Discovery of a Partner’s Infidelity

“When will I stop feeling so lost? The discovery that my husband had been with someone other than me and seeing the evidence right in front of me was like getting kicked in the stomach. It has sent me into a tailspin and I don’t know what to do.” This brief snippet is not a real quote from a client, but an amalgam of conversations I have had with clients.

There is never a cookie-cutter way these conversations go. Sometimes the genders vary. People who share the experiences are not always married. They might be in their 20s or in their 70s. There are sometimes children or a home or complications like caring for a dying relative or a business the couple runs together. These variables are both important and also unique. These pieces make you who you are and provide a context for understanding the pain of this discovery.

As the immediate dust begins to settle, your heart rate slowly starts to come down, and you breathe, you are angry. It’s possible that you’ve had a feeling that things are not quite right between you and your partner. Part of you may find that you had a sense, but you didn’t want to touch the white-hot pain that such a reality would invite into your world.

You’ve experienced inconsistencies in your partner’s schedule, new patterns of phone usage, new smells on them when they come home. Your relationship, like everyone’s has some predictability. You know if you bring up the ways your partner’s behavior is different, there may be defensiveness or unkind words, a slammed door, or a swift exit. Your partner has possibly even hit you or damaged your property. You’ve done everything in your power to avoid these sorts of interactions, but sometimes, it’s unavoidable.

There is also no quick fix to getting through the discovery of a betrayal without experiencing intense feelings that don’t feel very good. Most of us want to avoid emotions like anger, sadness, or fear as much as possible. But sometimes, it is in these moments when we feel our worst that change happens. This may be a relationship that you have had reservations about continuing. Or it may be one that you or your spouse is aware that changes need to occur and neither of you has been able to implement those changes. If you’re in the throes of a recent discovery, it may be hard to envision any semblance of peace, but infidelity expert Esther Perel writes in her book that it may be helpful to see this tragic life event as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity, as she would say, for something new to happen. You may work toward rebuilding the current relationship or begin to look within and work on yourself.

Some things to be mindful of as you are going through the discovery of a betrayal:

  • Take your time – Because of how terrible you feel, you want to get through this process quickly. You don’t want to cry. You don’t want to feel angry. You don’t want to be alone. You don’t want any of it. And who could blame you? It feels horrible. But please be patient with yourself. Going through any ordeal involving our emotions takes longer than we want it to. It also might be best to not rush into another relationship before you are over the emotions of the last one. Think about any long illness or injury you’ve had and remember how long it took to heal your physical body. Healing your heart will also take time, especially if it involves acclimating to spending time alone.
  • Self-care – It might sound obvious, but you really need to take care of yourself. Getting through a betrayal, especially in the early stages, can interrupt your regular routine. You might have sleep difficulties or be sleeping too much as a way to avoid difficult feelings. Your exercise routine might have gone out the window or you might find your eating is off. Your alcohol or substance use might have increased during this time as well. It’s important to keep your life in balance, especially if you are taking care of children.
  • Being with others – You might be tempted to isolate. At times like this, sometimes people feel shame or they want to keep things to themselves. There is no right or wrong way to handle these situations. While you are entitled to share whatever you feel comfortable with, putting up walls between yourself and trusted loved ones might also feel unpleasant. Some people find that being with friends and family who are healing influences can be a healthy distraction. Being alone sparingly to process your feelings or to rest can be good for you also. Finding the right balance that works for you is important.
  • Therapy – Going through this change in your life might trigger emotional confusion or losses you’ve had in the past. Meeting with a therapist to help you through this time could help you heal. A nonjudgmental and supportive therapist can help you understand your patterns and emotions and provide more long-term benefits than talking with your friends.

If you would like to consider the possibility of working together, please reach out to me via email at cmgsnyder@gmail.com or 201-248-5552. My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Feeling Wrecked by Betrayal

Wrecked is a word used often by people who find that their partner has been unfaithful. Most people say that being cheated on by someone they trusted is one of the most painful experiences of their lives. It is hard to understand the feeling unless you have lived through it in some capacity. You want so desperately to stop feeling this way. Crying unpredictably. Heart palpitations. Difficulty concentrating.

You struggle so much that you aren’t sure you can envision what life will feel like when you get through this. It might be hard for you to remember a time when things were normal. A time when you could watch a show or read a book without getting tearful or being distracted. A time when you did fairly routine things like go to the gym or grocery shopping or paying bills without it feeling like pushing a rock up a mountain. You even find that you struggle with losing yourself in your work like you used to. It’s as if your whole identity has been rocked.

Secrecy

When you find the person you have been in a relationship with has been with someone else, this is not the sort of thing you are eager to share. In our social media heavy world, it’s unlikely you would reveal yourself in this way, even though you eagerly share so many intimate details about yourself. You typically check into various locations, take pictures of your delicious and photogenic meals, and share selfies periodically. You might feel that now that you’ve curbed your Instagram-worthy life, you worry that people will wonder what is happening in your life. They wonder why you used to share so many #couplegoals and now your partner is remarkably absent from your feed.

