Couples stand at the altar (or under a flowered arch on a destination beach), exchanging rings and vows of fidelity. They can’t imagine not making it through thick and thin with one another — and only one another. And yet, enough of them end up cheating that one can’t help wondering why infidelity is so common.
Statistically speaking, infidelity is both “obvious” and “not so obvious.”
It’s no secret that its frequency is almost concernedly commonplace. For all the anguish it causes, we’re probably more surprised if a marriage survives without cheating than we are to learn that someone strayed.
For one, there is a broad spectrum of definitions for infidelity.
Some people think of it purely in terms of sex outside of marriage.
Others consider emotional closeness with sexual attraction outside of marriage as sufficient cause for a guilty verdict.
Then there is every form of tryst in between, as well as the presumption of heterosexuality in the relationships studied.
Also complicating reliable research and statistics regarding the presence and frequency of cheating is the way in which subjects are asked about potential infidelity.
Are the subjects questioned in person or via a written questionnaire? Are they alone when answering questions, or are their spouses present? Is infidelity strictly defined, or are the subjects left to interpret its criteria on their own?
It’s easy to extrapolate, then, that figuring out why infidelity is so common may likewise have some inherent ambiguity.
On the one hand — at least in the US and western cultures — monogamy is expected. It’s what couples sign up for, even if they subconsciously pray they won’t be tempted beyond the tenacity of their vows.
On the other hand, not everyone is convinced that monogamy is even natural, let alone possible or healthy.
Beyond the anthropological study of relationships throughout civilization, there are plenty of “happy” marriages that openly avail themselves of outside relationships.
From swingers to threesomes to “open marriages” and couples “with an understanding,” these outliers complicate any would-be irrefutable conclusions about infidelity.
But still the majority of people who enter into marriage do so with the expectation that both partners will remain faithful.
So, when one or both partners stray, there have to be some underlying motivations.
The benefit of understanding why infidelity is so common is that it can help you be more self-aware in your marriage.
It can also help you be aware of signs that your marriage may be unhappy and therefore vulnerable to an affair.
The challenge of that understanding, however, is that it can be easy to use the reasons for infidelity as excuses for infidelity. And cheating excuses will never help you heal if and when infidelity happens.
Let’s look at 8 of the primary reasons, according to Scientific American, that infidelity is so common:
Unresolved anger can fester into negative emotions like indifference and even a desire for retribution.
When communication between spouses isn’t healthy, it’s easy for anger to build up and seek “resolution” in any way that makes the angry person feel better.
Having an affair may not be an intentional way of resolving anger. But carrying around a lot of anger can make you forget your love for your spouse. And it can weaken your commitment to healthy conflict-resolution.
Having low self-esteem can carry over into problems in your marriage. It can make you doubt your worthiness of love and therefore your spouse’s genuineness in expressing love.
It can also make you jealous and suspicious. If everyone else is better than you, then surely your spouse must be cheating.
If you’re not careful, you could create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Likewise, you, too, could be vulnerable to an affair simply for want of the attention and validation that can boost your self-esteem.
Marriage, after all, can get boring as the years go on and responsibilities and stress increase. Attention from an admirer outside your marriage can be invigorating to your self-esteem.
Lack of love:
Being married but feeling unloved creates a very lonely existence. And that loneliness created by the void of love can make a wanting heart seek love elsewhere.
If either or both of you have a low commitment to your marriage, infidelity is a lot more likely. It’s like keeping the doors of your house unlocked in a high-crime neighborhood. You may not go looking for trouble, but trouble will be looking for you.
And your low commitment will make it a lot easier to make excuses for straying, especially if you don’t plan to remain in your marriage.
Need for variety:
As an explanation for why infidelity is so common, the need to “mix things up” probably isn’t one readily admitted.
And yet, for those people openly not sworn to monogamy, the need for variety is the most natural justification for being unfaithful.
Like lack of love, neglect creates loneliness and isolation within a marriage.
But neglect takes that lack of love to a level of deliberateness by completely ignoring the needs of the other person.
It is, essentially, an abandonment of the other.
While it’s unrealistic to expect “hot ‘n’ heavy” sex all the way through your marriage, sex is important.
There is a proven direct relationship between a vital sex life and a happy marriage. It’s not about adhering to a formula, but about finding a frequency and “style” that work for both of you.
If one of you is avoiding sex and physical affection all the time while the other is longing for it, your marriage is going to suffer.
Likewise, if the two of you aren’t in sync regarding the way you have sex, your marriage could be vulnerable to an affair.
For example, “The alcohol was to blame.” Or the two affair partners were on the same business trip and used that as an excuse to let their guard down.
Understanding why infidelity is so common is really just a first step to understanding more about yourself and your responsibility to your marriage.
The time to discuss the uncomfortable topic of infidelity isn’t after one of you has cheated and your marriage is at risk of not surviving.
It’s actually before you even get married (ideally).
It’s up to you and your partner to discuss and agree upon the definition of infidelity. What does it mean to each of you? And what is it going to mean to both of you as a married couple?
When you embark on your marriage with reasons to protect it, you won’t have to provide reasons for betraying it.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I work with individuals struggling with how to get over infidelity. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
Looking for more information about working through the repercussions of cheating? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.
The benefits of self-awareness weave throughout every aspect of life. They draw people together, forge mutually beneficial communication, engender empathy and compassion between people, and lay the foundation for self-accountability. They also step up to provide healing and a well-lit path toward happiness when life throws a curveball like divorce.
