Frank Relationships: Dr. Aaron Anderson, Family Therapist, on Infidelity

Sunday, Oct. 20th 2013 11:02 PM

 

So you suspect your spouse is in a relationship outside of yours? What warning signs do you look for? How do you cope with the initial shock of finding the truth, if it’s true? How do you move forward? Stay tuned as we discuss what most people call “infidelity” with marriage and family therapist Aaron Anderson.


DR. AARON ANDERSON, FAMILY THERAPIST, ON FIDELITY
Guests: Dr. Aaron Anderson, Mark
Date: October 14, 2013

Frank: So you suspect your spouse is in a relationship outside of yours? What warning signs do you look for? How do you cope with the initial shock of finding the truth, if it’s true? How do you move forward? Stay tuned as we discuss what most people call “infidelity” with marriage and family therapist Aaron Anderson.

Welcome to Frank Relationships where we provide a candid, fresh and frank look into relationships with goals of acceptance, respect and flexibility. I’m Frank Love and you can find me, my blog and my various social media incarnations at franklove.com.

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Well, today’s guest has extensive training and experience in family and marriage counseling. He received his Master’s Degree in marriage and family therapy and did his doctoral studies in family science. I didn’t even know there was a field called family science.

Dr. Gayl: Now you know.

Frank: Okay, you are going to start it off like that. Alright. In addition to his education and training, he teaches, writes and presents on topics related to marriage and families. He’s currently on the board of directors of the Colorado Association of Marriage and Family Therapist and is also a regular guest contributor to various marriage counseling blogs and websites, including marriageadvice.com, The Professors House, The Singles Warehouse and familyshare.com. He’s also the editor for the marriage section of the Good Men Project. I’m sure we’re going to learn about the Good Men Project.

Dr. Gayl: You could probably benefit from the Good Men Project.

Frank: Okay. That’s two shots and we haven’t even got started yet.

Dr. Gayl: I wanted to get them in before you got started.

Frank: Okay. He is Mr. Aaron Anderson. Welcome to the show.

Aaron: Hello, thank you. Glad to be here.

Dr. Gayl: Good morning Mr. Anderson. You see how we roll already, right?

Aaron: Hopefully I can keep up with the shots that are going on.

Frank: Don’t get hit. She can be pretty wild with them at times. So, I’m just ask her to swing at me.

Aaron: Oh boy, I look forward to it.

Frank: In addition to today’s expert, Mr. Anderson, we’ve also got a layman in the house and we’ll be talking with him. His name is Mark. He’s a married man and recently experienced infidelity in his relationship and he considers himself a devoted husband who’s involved in his church, supports his family and who wants his relationship to last. He’ll be joining us shortly to help us sift through some of these issues and to get Mr. Anderson’s advice firsthand.

Let’s kick it off. Warning signs–one of the most common signs of infidelity is when your spouse becomes emotionally distant. Number one, is that true? Number two, what should a partner do if they notice this happening?

Aaron: When their partner starts becoming emotionally distant, you mean?

Frank: Yes.

Aaron: Probably the best thing is to bring it up with someone and say, “Hey honey, you know I’m feeling kind of distant lately from you. I feel like you’re distancing from me. Is there something in the relationship or is there something that we can do to help cure some of the distance?”

Bring it up to them in a non-accusatory way. You never know, you could be wrong, right? If they are distant that doesn’t always mean that they’re stepping out. But just address it with, is probably the best way is to get things on the table, let them know that you’re available to them, that you want to make your relationship better. And again, not be accusing that anything’s going on yet. Just help them feel good about bringing up whatever needs to be brought up.

Frank: Is bringing up a potential–and I say, I call it what most people call, infidelity. Is bringing that up in your relationship or to your partner, is that automatically accusatory? Does it have an accusatory slant?

Aaron: You know, regardless of whether the partner bringing it up is trying to be accusatory or not, usually the one that’s hearing it feels like they’re being accused. Even the ones who are doing infidelity or are stepping out, they still feel accused even though they know that they are. And so, even if they’re trying not to accuse them, the person receiving it still feels accused most of the time anyway.

Frank: And so what does person do with that? What should be done or could be done differently or should there be anything done differently? You just have to put it on the table and see what happens next?

Aaron: Yeah, just put it on the table. I think just to recognize, “No matter how I say this, they’re probably going to feel accused or they’re going to feel cornered by this,” and so that leads up to the spouse bringing it up that “I need to say this as gently as possible, knowing that this is going to sound accusatory anyway.” If I’m that and I’m upset and maybe I even have evidence that there’s infidelity going on, I need to make sure that I’m bringing this up very, very softly, because no matter how I bring it up they’re going to feel accused anyway.

Frank: What’s it mean to be emotionally distant? Do you come into the studio in the morning and you talk about things that have nothing to do with what we’re doing? Do you–

Dr. Gayl: Come in the studio?

Frank; Not communicate effectively between shows? Do you give shots and things like that when your co-host is doing introductions? I mean, I don’t know, I’m just fishing.

Aaron: Some of those, yeah Frank, you just mentioned, I’m sure pretty good signs, though–

Dr. Gayl: Do you need some time, Frank? You need some more time?

Now Aaron, let me ask you this, some couples like to check-in. Is that okay? Should couples check-in, monthly, weekly to see what’s up or do you think that becomes annoying for the other partner?
Aaron: Oh absolutely, no check-ins are great for a relationship. A really great check-in is just *(inaudible) 08:56. You can have an official check-in where you sit down and maybe have things written out. “Honey, I noticed you this, this week,” or “I’m sorry that I did that this week.” You can have those kinds of official check-ins.

For the most part, those official check-ins, I haven’t seen couples don’t follow through with them very often, because they’re kind of uncomfortable and just the officialness about them kind of tacky and forced.

Dr. Gayl: So what do you mean by they don’t follow through with them? What’s an example of an official check-in that people don’t follow through with?

