Mike: Does it ever happen, in the course of counseling, that the parties come to an agreement that the best thing to do is divorce because the relationship just simply doesn’t have the foundation that it needs to be successful and if that’s the case, is that the difference between at least, if not, what I think is usually misnamed, a makeable divorce or at least one that is a little healthier than some of the bitter terrible things that can happen when a couple splits.
Karla: Well, divorce is always painful. When a person finds out that their spouse has been unfaithful, they are angry because they betrayed, even if the marriage was bad, even if they didn’t necessarily weren’t even sure if they wanted the marriage.
There is always a lot of anger. But, yeah sometimes you can sit there and talk to somebody and it can be a conclusion that this is not going to work.
A separation is good and bad for people. Separation can give people time to be separate, figured out their own stuff with having the conflict constantly going on in the mist of them but at the same time separation gives you kind of you already jumped through one of the hurdles, which is moving out, moving apart, living a separate life and for some people that becomes reinforcing that wow I can do this, I feel better away from that person.
And in that sense, separation can actually be something that allows you to say divorce isn’t so bad, I’ll think I’ll take that options.
But, separation can be good if the people together are doing nothing but fighting and in the case of the affair, it has to happen as some point if your spouse refuses to end the relationship with a person.
You don’t want to live somebody who is cheating on you every day in front of you and have you be so weak that you’re tolerating it because you’re afraid of losing that person. you have to get to a tough love stance and this won’t happen maybe the first day when you find out about it but you have to get to a tough love stance where you say I love you, I don’t want a divorce, I’m not sure if I can forgive what you have done but I am willing to try if you end the relationship but if you do not, you have got to move out or I am leaving until you tell me you have ended the relationship because you’re going to have to choose.
That can kind of be like a shock and awe thing because you can be like whoa, you’re not going to get the lover and me. This is going to cause you some pain.
It is going to be a price. You’re going to have people find out. You’re going to lose your marriage. If you have children, you’re going to be separated from those kids, at least part of the time.
We are going to split assets. You are going to go through a divorce. Not everybody involved in an emotional affair wants a divorce. In fact, they may be incredibly conflicted over whether or not they want to be with the person they are having the affair with or their spouse.
Because, remember a lot of times they get into the emotional affair that becomes so intense and probably physical without a plan to do.
They allowed it happen and now they are caught up in it and they may be very conflicted and very confused over whom they want. So, at some point, kind of like a tough love stance by the spouse with make the infidel count the cost and say whoa, do I want to lose my marriage, lose my family, and lose my life as it is in order to be with this person.
Because, remember, at some point, the partner, the lover becomes a person that they have problems with too and there are going to be a lot of hurt feelings, a lot of anger, a lot of issues involved on both of their sides from having gotten involved with an affair, especially if they are both going to have to end up divorcing their partners.
So, it’s kind of like a reality check. Does that make sense?
Mike: It does to me. now, I would think that you are also have to go about the very hard point of establishing boundaries and expectations and part of this is going to probably be, if not social media verdantly, even if somebody isn’t on Facebook or one of the other social media sites.
We still have very pervasive email and cell phones and things like that. Is there any room for privacy or secrets in the aftermath of an affair or does the situation just demand total access and total openness?
Karla: Well, at the beginning there has to be total access and total openness because whatever it is that the person was doing that kind of triggers you to go back.
In my own situation, it was years before we had all the internet stuff and before the affair that was husband was involved with, he was always accessible by his cell phone and he would always answer it or he would call me right back when I would call him.
During that time, he wouldn’t call me back for hours. He wouldn’t call me back for half a day. It was very different behavior.
So, one of the things that I needed was you will call me back immediately if cannot answer the phone and that has to be a major priority. the other thing was to I needed to check the cell phone, the cell bill, for that particular phone number that was her phone was not on the cell phone bill.
Now, had he had a really defensive attitude about that and you’re not going to do that, I don’t have to do that, I don’t have to tell you, that would have been the same behavior I had during the affair and that would have meant I couldn’t deal with it.
It would have triggered me for all of the feelings and the accusations and the lack of trust that within itself would have blown my marriage apart when we reconciled. Do you get that?
Mike: I certainly do. It makes perfect sense to me.
