Dear Mabel: Help! I am married and I feel like I am slowly falling for a guy at work. It started with happy hour, then instant messaging, and lately we have had a few conversations about maybe meeting up outside of the office. I love my husband, I really do. But I have to admit that I am enjoying flirting. It’s fun. How can I stop myself from cheating? I don’t want to but I am feeling the temptation.
Signed, Annie from Philadelphia
Mabel: Hi Annie, we are all human and it’s not uncommon to develop feelings towards another individual even when we are married. Obviously, there are some underlying issues that need to be addressed such as your internal conflict and the connection between you and your husband. You need to examine why you are attracted to this other person and what struggles might be occurring in your marriage that are making you feel like you need to look elsewhere?
However, kudos to you for wanting to do the right thing and avoid betraying your partner. It’s not easy to fight these feelings and urges, but it can be done. It’s important to remind yourself why you want to protect your relationship with your husband. Why is your marriage important to you? What do you love about your husband?
As difficult as it may be, it all shall pass. Plants need water, sunlight, and nutrients to grow. Relationships are similar. They need a few key components to germinate: time, proximity, and chemistry. Without one of those, a relationship can not survive for long. So what do I mean by those components? Well, time is the amount of time you are in contact with the other person, whether in-person, phone, or online chatting. Proximity is the physical distance between two people (this is why long distance relationships are hard). And, chemistry is liking each other, attraction, and common interests. Since you are flirting with this person, there is obvious chemistry. In order to avoid acting on that chemistry, you need to eliminate the other two components—time and proximity. I don’t expect you to quit your job, but you do need to separate yourself from this other person. You need to end the instant messaging, avoid happy hours where he is present, and decrease any time spent with this person in a non-professional setting. You can get through this if you take the right steps. Staying focused on your marriage and working to get through whatever struggles may be causing you to stray can help to keep your mind and heart in the right place.
Concerned Client: My husband wants me to fold his clothes but not in my way, he wants me to fold them his way. I am not big on folding clothes in any special way. I do it the way I was taught which he thinks is “too messy,” or “incorrect.” That is what I know. It doesn’t bother me that my clothes are folded this way and my kids could care less. I could learn the way he wants me to fold, but it seems pointless to me. He is losing his patience and I am growing frustrated.
He could just fold his own clothes himself but it takes him a week to get to the basket and by then it is overflowing with clean, unfolded, wrinkled clothes. I at least want to get them into the dresser, out of the way. It makes no sense to me why he is ok staring at a basket of unfolded clothes for a week but not ok with me folding and putting away his clothes. He says he doesn’t care if it doesn’t make sense. He just wants me to fold the clothes his way. He says it is “my job” to take care of the laundry and I should do it “his way.” What the hell? He works full time and expects me to all the stuff around the house, the cooking, the cleaning, and all the laundry to his standards. I am ok doing it my way, but why does it have to be his way?
Mabel: Before I make the assumption that this is a misogynist behavior, I need to get a bigger picture. What is the implicit or explicit agreement that you currently have with your husband in terms of division of labor (i.e. you take care of all the stuff in the home, while he handles the stuff outside of the home)? Do you expect him to adhere to certain standards when it comes to the yard work? Or taking care of vehicles? Why he expects you to fold the clothes his way may be his way of executing what he thought might be an agreement. Have you ever talked about an agreement of who does what and how? Sometimes couples assume an agreement and really they need to discuss it with each other.
The first time someone does something that offends me, I let it go. I try to educate the person on why they offended me and ask them kindly to please refrain from doing it again. Then I brush it off.
The second time someone offends me, I give them the benefit of the doubt. I think “well maybe it was a misunderstanding.” I talk to them and keep open lines of communication. I move on.
The third time that someone offends me, that’s it. I have been kind and open-minded up to this point. I have educated this person. They know exactly how I feel and realize what they are doing is going to be hurtful to me. Yet they do it anyway. This person is being blatantly disrespectful to my wishes. They obviously don’t care enough about my feelings to change their ways.
It is important for your own wellbeing to set boundaries with repeat offenders. People that are constantly disrespecting your wishes, overstepping your boundaries, offending you in some way or another, are not worth your time. These people are toxic to your mental health. It is ok to let these people go from your life. You don’t have to be around or interact with people who don’t care enough to respect your wishes.
Boundaries are crucial to your happiness, your personal comfort, and your overall health. Feeling hurt or stressed because people are consistently offending you is damaging your mental wellbeing and therefore also harmful to your physical health. You have the right to stand up for yourself, to fight for your happiness. You need to take care of you and show these repeat offenders that you won’t stand for their behavior toward you. Then let it go.
It is common for a person who is already being cheated on by their partner to feel like they have a free pass to cheat also. They think it is not really cheating since their partner is already cheating on them. While it might feel like the fair choice, it is still cheating.