Aaron: I do this game sometimes in therapy and I’ll have my couples do this outside of therapy too, just so they can get used to talking about heavier subjects than they usually have been used to talking to. It’s very point blank. I call it “three things I hate about you” and the purpose isn’t to start an argument. The purpose is to simply bring up things that maybe you did this week that were annoying or three things that are still going on that I wish weren’t. The purpose is, again, to get them talking about things that they are uncomfortable about. Things like that would be an official check-in where they are deliberately taking time to talk about their relationship.

Frank: Aaron, I appreciate you asking me that question, because I’ve really wanted to sit here and talk to Dr. Gayl about that. You know three things I hate about her.

Dr. Gayl: He did not ask you that question.

Frank: What are you talking about? I heard him. He was clear.

Dr. Gayl: He did not ask you that question. He said he utilized that as a technique in therapy and then couples take it outside of therapy as their homework and hopefully it brings them closer.

Frank: Okay, alright.

Aaron: Hopefully and it might work for–

Dr. Gayl: You have issues.

Aaron: *(inaudible) 10:56.

Dr. Gayl: He has issues Aaron. Do not mind him.

Frank: Can check-ins really be counted on? When you sit down to try to get things on the table with your partner, is it reasonable to think that you’re going to get it all out or that your partner is even comfortable putting something on the table when you all or when you want to put it on the table? Isn’t it either more reasonable to have check-ins not very often, meaning I suggest once a year.

Dr. Gayl: Once a year?

Frank: Or?

Dr. Gayl: Are you serious?

Frank: Well, I mean, there are different kinds of check-ins. Okay, I grant that. So, if I’m checking in–

Dr. Gayl: I’m going to let you go a whole year and we not going to check-in. We’re not going to see what’s going on with you? Really, Frank?

Frank: There are different types of check-ins. So, I can check-in with you to see–

Dr. Gayl: That’s like saying I’m not going to balance my checkbook for the whole year. I’m just going to let things go or I’m not going–

Frank: I can check-in with you.

Aaron: [Good] 12:02 analogy, Dr. Gayl.

Frank: I can check-in with you periodically to see if it’s okay if I talk sometimes. I could check-in with you periodically to see various things. We could just chat. However, a big check-in, I suggest where we really sit down and discuss how things went this year and how our relationship is doing–I suggest that once a year.

Dr. Gayl: Let me say that. So, one of my friends who’s also a therapist.

Frank: Now we know you’re lying. You don’t have no friends.

Dr. Gayl: One of my friends and her husband-well, you know we’re lying, because I’m not married. So, one of my friends and her husband, they check-in every year at their anniversary. They do a big check-in–

Frank: Okay.

Dr. Gayl: Like you’re speaking of.

Frank: So you’re actually agreeing with me?

Dr. Gayl: Wait a minute, let me finish. Let me finish. No, I’m not. However, they do–I guess you would call it a mini check-in, because a check-in to me is a check-in. They also check-in periodically–I don’t know how often–throughout the year to ensure that they’re doing well.

Their big check-in at their anniversary is to see, “Where we were last year, where do we want to go in our relationship moving forward. How do we want to raise our children? How do we want to move forward and what are some things that we want to continue to work on?” But before the year comes up, we still need to check-in and sit down to see what’s going on.

Frank: I just said that I think it’s reasonable to have smaller check-ins. I don’t even think you would disagree with me right now. You’re just; you just wanted your mike time. That’s it.

Dr. Gayl: Whatever.

Aaron: She’s trying to steal your show.

Frank: I think that’s what–let’s check-in, Dr. Gayl.

Dr. Gayl: Dr. Gayl with Frank Love.

Frank: Okay.

Aaron: You know, check-ins happen on lots of different levels and they don’t always have to be official check-ins where you sit down and have a heavy conversation about, “Honey, how are we doing,” and “Honey, where do we need to be going and what more should we be trying to do?” I think *(inaudible) 14:16 is a reasonable unofficial check-in, where you go out, you have fun with each other and whether you like it or not, your spouse is always checking your temperature in your relationship.

When you’re out on a date, she’s checking you about how involved you are and how romantic you’re being and when you’re making love, it’s the same way. Your spouse is always checking your temperature anyway and those unofficial check-ins are a really great way to check the temperature of the relationship and really see how you’re doing.

Now, depending on what the temperature is, is depending on whether those official talks need to be happening or not. And if you feel that your spouse is being distant when you’re making love or if they’re being distant when you’re out on dates and they’re being distant even when you’re out with the family on vacation to the lake or something like that, then you can have an official conversation with them and say, “Hey honey, I’ve been feeling like you’ve been really distant lately,” and you do those things that we just talked about earlier to do those check-ins.

Those check-ins don’t have to always be official all the time. I think when you go checking in more ways every minute.

Frank: I really want to point out a slightly different culture that we seem to be living in. See, we’re on the east coast Aaron, and you’re in the Colorado, Utah region. And on the east coast, we don’t go to the lake to vacation, that’s I–

Dr. Gayl: Well, I swim in the lake for the triathlon.

Frank: You can go jump in a lake. But we don’t do that. Where do we go? We might go to the beach.

Dr. Gayl: I don’t know where you go, Frank.
Frank: We go to the Caribbean or something like that. We don’t go to the lake. That is–

Dr. Gayl: Are we missing out, Aaron? He said, “Oh man.”

Frank: That sounds nice.

Aaron: You guys have good vacations up there. I need to move.

Frank: No. I want to come to the lake.

Dr. Gayl: You need to just get out of D.C. That’s all you need to do.

Frank: Alright, if you told your partner that infidelity is a deal breaker, like, “If you do this, I’m gone.” If you’ve told them that, can you really expect a heart-to=heart, a revealing conversation about that matter? Should they decide that’s what they want to do?

Dr. Gayl: What do you mean by that, Frank?

Aaron: Oh, boy.