It gives me no pleasure to say that infidelity is increasingly common because there is a great deal of pain involved. In spite of how often it happens, there is still shame associated with it and it’s still the sort of thing that’s whispered about. Will she leave him? Will they stay together? The shame of being talked about can cause people a great deal of anxiety, even if you’re the type of person who doesn’t seem to care what other people think. You are mortified that your private life might be fodder for gossip. If you’re someone who is very open with your friends and coworkers and acquaintances, you might be concerned that your new tight-lipped persona might even cause people to wonder what’s going on. When people ask you how your spouse is doing, you might find yourself disengaging or flat-out lying because you want so badly to cover up what is going on for you lately.

What do I do now?

Infidelity causes you to question the future of your relationship. And in some ways, your entire future. You told each other you’d be together forever. You might have kids together. A mortgage. Dogs. It’s painful even without kids/mortgage/pets. What the hell do I do now? It is OK to not know what to do. The way you are feeling now is not the way you will feel forever.

There is no one-size-fits-all remedy for handling a situation like this. There might be lots of books out there telling you what to do. You might pick one up and take the advice of whatever the author suggests. But realistically, something else that is both hard for me to say and also hard for you to hear, is that it may be nearly impossible to avoid experiencing pain. Strong emotions abound and sometimes ugly words are said and people say things they might regret. Or not. Or you may say nothing or your spouse may say nothing.

I understand that as adults, we all enter relationships with a lifetime of expectations of how a relationship should go. And we’ve probably experienced heartbreak and betrayal to varying degrees. How our prior relationships have gone might influence how we move forward in the present one.   If you’ve run away in the past, maybe that’s what you’re inclined to do again. If you want to reconcile quickly, you might find yourself burying your hurt and pain to have the person back.

Even though it is a dreadfully painful time, when you find time and distance from this tragic event, it might look like a turning point in your life. Maybe as a result of this indescribable pain, you began to work on why you bury the hurt all the time or why you run away. Maybe you’ll find that some of your patterns are things you have always wanted to change about yourself and when the change evolves, you might have different perspective on the relationship. Your partner who departed from the relationship may also change, even though that is hard to digest right now.

There may be no concrete answers right now. Sometimes, it is very difficult to live in uncertainty and without access to a map or compass for your journey. People who love and care about you may want to tell you to “just divorce him” or “work it out”. You may choose to make those decisions at some point. But it is OK to not know what to do. In therapy, you are not told what to do. Those decisions are yours to make. But therapy allows for the space to mentally breathe. You might find that you are not sure what to do because you don’t really know yourself very well. This might be the time to start looking inward so that you know what next steps are best for you.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, please reach out to me at cmgsnyder@gmail.com. I can also be reached at 201-248-5552. My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

When Parents Cheat

When you learn of a partner’s infidelity, your head is spinning. Words don’t do justice to the tornado of emotions you feel. You might also find yourself vacillating between two or more emotional states within a matter of minutes. You might be feeling shock, anger, and sadness. At times, you might even feel relief that your suspicions have finally been confirmed.

These feeling are often amplified if you share children together.  You look at your children and you wonder how this happened.  How it happened that one of their parents has caused the other to feel the lowest they’ve ever felt.  Your marriage vows included promises to be faithful and you are in utter disbelief that your partner went back on that promise.  Not only has it led you to question how your relationship to continue, but it has also caused you to ask how you can now parent your children with someone you no longer trust.

There are no right or wrong answers in situations like this. Only what is best for you and your family. Sometimes it is important to weigh the options of what you share with others and it also may depend on whether you find particular people trustworthy enough to hold this sensitive information. If someone in your life has a reputation for being the town gossip, you may exercise restraint in what to share with that person.

One of the most difficult decisions to be made when you learn of your partner’s infidelity is whether to share this information with your children. And if you do, you consider how much information to share.

It pains you to not be fully transparent with your children because you’ve always said you would never lie to them. However, withholding sensitive details and blatantly creating an entirely different narrative feels like two ends of the spectrum. Chances are, your approach will reside somewhere in the middle for you.

Parents find themselves insisting on transparency with their children because their own parents lied to them. And they do not want their children to feel the same way as they did as children. Young people are savvy enough to understand from context clues in their environment that something feels different. As adults, they may find themselves struggling to discern their own feelings because their questions or experiences may have been invalidated by their parents. Perhaps their parents told them whatever they observed did not really happen. It leads to confusion for children.

As parents, sometimes you strive to raise your children differently than your own parents raised you. It is common to hear adults talk about their parents and say, “I will never do that to my children.” That runs the gamut from how they handle discipline to how to be there emotionally for their children. Humans are very much affected by what we experienced at young ages. And that includes how to (or whether to) divulge that their mother or father is involved in a relationship outside the home.

