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Emotional Affairs, part 2

Emotional Affairs, part 2
Emotional Affairs, part 2

I got a lot of feedback after last week’s Live on Emotional Affairs. Apparently, that hit home for a lot of people, so I’d like to expand on that a little today. I want to talk more about the hurt partner today.

Being the hurt partner sucks. There are no two ways around it. It just hurts. And the bigger the indiscretion, the greater the pain. You feel hurt, betrayed, angry.

But it’s tricky, right? I’ll explain why in a moment. But right now, let me say that you are not responsible for your partner’s behavior. Never. Ever. You and your partner both have choices, and each is only responsible for his or her own choices. So, the betrayed partner never causes an affair. Again, never. Ever.

I talked last week about how, if you are the wayward spouse, you need to end your emotional affair and start to work on your primary relationship. New relationships or flirty friendships can bolster your ego, but that is a fleeting and sometimes irresponsible way to feel good. You are the one who is responsible for your own self esteem. You need to find ways to feel good about yourself. Learn something new, find a hobby, congratulate yourself for a job well done. Get your depression treated. Speak kindly to yourself. There are a lot of things you can do to that end.

And you are also absolutely responsible for speaking you mind within your relationship. It is your responsibility to bring your authentic self to your relationship. Even when it is difficult, or your partner disagrees, you still have to do it. Keeping silent or turning outside the relationship eventually makes things worse.

But I also want to tell you what wayward spouses tell me, consistently. I will let you in on the secrets that lead to indiscretions. They say, “He listens. I feel like I can tell him anything” or “she makes me feel special” or “It’s so easy with (the affair partner). I feel like I can be myself and I feel like my spouse is so critical.”

Ouch. That, right there, is the tricky part. If you are the betrayed partner, especially if there was a major transgression, the last thing you want to be is loving, forgiving and empathetic. Because you are not the one who stepped out of bounds. You are not the one who broke the rules. You deserve all of the kindness and your partner is the one who needs to be remorseful, who needs to change.

And I agree with that, 100%. Except that, eventually, that is just not effective. At some point, usually both people need to change. And that seems not fair at all. It’s like this giant double whammy. First, you get hit in the head and punched in the gut and now I’m telling you that you have to learn how to be more agile, so you don’t get hit again. Not fair!

No, it’s not very fair. It’s not. The whole situation is not fair. Either you both stay the same, which is a lose-lose. Or you both have to change. If both of you change, the change frequently becomes a win-win. But, let’s be honest, when you are angry, hurt and betrayed by your partner, the last thing you want is for your partner to win. Because, even if you get to “win” too, it feels like a loss.

But, when you are ready, you really need to take a look at yourself too. It’s not easy. You have to give up being 100% right and who wants to do that? But I hope that you will because the prize is worth it. The prize is a way better relationship than you had before.

So, if you are ready, here are the two biggest things I think you should look to evaluate and possibly improve.

  1. Although, you are not responsible for your partner’s self-esteem, you can honestly ask yourself, “How critical am I?” Do I appreciate what my partner brings to the table or am I always finding fault?” If you are critical, make a concerted effort to be less so. And when you do need to lodge a complaint, do it about the behavior, not the person. Tell your partner you are angry because you wanted him to do the dishes, don’t call him thoughtless and lazy.
  2. And secondly, be a good listener. Strive to understand your partner’s point of view. Mathematician and psychologist, Anatol Rapoport developed rules for a good discourse. One of them is that you should attempt to re-express your opponent’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.” That’s the kind of listener you should strive to be. You don’t have to agree with your partner, but your partner needs to be able to feel like you understand it from his or her point of view.

So, if you are the hurt partner, I’m sorry. It sucks. It’s not fair and you are definitely not responsible for your partners indiscretions. But you are responsible for the self that you bring to the relationship. So, when you are ready, take a look at yourself. Be gentle, it’s not easy. But, if you are willing to change, it’s possible that you could have an amazing win-win relationship on your hands.