Affairs may be experienced as traumatic, particularly for the hurt partner, trust becomes seriously damaged and both partners can feel a sense of hopelessness about the future of the relationship and the possibility of recovery. So, how can we begin to understand what an affair means, its impact, how each partner can cope following the discovery of an affair
and whether there is a possibility of healing and repairing the relationship? Here are a few points to consider:
- Affairs may take several forms, when most people think of affairs, they imagine the typical scenario where one partner cheats and has a sexual encounter or relationship with someone else, outside of the relationship. However, affairs may also be solely emotional (involving no sexual or physical contact but where there is a sense of romantic intimacy), or they might involve being on dating apps or talking to other people online. In whatever form, affairs represent a betrayal for many people and damage the secure base of a relationship.
- Depending on the type of affair, how long it has gone on for, what the relationship was like beforehand, the personal histories and previous experiences of each partner and whether either or both partners are willing to try and repair the relationship, the prognosis for recovery will differ.
- Initially, both partners need to decide whether to re-commit to each other and begin the work of healing and repair, or to end the relationship. If they decide to try and work on the relationship, there are several steps that must be taken if this task has a chance at success:
- The affair must end, trying to repair a relationship where there is an affair ongoing will only lead to further hurt and damage to the relationship;
- The partner who had the affair must offer the hurt partner an apology and the hurt partner needs to feel that this is genuine;
- The couple needs to begin to understand why the affair happened and its’ impact on the relationship and each individual;
- Trust needs to be gradually re-built and a new vision for the relationship may ultimately be created.
It is not easy for a couple to recover from an affair, but it is possible. It is recommended that couples seek out therapy in attempting to work through the process which can be painful, frustrating and very triggering for most people. A therapist can help support and guide you through this process and assist you to maintain a sense of hope and facilitate healing and the creation of a new relationship. Esther Perel, a couples’ therapist, writer and presenter says that when an affair occurs within a couple, that relationship is over, however, a new relationship may be re-built following an affair, with the same person.
After an affair, your relationship will not be the same, but that can be a good thing. Some people who do the “work” and recover from the affair say that their new relationship is even better, stronger and more connected than it was previously. The process of recovery requires a lot of patience, understanding and commitment. If, on the other hand you decide not to continue the relationship after an affair, working with a therapist can also help you to cope with, understand and heal from the experience.
Friendship is about mutual affection, shared values and an interpersonal connection. Such qualities are the perfect characteristics for a romantic relationship.
This is why remaining in a close friendship with your partner is important for the longevity of relationships. Knowing your partner, their dreams and values, makes for a good foundation when difficulties arise or conflict occurs in your relationship. Without a friendship dynamic we can become emotionally distant from each other, disengaged and disinterested.
Here are three simple tips to sustaining friendship in your romantic relationship:
- Keep up to date with your partner’s current likes/dislikes and worries. Being engaged in this way will show a mutual respect for each other’s opinions and thoughts. Start from the simple questions (Eg. Do you still like reading fiction? What’s your favourite running route in Sydney?), to the more complex questions (Eg. Is our mortgage still a worry for you?)
- Sharing an interest together and will create a shared experience (Eg. join the gym together, swap reading books and compare thoughts, learn a language together)
- Keep it light – laughter makes you feel good and releases endorphins in your body. By making humour a part of your daily conversations this will naturally generate a fondness towards each other.
Sustaining a healthy friendship with your partner will support not only your relationship but also your own individual mental health and well-being.
Schema therapy is based on core emotional needs, and getting these met. This is very important in our relationships, and central to us feeling satisfied, fulfilled and connected.
If you are feeling lost, frustrated or unfulfilled in your relationship, understanding your needs and getting them met is vital to improving your connection with your partner. This is also very important when entering into a new relationship.
So what are your core emotional needs? These are needs that every one of us is born with. Our parents must meet these needs when we are young, but we don’t grow out of them, we have these needs for the rest of our lives. Feeling happy and fulfilled in a romantic relationship depends on these needs being met.