It is always interesting to hear from adults about how they learned of their parents’ infidelity when they were children. They might talk about how they met “dad’s friend” when they were very young. Or they have recollections of their mom emotionally exploding at their dad, which included some mention of a woman’s name. It was further confusing for them if they also knew and liked these people. It was hard for them to understand as children why mom or dad would be so incensed over a seemingly nice lady or nice man.

How you proceed with telling your own children also involves asking yourself whether you need to or not. You may decide that you have been able to keep a boundary with your children to not discuss any of this in front of them. And thus, you don’t see a need to tell them. Their age may also play a role in how or what you tell them. Or if you tell them. You may also decide to share this information with them when they get older and begin to be involved in relationships as adults.

Some things to consider are being mindful of how information is transmitted to your children if one of their parents is involved in a relationship. It does leave an impact on a child when they become a repository for a parent’s anger. You are entitled to being angry. But your child does not need to be exposed to unhealthy generalizations like “never trust anyone.” Statements like this, especially when they are expressed in frightening or confusing ways to children, can leave lasting impressions about how they understand healthy relationships in the future.

Navigating parenting is difficult enough. But if there is infidelity occurring, it makes everything feel so much more difficult. It is understandable that you feel angry and betrayed and confused. It can be helpful to utilize the services of a therapist during periods like this.

You can learn more about me at http://snyderlcsw.com/therapist/.  If you would like to consider the possibility of working with me, please email me at cmgsnyder@gmail.com or call me at 201-248-5552.

Holidays and Infidelity

Holiday stress

 

Holidays are stressful for mostly everyone. We often find ourselves over-extended. Our calendar may fill up quickly, causing us to juggle work parties, social gatherings for all the roles you play in life, ranging from your book club, to your church groups, to your volunteer activities. And these commitments multiply if you have children. We feel pressure to make holidays the most wonderful time of the year, not only for them, but perhaps something worthy of some humble bragging on social media.

Holidays can also do a number on our relationships. Even happy relationships can fall victim to the heightened expectations of the season. What do you buy for the special someone in your life? And what message will your gift convey? Will the other half be expecting the vehicle with the bow on top that causes your person to go weak in the knees? Are they expecting a proposal? Are you concerned that giving a certain item will suggest feelings deeper than what you actually feel?

An area of interest in my practice is infidelity and those affected by it. So at this time of year, I consider the myriad ways infidelity is both experienced and executed during this season of amplified expectations, stress on our schedule, and our bank account. Most people who have never experienced infidelity or been a friend to someone in that situation see these situations as solely about the “cheater” and the “cheated-on”. (Just a quick note…the usage of the word “cheating” as shorthand for infidelity isn’t my usual go-to and I try to avoid using it if possible.) But realistically, the subject is significantly more complex.

Consider the perspective of a single man in a relationship with a married woman. What he is dealing with, specifically during the holidays, does not tidily fit into the narrative of the way many conceptualize infidelity. Someone like this guy I’ll call Bob is dealing with stressors that are not visible unless you have an in-depth conversation with him. Bob is a guy I’ve created for the sake of this blog post and, while he does not represent any real client, his experiences are a composite of those I have worked with over the years.

So here is what Bob is dealing with at the holidays. But first, let’s learn a little bit of Bob’s back-story.

Bob has been divorced for about three years and has no children. He is 38 and works for an accounting department for a major corporation. Not only does he find satisfaction in his work, but he also is regularly recognized for his exemplary contributions and he is financially comfortable as a result.

Bob’s mom tells her friends she is proud of her son, but she would love to see him settle down with a nice woman. She doesn’t pressure him about grandchildren like her friends pressure their adult children. She tells her friends she just wants to see him happy, whatever that looks like for him.

What Bob’s mom doesn’t tell her lady friends is that Bob is in a relationship. They have been together for about eight months and Bob’s mom really likes her. Her name is Maureen. She has two adolescent children and she is married.

Bob’s mom keeps this relationship to herself. Not necessarily because she is ashamed of her son’s relationship, but revealing the nature of it comes with the understanding that it is not discussed. This adds to Bob’s stress during the holidays. His mother is the only one at the family Christmas gathering who knows about the existence of Maureen. For this, Bob is grateful. He appreciates that his mom respects his privacy and she does so with compassion and without judgment.

Not everyone in Bob’s family would be as compassionate. Bob knows he’d hear about it in many ways from family members if they found out about Maureen’s own relationship status. He gets enough ribbing from relatives about still being single, even when he tells them he’s dating, but hasn’t found the right person yet. Bob isn’t sure people would understand the position he’s in if they found out and historically, most people in his family are not what anyone would necessarily call “supportive”. They’ve always said they want the best for Bob, even when he was getting divorced, but he felt their judgment. In fact, he had heard through the family grapevine that his brother told their cousin that Bob was an idiot for leaving his wife.