Frank: Let him answer the question. I think he understood. See?

Aaron: Let me see if I understand.

Dr. Gayl: Right.

Aaron: What you’re saying Frank, is that if I’ve already put it out there that I am going to give you the ultimate consequence if you cheat on me, can I really expect an honest conversation about whether you cheated on me or not, because you’re probably going to lie. Is that kind of what you’re saying?

Frank: Now, how is it, he got what I said and you would sit there and say to me, “What are you talking about, huh?”

Dr. Gayl: I didn’t say, “What are you talking about?”

Frank: That doesn’t make any sense to me.

Dr. Gayl: I did not say–

Frank: Could you clarify?

Dr. Gayl: I did not say that.

Frank: That doesn’t–“Huh?”

Dr. Gayl: I did not say that.

Frank: He nailed it to the hilt.

Dr. Gayl: Even if he hadn’t a nailed it, you probably would of said, “He nailed it,” just so you could disagree with me.

Frank: Okay. Now you say I do what you do?

Dr. Gayl: Right.

Frank: Okay, yes Aaron.

Dr. Gayl: At any rate.

Frank: Yes, you nailed it. Let’s hear the answer, please.

Aaron: You know, probably not. Here’s what I think about that, is that most people who have cheated, usually–and I don’t have any statistic to this is. This is just my own experience from my own clinic. Most folks who have stepped out on their partner aren’t forthcoming with this anyway, right? So, you can reasonably expect whether you set that boundary or not, that they’re probably not going to be forthcoming anyway. Maybe setting that upfront that “if you cheat on me, I’m out,” maybe hinders those conversations even more. In other words, that might make your spouse just a little more reluctant to come out about it. But they’re going to be reluctant coming out about it anyway.

There’s a reason that infidelity happens in secret, right? Who doesn’t know that that’s going to her their spouse.

Frank: Or that their spouse might be negatively affected. I’m careful about using, terms like, “hurt your spouse,” particularly–yes it would hurt, but that doesn’t mean you hurt them. I think there’s a big difference.

Dr. Gayl: Your actions did hurt them. What are you talking about?

Frank: There’s a difference between someone being hurt and you hurting them. As far as I’m concerned you hurting them has a connotation that you–

Dr. Gayl: Your actions hurt them.

Frank: No. You meant to hurt them. There was harm intended on what you did. There’s a difference between it being a side effect.

Dr. Gayl: Now, Frank if you go out and you find another daytime wife– because I’m your daytime wife. If you go out and find another daytime wife, right and you know that’s going to hurt my feelings. You directly–maybe you didn’t intend to do it.

Frank: That’s the point.

Dr. Gayl: No, no, no, that’s not the point. Maybe–

Frank: That’s my point.
Dr. Gayl: But that’s the wrong point. Maybe you didn’t intend to do it, but your actions hurt me.

Frank: You were hurt by my actions, is different than what I did hurting you. There’s a difference. If you tell me that if I find another–

Dr. Gayl: Daytime.

Frank: Daytime, yes, wife. If you tell me that, you tell me that would hurt you, you might very well be hurt, but that doesn’t mean if I were to do that it was done with the intention of hurting you and so one of the things that I think is manipulative is to use–

Dr. Gayl: Here we go–

Frank: Is to use that–

Dr. Gayl: With that manipulation thing.

Frank: To use that type of terminology. Any of us can say, “He hurt me. She hurt me,” and it really is a heavy way of dealing with our partner, instead of “I’m hurt.”

Dr. Gayl: No, that’s a copout, is what it is.

Frank: There’s a difference between “He hurt me–“
Dr. Gayl: It’s a copout, is what it is–

Frank: And “I’m hurt.”

Dr. Gayl: Because it’s giving you a pass. Like, “Oh, it’s not my fault that I cheated and it hurt your feelings. That’s not my fault.” Yes it is.

Frank: Are you telling me people don’t do that all the time. People–

Dr. Gayl: They do it, but they’re wrong.

Frank: People do it all the time where they’re able to say–imagine if you told me you didn’t like it when I wore red shoes and I wore red shoes anyway. I’m not wearing red shoes to hurt you. Now you may say, “Hey, I told you if you wore red shoes–“

Dr. Gayl: Completely different, Frank.

Frank: No, the principle is the same.

Dr. Gayl: No it is. You wear red shoes is completely different than you having an intimate or emotional relationship with someone else when you’re involved in a committed relationship with your real wife. That’s completely different.

Frank: The principle is the same.
Dr. Gayl: It’s not.

Frank: Where it is not. There’s a difference between doing something that would bother someone else and doing something to bother someone else.

Dr. Gayl: Okay. You’re wrong. I disagree.

Frank: They’re not the same at all. Aaron, you got any–

Dr. Gayl: We can move forward or you can ask Aaron for his feedback, but I believe you’re wrong.

Frank: Aaron, you got anything?

Aaron: For me the jury is out. I’m sorry I’m not much help here. Actually, but in my practice, I got to say, I see that these couples go back and forth about this all the time where he’ll say, “Honey I know I cheated, but I didn’t do it meaning to hurt you.” And she’ll say, “Really? You thought that this wouldn’t hurt me?” And he’ll say something like, “Well, I didn’t think about it at all, actually. I didn’t mean for this to happen.” And in that case I do have to step back and ask him, “Really? You didn’t mean for this to happen? How did this accidentally happen? Explain how you didn’t mean get undressed and didn’t mean to do the things that happened.”

Frank: Well, let me–let me.

Aaron: I go back and forth, how can somebody not mean to, actually?

Frank: Let me jump in with the male-female piece. I don’t want it to just be men do it, women don’t or that kind of thing. I understand in that example, it could’ve been male-female, but it could be either way.

Aaron: Yeah.