- Secure attachment (safety, protection, predictability, love, nurturance, attention, empathy, acceptance)
- Freedom to express valid feelings and needs
- Appropriate autonomy, competence and sense of identity
- Spontaneity and play
Having a secure attachment means feeling safe, accepted and loved unconditionally. This must be reliable and predictable to provide you with a secure base. Without a secure base, your other needs cannot be met.
Your partner must allow you to express what you feel and need, AND give you validation for these feelings. This allows you to be your true authentic self, which helps you feel happy, fulfilled and connected. Holding back your feelings because you know your partner won’t accept them, will shut down, or will dismiss you, is suppressing your authenticity – a very common cause of anxiety and depression.
Part of being authentic is having independence and autonomy, which allows you to develop a unique identity. It is also very important for humans to have spontaneity and play in their lives, and being able to do this with your partner will enrich your relationship.
In a nutshell, you need to feel safe to be authentic in your relationship.
A relationship without a secure attachment or the ability to be authentic is not a healthy relationship, because your core emotional needs are not being met.
Schema therapy can help you develop a deeper understanding of your needs and how to get these met, which in turn will create a happier, healthier you.
We all want a thriving, high functioning and happy relationship. We want a relationship that makes us feel nourished, supported and loved. Easier said than done right? In real life when there are so many individual demands to manage, such as family dynamics, career development, financial growth and mental health, making time for our relationship and our partner can often get left behind or put on the bottom of the list.
What we know about relationships is that when they are positive and fulfilling our individual mental health is better and personal resilience is high. So how do we ensure our relationships are thriving? The simple answer is by making them a priority and nurturing them through regular positive habits. Habits are about practice and repeat, making something so frequent in our lives that it becomes a part of the everyday. So with that in mind, its time to set some new healthy and regular habits for your relationships, ensuring that you continue to thrive as a couple and individually.
Below are five habits that you should practice to keep your relationship healthy:
- Get to know your partner again and build a friendship: Life experiences change us as individuals and therefore it is likely that our needs and wants have changed over the years. Its time to start ‘re-learning’ about each other, from the simple interests to the more intimate thoughts/ideas. This activity can strengthen your friendship as a couple and allow you to explore shared interests.
- Celebrate your mutual wins: In the busy nature of life we often forget to celebrate our wins as a couple or to remind each other what we mutually set out to achieve together. For example, did you eventually buy that dream house that you were both working for? Did your eldest child achieve academic success? Did you survive that first family road trip? Recognizing the achievements you have had as a team can create a sense of satisfaction and reassurance for your relationship.
- Understand each other’s values and create mutual respect: Core values drive our decisions and direction in life. In a partnership it is important to understand if our values are shared or different, as a misunderstanding of your partner’s values can often cause relationship conflict. Take time to explore each other’s ‘set of values’, gaining an understanding of what you each expect in family life, career goals, marriage, spirituality etc., so that this knowledge can shape your future decisions in life.
- Book a date night: It’s a cliché but dedicated date nights (or days) actually work! Date nights give significance to making time for each other so that you can engage in deeper conversations, share interests and can encourage an element of fun in your relationship.
- Have the “tough” conversations and don’t leave ‘elephants’ in the room: Communication is vital to relationship well-being so when we stop talking, we stop investing in our relationship development. Leaving important issues ‘unsaid’ can lead to resentment, anxiety and mistrust. If you find it hard to start a conversation about a tough issue, use other ways of communicating such as emails, letters or creative approaches to open up to each other. Make sure you approach these conversations calmly and with honesty, knowing that you may not solve the issue immediately but that small steps towards resolution is a positive win for your relationship.
People who are socially anxious tend to avoid social gatherings, places where they may feel judged by other people.
When they do have to attend a gathering they may try to avoid speaking to other people. Maybe you are introverted but have no trouble speaking to people on a one to one basis. Why? One of the reasons suggested by researchers is that it is easy to look them in the eye.
In a group situation paying attention to people is necessary so that you can know what is going right. When we are anxious we feel quite vulnerable and self-conscious however facing this fear being perfectly aware of how you might be hurt is an important step to overcoming your fear.
As you face this fear again and again you don’t necessarily get less afraid; you get braver. This approach of the uncertain is a tonic for self-esteem. You are able to view yourself as courageous and this is a comfort for you at times when you are feeling challenged.