So when it comes time for holidays, Bob puts on a brave face and pretends to be someone else when they’re all together. Bob feels nervous about the upcoming Christmas gathering. Uncle Ray always shows up with a pre-buzz and his too-loud speaking voice. Their cousin Elizabeth never cared for Bob and he knows she won’t say more than two words to him. Those words will likely be “Merry Christmas” and not much more than that. Whenever he sees the various children of his relatives since his divorce, he wonders if he’ll ever have children of his own.

Bob also knows that if some of these family members knew about Maureen, they’d tell him all the stuff like “you can do better” or “what are you thinking being with a married woman?” He would feel embarrassed and ashamed and yet, conflicted because he loves Maureen so much and is optimistic that they will be together when she leaves her husband. Bob knows what society thinks about a guy like him and he used to feel the same way. Until he began to have feelings for Maureen. He will think about her during dinner, just like he did at Thanksgiving, and also think about what it will be like when they are able to have their own Christmas later that week when they will be free from their family obligations. They’ll text back and forth when they get the chance. They’ll tell say they miss each other.

Holidays are mixed for Bob. Bob loves his family, with their loudness and drinking and less-than-supportive ways of relating. He knows they’ll always be there if he needs them, just like they’ve always been. But Bob isn’t about to advertise what is going on behind the scenes in his life.

You might be wondering why I’ve spent all this time writing about Imaginary Bob. And Bob’s mom. And the peripheral family members. Well, like I said above, issues relating to infidelity go beyond the one individual who has left their own primary relationship. That person in this scenario is Imaginary Maureen. But all the people mentioned are affected by this. Bob is a single guy and it kills him sometimes that Maureen isn’t free and clear to even hold his hand in public. Bob battles depression, sometimes drinks too much to cope when he’s home alone and Maureen is doing the wife and family stuff. Someone like Bob is the typical affected-by-infidelity client I work with.

You may be saying, well, maybe Bob shouldn’t be with a married woman. But alas. Bob is. And Bob needs some support. That support may come in many forms, including psychotherapy. A nonjudgmental and compassionate therapist will listen to Bob and allow him to reveal himself openly – something he has been unable to do as long as Maureen has been in his life. He may begin to feel unburdened and more willing to feel the feelings he’s possibly stuffed away. Whether Bob and Maureen continue is not the goal of our work, unless it is Bob’s goal. It is not the view of the therapist to advise clients to go one way or the other. We merely allow our clients room – both in the physical space of the office and emotionally – to explore where they are at.

If you are somewhere like Bob is, or Bob’s mom, or Maureen, or even Maureen’s husband, I can help you parse through these complications in your life. My office is located in Livingston, NJ and I can be reached at cmgsnyder@gmail.com or 201-248-5552.

Isolation

Isolation and Infidelity

In my practice, I don’t only see people whose partner has strayed from the relationship. I also see the person who has found a connection with someone who isn’t their primary partner.

The person who is on the receiving end of infidelity in a relationship can find himself or herself struggling. I also have compassion for the person who has betrayed their partner. It can be hard to be you, too. It is hard to be the person that society has dubbed “the cheater”. So many people even utter the word with disdain.

But “cheater” isn’t always someone skulking around in the dark of night, tiptoeing out of the house while everyone else is sleeping. Many people reflexively envisage this person to be male. That is not always the case. While percentages of women participating in infidelity has grown over the years, women often feel a double standard – that men are expected to stray but people assume that women who engage in the same behavior are considered “less than” or branded with ugly and derogatory names.

The one who has relationships or flings with someone other than their primary partner is indistinguishable from you or me. They are usually respectable, law-abiding citizens. The neighborhood gentleman who shovels the walkway of his elderly neighbor or the warm and caring woman who works in your child’s daycare center. It’s the guy who fixes your car, the mom who volunteers at a food bank. It could even be your best friend or sibling. Or your girlfriend. Or the husband with whom you celebrated your 25th wedding anniversary on a spectacular cruise in the Caribbean.

The life of someone who is seeing someone else is one of secrets, half-truths, omissions. Most of us have a differing comfort level with how we function in these various states.

You didn’t set out to let it get so far out of control, but you almost feel too far in to start cleaning up the damage. You might feel terrible about it. You might feel nothing about it. You might feel numb. If you were able to talk about it, you might discover your feelings. And that may scare you.

I recognize that you may not have told anyone. That not one soul knows about the person who replies to your texts after she puts her kids to bed. Or the guy you meet up with when your boyfriend thinks you are staying late at the office.

You are out there. And despite what society or your friends or your faith might think, you deserve as much compassion and humanity as anyone else.  I also understand how alone and isolated you feel at times.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, please contact me at cmgsnyder@gmail.com or 201-248-5552. My office is located in Livingston, NJ.

Why I Don’t See Couples

Whenever people discover that I specialize in working with infidelity, I think it makes sense that I’d see couples and help them repair their relationships.

