilling a need, it also means living a duplicitous life which can be challenging, hard, and guilt producing. Therefore, this partner can feel relieved to be done with the lying and pain associated with living double lives. That said, just when they are exhaling, the betrayed partner is likely at the lowest point in their lives. This discrepancy in the immediate aftermath of a discovery is inevitable, and yet, both partners have to (and this is where professional support is so critical!) begin to take steps towards collaboration and connection, despite the impasse.
The process of healing happens in layers, and stages. The healing process is not entirely linear. It is also unique to each person, and each couple. That said, there are three main phases. First is the crisis period in which both partners are experiencing their own and often opposite reactions to the discovery. For one there may be intense shock and for the other long waited for relief. Emotions are often big and overflowing in this stage. During the crisis period the focus is on re-stabilizing through compassionate communication, difficult questions, and deeply honest answers. Allow this phase to take as long as it needs. The second phase is focused on reinventing and rebuilding the relationship. Once there is more emotional equilibrium and safety restored both partners can begin to ask where to go from here. What does creating a strong and healthy future look like? And thirdly, together you take these questions into a phase of commitment: how do we maintain this new strength indefinitely?
Getting back to secure ground: For the betrayed partner, the discovery of an affair leaves them feelings like the entire ground beneath them has shifted, and what they took as reality and stability is no longer. Their trust is often shaken to the core. They begin wondering “How can I even believe anything you say again?”, “how can I even know if you are telling me the truth right now?”. Part of rebuilding trust is through the ability to ask lots and lots and lots of questions. The betrayed partner will likely be experiencing intense curiosity, and will dig for details to help them process the news. This is an opportunity for the unfaithful spouse to show up compassionately and courageously and share the truth of what happened. That said, the betrayed partner is responsible for their own curiosity.
Curiosity and control: People have the insatiable urge to ask questions in order to help make sense of something unfathomable, and to help connect the dots. For betrayed spouses they have often felt a deep sense that something was off- their partner may have been MIA, may have been getting off their laptop or cell phone quickly when they enter the room, etc. Questioning their partner is a way to make sense of what happened, while also an attempt to gain control back. Generally, this question period is especially intense immediately following the discovery period. It is common for couples to have marathon discussions revisiting all the details. During this interrogation phase, both partners have a responsibility in how they engage in these conversations.
Helpful or hurtful? If you are the betrayed partner it is understandable that you may be overwhelmed with curiosity, and yet be careful as sometimes asking ALL the questions does not serve you. Slow down enough to notice how you feel after asking a question. Did it help because the fears you were imagining in your head were worse than reality? Or does it leave you feeling more overwhelmed, hopeless, and discouraged? If so, it is important to build strategies to distract yourself. The intensity of this phase will subside, and you do not want to dig yourself into more pain only because you can not control your immediate urges. Make a list of concrete behaviors you can engage in to help you resist asking the harmful questions (take a walk, pray, meditate, play your guitar, call a friend…). That said, when you DO ask questions, it is imperative that you respect your partner’s vulnerability and courage as they work to be transparent with you. Do not use the information to attack them or punish them for their confessions, instead, work inside yourself to cultivate empathy for the effort of love they are committing to you by engaging in these often difficult conversations. This can be a time where it can feel incredibly supportive to have the presence of a third party, such as a couple’s counselor, who can help hold neutral and safe space for these conversations.
Hold space for each other’s process and pain. During this initial crisis period it is critical that the unfaithful spouse allow space to really listen to their partner’s feelings, to hear the questions, and to answer without defensiveness. While the unfaithful spouse is processing through their own intense emotions, they need to be present for the anger, rage, hurt, disappointment, sadness, and disillusionment of their partner. If you are doing your best to be transparent, answer questions, and hold your partner’s pain, and they continue to shame and blame you, speak up and let your partner know you cannot give them the honesty they desire and deserve if they are going to threaten you with each thing you share. Neither one of you will benefit from having unsafe conversations.
Don’t forget about communications skills 101: These initial conversations are raw, real, and difficult. Use all of the core communications skills in order to create as safe of a container as possible so that you can both show up with empathy, compassion, and the ability to take responsibility for your own escalation patterns. Remember to use “I” statements, especially if you are the betrayed spouse expressing intense emotions. The more raw the conversations, the more emotional traffic control is needed. Do not hesitate at this time to seek professional help. The goal is to create safety enough so that both partners can be heard, seen, and felt without an immediate reaction that leads to either escalation, or shutting down.