Strategies to assist in overcoming social anxiety
Describe what it is you are afraid of.
- Relaxation and slow breathing to reduce the symptoms of anxiety such as rapid breathing, sweating and sometimes feeling sick.
What is your belief about the situation?
Anxiety is usually preceded by a number of unhelpful self statements which become a habit such as the following.
Jumping to conclusions.
- We assume we know what someone else is thinking and a. we make predictions about what is going to happen in the future.
- When we blow things out of proportion and we regard the situation b. as terrible, awful even though in reality the situation is relatively minor.
- This way of thinking means that we ﬁlter in the negative parts of the c. picture and ﬁlter out the positive parts
- We label ourselves and others when we make global statements based on d. our behaviour in speciﬁc situations.
Challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts.
Approaching the situation that you fear rather than avoiding.
Being kind to yourself. Understand that this will take time.
Are you a yes person? A people pleaser?
Are you the one who always listens to other people?
Do you seem to miss your turn receiving support? Do you take on more than you can manage?
Boundaries help us maintain relationships, and maintain our authenticity – or our connection to ourselves.
Agreeableness is a scale that we all fall on somewhere. Being agreeable, or self-sacrificing can be a strength, but it can also be a weakness. You may be really good at listening but have a hard time expressing your own needs and desires.
Why is it a strength? You have a lot of empathy, you are attuned to the feelings of others and you know how to make them happy. People like you. You may also achieve a lot by virtue of taking on a lot.
However – A strength overdone can become a weakness!
How is it a weakness? People who can’t say No may build up anger and resentment towards themselves and others. You may not even realise this, but it can manifest as depression, burnout, emotional numbness, headaches or other bodily pain. Pleasing everyone else can leave you feeling stressed and unfulfilled.
Patterns of agreeableness often have their origins in our childhood. We may learn to suppress our authenticity, our true feelings and needs, to maintain a close relationship with our family members. This is a very adaptable coping strategy for a little person, however, it can lead to having unhealthy boundaries as an adult.
How can you develop healthier boundaries?
- Tune into your body – what is it telling you? What is your gut feeling about being asked to do x y z?
- Tune into your needs and desires. Write them down. What is it that you really want in your life?
- Turn your compassion for others’ needs to express and be heard, inward. Start listening to yourself as well as you listen to others.
- Identify what it is your inner critic has to say – probably something that makes you feel guilty for saying No. Write a rebuttal and practice delivering it regularly.
- Identify the areas and people you find it most difficult to say No to. Maybe it’s your boss, or a parent. Delay your response. Don’t say yes straight away. A line such as ‘I’ll get back to you’, gives you some time to prepare to say NO.
- Practice expressing your needs and desires with people you trust. What is the outcome for you, for them, for your relationship?
- Support – have someone who understands you, encourages you, validates you, and helps hold you accountable for practicing these things.
Developing healthier boundaries doesn’t mean you have to give up your strength. You can develop more flexibility and control of this attribute, and having healthy boundaries can become your new strength. Our therapists can help you understand your patterns of interaction and how to break free from stressful and unfulfilling relationships.
Self Soothing to reduce stress and anxiety AND improve physical health
Are you experiencing physical symptoms of stress or anxiety such as pain, fatigue, restlessness, unintentional weight loss or weight gain, digestion issues, nausea, ammenorrhea, sweating or insomnia?
Understanding the nervous system (and how to calm it) can help you manage these effects of stress on the body.
The autonomic nervous system is divided into 2 opposing systems – the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is the emergency system, also called the fight or flight response. It prepares the body for danger by shutting down the digestive system, speeding up the heart, increasing blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Unfortunately our bodies cannot differentiate between real and imagined stress, and this system which was designed to save our lives, can instead be activated in everyday situations such as a busy day at work. If this response is activated too regularly our health suffers. Our bodies are flooded with the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol, and our pain threshold goes down.
The other side of the coin is the parasympathetic, or the rest and digest system. This system works to recover from normal daily activities by activating digestion, decreasing blood pressure and slowing the heart rate and breathing. When this system is activated the body is relaxing, the muscles can repair and build strength, food can be digested, and we can sleep and reproduce.