For a number of years, I did work with couples, many of whom were dealing with the aftermath of an infidelity revelation. Over time, I began to realize that not everyone – on either end of the infidelity situation – may want to engage in couples counseling. I have found that there is great benefit of working with individuals because it allows us to truly drill down into their personal histories and gain insight on their own behavior.

Before I go on, I will emphasize that I do believe in couples therapy and it can be a very helpful tool. There are many layers to the issues that clients deal with and, therefore, many ways to address these things. Couples therapy can be an opportunity for a spouse or partner to share a space where they can tune in to each other and listen and hopefully, be heard. If you have arrived at my website wishing to access couples therapy, please send me a message (christine@snyderlcsw.com) and I could make a referral to someone who can better serve you.

So as I mentioned, there are some scenarios where clients might find individual therapy beneficial, depending on whether they have been unfaithful or whether they have been betrayed.

The person who has been unfaithful
In terms of the person who has been unfaithful in the relationship, there can be some factors at play that make couples therapy somewhat counterproductive. There is so much gray area in infidelity situations that these are only a small portion of situations where clients find themselves struggling.
* A person who is unfaithful may be involved with someone that has caused them to feel uncertain about continuing their primary relationship. They may find that this person provides them something their partner may be lacking and they are not sure they want to terminate this relationship.
* Perhaps they had wanted to terminate their primary relationship and entering into an affair with someone allowed them to transition out of the relationship. For some clients, it is easier (nothing is ever easy in infidelity, though) to tell a partner that they are cheating rather than tell them they no longer love them.
* They might also be in the process of breaking up with their affair partner and are struggling with the loss of that person from their life. In some occasions, people have long relationships with affair partners and it can be difficult to cope with the void that a breakup would cause. Sometimes people who are dealing with this loss do not find couples therapy helpful because they know their spouse does not want to know or hear how much they miss their girlfriend.
* This person may also feel exhausted by keeping secrets and I am the only person in the world with whom they’ve shared their secret.

I’d also say that it’s hard for some people to accept that someone involved in a transgression should be shown any compassion. On this, I have to strongly state that I do not feel that way. My job is not to shame or to pass judgment. I recognize that in some areas of your life, you may be struggling. Just because you are having an affair does not necessarily mean you are having the time of your life. Or maybe you are and you don’t feel guilty about it. It isn’t my position to correct your behavior. What you decide to do is up to you and I am here to support you and help you understand yourself better so that you can decide what direction to take.

The person who has been betrayed
It is not universally the case that the person whose spouse has gone outside the relationship wants to work on the relationship. It seems that there’s a societal expectation that if your spouse has cheated, you call a couples therapist and you both get to work on mending the hurt. But sometimes it isn’t that clear-cut. Here are some occasions where people who have been betrayed may find value in individual counseling:
* The person may be so hurt and distraught that they can barely communicate with the partner who hurt them, let alone be in the same small room together with a therapist. There is a possibility that they may come together for counseling at some point, but some people feel the need to process a hurt like this on their own with a therapist.
* The person who has been betrayed may have wanted to terminate this relationship and they would like to speak with a therapist to process whether to work on the relationship or end it. They also may come in with some existing insights such as their understanding of why they stayed in an unsatisfying relationship and they’d like to work on changing that characteristic.
* They might also have had a history of anxiety or depression and they have had difficulty managing the symptoms alone. A crisis such as a revelation that their partner has gone outside the relationship may need to be handled first before processing the direction of their relationship.
* As a result of discovering their spouse has been having an affair, they realize they have been cheated on in prior relationships and have a desire to understand why this has happened to them. Sometimes people recall in the course of therapy that one of their parents may have had a history of infidelity which affected them in their own relationships.

If you find yourself in any of these situations and would like to explore the possibility of working with me, please reach out to me at christine@snyderlcsw.com. My office is located in Livingston, NJ.

Cheating on Business Trips

Cheating happens on business trips. There are countless reasons why people do so, in the same way that there are countless reasons why people commit infidelity in general.  I contributed some quotes and other background material to this article and I hope it provides some useful information.

The Scientific Reason Spouses Cheat on Business Trips

One minor detail I’d like to clarify, though. The author states that I see couples, but currently I do not. I have found in the last few years that infidelity isn’t always just a “couple” problem. No matter which end of infidelity we find ourselves, we appear in our relationships carrying a whole lifetime of emotional stuff with us. Not just from our childhood and upbringing. Realistically, most people have had a number of prior long-term relationships or marriages before entering their current relationship. Examining how we as individuals behave in relationships is a valuable tool. And bringing a newly informed self into our relationship can change the entire dynamic between us.

The author of the article asked some very insightful questions that I wish she could have included some of my comments. Infidelity on business trips has historically been something people believed only men do. But with the growth of opportunity for women professionally, they’ve also been required to travel for work, which in turn, has increased the frequency of infidelity among women on business trips.