What is self-awareness and why does it matter?
We’re all familiar with the intelligence quotient (IQ) – that statistical number that represents a person’s reasoning and problem-solving abilities compared to others.
But there is another form of intelligence to which researchers have shifted their focus in recent decades.
Emotional intelligence (EI) goes beyond logic and rational thinking and into, as the name implies, emotions.
What makes a person score high in EI isn’t his/her emotions themselves, but the person’s ability to recognize, understand, and manage them.
It also refers to the ability to recognize emotions in others and to use all this information to better manage self-behavior and relationships.
Emotional intelligence is divided into five key components:
- Social skills
Self-awareness is listed first for good reason. Because the benefits of self-awareness flow through all the other components, it is essentially the cornerstone of EI.
If you are high in self-awareness, you not only recognize your own emotions, but can put words to them and understand their consequences.
It’s pretty powerful stuff.
What does self-awareness have to do with divorce?
Despite how inapplicable self-awareness may seem when your marriage is falling apart, it can actually be your saving grace.
Whether or not you want(ed) your divorce, you are now facing life alone. Your identity becomes extricated from the conjoined identity you shared with your spouse. You have to make decisions on behalf of your own life and, if you have children, their lives, as well.
You also have to do all this while feeling angry, sad, embarrassed, fearful, disappointed, confused, and stressed.
Those who are high in self-awareness navigate divorce better than those who are not.
They “hold it together” better because they recognize their feelings for what they are. And they use this awareness as the basis for self-regulation, especially if and when the divorce process gets heated.
They also make better choices at a time when every move seems to involve a critical choice. And they are more capable of working toward a mutually beneficial outcome in multiple areas, including coparenting.
But what about after the divorce? Does self-awareness make much difference then?
More than you could imagine.
Here are 6 benefits of self-awareness post-divorce:
You’ll recover from divorce more quickly than someone who isn’t self-aware.
One of the first signs that healing is happening after a divorce is your ability to stand firm in your own identity.
You’re no longer a wife or husband. You no longer compromise who you are and what you want in order to lead with a “we” identity.
Just as importantly, your strong sense-of-self reminds you daily who it is that you can count on: yourself.
You know your strengths and weaknesses and aren’t afraid to ask for help.The same self-awareness that makes someone a great leader also helps a person who has gone through a divorce.
Great leaders know what they’re good at and what they’re not good at. They use their strengths where appropriate, and they have enough awareness of their weaknesses to work on improving them.
They’re also not above asking for help and new ideas for turning their weaknesses into strengths.
At a time when going out on your own can be frightening and diminishing to your lifestyle, you have a choice. You can take the stiff-upper-lip approach and try to do everything yourself. Or you can embrace humility as a way to learn and grow.
Self-awareness makes you fearless in reaching out for help and support. The benefit, beyond getting the help you need, is that you inevitably build a circle of friendship and support that may last a lifetime.
You are motivated to persevere.
Rarely in life is there a louder call to perseverance than after divorce.
It’s easy to feel weighed down by hopelessness and lack of purpose. But, if you are steeped in self-awareness, you will remain grounded in your goals – even the day-to-day, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other ones.
Your values will remind you that your life vision is worth fighting for, even if you have to navigate through the detour of divorce.
You have the strength and integrity to examine your own behaviors in your marriage.
It’s not the part of life-after-divorce you look forward to. However, at some point, you’re going to have to write the story you want to tell going forward.
Are you going to be the perpetual victim? Or are you going to be the person who is courageous enough to take responsibility for contributions to the failure of your marriage?
Will you be the person who tells the outside world how terrible your ex-spouse was? Or will you be the person who can focus on and share the lessons you have learned about yourself?
Self-awareness gives you the ability to do this self-examination. It makes you hungry for self-accountability by reminding you that you can’t change what you don’t first own.
It also reminds you that this is an essential step toward finding authentic love in the future.
And, as you learn from overcoming obstacles and facing the unexpected with a positive attitude, you grow in self-awareness.
You expect the best from the unexpected. And the cycle of growth continues.
You remain curious.Curiosity is that lovely, creative, open mindset that says, “I don’t know everything. I haven’t seen or learned everything there is to see and learn. And I’m not afraid to see the world with fresh eyes, even if doing so means unraveling beliefs I’ve always had.”
We talk about self-awareness a lot here. It’s just that important.
Thankfully, the benefits of self-awareness don’t have an expiration date. And they don’t limit themselves to the easy times in life.
It’s never too late to develop self-awareness, and it’s never too late to benefit from it.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation if you’d like support in becoming a more self-aware person so you can more easily navigate your life post-divorce.
You can learn more about becoming and benefiting from being a self-aware person in How To Be More Self-Aware.
Every now and then, when you’re down in the trenches of ugly emotions, a good dose of happy-life, motivational quotes is in order. Sure, it can seem a little sappy. But there’s good reason these positive musings still make the rounds.
So, if you’re facing the long road ahead after a divorce, take a little encouragement from these wordsmiths.
Here are 10 happy-life, motivational quotes to help you move on with a positive outlook after divorce:
It always gets worse before it can get better. But it will get better. Like everything else, and like our past struggles, at some point we win, but before that win, there’s always that loss that spurs us on.– Dolores Huerta
What a beautiful, pensive place to start. A reality check coupled with an assurance of hope.