Frank: That’s one piece I want to address. And then the other is, her saying, “Really you thought it wouldn’t hurt me,” that doesn’t mean he did it to hurt her. That’s not clearly addressed in her making that statement. So, “Honey I did not do this to hurt you–“

Dr. Gayl: And actually I’m not even arguing that point. I’m arguing the point of that, okay you did it. However, your actions are what caused me to have hurt feelings.

Frank: That’s not completely true. Your perception of my actions–

Dr. Gayl: And my perception was right in this situation and your actions caused my feelings to be hurt. Why, because you are–I’m the victim, you’re the person who went out and kind of our–whatever type of commitment you have, you kind of put them on the back burner for your actions, for your current pleasure. So, your actions caused my feelings to be hurt. I’m not even arguing the point that you didn’t think about it, that you didn’t know that, “I didn’t mean to hurt you, you probably didn’t.” However, the action that you committed hurt my feelings.

Frank: So when you say, it’s–I said, “It’s your perception of my actions that caused your feeling–“

Dr. Gayl: Your perception is wrong.

Frank: To be hurt. Well, let’s be clear about what I said. You can change–you, yourself without me doing anything can change your perception of my actions. That is–

Dr. Gayl: To make it be okay for you to cheat?

Frank: Or I can do the same with you, yeah, so it’s not just one-sided.

Dr. Gayl: I think we should move on.

Frank: The other thing is you said, “You’re the victim and that goes to the very heart of–“

Dr. Gayl: I said that for you to go ahead. Go on your tangent. I probed you. Go on your tangent I did it on purpose.

Frank: The victim piece, it’s a major concern. Many of us–

Dr. Gayl: Not that many should continue in the victim role.

Frank: Many of us feel it necessary to be the victim instead of looking at the situation or the scenario as that of someone had a given desire, given need that wasn’t even directly related to you, but it’s how a person decided they wanted to conduct themselves. And if you insist on considering yourself the victim, there’s but so much that can be done about that. But if you also want to see yourself as a partner or as supportive in looking at the scenario differently not as a victim–

Dr. Gayl: Let me support you, because you cheated.

Frank: I’m going to support you in whatever you do. That can be your position in your relationship. It’s very possible. It is very, very possible.

Aaron: Let me see if I can help out here a little bit. Dr. Gayl, I think I see hurt where you’re coming from. If I’m-and I am, I’m married. So, if my spouse cheats on me, you know what, I think that’s absolutely appropriate to feel hurt. Hey, I put a level of trust in her and I have invested my emotional stock into her and I trusted that she would act faithfully to me and that she would hold her feelings, care and love and affection in complete fidelity to me. And so, here I am walking along with this assumption that this is how our relationship is, that she has complete fidelity to me and she cheats, right?

Dr. Gayl: Right.

Aaron: I think that’s perfectly natural to feel hurt. I think that’s appropriate to feel hurt.

Now Frank, I see your point here now as well that–and I have to say the successful couples–the couples that do overcome infidelity are the ones where the injured partner– the one who’s cheated on, gets to a place, where they say, “You know what? What happened isn’t okay. It should never be okay and I’m not going to let it affect my feelings anymore.” In other words, “I’m going to learn to forgive or I’m going to learn to not let these feelings canker the relationship anymore, because–” for whatever reason they come up, that’s up to them. But they have to come to a place where they do exactly what you’re saying. They say that, “You know, I don’t have to let this hurt my feelings anymore.”

It’s appropriate that they do and honestly, the couples who divorce over it, I honestly can’t blame them, because the does, it hurts and I think it’s absolutely appropriate. But they do have the ability to not let that hurt them so much. In order to really recover from the affair, they need to utilize that ability.

Frank: I’m going to take what you just said, one step further and you basically positioned it as couples that have been together or that have been promised some level of “fidelity,” that sort of thing. I’m going to say, it even hurts when you are not necessarily monogamous or when you have not necessarily stated that you’re going to just be with one person, when you find out that the person you’re with has had sex with someone else. It hurts then. I don’t disagree with any of that. But the thing is, what I’m saying is the hurt in some level, at some level, it’s almost innate. It almost comes with the territory just of relationships.

Now, where we get into interesting waters, is thinking that when we began to say, “Okay it’s just me and you” or “We’re married,” or “We’re monogamous that it now is even–it’s justified or it’s solidified where, “If you were to do that, my hurt is 10 times more justified than what it would have been if we would have not said that.”

We just figure out a way to be heavier on one another. But the issue I’m saying is, “It hurts no matter what.” Let’s not make it about whether you’re married or monogamous or whatever have you. There is a degree of pain that is innate in relationships and sometimes we just pass the buck onto, “You didn’t do what I said. You didn’t hold up your end of the bargain,” and that’s not completely fair.

Aaron: Yeah, in that case, the spouse that was cheated on, is still being held hostage by the spouse who cheated, because they’re still letting those hurt feelings from the affair canker them. I’m not the only person who’s seen, I’m sure. But we’ve all seen those bitter, bitter divorces where they’re still angry at each other 10 years–

Frank: Yeah.

Aaron: And they’re letting those hurt feelings–they’re saying, “You hurt me and I’m still letting it affect my life, because you hurt me, you jerk.” Come on. You’re divorced. It’s been 10 years. Come on, really? You’re still doing it?
Frank: Yeah.

Aaron: And so people do have an ability to not let their spouse hurt them. They can still heal, whether their spouse is apologetic or willing to accept accountability or not. So, if I’ve been cheated on, I don’t have to let that canker me, regardless of whether my spouse is willing to accept responsibility or apologize or not.

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You’re listening to Frank Relationships and we’re talking with Aaron Anderson, a licensed marriage and family therapist and blogger. And joining us right now is Mark, a man that considers himself a devoted husband of four years and who recently experienced infidelity in his relationship. Mark, welcome to the show.

Mark: Good morning, Frank. How are you doing this morning?

Frank: Great. Okay, tell us about your relationship.