Infidelity in any form is a violation of a couple’s relationship agreement. So, yes your partner may have violated that agreement but do you also want to violate this contract? It is about being a bigger person. That (written or unwritten) contract was created because you and your partner had a connection and while that might be on the rocks currently you have to ask yourself which path you want to take. Would you rather contribute to the dysfunction by committing infidelity yourself, or would you rather take the high road and end the relationship with your partner (or take steps to try to fix things) before pursuing other relations?
Infidelity hurts. It creates wounds in relationships that are difficult to heal. But just because someone hurts you does not give you the right to hurt them in return. It might feel good for a minute, like payback or revenge, but in the end, it will only lead to more pain and suffering long term.
Even though your partner did not respect your relationship agreement, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. Confront your partner. Have a conversation. Seek counseling to determine next steps. But, don’t stoop to the level that got you into this mess, to begin with. Don’t add insult to injury. Just because you may have been the second one to commit the act, doesn’t mean it doesn’t count.
This is part three (read parts one and two) of a three-part series on how to determine if divorce is the right decision for you as a couple. This series will dive deeper into the options couples who are thinking of divorce have and the factors they should consider. How can a couple decide if divorce is the right decision?
The third option for couples to consider, which will be examined during discernment counseling, is marriage counseling. This option is the best when both parties acknowledge a desire to try. This means they will commit to six months of intensive marriage counseling, during which time divorce is off the table. Now, this isn’t a fix all. It is not saying that the couple will not get divorced but it is saying they want to give their marriage a chance to be healthy again. This choice requires a lot of work from both parties and a commitment to be open and communicate honestly with each other.
For example in the case of fictional clients Sam and Jill, the two of them constantly argued about the house being a mess, bills not being paid, and general disorganization. Sam would get frustrated with Jill and they would argue. Jill would cry and promise to try to get it together, and would eventually repeat old habits. Sam did not feel like he could live with Jill anymore but he wasn’t sure he wanted to live without her either.
During discernment counseling, it was determined that Jill might be suffering from symptoms of adult Attention Deficit Disorder that had gone undiagnosed. Jill began to get help individually to work on these issues while also attending couples therapy with Sam. Together they both gained valuable communication skills, as well as tools to help with organization and running the home.
The couples counseling that Sam and Jill endured together strengthened their marriage and allowed them to make an informed decision on whether they truly wanted divorce. It took commitment from both of them and a desire to try.
If you and your spouse are on the brink of divorce and you aren’t sure what to do, discernment counseling can be a valuable tool in helping to determine the best path to this complex life-altering decision. Call a licensed couples counselor to learn more.
This is part two (read part one here) of a three-part series on how to determine if divorce is the right decision for you as a couple. This series will dive deeper into the options couples who are thinking of divorce have and the factors they should consider.
The second option for couples to consider, which will be examined during discernment counseling, is separation. If during the counseling process it is determined that one or both people in the couple simply cannot stand the idea of being together any more then separation would likely be the best option. This is a couple that no longer wishes to live under the same roof. One or both of them has a strong desire to end the relationship and is not willing to try to repair it at this time.
Choosing to Separate
A couple that chooses to separate will each go their own way and will likely later file for divorce, unless after a brief separation they do decide to make the effort to fix things. It is impossible to fix a marriage if both parties are not open to the repair. Even if one of you is adamant about trying to fix things, if the other is unwilling then fixing things is unlikely. This is when discernment counseling is helpful. Because it looks at the needs, wants, desires of both parties to help determine the best path for the relationship. The goal is to help the couple come to an equitable decision, both are in the process, both are participants, both are involved.
A broken marriage takes a lot of work from both parties. It takes commitment to change, openness to communicate, and willingness to try. Without those core desires separation may be the best option.
This is part one of a three-part series on how to determine if divorce is the right decision for you as a couple. This series will dive deeper into the options couples who are thinking of divorce have and the factors they should consider.
Making the decision to get divorced can be one of the most difficult decisions a couple can make. There are a lot of factors that play a role and there are many details to consider. Nobody wants their marriage to end in divorce but it is, unfortunately, a common reality these days. If you and your spouse are considering divorce — how do you know if it’s the right path for you?
When seeing a couple who is considering divorce it is important for us, as counselors, to help not just one partner but both to explore three options. The process is called discernment counseling. Developed by Dr. Bill Doherty, discernment counseling focuses solely on helping couples to decide what they want to do with their relationship. It is unlike traditional marriage counseling, which is designed to save a marriage (but doesn’t work unless both partners are fully on board). Generally, discernment counseling is brief with the goal of getting couples unstuck so they can move forward in whichever direction they have determined to be best for them.