Surely the intensity of pain, grief, and adjustment can be managed when there is light beckoning you to the other side of loss.
You can, of course, focus on the loss. Or you can focus on the hope and use the energy of the loss to propel you forward.
It’s never too late to become what you might have been.– George Eliot
If you are like so many people who come to the end of their marriages, you may wonder who you are.
What happened to the person who used to love to do xyz, who used to have fantastic dreams and ambitions?
Did you lose yourself to the roles of marriage? Sacrifice yourself little by little until you were numb to the longings of your vibrant spirit?
Eliot has it right. And what a hopeful message, regardless of your age. It’s never too late to become what you might have been!
Need a little more convincing? Check out these celebrities whose lives actually got better after their divorces.
Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.– Marilyn Monroe
Not all marriages that end in divorce are “terrible.” And not all couples who divorce are enemies.
Sometimes there are good people who simply weren’t able to be what they needed to be in marriage. Timing, emotional immaturity, unresolved childhood issues – there are countless possibilities.
But isn’t it an inspiring thought that something even better is about to “fall together” out of the brokenness of what was already good?
When we truly care for ourselves, it becomes possible to care about other people. The more alert and sensitive we are to our own needs, the more loving and generous we can be towards others.– Eda LeShan
One of the 10 actionable tips for rebuilding a life after divorce for yourself is to get out of your own story and help build someone else’s.
But you first have to know the experience of self-compassion and self-care. When you are able to savor the benefits of responding to your own needs, you can recognize and lovingly respond to the needs of others.
When we do something we like, we are not only happy. We are also very strong!– Rossana Condoleo
Yes! Yes, you are allowed to live a happy life!
Motivational quotes are just a way of reinforcing what you inherently know. In this case, the encouragement is to return to doing things you love.
You may have given up hobbies and personal interests during your marriage, but now you get to revisit them.
Give yourself permission to do things you like, and watch your happiness – and strength – grow.
Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.– Joseph Campbell
It’s there. It really is. That wellspring of pure, untarnished joy that has always held itself in a safe place, waiting for you to find it again.
Pain is inevitable after a divorce. But joy? That is your Holy Grail of healing.
Dig deep. Find it. Don’t be afraid of it. And let it burn out the pain.
Moving on is a process; moving forward is a choice. There’s a slight difference between the two. Moving on is letting things happen; moving forward is making things happen.– author unknown
Perhaps this title stops short. After all, happy-life, motivational quotes are intended to inspire action.
So, are you ready to move forward with your life?
And so rock bottom became the foundation on which I rebuilt my life.– J.K. Rowling
You hear it all the time about people struggling to turn their lives around – from addiction, divorce, loss. Someone will say, “He hasn’t hit rock bottom yet. Once he does, things will change.”
The thing about rock bottom is that it gives you a ground from which to spring yourself upward.
In Rowling’s case, it became a solid foundation upon which she rebuilt her life. And nothing could undermine it because she started at the bottom.
You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming.– Pablo Neruda
Try as you may to stay in your despair, spring is going to come. You will have to face the terrible magnificence of spring’s glory.
In other words, life is going to invite you back. And it’s going to send flowers to sweeten the deal.
Just say yes….
And finally, because humor is so important to healing, we’ll let Bette Davis have the final honors….
I’d marry again if I found a man who had $15 million and would agree to sign over half of it to me before the marriage and guarantee he’d be dead in a year.– Bette Davis
Returning to a place of joy and anticipation for the future doesn’t happen overnight. It’s incremental, often slow, but always a process of remaining open to positive possibilities.
Putting yourself in front of sources of encouragement – like these happy-life, motivational quotes – is an empowering discipline.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life and divorce coach. You can select a helpful report and join my newsletter list for weekly support in moving on from your divorce. Additionally, you can schedule a 30-minute private consultation to talk with me about how you can live a happy life post-divorce.
Looking for more information about how to live a happy and healthy life? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Building A Happy Life.
Emotional affairs are relationships you have with people who aren’t your partner. What sets an emotional affair apart from a friendship is the relationship that forms becomes more important than your marriage. Frequently, you invest more time and energy into the emotional affair. Emotional affairs at work can be as simple as flirting with someone or being friends with someone you’re attracted to. But they can get much more complicated—and destructive.
Emotional affairs typically start because one person wants something the other person has. This can be love, attention, or sex. This can happen because they don’t feel like their partner is giving them what they need in the relationship. They want something more fulfilling than what they’re getting from their spouse or significant other.
Emotional affairs are challenging to detect because they don’t have many hallmarks of traditional cheating. Emotional affairs usually aren’t secretive or deceptive. The person having an emotional affair is honest and open about the relationship.
It’s also possible for emotional affairs to start when one person is unhappy in their relationship. They don’t know how to fix it, so instead of working on the issues within their primary relationship, they look for fulfillment elsewhere. In many cases, this leads to people having multiple simultaneous relationships with different people at once: one romantic relationship and one emotional affair (or several).
When an emotional affair develops into a physical affair, it can become tough to stop. Both people feel like they’re getting something from each other that neither is getting from their primary partners—which makes sense.
How Common Are Emotional Affairs At Work?
Emotional affairs at work are more common than you might think. While the most common affair is still physical, emotional affairs can be just as devastating and more difficult to detect.