Mark: Well, let’s see. Definitely I knew my spouse probably for about eight or nine years before we ended up getting married. Got married in September of 2009 and from there I thought everything was pretty good. Everything was straight and solid.

Also, during that time I entered school into seminary as well, that’s where the church [pieces] 33:36 kind of kicked up a little bit more. And from there, one weekend while I went to school, we just experienced trouble maybe the week before when we tried to go out just for a little downtime that I had from school and had a big argument.

From there, what I found out was that the next weekend–I didn’t find out until probably a month or two month later that she had an affair.

Frank: You’ve listened to the show–the first half hour of the show.

Mark: Yeah.

Frank: How does the conversation that you heard the three of us having–how does it rub you?

Mark: Sitting back and really listening to it, I think where I’ve kind of taken it is, that I do feel the victim piece right now. Very much the pain, if you will. It’s still pretty raw. It hasn’t been quite a year yet, since I found out about everything. And finding out that wasn’t, well that was a physical act that happened between and a possible pregnancy it also came from it. So, I’m thinking my first child is our own and I didn’t find out until the day of an ultrasound that she might have been carrying his child and about the whole affair and everything else after I had asked a couple of times before. But then, also I guess past that, some of the other pain has gone on is that I found out that there were other people when I was totally about her and that there had been other people. So, when you talk about the pain, if you will of–

Frank: In the marriage?

Mark: Well, even before the marriage while we were dating and thinking that we were exclusive–that there were other people. And I think between there and also her friends that have so much to say right now and there’s not even nature of, “Hold on. Let me back up to protect my husband right now. I kind of understand where he is and the hurt and the pain right now.” I think that very much so, that I feel like it me against the world right now.

Dr. Gayl: Well, Mark, let me ask you some obvious questions, and because it’s still fresh, you may not want to answer, but–

Frank: And say that.

Dr. Gayl: Yeah, clearly say that. What signs if any–hindsight is 20/20, so now that you’ve had time to process, review, go back, think whatever, what signs were there?

Mark: I think probably maybe a distance that’s gone one. And I think in terms of our relationship, I think there’s one very much where she’s passive aggressive. So, I think with that maybe things that were done passive aggressively that I maybe missed out on it at first that maybe now makes sense. And I think even very early on when we got together. One time she was very candid with me and I just felt like she wasn’t all in. And she actually admitted it to me, a couple of days before we had another blow up that she wasn’t all in, that she was worried about my health. The first time she had seen me pretty much really, really sick, having to be hospitalized and stuff and not being able to get a diagnosis or treatment and–

Dr. Gayl: This is prior to the marriage?

Mark: This was actually four months into being married. We weren’t even in a half a year. And I think with that and some of the losses that she’s had with other men in her life, she just didn’t want to get close to me and then feel like okay, another man has left her.

I think that there are some other issues that predate me that came into this. Maybe had I picked up those as well, that I would have known before all this went down.

Frank: Is there any part of you that’s willing to say, “Okay, she’s done this before our marriage, she’s done this in our marriage, I’m willing to just accept that this is something that she’s going to do–“

Dr. Gayl: Like this is her pattern of behavior.

Frank: “And if I’m with her, I love her and I’m just going to accept that behavior,” and we move on.
Mark: Well, I think, you know, I can accept some of it. I think the thing–

Frank: You said you can or cannot?

Mark: I can. I can accept–

Frank: Okay.

Mark: But I think the thing where I differentiate with her sometimes when we tried to have discussions around the topic and I can do it in a cool manner–I think the thing that I look for is accountability and acceptance to say, “You know what? I did this and it was wrong.” Not to be dismissive and I think to be a little bit more sensitive. And I think definitely be one that is in ministry, I can offer the same forgiveness that I believe that I’m given. But I think that, one, I need to see that and two; I think there needs to be a shift in the paradigm, in our relationship to feel like, I’m not coming in second, third or really 25th–is where I told her, even yesterday, “I need to know that I’m number one,” and that that has changed and that will be the way that it is forever and ever. Amen.

Frank: Okay, part as I see it, part of acceptance is not necessarily needing your partner to say, “I was wrong.” If she continually does it, at some level, we’re deluding ourselves into thinking that she believes that she’s wrong. Clearly, she doesn’t. It’s something that she continues to do. How–

Dr. Gayl: I disagree with that.
Frank: Well, how do you get to the point of not needing her to be wrong and also being willing to say that to her, if you can even get your mind around that. I know there’s a lot there. That’s not an easy thing–

Dr. Gayl: Yeah, because it’s fresh and it’s new and it goes back to playing the victim role. You are the victim in this here situation Mark, but the thing is, do you say, “Okay, this happened to me,” and then you worked through it and you leave it there or do you continue to play the victim role forever and ever. And another question I have is–

Frank: Can he answer my question?

Dr. Gayl: Go ahead.

Mark: Okay, I guess the answer to the last one–because I remember that one. I guess the first was there–I think that to get passed the victimization and stuff like that and to just really try and move on, one is in acceptance and two is kind of really offering forgiveness and being able to walk away from there and just saying, that all is really forgiven and all is well with everything at home.

But I feel like, I guess part of that is, that it’s kind of hard to really do that, I think in the face of really looking at it and I guess cavalierly feeling like one, all the power’s in her hands. Two, when I ask questions about it, I don’t think that I could anything in the way that I get answers or other things where I have questions, and it’s always kind of an attitude or protective nature of the other person who I never even got a chance to really get at it and talk with him about. So, it was something that really has been very raw with that.

Frank: And what about the acceptance? What about the acceptance piece in terms of her not needing to be wrong?

Mark: I guess, I would hope that she would acknowledge that she is wrong and really get that and be able to move forward, but if not then, I just have to really kind of just say, “Okay, this is what I’ve been dealt with in the hands of cards of being married and that this is going to be what it is and it may not ever change.”

Frank: Aaron, do you have anything you want to throw in there?