The communication I had with the author also made me think even more about the experience of infidelity in males, considering that the website the article appears on is targeted toward men. Gender is a complicated subject these days, but I think sometimes men are also under more stress than we give them credit for. While it is a known fact that women feel maxed out with various duties, men struggle with these issues also. Where it can become problematic is that men don’t always feel comfortable expressing how they feel – to themselves, to other men, or to their partners. Women often wish their husbands would open up, but they might not know how to react or feel if their husbands cried in front of them. As I said before, the reasons for infidelity are countless, but there are occasions where men cite feeling misunderstood or stifled emotionally as contributing factors.

I also can hear the partners of men saying, “but I do the right things and he never opens up” and this goes back to my commentary about couples therapy.  There is absolutely a value in couples therapy when certain behavioral or communication patterns get stuck in a loop and couples find they are having the same argument every time they argue.  Couples therapy can be a wonderful arena to help both parties recognize their contributions and to understand how best to help each other, while being guided by a skilled therapist in the room.

Sue Johnson, a well-respected researcher in the field of couples and developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy, likens relationships to a dance.  (Sidebar is that she is an amateur tango dancer and uses the metaphors of dance to inform her work.)  Relationships with partners we’ve known for awhile have predictable dance moves.  If I say this, I know he’s going to get upset and walk out the door.  Or if he says that to me, we both know I am shutting down.  We know the sore spots of the other person.  Sometimes we go right for the jugular and we say the thing we know will cause the shutdown or the walkout.  And sometimes, we have no awareness that something we thought was innocuous throws our partner into a tailspin.  Either way, if we want to stop the conflict and deepen the intimacy of the relationship, we need to – as Sue Johnson would say – change the music.  Learn the patterns that can help her open up or help him to stop walking out the door.  And in situations like this, there is a great value in participating in couples therapy.

There’s so much more to be said about these things and I will expound on these topics in the future.  I just wanted to share this article with you.

If you are dealing with an infidelity issue and would like to explore the possibility of us working together, please email me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Infidelity and Sliding Door Moments

Infidelity and Sliding Doors Moments

The focus of my practice is working with individuals who are affected by infidelity. I don’t just work only with infidelity, but over the years I find that almost everyone has some connection to it, even on the periphery.

Infidelity affects the trajectory of our relationships. Whether we just discovered it. Whether it just happened. If it is currently happening. Or it happened to us decades ago. Maybe our parents did it to each other. Perhaps you are doing it or it’s being done to you. Not complicated at all, right? The sheer complexity is often misunderstood until it hits your life.

On top of that, we need to remember that just because someone does it, it doesn’t make them a serial killer. Or a sociopath or a narcissist. Do those people do these things? Sure. Chances are, though, the loved one in your life is not any of those things. And neither are you.

What is both fascinating and confounding about infidelity is there is not just one cause. There is no black or white answer. Trying to understand it is like crumpling up your ear buds in a bag and then attempting to untangle them. Figuring it out – the why and the how-do-we-fix-it – can be trial and error. And there is not just one way to do it.

The work of John Gottman is well respected in the field of human relationships. I admit that I am not incredibly versed on his work, but I came across a theory of his that attempts to explain why relationships break down. Or at least why a relationship might become fertile ground for an affair.

John Gottman says that relationships are comprised of “sliding door moments” – little opportunities to connect your hearts with each other. From Gottman’s perspective, there are the moments and then there is the decision of whether to engage or not.

A few years ago, I came across a story he told about his marriage in one of his books. It’s really stuck with me. I can relate and I bet you can, too. One evening as he was going to bed, he looked forward to curling up with a book. As he passed his wife, he noticed she was brushing her hair with a sad look on her face.

In this moment, he said, he needed to make a choice: to ask her why she looked sad or to decide that he didn’t want to get involved.

For our purposes, it doesn’t matter what he chose. The Gottmans have been married for several decades and are both renowned couples therapists so I’m assuming that they tune into their relationship.

Do you?

Are you tuned in enough to your partner to notice what they might be feeling? You might say, “well, he won’t talk to me.” Maybe you’ve encountered sliding door moments where you chose not to engage so he stopped volunteering information to you.

Many people think “working on our relationship” means BIG stuff. BIG vacations. BIG date nights. BIG conversations. Have you ever heard someone said, “She knows I love her because I send her flowers every week”?

While these things are great, it’s not what it’s all about. I’ll wager that if you took away all of the BIG, and you still liked each other, you’re doing something right. If you found that you couldn’t stand each other without the things, that says something, too.

It is widely agreed upon that our intimate relationships aren’t simply built on heavy conversations where we sit on our sofas for hours and flesh it out with each other. Those moments do matter. I see relationships like a brick wall: without the mortar in between, the wall would crumble. We need the mortar of everyday life together to fortify the structure. The little glances and cuddles and inside jokes you share make a difference. You may go to fancy restaurants or fabulous trips with your spouse and post it all on social media. But if she is ignoring the shift in your emotional barometer or you aren’t making the time to ask how his day is, the mortar needs a bit of thickening.