According to hrf, nearly half of all Americans have had an emotional affair at some point in their lives. And while many people think that these affairs are always about sex, that’s not necessarily true. In fact, research has shown that 70% of people who had an emotional affair didn’t even realize it until after it was over.
These reasons vary: sometimes, they’re motivated by loneliness or feelings of inadequacy. Other times they’re simply a case of bad judgment. But whatever the cause, they’re not always easy to recover from.
How To Tell If You Are Having An Emotional Affair
If you are having an emotional affair, you may feel attracted to someone other than your spouse or partner. You may experience excitement and anticipation when you think of spending time with them. Perhaps your mood improves when you’re thinking about them.
Other signs of an emotional affair include increased secrecy, increased time spent apart from your spouse or partner, and extra attention paid to how others perceive your relationship with this person.
Emotional affairs can be just as damaging as physical ones, so it is important to pay attention to the signs that one is occurring to end it before it does any damage.
How To End Emotional Affairs At Work
Most emotional affairs start at work and most of those end at work. But for some people, ending an emotional affair with a coworker is difficult because the relationship has been going on for so long. The best way to break off an emotional affair with a coworker is to be direct and honest about what you’re feeling and why it’s time for the relationship to end.
The first step in ending your emotional affair with a coworker is acknowledging it’s happening. If you’ve been spending more time than usual talking to this person, or if they’ve made themselves seem more important than they really are, you may be already involved in an emotional affair with them. Look out for signs like:
- A sudden increase in the amount of time you spend together outside of work hours;
- Constant communication through text messages or social media;
- Going out of your way to make sure that you run into each other at events; and
There is a growing sense of attachment between two people who didn’t want anything more than friendship but suddenly felt differently about each other now that they’ve become closer.
How To Get Over An Emotional Affair At Work
If you’re in the middle of an emotional affair at work, it’s important to remember that you aren’t alone. In fact, one out of five employees has had an emotional affair. And it doesn’t matter if you work in a small company or a large corporation—the workplace is full of people capable of having these kinds of relationships.
But while they can be hard to break off, they can also seriously impact your personal life and career. Here are some tips on how to get over an emotional affair at work:
- Take time off from work. If possible, take some time off from the office so that you can focus on your personal life without being distracted by work concerns. This will help you get back into a routine and allow you to think through what happened between yourself and your coworker.
- Talk with your friends about what happened. You may not want to tell anyone about what happened at first because it will feel embarrassing or even shameful for some reason—but talking about it with someone else will help clear away some of those feelings so that they don’t distract you from moving forward with your life at home or work!
- Understand why you fell for this person. Was it because they were charismatic? Did they promise you something? This can help you identify the root of your feelings to avoid falling into a similar situation.
- Focus on your career goals and take advantage of opportunities at work that will help make them happen—this will give you something else to focus on besides your emotions during this time, as well as help make sure that nothing like this happens again!
Divorce, emotional bereavement, and breakups all provoke painful and sometimes debilitating negative emotional experiences. The same is true of an affair with a co-worker.
We know of no magical “cure” for the anguish of finding oneself in an emotional affair at work. However, there are some useful guidelines that may accelerate the healing process for those who have been there. The first is to realize that the pain does eventually subside.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I work with individuals struggling with how to get over emotional affairs. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
Looking for more information about working through the repercussions of cheating? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So said Ben Franklin to his fellow fire-threatened Philadelphians in 1736. Fast forward almost three centuries to your marriage today, and the merit of this proverb is still about fire prevention. Want to know how to prevent an unhappy marriage? Learn how to create a healthy one.
Prevention, at its most basic level, is about awareness. You can’t stop something from happening unless you know what to look for.
Not only do you need to know what you want to stop in its tracks. You need to know what you want to pass through.
Simply put, your ‘no’ needs to be balanced by a ‘yes.’
When is a marriage unhealthy? Is “unhealthy” really that definable, or does it exist on a spectrum of relevance?
A little of both, actually.
There are, for example, several signs that are undeniably unhealthy.
We frequently talk about John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling – because they are so accurately predictive of a marriage’s demise.
By the time these relationship destroyers are playing a leading role in your life, your marriage has passed through unhealthy to toxic.
And is, at least statistically, most likely doomed.
But what about that spectrum of relevance? Surely marriage doesn’t go from happy to doomed without warning.
The events, stresses, and triggers of life – and, more importantly, your responses to them – are all hints along the way.
They are also invitations to pay attention and make adjustments to stay on course.
In this way, the very stressors that challenge your marriage are opportunities to learn how to prevent an unhealthy marriage.
Every relationship passes through stages. Even a new job has a honeymoon phase, followed by a get-down-to-business phase.
But how often does the start-up hype become a disillusionment to the work ahead? And how often does the expectation for start-up perfection create negativity, disappointment, contention, and even resignation down the line?
Marriage is really no different in that regard.
More than any other helpful, must-do tip, it’s self-awareness that can improve your relationship the most.
Knowing yourself means recognizing, acknowledging, naming, and accepting your own thoughts, feelings, sensations, needs, and desires – before they become behaviors.
After all, you can’t prevent, let alone change, something you don’t recognize or acknowledge.
It’s the hiding behind a veil of unawareness that leads to blame, lack of self-accountability, and ultimately a life of victimhood and resentment.
As you read the following list of signs of an unhealthy marriage, think about the ones you didn’t see coming.