Aaron: Yeah, I’m listening intently actually Mark, because I guess that would be the question for you, is you mentioned the accountability–her taking accountability is important for you and that would help you to heal. That would help you feel healed. Have you ever thought about what would happen if you don’t get that?

Mark: I think with that, if I don’t get it I think I’m really going to have to look at a term of just trying to really separate right now, because I don’t think that is something that I can stay in and you just feel like its okay to do and “it’s okay to hurt me.”

I think at the end of the day, where I’m at right now is just that I’m in a very painful place and I think with that I don’t feel like there is a level of acceptance as is, “I understand that you’re really hurting and also that I want to be there to comfort you and I understand that you’re hurting *(inaudible) 41:15.”

Frank: Isn’t there a difference between “I understand that you’re hurting,” and “I am wrong?” Let me ask you, Mark. Let me see what you have to say on that and then I want to kick it back over with Aaron, because it’s kind of in line with what we’ve been talking about for the entire conversation.

Mark: I think Frank, to be very honest with you, yeah I think there is a difference between saying that “I’m hurting” and “I’m wrong.” I think those two things are pretty much mutually exclusive. But I think, one, if even if we got the first step of understanding that I’m hurting, I don’t think that we understand that you were wrong and trying to even deal with that.

I think it’s hard, if you will, when I’m up half the night, if you will and then she sleeps soundly and everything like that and I’m really going through and she’s like go to sleep with you kind of just thinking about it. I wake up and you’re still kind of thinking about it. But it’s just I haven’t had much rest or anything else like that, the weight loss and the other stuff that’s gone on around this whole topic. And it’s just like, “I’m not at peace right now, so I don’t think you can understand that I still feel kind of trapped or in hell.

Dr. Gayl: Mark, let me also ask you, how does the fact that you’re in school for seminary play a role in all of this?

Mark: I think that’s one of the places that it definitely hurts. I think that I just told God, “Hey, I’m trying to do everything for you and I’m trying to do everything the right way,” and I feel like this is the way that I got repaid.

On the day that it happened–she doesn’t like to stay at home by herself, so I ended up driving back home after driving down the school. And I go to school about two hours away from where I live. And to do that and make the sacrifice after being up at 4:00 A.M, getting home at 12:00 A.M. and then having to drive back down again Saturday and I’m thinking, “Gee, while I was out you were out doing ‘x, y and z,'” and other things about not knowing if you had protection on and other stuff like that.

It’s something that’s really hard and also having to preach sometimes on forgiveness, it’s been something that’s been really wrong, but it’s also been something that I’ve been willing to try and do here and to give forgiveness. But I think also, I just look at it like a level of understanding. I think right now what I really need is a level of compassion.

I think the other thing that I really look at are her friends that seem to be overly involved in the things that they’re allowed to say and are allowed to do, that I don’t think she steps up, because she’s docile a lot of the times and doesn’t say anything to protect, especially in this season that I’m going through.

Frank: Her friends are overly involved in terms of protecting her or protecting you or what?

Mark: They’re overly involved in terms of opinions. They’re overly involved in terms of how they come off to attack. I’ve gotten private messages like via Facebook or email that have so much to say, that it has been very raw and rubbing me very wrong. But it’s because I think she’s given so much information in seasons of where she’s been hurt that it now is a place to where she has empowered them and doesn’t say anything so they feel pretty much justified to say whatever’s *(inaudible) 44:12.

Dr. Gayl: Not only that Mark, what part do you feel you played in it? This just didn’t start over night. She just didn’t have this affair a weekend while you were gone away to school. This has been ongoing. This has been her kind of behavior. You guys probably had issues or maybe you ignored some things leading up to your marriage.

If you knew her or her friends or dated or whatever for eight to nine years, there’s been something, it just didn’t start now. How do you feel like you played a role in it? What are you willing to accept?

Frank: I’m amazed that you asked that question, given the fact that you have characterized him or someone in his position as a victim.

Mark: I’m able to see both sides.

Frank: I’m proud of you. I’m happy.

Dr. Gayl: I am a clinician. Don’t play me, Frank. So, I’m able to see both sides.

Frank: Okay. Okay, Mark, please.

Aaron: If I can may interject here right quick.

Frank: Yeah, let’s hear Aaron.

Dr. Gayl: Okay.

Aaron: What Dr. Gayl is saying, I think is absolutely important for every victim in the relationship to come to. Now, that doesn’t mean Mark, that we’re blaming you.

Dr. Gayl: Exactly. We’re not blaming you at all.

Aaron: Her actions are not justified.

Dr. Gayl: Right.

Aaron: She had hundreds of different options that she could have chosen from other than having an affair. She could have joined a book club. She could’ve hung out more with her friends. She could serve a drug addiction for crying out loud. She had lots of other options other than having an affair. So, she owns the affair 100 percent. She needs to do that. It is still important for you to recognize, “Hey, in what ways did I contribute to this? Maybe I was too giving. Maybe I was not giving enough.” It doesn’t matter. There’s always some kind of contribution that you can still look at.

Dr. Gayl: And Mark, before you answer–and I certainly agree with that. Aaron, I want to be clear that I’m not blaming you or anything like that or passing judgment. I just think that it’s important in order to begin to move forward–it’s important that we all learn our patterns of behavior and learn, “Hey, how did I play a part and a role in this situation,” because–

Mark: Exactly.

Dr. Gayl: In order–like I stated–in order to move on in this relationship or in any other relationship and especially with regard to her friends. Yeah, maybe she’s doing whatever she’s doing giving her friends all this leeway, but you’re the man in this relationship and you are the other half of this relationship. So, you also have the right to put a stop and there needs to be better boundaries created with you guys with regard to other people being able to have a say so in how you guys are moving forward.