Making the decision
The first option for a couple to consider is to do nothing. Doing nothing is exactly how it sounds. It means everything stays put. Couples that choose to do nothing will not seek any additional counseling. They simply will keep things as is in hopes that whatever bumps their marriage is facing is just a “phase” that may eventually pass. A couple who chooses to do nothing may not be ready to make the decision of whether or not to get divorced. Maybe they have kids and they are just not ready to put them through that process, or maybe they are holding out hope that things will get better. Whatever their reasoning chances are they may return to discernment counseling at a later date, or decide down the road to seek marriage counseling.
Most of us enter into relationships with the hopes that they will last. We find the person we want to be with and want to hold on to them. There is one very common relationship pattern that can be detrimental to the future of a relationship—relying on a partner too much.
Yes, you may be in love. You may feel like your partner is your “everything” but is that really healthy? We are all human, even your partner. No one person can be completely responsible for every single thing another adult needs (infants are a different story). Many of us expect our partners to make us happy all the time. We want them to come to our rescue, to make us feel safe, to be our best friends, our lovers, our rocks.
All Your Eggs in One Basket
We cannot expect one person to do all of these things for us. Instead, we need to spread out these roles. We cannot put all our eggs in one basket. Doing that can lead the basket to overload and all the eggs to fall out, leaving us feeling deserted and crushed.
Your partner has his/her/their own self to worry about. They cannot be everything for you. Some of that responsibility needs to fall on you. You yourself are responsible for your happiness, not anyone else. If you are bored, find something to do. If you are unhappy, examine your life and figure out what is necessary to fix it. It is not up to your partner to do all the work for you.
Find friends. You need your own friends to spend time with and share life experiences. Your friends can be a great support system so that your partner doesn’t end up feeling overwhelmed by taking care of you. Having a partner who is supportive and with you every step of the way is wonderful but you also have to learn to spread out your needs.
Love your partner, be with them but don’t count on them to be your whole world. That is too much pressure.
At some point in our lives, we have all played “the blame game” and we have likely all been victims of that very same game. Placing blame on someone for something that has gone wrong in our lives may might us feel good momentarily but its effects can be detrimental to the relationships in our lives.
It is like the ongoing struggle on the popular television series Friends when Ross and Rachel have the argument over and over again that they were “on a break” when Ross had relations with another woman. It terrorized their relationship up until the very end when they just had to get over it and move on.
Shifting the load
Shifting responsibility takes the load off us. It is easier to say “it is your fault” than it is to accept any personal wrongdoing. Nobody wants to feel bad for something they have done but, the truth is, we all do things at some point that end up being wrong.
Playing the blame game takes control off us. It puts control onto the other person. That person is now responsible for “making it up” to you, for “fixing” what went wrong. We end up feeling victimized and internalizing these feelings and standing firm that the situation will not change. When we blame others we completely let go of ourselves and put it all on other people. It is harmful to our personal relationships and not very good for our personal psyche to always feel like the “victim.”
Instead of blaming others for what has gone wrong in your life, look at the things you have control over. You have the ability to change the outcome. You personally can make adjustments to “repair” things. You just have to focus on what YOU can do. Not others. Stop putting all the weight on other people and instead take a deeper look at yourself. You have the ability to make better choices in the future. You can learn from mistakes. You can accept some responsibility. And, even if it wasn’t your fault at all you can learn to accept that things went wrong and learn from them. Blaming others only causes more harm. It doesn’t lead to any reconciliation.
If you are a person who is fearful of commitment, someone who enjoys being close to others but grows distant when the relationship becomes more emotionally involved, then you might struggle with attachment issues.
Many commitment issues stem from past relationship experiences and/or our attachment to our parents or primary caregivers as children. It all comes down to having our needs met and being confident that if for some reason a relationship doesn’t work out, it’s ok. The good news is even if you are a person who has a hard time moving forward in relationships, there is hope in overcoming these struggles. It just takes some effort on your part.
Moving Forward is Possible
Talk to a therapist. A licensed mental health professional has the proper training to help you move from unhealthy attachment styles to secure attachment. Proper counseling can help to heal the deep wounds that are causing you troubles now. Forming a secure relationship with a therapist can help to increase feelings of security and help make sense of the past.
The first part of overcoming attachment struggles is to identify the problem. You must first understand where these emotions are coming from so you can work to heal them. A therapist who asks the right questions can help you to identify aspects of your childhood that may have led to your current emotional state.
Second, it is important that whoever your partner is has a healthier attachment style. Being with someone who understands what a healthy relationship looks like can further help you to heal by developing more trust in others and how they will respond to your needs. That being said, you don’t need another person to heal, but if you are in a relationship try to choose a healthy one—one that makes you feel good, one that is not full of jealousy and insecurity.
Third, believe in yourself. You do have the ability to move forward and have a happy, committed relationship.