- Sex has gone by the wayside and/or is no longer a satisfying, connecting experience.
- You and your spouse don’t talk about anything outside of work, kids, bills, and home management.
- You and your spouse bicker and fight all the time – or don’t fight at all.
- Your physical health is suffering.
- You stop taking care of yourself.
- You have stopped dreaming and looking forward to things – individually and as a couple.
- You start fantasizing about life without your spouse, possibly even with someone else.
- You don’t make time for one another and don’t prioritize your marriage as an entity.
- You and your spouse criticize more than you praise and validate.
- You don’t listen and/or don’t feel heard.
- Your kids are acting out and/or are doing poorly in school.
- You and/or your spouse start drinking more or finding other means of escape.
- You intentionally avoid communication, especially about the relationship itself.
As tragic as it all sounds, every one of these symptoms can (and usually does) creep up on unassuming spouses.
And it’s so easy to enter that slippery slope!
Want to fix an unhealthy marriage and get that loving feeling back? Your best bet is to focus on how to prevent an unhealthy marriage in the first place.
Here are some “ounces of prevention” to help you prevent an unhealthy marriage:
- Talk about the likely (and potentially unforeseen) challenges of marriage before your wedding and throughout your marriage.
- Embrace a positive, even grateful attitude about sources of self- and relationship-improvement: therapy, coaching, classes, retreats, support/activity groups.
- Remember to nurture your individuality and unique interests and talents. Carving out time for “just you” will not only feed your soul, it will fuel your spouse’s attraction and longing for you.
- Make healthy communication your top and constant priority. And commit to learning new and more effective communication skills on an ongoing basis.
- Replace criticism with a complaint to shift the focus from blame to a feeling and need that you own. “When you ignored me at the party, I felt lonely and unimportant” will inspire a far different response than “You always abandon me when we go out!”
- Make your marriage a “non-negotiable” in your life. Put date nights and other occasions for togetherness on your calendar as a stronghold for your routine, and plan everything else around them.
- If your faith is important to you, nurture it and turn to it, both individually and collectively, as a source of strength and guidance for your relationship.
- Turn “sacrifice” (not self-martyrdom) into a fun adventure. What can I do today that will surprise and benefit my spouse, even if it inconveniences me?
- Take divorce off the table.
- Show physical affection, and not just in the bedroom. Touch when you talk. Hold hands in public. Add a few seconds to your welcome-home hug and kiss. Pat one another on the tush or place your hand on one another’s back as you pass by.
- Make time for sex, even if you have to schedule it. If the idea of planning for sex seems unromantic, use that awkwardness as motivation to create a romantic, fun, playful experience.
- Play together. Play as a couple, play as a family. And keep “play” ahead of winning.
- Travel together. Even if you travel as a family, create getaways for just you and your spouse.
- Say “I love you” several times a day.
- Say “I’m sorry,” “please forgive me,” and “I forgive you” with humility and sincerity…and without reservation.
Chances are you didn’t take your vows thinking about how to prevent an unhealthy marriage.
You thought about all the proactive, loving things you would do to bring about your vision for a happy marriage and life.
And that…that…is your ounce of prevention.
Divorce. The Great Divide. The non-delicate demolition. The emotionally eviscerating excavation of your white-picket-fence dreams. It’s a fault-cracking (and usually fault-finding) shake-up to anyone going through it. And yet, some people seem to recover more easily than others. What, if anything, does being a self-aware person have to do with how you rise from the ashes?
A lot, actually. And that’s what we’re going to explore here.
Sure, there are recognizable, even predictable similarities – grief, anger, disappointment, feelings of failure, and changes in lifestyle.
But every divorce, just like every marriage, is a melding (even in the throes of rending) of different personalities, histories, and experiences.
Men and women, for example, experience the short- and long-term effects of divorce differently. The effects of divorce on men are more transient, while the effects (especially financial) on women tend to be chronic.
Family histories can also have a profound effect on how individual spouses perceive, and therefore heal from, divorce.
Gender and family history, however, are factors outside your control. When something as monumental as divorce takes over your life, you need sources of empowerment and factors you can control.
And (yes, you probably saw this coming) the only person you can control…is yourself.
If you are ever going to access your superpowers within, you need to know the superhero staring back at you in the mirror.
And that starts with self-awareness – that Holy Grail of fearless self-knowledge, self-acceptance, self-accountability, and authentic progress.
But how does that apply to divorce and its aftermath?
If you are a self-aware person, here are 6 reasons that you will recover from divorce more easily than someone who isn’t:
You have an identity, a sense-of-self, that is not grounded in being a spouse.The magic of marriage lies, in part, in the merging of two independent lives into a new “entity” and life vision.
The risk of marriage lies in the same.
How easy it is to lose your sense-of-self to the enthusiasm for a life “as one.”
The danger, however, is that you forget who you are.
You also forget that the union to which you are committed can’t survive if you both collapse in on one another.
No one said this better than the poet Kahlil Gibran: “But let there be spaces in your togetherness / And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.”
A self-aware person would read this chapter on marriage and think, “Well, of course!”
The non-self-aware person would wonder how the marriage could survive.
Whether you come to your marriage with high self-awareness or have only recently embarked on it, you hold the key to healing from your divorce.
Your spouse fell in love with you – not a diluted, half-cloned version of himself or herself.
And, as you move forward to create a new life from the lessons of the old, reclaiming and reinventing you will be essential…and exciting!