Mark: Exactly, agreed, and I appreciate everybody, one, being sensitive to it. But I definitely can see my parts in it too. I think, one, sometimes really losing my temper, losing control. I think the other thing that I can definitely say that I’ve done is being very dismissive on things. And the that I can definitely see and say that I know that’s been her biggest concern is that I did a rapid weight gain, which I think affected things physically for us. That, I think with that some of the needs that she had in the physical aspect, I think were some of the things she was seeking by doing this.

Frank: Interesting and when you say rapid weight gain, meaning you were, you were a big guy before and you got even bigger, you used to be skinny and now you have gotten to be a big guy? Paint a picture for us.

Mark: I would say probably early 2000, I had gone through tremendous weight loss. I had lost over 200 pounds.

Dr. Gayl: Oh, wow.

Mark: Yeah, so I had gone from, let’s say like 400 or 500 pounds down to 200 and something. After that my gall bladder went bad, I got really sick a couple of times and just left the gym alone again and picked everything back up. I think with that, that has affected things physically between us. And then, I think with that there were some things that maybe I used to be able to do. I was definitely a lot smaller and more athletic, that not in this season that I can do. I think one of the side effects that has been pretty good is I’m losing the weight again.

Frank: And you–

Dr. Gayl: But are you losing it healthy though?

Mark: No, definitely I’m not. I do go see the doctor pretty regularly and it’s not been–

Dr. Gayl: Like not losing it due to depression and because you aren’t eating properly, but because you have a balanced nutrition and you know–

Mark: Well, I still am trying to–

Dr. Gayl: Active lifestyle.

Mark: Well, I’m still trying to address a diet and I’ve been trying to do other things like incorporate physical activity with it. But I think the initial stuff that I have lost has been due to the stress, and a lot of the other stuff that’s gone on. I think with that, that’s kind of where we are right now. The stress and the other things have caused what I’ve gone through right now. But that’s about eight inches off of me–stuff like that.

Dr. Gayl: Mark, you said the early 2000’s. When you and your wife met, did she know you as a big guy?

Mark: She did not. She didn’t know me as let’s say as large as I am now. She got stories and stuff like that, but being on the news and other stuff from being able to see how much I had lost and clothes and everything else. She didn’t know. She only heard the stories of how much I had lost and stuff.

Frank: Wow, you were on the news?

Mark: Uh-huh.

Frank: It was that much of a weight loss?

Mark: It was that much of a weight loss.

Frank: Okay. Aaron, where does he draw the line? What do you believe he needs to do or conclude? At what point does he conclude, where he just says, “Alright, let’s separate. Let’s end this?”

Aaron: There is some clarifications I was hoping to get before I help with that.

Frank: Please ask those questions. Ask those clarifying questions.

Dr. Gayl: I’m sorry. I just don’t think–

Frank: Go on. Aaron.

Aaron: We’re listening, Dr. Gayl. Oh, okay. You’re telling me to go on. I thought you were telling, Dr. Gayl to go on.

Dr. Gayl: Yeah, he just shushed me Aaron, so go ahead.

Aaron: Mark, you were saying that this was a pattern of behavior, even before you guys got married. How long were you guys dating before she stepped out the first time?

Mark: It was eight to nine years, but what I’m saying is, with that, I didn’t find out until recently about the other things that were going on. I didn’t find out until this season right now. So, I had no clue before.

Aaron: This wasn’t a pattern of behavior before or in previous relationships of hers then?
Mark: No, definitely not at all. And I think with the thing that I’ve gotten now–there’s also a 10 year age difference between us, so one of the answers that she’s given–

Dr. Gayl: Who’s older and who is younger?

Mark: I am. I’m older.

Dr. Gayl: How old are you?

Mark: I’m 41 and she just turned 33. And I’ll be 42 this year.

Dr. Gayl: So how old were you guys when you met?

Mark: She was 22 I guess at the time, 22, 23 and that would have put me in my early 30’s.

Dr. Gayl: Had you ever dated before?

Mark: Oh yes. Come on now. Come on now. Come on now.

Dr. Gayl: No, I’m being serious, because if you were that heavy that you were on the news, I don’t know what you were on the news for, but we have a real show, so I’m just going to be real with it. If you were that heavy at one point, then in my mind, I’m wondering, “Did you date? Did you have friends? Did you have a social life? Had you ever kissed a girl? Had you ever had sex? Had she ever had sex? Had she ever been in a real serious relationship?”

You met her when she was in her early 20’s. So, in early 20’s do we even know how to interact with someone in a relationship? You’re 10 years older. Did she see you as a father figure? Did you coerce her into this relationship?

You stated that you had an anger problem. What is that all about and what type of an anger problem. And now you’re in seminary school. Were you out there before and then now you’re holier than thou? And before Frank cut me off, what I was going to say is, “I don’t think we have enough information to say, ‘Where do you go to from here?'”

Frank: But we do have enough information for him to be the victim. Is that what I’m hearing?

Dr. Gayl: No, no. I mean–

Frank: You already said he was the victim.

Dr. Gayl: Hold up Frank. Hold up. What I saying is he was a victim in the situation. And I don’t think–

Frank: There’s no situation. It’s a–

Dr. Gayl: But, let me finish. I don’t think he needs to continue in the victim role. There’s a difference. For instance, if we go outside and you rob me, I’m the victim. Okay, but for me to continue and play the victim role, like, “Oh, my gosh. Whoa is me, because I got robbed.” That’s not fair.

Frank: Okay, if we go outside and I rob you, you’re the victim. But what if you robbed me the day before?

Dr. Gayl: Okay, the roles are switched then.

Frank: No. So, are you still the victim the second time?

Dr. Gayl: What you’re really trying to ask me is at some point were their roles changed?

Frank: Exactly, how do we really know–

Dr. Gayl: We don’t.

Frank: When do we call a person a victim?

Dr. Gayl: I said, “We don’t.” I just said, “We don’t have enough information.”

Frank: So?

Dr. Gayl: In this particular situation, we don’t have enough information.