I would think that one of the things you’re probably address in your speaking engagements are some of the best practices that couples should engage into preventing themselves from being able to be a victim of an emotional affair and while this is not a fun topic or something that’s really a lot, I’ll go back to the word fun, it’s not necessarily a fun topic but I would I think that there are things that you would recommend that would keep a marriage fun and keep the relationship fresh.
Is that something that really goes hand and glove with preventing emotional affairs?
Karla: Absolutely. I mean, the best prevention is a great relationship, which means that you keep your… and all marriages have flows. There are times when we are busy with this life.
We are sick. We are tired. When babies are born, you’re working 70 hours a week to get establishment business. All that kind of stuff happens.
But, if you can make sure you can keep your, flirt with your spouse. If you have, keep your intimacy good. Attend to problems. Know your spouse’s needs and you don’t have to be a slave to meet everyone.
Nobody can do that. But, when we value somebody, when we care about them, we will want to know how they are doing. We will care about what they are thinking. And what happens in a marriage is we start to lose interest in what our spouse is thinking.
And, isn’t that interesting because the secretary for over the lunch, actually looked you in the eye and said wow do you like that, what does that mean to you?
And all of a sudden someone is interested in the little things you have to say and your thinking about my spouse doesn’t even know what I’m thinking or feeling and you can be right there and have that setup for affairs.
So, keeping your marriage good, keeping it interested, I mean, throw a little bit of stuff in there that you did when you were dating, be appreciative, be positive in the mist of having to deal with the realities of life.
Mike: Now, one of the principles that gets mentioned in your books is changing yourself and not them and it very difficult for any of us to be honest about who we are, how we present ourselves, and how we relate to our spouses or our partners.
Is there methods that you can recommend to people for maybe taking an honest look at yourself and say I bet if I change this, my partner will be much more responsive and much less defensive and maybe more open?
Karla: Well, most of the time, in most instances, we don’t really have power over making another person change. And in an affair situation, you certainly don’t have the power.
I mean, most people will say end the affair, end the friendship, don’t see that person again, and that rarely works unless the person is actually willing to end the relationship.
In that case, obviously, working on yourself is your only option and we really are all responsible for ourselves first, no matter what gets thrown our way, no matter what is going on, no matter what the other person is or isn’t doing.
We really all have to take a look at ourselves and say what am I thinking, what am I feeling, how am I making this worse, how can I make it better, what can I do to improve myself.
In an affair, what will happen after the screaming and the freak out and the anger and the threats and all that kind of things, everybody says, I bet you said it yourself, and most people say I will forgive anything but not an affair.
But yet, statistics show you that most people do in fact forgive affairs and stay with the infidel.
What will happen at some point in the relationship is that after all the threatening and all that goes, you will often see the spouse in an attempt to compete and woo the person back.
They will change their clothes, change their hair, change their attitude, start being involved with the kids, whatever it was they weren’t doing and they are aware us and usually they know that even before, they will start doing those things that they know their spouse wants in an attempt to woo that person back and woo them away from the partner.
Mike: Now, one of the things that you touched on briefly, and perhaps we can expand on this just a little bit, is the idea of separation as opposed to necessarily going straight to divorce.
I would see separation possibly as a chance let everybody cool off. Let everybody pause and reflect and maybe gather themselves and trying to take stock emotionally of what’s been going on and what is happening and where to go from here.
Is there a right way and a wrong way to approach separation? Also, the danger by separating you just simply making it easier for the infidel to carry on with their partner.
Karla: Absolutely. You do make it easier and that’s why a lot of people are afraid to separate and wont. Instead, they will latch tighter and try to pull the person closer to them because they don’t want the infidel all that time.
There’s kind of like a process that a person goes through when they find out that their spouse has gone through an affair. The first one they go through is shock denial.
They can’t believe it. They have trouble functioning. Maybe they are suspicions are now true or it just came out of left field and they had no idea. Then they get really angry.
Angry at the infidel. Angry at the partner. This anger can be intense. They make threats to throw the infidel out but usually don’t follow through at this point.
At this point, they might even contact the partner and tell the person off or threaten or go where they live or work and confront them. but then, after the anger subsides, they start going through a bargaining stage where they are scared and they are begging the spouse to stay and convincing them the affair was a mistake and that the partner is not as good as they are they don’t want to lose their family.
