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.

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.

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.

Infidelity Is Not a Laughing Matter

Stage Light

A number of years ago, I felt the need to bust past some creative blocks and signed up for some classes at the People’s Improv Theater in New York. Improv is what comedy giants like Tina Fey and Steve Carell credit for enhancing their performance.

Classes consist of various exercises and games. A suggestion is made by the instructor and someone creates a character and scenario based around it. Others join in, creating a spontaneous, organic scene that usually borders on absurdity but is accepted by the participants as reality.

The first thing you’re taught in an improv class is to say yes. To agree to whatever reality is drawn up in a scene. Your partner says you’re researchers in a lab with monkeys…so be it. The second thing you learn is to agree to that and then add on. In improv, it’s referred to as “Yes, and…” You’re researchers in a lab with monkeys…and the monkeys get out…and the lab is also on fire…and the fireman just served you divorce papers. You just go with whatever reality unfolds before you – no matter how outrageous.

I recently purchased an inexpensive banner from the dollar bin in Target. It’s bright blue with a glittery gold speech bubble that says, “Heck yes.” What I love about it is that it reminded me how necessary it is to open ourselves up to the possibilities of the world, in the same way that I learned to say “Yes, and…” in improv class a decade ago. I get how ridiculously cheesy and therapist-y of me to say something like that. You may even be rolling your eyes at the idiocy of talking about improv when people’s worlds are crashing down. Maybe it’s a stretch, but there can be value in changing up our perspective a little bit. I’m not generally one who sees the world through rose-colored glasses nor do I see the complexities of my clients’ lives in such a superficial manner.

What I’m trying to say is that we can’t get through adulthood without getting knocked around the ring every so often (or what feels like all the damned time). If we don’t respond to the punches, we get steamrolled. The bulk of my practice involves working with individuals and couples who have issues with infidelity and I realize that the choices are to get knocked out or come out swinging.

Saying “Yes, and…” can seem like a condescending way to approach infidelity, but that is not my intent. Looking at it through this lens allows you to confront some of the pain in your life that perhaps you suspected or knew anyway. Maybe you didn’t want to engage in conflict or stand up for yourself or acknowledge that you’ve had some unmet needs over the years. Saying “Yes, and…” allows us to say “this is the worst thing I’ve ever been through, but maybe it’s best for us both to move on.” It also might allow us the possibility to say, “I’ve done some things I’m not proud of, but I want to make things right with my wife.”

There are no cut-and-dry answers in situations where a partner has engaged in another relationship, even when people have committed to working it out. But sometimes the first step is just to say yes. And then commit to working through however things unfold.

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.