You are more likely to reach out for help and support than someone who is not self-aware.If you were experiencing signs of a heart attack, how long would you wait before calling 911?
The self-aware person knows how to read the signs, whether they be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc.
There is no heroism (and no reward) in “waiting it out” instead of seeking help.
You know divorce is going to be hard – on you, your ex, your kids, your families, your friends, your job.
Being proactive in seeking help makes you smart, not weak.
It takes you out of victimhood and shows you – and the world – that you have the business of life to get down to. And by golly, it’s gonna take a village to get it done!
Besides, when you open yourself to receiving, you complete the cycle of giving. Someday you may have what someone else needs to heal. And you will hope for their openness to receiving it.
You feel less threatened and insecure when transitioning from marriage to divorce because you know the qualities you can count on.Only a self-aware person can do a fearless self-assessment of both strengths and weaknesses.
I am incredibly resourceful, especially when the odds are against me. I know I’ll get through no matter what.
I’ve never been good with financial stuff. I guess I’m going to have to find some trustworthy people who are and seek their guidance.
I may never be able to make the money my ex does, but I am creative and open to ideas and possibilities.
Your self-assessment isn’t a list of pros and cons. It’s a “preparation list” that reminds you of all your inherent strengths.
And that includes the strength of character to know where you need to grow…and that you are up for the challenge.
You are less likely to have high attachment anxiety that would make you seek reattachment to an ex and/or unhealthy relationship.Attachment is simply the ability to make emotional bonds with other people. It develops during childhood between a child and primary caregiver and can affect every relationship in the child’s life, present, and future.
There are many reasons that attachment can have a negative influence on future relationships. Not meeting a child’s needs. Being inconsistent in parenting. Not having or teaching boundaries. Neglect. Abuse. Criticism.
The accrued “wrongs” of parenting can be the foundation for insecurities and lack of self-worth/self-esteem as a child matures and enters relationships.
Even if you had a dysfunctional childhood, your choice to develop self-awareness is your ticket to freedom from re-entering that negative cycle.
Does that mean you won’t ever long for your ex or marriage or wish you weren’t getting divorced? Of course not.
But it does mean that you can maintain healthy boundaries, look at your current circumstances with objectivity, and make wise choices to protect your future.
Your health benefits.If being in high-quality relationships is like a morning shot of wheatgrass to your health, then it stands to reason that relationship losses can have negative effects on health.
If you are a self-aware person, however, you will naturally keep yourself in check.
Yes, you may experience changes in your diet/sleep/exercise/stress/moods. But, compared to a non-self-aware person, you will recognize where you are making unhealthy choices that you can change.
Are you drinking more alcohol to numb the pain?
Self-awareness will tap you on the shoulder and make you look at where you are and where you could end up if you don’t change.
Have you stopped going to yoga classes because of exhaustion, lack of available time, and lost interest in being around people?
Self-awareness will remind you that you still have options to reaping the benefits of exercise: yoga videos, walking your dog, dancing with your kids.
Being a self-aware person keeps you in tune with your body and accountable for its well-being.
You have what it takes to find love again and to create a healthy, lasting relationship.As a self-aware person, you aren’t afraid to look at your own flaws and contributions to the loss of your marriage.
You also aren’t too proud to embark on the process of self-improvement. You know that your power to create or improve a relationship begins with you.
This is the same commitment to self-awareness that you should expect of any future partner…and will inevitably attract.
Imagine yourself as a magnet walking through your life. Everything that is authentic to you…everything that reverberates with who you are, what you feel/need/desire and has to give…comes out of hiding and connects to you.
It defines you, informs you, protects you, and heals you.
It is you. Unashamed. Unafraid.
Suddenly you are collected, “whole.” “All-one.” Standing in your own truth…
…and standing up for your own truth.
Self-awareness did that.
You did that.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation if you’d like support in becoming a more self-aware person so you can more easily navigate your life post-divorce.
You can learn more about becoming and benefitting from being a self-aware person in How To Be More Self-Aware.
Getting divorced is a decidedly unhappy turn of events for most of us. Our dreams of happily ever after are gone and we aren’t sure what to replace them with or if it’s even possible to replace them. And forget about being happy… what does that even mean?
Well, as bleak as things may appear to be right now, I know it’s possible to be happy again post-divorce. I learned how to do it myself when I got divorced in 2002 and I’ve helped hundreds of people find happiness again too.
Before diving into what to do to increase your happiness post-divorce, let’s look at some science-based facts about happiness that will prove you can be happy again.
First, there is stuff that’s not in your control when it comes to happiness.
In a study of 1300 twins, the Minnesota Center for Twin & Family Research found that happiness is 50% genetic. There’s absolutely nothing that you can do about your genetics when it comes to being happy – at least not yet.
Other researchers published findings that 10% of happiness is based on environmental factors. These are things that we have no control over, like the weather, where we were born, who our parents are, the economic situation we were born into, etc. However, as we mature, we can begin to shift some of the environmental factors like our economic situation to better support our happiness.
And when you add the numbers up, they say that we can control at least 40% of our happiness. But when you’re struggling with divorce feeling in control of anything often doesn’t seem possible.
So let me share with you 5 things you can begin doing today to start you along the path to being happy again.
Get your basic needs met.There’s a big difference between needs and wants. For many, this can be hard to distinguish when going through a divorce.