At this point, they change their clothes, change their hair, try to compete, offer to have sex, whatever it is that they think they weren’t doing before. they are still afraid of giving an ultimatum because they don’t want to push the person closer to that person, and remember they are panicky and they feeling like oh my gosh every minute they are not with me now they could be with that person and they are trying to prevent that.
Then they go through grief and loss and sadness and they are feeling like maybe the marriage is over, this is really big, maybe it’s not going to work, and maybe the person will leave.
Finally, they go into what they call acceptance. This is the grief process that we go through with any big loss. The final stage is acceptance. they accept the affair and at this point, out of the freedom that they can say okay, its happened, maybe there are some good reasons why it happened, I can live with the person and if this is healthy and it works right and they end the relationship and we fix the marriage or I can make it on my own if this person refuses to leave the other person.
They get stronger. And this is where the real time for an ultimatum is.
It’s when you can really feel strong and can follow through and then you can say here’s your choice, you can be with that person because you have free will, you entered into this relationship with me with free will and you have to stay in it with your free will but you have to be faithful.
So, you have to choose between me and the person. I want you to leave or I will move out and here are the conditions, if you come to me and you have ended the relationship and you prove to me, like I showed you with those signs, that you’re really repentant and you want to work on the marriage then we will begin to work on it.
In that, I’m going to give you x number of days to make that decision and to change what you’re doing. I’m going to either file for separation in this amount of time or for a divorce in this amount of time.
And you do this from a place of not threatening, panic, begging, pleading, but a place of strength. What you’re doing is your saying to yourself, you have a right to leave me but I’m not going to live with you while you’re seeing somebody else.
Mike: Do you have any recommended books and resources for people trying to save their marriage from an affair? Because, obviously, counseling might be the best option but it’s not necessarily an option that available to everyone.
Karla: My favorite book has been out for a long time and I actually know the author of this book and he has probably 30 plus years of ministry and research just on people in affairs.
His whole counseling practice has been for working with people in affairs. It’s called torn asunder recovering from extramarital affairs and it’s by Dave Carder.
He also has a workbook with it, so couples can get the book and do the work book together as partners, which will help them identify the cause of the affair, the things that needed to be changed.
You have a ton of information in there. I think it handles the whole gamut of all types of affairs and healing from them very well.
Mike: And what about resources that you have, that you can offer people? How do they get in touch with you? How can they learn more about you and perhaps find material that you have written or had made available online?
Karla: Well, my website is changemyrelatiosnhip.com and my name is Karla Downing. My books that I have written help people in difficult relationships.
It’s when you’re working with a marriage or a relationship with an adult child or a parent, a sibling, anybody that your struggling dealing with and your finding that you’re having problems and the person is not cooperating and doing what you need them to do and your kind of like, the previous question, your kind of like how can I work on this, how can I change me, how can I cope with this?
Then my books, 10 lifesaving principles for women in difficult marriages, and when love hurts 10 difficult relationships, will give both people all kinds of tool and, like I said, my books are written from a difficult point of view.
So, they are about lots of practical stuff but they also got a difficult perspective and scriptures in there that will help people to be able to combine their faith with the things that they are going to put into practices in their life.
So, I’ve got all types of things on my website, changemyrelationship.com. I, like I said, there’s also lots of PDF downloads and I’ve got some audio programs on some classes that I’ve taught on difficult relationships. So, there’s a lot there.
Mike: Karla Downing, our time has flown by and I just would really like to express my gratitude for you taking so much of your valuable time to discuss these very difficult and very pertinent issues with us today. Thank you so much.
Karla: You’re very welcome. It’s been my pleasure.
And this is Mike Hennessey here on behalf of the team here at relationship advice cafe. I’d like to thank you for listening and wish you the very best in your relationships. For more free tips and insides on relationships from hundreds of experts and authors please visit our website at www.relationshipadvicecafe.com.
About the author
Karla Downing is an author, speaker and licensed marriage and family therapist who offers biblical and practical advice for relationship issues.
She has published three books and numerous articles. Her website is www.ChangeMyRelationship.com.
Use this link to sign up for her free relationship e-newsletter with relationship tips and truths and get your free 15-Day Relationship Challenge at http://www.changemyrelationship.com/free15daydevotional.html.
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