Aaron: Yeah, and two, I think everybody knows counselors can put their own values into therapy. And so, if I were to come out and say, “Mark you need to leave” or “Mark you need to stay, that’s absolutely my values.” That’s me saying, “If I were in your shoes, I would not leave.”

Frank: Nice.

Aaron: So, we can’t do that.

Dr. Gayl: Exactly.

Aaron: I think–and this is the advice that I give to any couple, regardless of what situation that they’re in, if the spouse is the one who stepped out, the one who cheated, if they’re always taking a position of excusing their behavior, by blaming yours, right? So if she’s here saying, “You know, I had an affair because you-” I don’t know, “Didn’t have sex with me enough.” I’m just making this up. I don’t know. “But I had an affair, because you never slept with me enough. We didn’t have rocking sex. So, as long as you give me rocking sex, I won’t step out again.”

That’s coming from a place of her putting pressure on you to keep her from stepping out again. Now, the reality of the situation is that she has 100 percent control of her stepping out again. There’s no magic button in the universe that I can push or Mark can push or anybody can push that will make her not step out again. So, she has to accept full responsibility and full accountability and say, “Look, I will never step out on you again. I know that, because I know myself well enough and I trust myself that I know I can say that.”

“Now, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stay in the relationship. If we have problems, like we did before, I’ll probably divorce you, because I wasn’t happy. But I will never cheat on you again. I can guarantee you that.” As long as she’s taking position of excusing her behavior by blaming yours, that’s an absolute signs that she is not fully recovered from the affair and that this is still a toxic and a fragile relationship.

Then, two, on your end now Mark, is that if you’re coming from a place where you’re hearing that she cheated and if you’re feeling hypersensitive and you’re feeling like you’re being exceptionally intuitive, trying to cater to her needs before she even expresses that she has them and you’re doing it solely with the intent to try to “make her not step out” again, then that’s another sign that this relationship is still fragile.

It needs to come to a place where you are both willing to accept full responsibility–look at the situation from an objective standpoint and come from a place within yourself where you can say and see that, “Look, this isn’t what I wanted to be. This isn’t who I wanted to be and I can guarantee you I’m not going to go to that place again in the relationship, because that’s not what I really want.” That’s the overall advice that I give. But I don’t know. How does that fit?

Dr. Gayl: And Mark, I want to know are you in counseling? Are you guys going to therapy?

Mark: Not as a couple right now, but I am individually. I have been now for the last six months.

Frank: A few months ago we had the pleasure of having Nana Kwabena Brown as a guest on the show. His organization Nyama Healing Services is now inviting you to his Saturday, October 19th couples relationship enhancement event in Silver Springs, Maryland.

The workshop has helped hundreds of people over the last 10 years and many couples have returned for a second and third session. It’s for the young and old and is excellent for young couples moving towards commitment and marriage or older couples in need of a tune-up.

Those who come will receive effective communication skills, techniques in strategies for conflict resolution and decision-making, recommendation for identifying establishing and conducting the three important couples meetings, comprehension and techniques or forgiveness and apologies; wonderful exercises for a renewal of sacred sensuality and much, much more. For more information, go to nyamahealingservices.eventbright.com or contact Nana Kwenaba Brown at 202-294-4471.

You’re listening to Frank Relationships and we’re talking with Aaron Anderson, a licensed marriage and family therapist and blogger–and Mark, a husband of four years, who recently experienced infidelity in his relationship. I want to let you guys wrap it up. Aaron, you have a take-home message you want to leave with our listeners?

Aaron: Yeah, I think the take-home message that I’d like to give is simply that there are two things. One, you can absolutely heal from an affair. So, if you’re feeling that pain and that hurt from your spouse being unfaithful, you don’t always have to feel that way and there are things that you can do, regardless of whether your spouse apologizes or accepts accountability. There are things that you can do to still heal, even if they don’t offer an apology. That’s the one.

The other one is that you need to come to a place within yourself, where you feel like you are empowered, regardless of which direction you take. If you decide to stay or to go, you need to feel empowered in that decision and not that you’re forced to, because your family wants you to stay or because you have children or anything else. You need to feel comfortable, whatever decision that you make.

Frank: Can you heal in that relationship or do you have to heal outside of the relationship?

Aaron: You have to heal outside of the relationship. So, you have to heal regardless of whether your spouse tries to get better or not. The benefit is that when you heal outside of the relationship, it also helps to heal your relationship, if your partner’s willing to do their work.

Frank: Well, I mean–

Aaron: If they’re not–.

Frank: Do you have to split?

Aaron: No, absolutely not. I’ve worked with plenty of successful couples who’ve successfully healed after an affair.

Frank: Mark, you got anything you want to say before we wrap up?

Mark: Just definitely. I think also there’s a power with faith as well, and definitely looking at it from a pastoral care point. I do believe that, one, is being able to be transparent with ones own story. It gives power to the village that we’re able to serve and I think with that and I think getting and establishing a Christian-based relationship where both are coming to the table, I think, in the same manner will also help to heal and to be able to help both parties move past–really truly forgiving as we’ve been forgiven by God.

Frank: You’ve been listening to Frank Relationships and we have talked today with marriage and family counselor and therapist, Aaron Anderson and we have had the pleasure of the experience of including Mark in our conversation, as he discussed the issues pertaining to infidelity in his relationship.

Along today’s journey, we’ve discussed infidelity, accountability and hurt. I hope you’ve had as much fun as I’ve had, discussing the issues around and pertaining to infidelity.

As always it’s my wish for you to walk away from this conversation with a heaping helping of useful information that’ll help you create a relationship that’s as loving and accepting as possible.

Let us know what you thought of today’s show at: facebook.com/relationshipflove, on Twitter @mrfranklove or at franklove.com. On behalf of my producer, Phileta Legette, my assistant producer, Anayza Stewart and the man back here on the boards that keeps the place and the show running, Jeff Newman. Keep rising. This is Frank Love.

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How to Gracefully Exit a Relationship

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