So how can we calm our fight or flight response and activate our rest and digest system?
- Identify and work to eliminate triggers in your life. This is always an important step for long-term recovery and health.
- Slow your breathing. This tells your body that you are safe and signals it to relax. Incorporate breathing exercises and meditation into your daily routine. Try the 4, 2, 6 breathing technique – inhale in for 4 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, exhale for 6 seconds.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. Slowly release tension in your body by tensing and then releasing the muscles. Start with the toes and slowly work your way up to the face. Yoga is also a helpful and mindful practice for this.
- Light exercise. Don’t overdo the exercise. Cardio can have the same effect on the body as stress – the heart rate is up and the sympathetic system is activated. Try a nature walk instead. Being in nature has been shown to actively control the sympathetic nervous system and decrease blood pressure.
- Physical touch. We are hard-wired to be soothed by physical touch, just like a baby being rocked. Massage is a great option for relaxation, and make sure you get lots of hugs from your loved ones. You can even self-soothe by hugging yourself!
- Self care. Everyone finds different things soothing. Discover what it is that works for you, and schedule time for this regularly. It might be music, crafts, surfing or spending time with friends. It is important to have fun too!
What goes in
- Consume warm liquids and foods. This soothes the digestive system, which works to maintain body temperature. Ice cold drinks or foods make your gut work harder to regulate its temperature.
- Reduce caffeine. Limit your coffee to one a day, or cut it out completely. Coffee stimulates the sympathetic nervous system.
- Get enough sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene, and think about how you can priortise a good nights sleep. This might mean revisiting number 1 and considering lifestyle changes.
- Self compassion. Last but not least, self-soothing is all about being kind to yourself. Notice whether an internal critical voice is getting in the way of any of these steps, and think about what you would say to a friend who was struggling with stress or anxiety. Chances are, you are much harder on yourself than anyone else. Create some positive affirmations, or a mantra that reminds you you are doing your best, and remind yourself of this everyday.
Don’t punish your child for expressing how they feel.
“Is that your angry face?
I better not see that next time I look at you!”;
“Don’t be angry with me, I won’t have that!”;
“Don’t look so sad, cheer up, it’s not that bad”,
“Stop crying, there’s nothing to be upset about!”
Children have feelings too, don’t punish your child because you’re uncomfortable with negative feelings, because the ramifications (for you and them) are far too significant.
Too often parents punish children simply for having an emotion such as anger (or dismiss and deny their child’s more negative passive emotions such as sadness). They don’t like what the child is expressing or feeling, so they crack down hard on the emotion (but oh boy, is this a mistake that will come back to bite them, particularly if it’s done insidiously).
Discipline your children for their problematic behaviour only and NOT for their emotions (e.g., not for voicing their opinions, being grumpy, having an ‘unpleasant’ emotional outburst, or even stomping their feet and saying “I hate you”). Cracking down with harsh disapproval is an easy, knee-jerk reaction which will only get you in hot water down the track. Of course, if you respond this way routinely, your child will (sadly) learn to hold things back and internalise how they feel. This will ‘look’ like good, compliant behaviour on the surface, but it’s not, it’s simply a coping strategy that they learn in order to please you and avoid your disapproval (Yes, that’s right, parental disapproval is something that the majority of children will do almost anything to avoid).
So when parents ‘shut children down’ by punishing their child’s emotion, they are not actually creating a well-mannered, compliant little person, they are actually creating a shame-ridden and emotionally stifled child (who BTW is more likely to develop future emotional & relational problems). Let’s be straight, this is not permissive or Laissez-faire parenting where anything goes and you encourage primal screaming just because the shop ran out of their favourite ice-cream. This is simply about knowing the difference between being an emotionally dismissive or disapproving parent and one who chooses to help their child work through and cope with their emotional experiences (even with emotions you are uncomfortable with because of your own upbringing).