How does this factor into infidelity? It’s not a perfect fit necessarily, but in many cases, infidelity occurs when the connection dissipates. Some people report that they sought another relationship because the other person provided some degree of intimacy they couldn’t get in their primary relationship.

I could probably write myself into a rabbit hole about the causes. But if you’ve been in a relationship where one of you diverted your attention into another, I wonder what your experience with Gottman’s “sliding door moments” was. Put yourself in John Gottman’s shoes for a moment. In your relationship, did you engage or curl into bed with your book? I also recognize that these aren’t scientific or quantitative answers nor are our relationships necessarily founded on data. But engaging with each other affects the overall quality.

If you chose the book instead of inquiring over the sad look, could your sad-feeling partner resist the high school flame who has been sending her Facebook messages, telling her how beautiful she is? In most occasions, infidelity does start out this simple and evolves. Most people do not go looking for it. Could people say no to the advances of someone? Sure. But saying yes carries an electrical charge that men and women and everyone in between has found thrilling since the beginning of time.

Most of us desire the thrill we got from our partner when we first got together. And I think many of us think that if we maintain that state, our partner will never want to stray. Again, I cannot offer definitive answers other than “it depends”.
But I do know that choosing to engage with your spouse yields far greater results than the alternative. The book will always be there to be read tomorrow night.

If you are dealing with an infidelity issue and would like to explore the possibility of us working together, please email me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Can “The Bachelor” Help Us Keep Relationships in Perspective?

I get a lot of grief for watching The Bachelor.  In fairness, this year is the first time I’ve watched it for maybe fifteen years.  It’s crazy to think it’s been on that long.  I’ve always thought it’s sort of ridiculous and I find myself apologizing for watching it.  Or trying to offset my viewing of it by reading some super-literary tome.  I spend so much time apologizing for watching this show, but I also realize that no one ever apologizes for watching things like, I don’t know…sports.  My apologies to you sports fans.  It’s not something I have ever gotten into.

I find that keeping in touch with pop culture helps me as a therapist.  Not because these things are real life, but because million of people watch shows, read books, or listen to podcasts.  And chances are, sometimes the content of them strikes a chord with people and it might come up in session.

While The Bachelor is completely manufactured, it conjures up fantasies we often have about falling in love or finding “The One” or meeting our “Soul Mate”.  Inevitably, when I talk to my friends or colleagues about the show, little things might pop up about our own relationships, past or present.  How we found our partner, what we first fought about, or how we left someone who wasn’t right for us.

Last night, during “The Most Dramatic Bachelor Finale Ever!”, The Bachelor gave out his final rose.  Groan…I cannot believe I am even typing this cheese-ball stuff on my professional website!  Apparently, whatever happened has never happened before and there are one or more episodes now tacked on to the end of the season.  But alas, the show is coming to an end and I’ve suffered through (well, secretly, don’t we all sort of love it?) the confessional commentary of all the girls in the house tittering about each other and about how perfect they are for The Bachelor.  I realized last week that even though we all know it’s just a show, it can distort what we think or expect from relationships.  So here are a few thoughts I’ve had based on what I’ve seen:

  • You are enough.  It’s sometimes heartbreaking to watch the girl who is rejected by The Bachelor as she’s weeping in the back seat of a limousine, being chauffeured back to her regular life.  There are almost always tears, but quite frequently, a girl may sob and exclaim, “I wasn’t enough for him!” or “What’s wrong with me?”  I realize that these comments are made during a particularly sensitive moment, but a lot of people express that when a relationships ends.  No matter whether it’s a TV one or a real life one.  On some level, many people invest so much into falling in love or being swept away that they lose a sense of themselves.  For some, the end of a relationship is an attack on who they are and what they stand for.  Many people think that it’s impossible to love another without loving yourself first.  If you think that you as a human being are not enough, maybe that requires some investigation on your part.  Getting more in touch with who you are and what you truly need and desire may prevent you from repeating patterns in relationships.  And if you find that you’re happy being you and you thrive in many areas of your life and relationships, then perhaps this relationship was not the right one for you.
  • It’s just a TV show, not real life.  Some viewers mistakenly believe that the people on the show have a whirlwind romance, get a marriage proposal, and live happily ever after.  I can’t definitively say how these relationships work out because I don’t really watch this show with any regularity.  There are a handful of people who got married and stayed together, but most of these relationships fail to continue.  Recently I heard a contestant on an interview and she said that over the course of several weeks, even if you had been on several dates with the bachelor, you don’t spend more than a total of four hours with The Bachelor.  So that’s what I mean about this being not real life.  Making a decision about proposing or accepting a marriage proposal – or even saying “I love you” – based on spending a few hours with someone and sharing your most beautiful moments with millions of television views is not real.  A healthy relationship is about connecting in many ways, not only when you’re traveling to Paris or Lake Tahoe or Tuscany.
  • Even beautiful people get rejected.  Many people say, “If only I were more attractive/in better shape/thinner/had longer hair/had nicer clothes, I would find someone.”  Appearance is only part of the puzzle and no matter how attractive you are, you will likely experience rejection.  Attractiveness is not an armor that shields people from pain.  No matter what people look like, most everyone will suffer some form of adversity in their lives.  What can be attractive is not necessarily your appearance, but how you’ve managed to weather various storms in your life.