Finding a balance: In the initial phase of healing there will be a LOT of processing. This might at times feel circular, repetitive, or even two steps forward one back. And this is okay. That said, there becomes a time when what needs to happen is a moving forward into the second and third phase of healing. Knowing when is right to move into this next phase can be another moment of tension in a relationship. The unfaithful spouse might be thinking “how can we heal if we just keep talking about what happened?” while the betrayed spouse may be thinking “how can you not be willing to talk about this for as long as I need?”. The truth is that both are right. How can you come together to bridge this divide? Can you create a planned time to talk and process, while building in more time to focus and put energy into other aspects of your life together? And in what ways can the betrayed spouse take care of their need to process in creative ways? What other outlets can you use, be it a social network, a spiritual practice, etc. to continue moving through ruminating thoughts without being paralyzed by them.
Thought Stopping- The ruminating thoughts can become hurtful, and can take on a life of their own. Anything and everything can become a trigger to painful feelings. This is inevitable, and thus it is important to cultivate a plan on how to address it when it occurs. Thought stopping is one way. Thought stopping is just as it sounds. Begin by imagining a place, or a person you feel very safe with. Let this ‘happy place’ expand in your mind- what are the colors, the sights, the smells? Take time to conjure up this image and make it as tangible as possible. Once you feel you can truly access this space in your mind, introduce the thought that has been plaguing you. As soon as you bring that thought up, imagine a BIG RED stop sign and choose to go back to your serene peaceful place. This is not necessarily easy to do at first, but with practice you will see that you CAN change what you focus on. You do have control over where your focus is- and whatever you focus on expands. This is a wonderful and potent way to interrupt a negative thought pattern before it hijacks your autonomic nervous system. By doing this you are teaching your emotional system resiliency, and helping show yourself that you have your own resources to self soothe. This will build confidence often lost on finding out about your partner’s affair as it lets you feel in control again of the most important thing: yourself!
An opportunity to learn valuable skills: While healing from infidelity can be an incredibly painful process, it is also a process that provides infinite opportunities for growth that will serve each spouse for many years (and potentially relationships) to come. These lessons include, but by no means are limited to learning how to no longer be the victim, learning to self-regulate and self-soothe, learning to build intimacy during difficulty, and learning to develop iron-clad safety in relationships. These lessons help create a foundation upon which a relationship, or a heart, can withstand future adversity. Remember that the hurt goes with you when you leave, and so any time spent exploring the hows and whys of the infidelity, will only better serve you in the future.That said, time exploring your relationship before you leave is never wasted time!
Make decisions during moments of clarity, not crisis: The ultimate roadblock to growth and change however, is hopelessness. It is less about the difference in people’s opinions, values, or backgrounds, nor is it the nature or severity of the problem at hand that makes people throw in the towel, it is hopelessness. Hopelessness, Weiner Davis says, “is the real cancer in marriage”. If you have been trying to get your marriage back on track and you are losing hope, seek professional help before you make any big decisions about your future! A therapist or coach can help hold hope for you while you navigate through the uncertainty of the initial stages of repair, and build the tools to see if your marriage can be saved. Remember- life decisions should not be made in the midst of crisis! Make decisions just for today, and just in an effort to re-regulate and gain the clarity needed to see your options.
Becoming intimate again: There are some people who do not have intimacy issues after an affair, in fact, some couple’s describe having incredible sex post infidelity. While this is the case for some, it is not the case for all. It may take a long time to build back the trust needed to feel safe enough being intimate. Try to welcome the process of reconnecting as an opportunity to really get in touch with your and your partner’s needs and desires. Crises like this can crack open long-held taboos and silence around sex, and so, this can become a moment to bring awareness and curiosity to your sex life. Bring it out of the closet! Talk about what feels good! What turns you on? How do you want your partner to initiate sex? Do you want it more experimental? Also talk about triggers and how to support each other when one or both of you becomes disregulated. Most importantly, and throughout the conversations and reconnecting, BE PRESENT. Be present with what is happening in yourself, in your partner, and between the two of you. While you are beginning to piece your physical relationship back together again, it is critical that you set the intention to be as transparent as possible about what is happening internally and externally. Be open to the fact that sex might look different on the other side of an affair- redefine your lovemaking so that it is fulfilling and safe to both of you. Perhaps there are different forms of intimacy and smaller sexual gestures that your partner is craving? Ask, ask, ask, and listen.
Final tip to affair-proof your relationship: Wanting to be proactive and build resiliency in your relationship to avoid infidelity? Make sure that your relationship feels like a top life priority! Ask your partner: “what will make you feel like you are the most important thing in my life?” Find out, in concrete terms, what this means to your partner. Does it mean having meaningful conversations? Sex? Regular date nights? Every spouse has a different definition of what makes them feel loved and what specific behaviors makes them see you as being completely dedicated to them and the relationship. Get to know your partner’s desires and needs inside and out, and then absolutely do it! Follow through!
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