Emotion Coaching (John & Julie Gottman), is one way to respond to these issues. Emotion coaching is a parenting style which has been proven to greatly assist children is developing emotional regulation skills necessary for successfully navigating the ups and downs of life. The steps in Emotions Coaching will actually get you closer to your child rather than further away (which is right where punishing kids for their emotions will get you). It’s also worth noting here that there is no stock-standard ‘way’ to respond to a child’s misbehaviour. A parent’s response needs to be mindful and intentional, not simply a blanket response – to all misbehaviour, in all settings.
If you punish (i.e., with punitive, dismissing or rejecting behaviours) your child for having or expressing an emotion that you don’t like (especially with any regularity), then your child will develop a strong emotional inhibition schema – as well as other early maladaptive schemas. Such a child will learn that some emotions are ‘unacceptable’ or bad and destructive and they will gradually learn to suppress those emotions, firstly when around you and then later with others.
They will also learn that certain parts of themselves are to be ‘hidden’ and unacceptable to you and other people. All this will lead to poor emotional regulation and the belief that they cannot tolerate strong or difficult emotions (this is a very problematic outcome indeed, as these factors often play a role in adolescent suicidal and self-harming behaviours). These kids will eventually learn to fear their emotions and to respond to difficult emotions with faulty or even dangerous coping strategies. Apart from all this, they will also begin to harbour resentments towards you and they will become more selective in what they reveal to you and share with you.
So, like you (and all of us), kids have bad days and they often have ‘negative’ emotions and express them in ways we don’t like. The way to deal with this is to teach them that emotions (in themselves and in their pure form) are real and acceptable and cannot harm them. There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ emotion. All emotions are temporary – they come and go. All emotions also have a function (or purpose) to them and an accompanying ‘action urge’ (a desire to act out a behaviour, whether that be positive or negative). The action of course is different from the actual emotion, it is not part of the emotion. The urge is part of the emotion, but the action (behaviour) comes afterwards. It’s the action or behaviour that we can learn to resist, control and alter (children learn this gradually between the ages of 3 – 7 usually). The actual feelings/emotions themselves, are less in our control.
‘Emotion Coaching’ is definitely the way to go in conjunction with intentional (tailored) responses to misbehaviour and limit setting when necessary. You have to know and understand your child’s unique temperament to appropriately discipline them. This is what’s missing in many parent’s approaches to discipline. Using one, single standard response to misbehaviour is often not the way to go. The interaction between a child’s temperament and a parent’s response is paramount. That’s the tricky part, as it can be a delicate interplay of responses not observable to an onlooker.
When we emotion coach our children, we work with whatever emotion is there, in order to teach important self-awareness and emotion-regulation skills. So called ‘negative’ emotions (e.g., sadness, anger, fear, frustration) are not things to be scared of, shut down or dismissed by parents. Rather, they can be great opportunities to ‘connect’ with your child and help them grow. There are 5 basic steps to emotion coaching (discussed in different blogs). Used appropriately, emotion coaching can bring you emotionally closer to your child and provide the essential building blocks for an on-going enriching relationship with them.
For help with these issues and for training in Emotion Coaching (the Gold Standard in Parenting) contact us to speak with one of our helpful psychologists.
Dr Gemma Gladstone
There is no time-frame, stages or steps to grief. With regards to bereavement, a person does not experience linear or sequential stages (they may of course, but this is rarely the case). The actual experience of grief is a lot more haphazard. Perhaps people intuitively like the idea of stages because it communicates to us an anticipated ‘end stage’.
However, there is no final ‘resolution’ or process one goes through in order to reach an end-point of ‘no grief’. This is a human view that we have tried to impose upon the experience of grief, fueled by the idea that one goes through the process of a painful, unpleasant experience only to come out the other-side having ‘let go’ of the pain.
There is a significant cultural expectation, at least in the West, that people should have a certain amount of time to process their loss (i.e., 3 months, 6 months, one-year?). After which time, it is often expected that a person should have somehow completed a period of ‘mourning’ and their grief should have ‘resolved’.
This idea is generally not helpful for the bereaved person and can leave them feeling confused and critical of their own grief and their ability to heal. At some level, people expect others to ‘get over it’ earlier than people can realistically heal from their loss. As a therapist, I’ve lost count of how many times a client has asked me a variation of these questions: “Is what I am feeling normal?” “Should I be feeling this sad for this long?” “My husband/friend/colleague etc wants to know when I’ll be over it”.