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a great way to understand what basic needs are and which you may need to make sure you’re meeting.
From the most basic, the needs Maslow identified are
a.Physical (air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, reproduction),
b.Safety (personal security, employment/resources, health, property),
c.Love & Belonging (friendship, intimacy, family, sense of connection),
d.Esteem (respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, freedom),
e.and Self-actualization (desire to become the most that one can be).
For many who are struggling with divorce, most if not all of these needs are not being met. If that’s the case for you, start with the first of the needs above that isn’t being met and work on getting those met first.
For example, let’s imagine that as a result of your divorce, you no longer have a place to live and you need to find a job. Your first need to meet is Physical and finding shelter. Once you have a place to live, then you can focus on meeting your Safety need and finding employment.
It’s important to start at the beginning of the list to meet your needs. Doing so will help you to feel more relaxed and able to focus on the next needs on the list. In other words, you’ll be able to begin being happy as you feel more and more secure that your basic needs are met.
Get comfortable with not being in control.Post-divorce life can be quite different from married life. While you were married, you probably had more control over the time you spent with your children and how and when you spent money. Divorce changes all of that. All of a sudden these parts of your life are dictated (at least in part) by the laws where you live.
Now you have to worry about when it’s your scheduled time to be with your children.
Now you have to deal with the division of assets and debts accrued during the marriage in addition to spousal and/or child support.
But there are also other things you may not have control of when you divorce. For example, divorce severs more relationships than just your marriage and you’ll likely lose some friends too.
In other words, divorce fundamentally changes your life. And many of these changes are simply not in your control. And rather than rail against them, the best you can do when it comes to fostering your happiness is to learn to let go and accept what you can’t control.
Be present.Learning to be present can be a struggle for anyone. However, when you’re dealing with divorce it’s especially challenging because you’re grieving the end of your marriage (the past) and the hopes and dreams you had for the future as a spouse.
And when you’re trying to make sense of the past and the future, it’s really hard to be present.
However, there’s a simple question you can ask to help you become more present. That question is “What is right now?” Since this question is about the present, thinking about it and answering it will pull your attention to the present.
Be grateful.One of the secrets that all happy people know about being genuinely happy is that gratitude changes everything. And, yes, it is possible to be grateful post-divorce. The trick is to begin being grateful for the “small” things.
Some small things you might choose to be grateful for include: waking up this morning, having indoor plumbing, having running water, the sun rising, the sun setting, and seeing your child’s smile.
When you allow yourself to see there is still good in the world despite your divorce, it becomes easier to be grateful. And being grateful has a sneaky and even magical way of transforming into being happy because you’re focusing on what’s good instead of what’s wrong.
Set and pursue goals that align with your values and interests.When most people hear the word “goal” in this context, they think they’re being asked to set BIG goals. Setting big goals isn’t necessary when you’re working on being happy post-divorce. The point is to set any goal that will help you to feel more alive and vital during the process of achieving it.
When you purposefully do things that are in alignment with who you are and that you enjoy, chances are good you’ll begin experiencing happiness.
It doesn’t matter the order you try these suggestions for being happy post-divorce. The important thing is that you try one. Look at it as an experiment. Do you notice yourself feeling even a smidge happier when you try it? If so, that’s great!
And if you don’t, there are still 4 other suggestions for you to try out. When you’re ready, come back to this list to try another tip and see how it works for you. The goal here is to find as many as possible that work for you so you can experience being happy more often.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. You can select a helpful report and join my newsletter list for weekly support in moving on from your divorce. Additionally, you can schedule a 30-minute private consultation to talk with me about how to live a happy life post-divorce.
Looking for more information about how to live a happy and healthy life? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Building A Happy Life.
No matter how you look at it, divorce is painful. Your life (and the lives of your children) are changed forever. And for a time you must face challenge after challenge – a seemingly endless stream of them. Yet you know you must continue to move forward so you persevere and eventually ask yourself the question, “How can I forgive and let go of all the hurt?”
This question is important because it’s at the core of all the pain you’re experiencing over your divorce. It’s also one of the most difficult challenges of healing after divorce because divorce brings with it so many hurts, betrayals, and lost dreams.
So let me walk you through how I help my clients learn how to forgive and let go after divorce.
The first step is to truly understand what forgiveness is.
What is forgiveness?
Simply put, forgiveness is a conscious decision to release your feelings of resentment, hurt, anger, or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you.
What I like about this definition is that it’s all about you. It’s not about waiting for the person or people who harmed you to make amends.
There’s power in this. It means that letting go and moving on after your divorce is up to you. Sure there are probably circumstances that are dependent upon others, but your being able to forgive is completely within your control.
However, something being 100% in your control doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily easy to achieve. I’ll bet if you’re like most of the people I’ve spoken with over the last nearly 20 years, that you have some resistance to forgiving.
Why do so many struggle with it?
Being able to forgive and let go after divorce is often problematic because of mistaken beliefs. It’s fairly common to erroneously believe that forgiveness has to do with the other person or group. This belief completely removes an individual’s ability to move forward.
Waiting for someone else to make you feel better about your divorce is a recipe for staying stuck.
You stay stuck when you continue to replay the harm you experienced and the resultant resentment, hurt, anger, and desire for vengeance again and again. You’re holding on to it and in a way nurturing it so that your pain never has a chance to dissipate. Instead, it remains and often grows.