So now that the final rose has been given, it’s off to find the next little escape from reality.  Something tells me the next season of The Bachelor will be more of the same:  thirty attractive women looking for a marriage proposal after about four hours of dates!

If you are dealing with an infidelity issue and would like to explore the possibility of us working together, please email me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Pregnancy-Related Mental Health Concerns

This weekend, a story about a mother who had not seen a doctor for four months postpartum made the rounds on social media.  The woman stated, in a lengthy Facebook post, that her doctor cancelled her appointments three times and by the time she finally had an appointment, she was suffering from postpartum depression.  She reported that when she arrived, she was seen by a nurse practitioner who called the police to escort her to the emergency room.

What motivated me to write about this story is that there was a breakdown in a system somewhere.  The author of the post stated her belief that the healthcare system is broken.  There are certainly flaws in healthcare, like there are in every system and as mental health professionals, we strive to mend those gaps as much as we are able.  Depression and anxiety related to pregnancy and childbirth are more widely talked about:  by doctors, in mainstream books and articles about women’s health, and in pop culture.  Many states have created initiatives to require doctors and medical facilities to screen and provide information about it, too.

No system is perfect so just as you educate yourself about pregnancy and create a birth plan, preparing for the possibility of a pregnancy-related mood disorder should be considered.  If you have a pediatrician and a lactation consultant in place before your baby comes, why not consider having a referral for a therapist who specializes in perinatal mood disorders handy just in case?

There are things you can do to ensure that you are properly cared for during your pregnancy and thereafter.

  • Discuss mental health with your partner.  Hormonal changes during pregnancy and afterward can affect your mood.  It’s important to be open with your partner when you are not feeling like yourself, if you are struggling, or if you feel like harming yourself.  Come up with a game plan about how your partner can advocate for you in the event you are not feeling well.  That can mean calling your doctor and/or other important members of your support system to get you proper help.
  • Acknowledge that getting help does not mean you are weak, a bad mother, or a failure.  Many women fear they will appear weak if they are struggling.  Sometimes, women fear the judgment of other mothers, too. “Help” also doesn’t necessarily mean “medication”.  Your medical provider can help you decide what is the best course of action for you.
  • Tap into your support system.  In addition to your partner, who do you go to when you have a problem or need help with something?  This may include your parents, siblings, or close friends.  Discuss with them how to proceed if they notice that you are acting differently (including depressed mood, statements about maybe the family being better off without you, increased crying, excessive worrying, desire to isolate) and decide with them how to go about getting a medical or mental health professional involved.
  • Bring up the subject of mental health with your doctor if he/she has not done so already.  Most doctors are increasingly more comfortable discussing mental health with patients and they may have additional resources for you.
  • You don’t have to stay with your doctor.  I had so many questions about the mother I mentioned earlier, in terms of who her doctor was.  Did they have a good rapport?  Was this doctor canceling appointments on her during the pregnancy?  Changing doctors may feel like one more thing on your plate during pregnancy, but if you are not getting the care you need and deserve, why stay with that person?
  • Take advantage of a nurse case manager if your insurance company has one to follow you through your pregnancy.  Some insurance companies will have a nurse call you on a regular basis if you’ve had mental health needs in the past or various conditions during pregnancy.  In these cases, the case manager will almost always screen you for depression and will help you locate a therapist or psychiatrist to help you.  They can also help you make these appointments if you are unable to do so.
  • Insurance companies are not always the enemy.  Most providers and consumers will moan and groan about the restrictions placed upon them, but they can be used to gain access to better treatment.  Surely, some are better than others, but all insurance companies have a telephone number for member services.  I wonder if the outcome would have been different if someone in this mother’s support system (it would have likely had to be her husband because he’d have access to their pertinent insurance information) could have called the insurance company for advice on how to help her when she needed care and her medical provider repeatedly canceled her appointment.
  • File a complaint with the patient relations department of the hospital or healthcare system where your doctor is.  The mother in the Facebook post indicated she is not taking legal action in this case (though I’m not sure why she wouldn’t, given that she believed she was treated poorly).  If a medical provider works for a group and the provider dropped the ball on something, the group can get involved with helping the provider to improve their services. Your voice can make a difference by helping another mother avoid further bad experiences.

One of the best resources for pregnancy-related mental health issues is Postpartum Support International.  Their website is full of wonderful information as well as direct support in the form of a weekly chat for mothers and fathers and a non-urgent hotline for questions.  Being prepared can help you get the care you need.

If you are interested in the possibility of working with me, please contact me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.