Anyone who has ever lost someone special knows that we don’t just get over it! At times of great stress, like the death of a loved one, we need to be connected to supportive others. We need supportive companionships and some degree of secure social bonds in order to grieve effectively.
But is there a usual course of grief?
Grief triggers an instinctive mourning process. Mourning is the process by which acute grief evolves (over time), as information about the finality and consequences of the death are integrated into the person’s attachment working models and life goals and plans are redefined accordingly.
The process of so called ‘normal grief’ is marked by movement towards acceptance of the loss and a gradual alleviation of the initial ‘symptoms’ of acute grief – as well as the ability for continued engagement in daily life. However, this transition is not linear. It is normal for the emotional pain of grief to be felt sporadically, with some days experienced as deeply sorrowful and painful and other days experienced as calm with an absence of intense negative emotion.
Acute grief gradually transforms into integrated grief (i.e., a grief that we live with and grow around). The grief remains – it never goes away, but we are able to integrate it into our life’s and who we are. We are essentially able to see our lives and live our lives without the lost person being present as they once were. Integrated grief often involves finding a new way to relate to the lost person. It also involves finding new meaning, a new or renewed sense of purpose and new goals for ourselves – over time.
In its true form grief is not an illness and grief in its pure form is not like depression. It can share so called symptoms with depression for example, but it is fundamentally different. The growing around grief model (discussed by Lois Tolkin) is a more realistic way to understand grief and clients often identify significantly with this view of grief – it also helps takes the pressure off.
In this regard, the grief is not necessarily resolved or completed, but it is experienced as qualitatively different. The grief may be still there, but the person is able to function around it. That is, the grief is not front and centre all the time. It tends to come to the surface when activated in some way (e.g., taking about the person in a conversation), but it is no longer experienced as acute grief.
So what is a ‘good outcome’ when it comes to grief?
What are some signs that a person has integrated or accommodated the loss into their lives? The list below includes several features of ‘integrated’ grief.
- The bereaved person gradually becomes more involved in life
- They begin to find renewed meaning in life
- They may develop a renewed sense of purpose
- Their ability to enjoy life again gradually returns
- There may be a strong appreciation for the (lost) person together with an appreciation for one’s own life
- The memories of the loved person become varied & more positive (eg., diverse memories spanning the whole relationship with that person) and not just about the end-of-life period or death-related memories.
- A continued ‘relationship’ with the loved person is maintained (e.g., photographs, community, relationships, included in conversation, prayer, meditation etc). Meaning that a new way of continuing the bond and relating to the deceased person has been established or at least partially established.
Key points to remember when relating to a bereaved person
- We don’t move through neat stages of grief only to come out the other side being “grief-free”. It just doesn’t usually work like that.
- A common assumption is that someone’s period of mourning should be shorter than it is.
- There is a common human tendency to want people to be “all better” – we want them to have ‘resolved’ and achieved ‘closure’ for their grief.
- People have very different grief experiences – we cannot compare or assume someone’s course of grief and mourning.
- Grief is already an isolating experience. Show up for someone who is grieving & always acknowledge their loss. Be present. Have ‘big ears and a small mouth’.
- Offer specific help and support. Bereaved people often experience difficulty in initiating connect with others. Instead of saying “let me know if I can do anything for you”. You could say “will you be free Friday, why don’t I bring over some dinner over?”.
What not to say to someone who is grieving
It is often difficult to know what to say to support bereaved family members, friends, work colleagues or acquaintances. Sometimes people say things to calm or reassure themselves and they unwittingly invalidate & dismiss the person’s loss.
- Avoid unhelpful “At least” Examples: “At least she didn’t suffer”; “at least he died peacefully”; “at least you have other children”; “at least he died doing something he enjoyed”
- Avoid talking about your own grief too soon.
- Avoid comparing their grief to other people’s grief or loss circumstances.
- Avoid encouraging them to ‘get on with their lives” by saying something like “John would not have wanted you to be sad”.
You don’t really have to have something clever or profound to say. A simple “I’m so sorry…” together with your presence and general support is often the best comfort you can provide someone who is grieving.