This way of coping with being harmed makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Back in the days of living in caves, our ancestors needed to know who they could trust because their lives depended on it – literally.
However, today we don’t necessarily need to continually remind ourselves of the harm done to us.
The other reason so many struggle with forgiveness and letting go after divorce is that we mistakenly believe that to forgive means to forget and act as if the harm never happened.
So let’s revisit the definition of forgiveness from above and please pay close attention to what you’re reading…
…forgiveness is to consciously decide to release your feelings of resentment, hurt, anger, or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you.
Nowhere in this definition is there anything about forgetting or dismissing or even condoning. In fact, remembering the hurtful actions and learning how you can prevent or avoid or in some other way keep yourself from being hurt in the same way in the future is what you should be learning from the situation.
And I’ll bet that even with all of this discussion about what forgiveness is and why so many struggle with it that you might be thinking one of two things:
- I can’t forgive my ex.
- I can’t forgive myself for hurting my ex.
So let’s take a look at both of these thoughts.
I can’t forgive my ex.
If you’re struggling to forgive your ex for the end of your marriage, chances are that you’re blaming them for everything that’s happened. And you’re partially correct. They are to blame – for their part.
The uncomfortable truth is that you’re also culpable. You have some fault for the end of your marriage too.
It’s worth taking the time to look at how you contributed to your divorce. At a minimum, you are responsible for deciding to marry your ex. But, I’ll bet that if you let yourself really think about it, you’ll see that you played a little bit larger role than that.
I don’t say that to condemn you. I say it because I know it was true for me and it’s been true for each and every one of the hundreds of people I’ve worked with.
In my case, one of the ways I contributed to the end of my first marriage was the expectation that my husband would just know what I needed without my needing to tell him. It was easy to blame him for not caring about me. But the truth is that I didn’t tell him what I needed and how I wanted things to change.
And, yes, it did take me some time to be able to admit this to myself. Yet when I did, it was easy to forgive him because I knew that I wasn’t solely a victim of his actions. I was also a victim of mine.
This idea of being a victim of your actions brings us to the second struggle that so many people have with knowing how to forgive and let go after divorce.
I can’t forgive myself for hurting my ex.
If you’re struggling with forgiving yourself for hurting your ex with your decision to divorce, you’re not alone. Most people who initiate divorce blame themselves for the pain they caused.
I’ll bet making the decision to divorce was one of the most difficult decisions you’ve ever made. You probably weighed all kinds of considerations before finally deciding this was the best course for you and your family.
And it’s good that you still care for your ex and what they’re experiencing as a result. Yet, the truth is that you’re not responsible for how your former spouse feels (and you never were).
Another unfortunate fact is most people find forgiving someone else easier than forgiving themselves.
I believe there are 3 primary reasons for this:
- It’s easier to see how someone else has caused us harm (and it can be easier to feel like a victim) than it is to recognize how we may have caused ourselves or someone else harm.
- It can also be difficult to forgive ourselves because it takes effort and sometimes it can seem easier to wallow in guilt and regret.
- We can hold ourselves to a higher level and breadth of accountability than we do others.
Yet despite all the struggles that you may have with allowing yourself to forgive and let go after your divorce, it is possible to do. In fact, I believe you must do so before you can fully move on with your life.
Tips for reaching forgiveness
So far we’ve spent a lot of time talking about forgiveness and why it can be difficult to do. Let’s shift gears now and talk about some tips for how you might be able to finally forgive and let go.
To forgive someone else, you might try these tips:
Get distance from the event
For most of us, it’s nearly impossible to forgive someone while we’re feeling hurt.
If you can give yourself a little time so you can look at the situation from different angles, you’ll find that your perspective of the event and its meaning can change. It’s this change in perspective that can often provide the space to forgive – or at least begin being willing to forgive.
Be willing to do your part.
The key to being able to forgive and let go is making the choice to do so. Choosing to let go of the anger, hurt, and resentment is necessary. And sometimes the easiest place to start is to decide to be able to make this choice.
Work through your feelings.
As inconvenient as they may be, you must acknowledge and work through your feelings about the hurt. A couple of ways you may choose to work through them are journaling and talking to a trusted friend, family member, or helping professional. – journaling, talking
Find the silver lining of the hurt.
Yes, there really could be a silver lining to your divorce. It might allow you and your ex to be better parents. It might allow you to pursue passions you laid to the side when married your ex.
By being willing to look for the opportunity to grow from your divorce and/or recognizing your relationship wasn’t what you thought it was, you’ll quickly be able to find your silver lining.
Build your capacity to forgive.
Start with forgiving smaller things first to build up your forgiveness capacity. Then you can progressively build up to forgiving your ex for the divorce and all of its repercussions.
Acknowledge your forgiveness.
Take the time to recognize that you’ve been able to forgive and let go of any portion or part of the hurt you carry because of your divorce. When you do, you’re celebrating yourself, your growth, and taking a giant leap toward putting your divorce behind you.
To forgive yourself, in addition to the tips above, the following can be helpful:
Recognize if you’re holding yourself to a higher level of accountability than you do others.
Have you heard of an inner critic? Most of us have met our inner critic even if we don’t know it by that name. It’s the negative, nagging, judgemental voice that keeps replaying our faults and shortcomings.
Our inner critic is the part of us that unreasonably holds us to a higher level of accountability than others. Once you can separate the excessive condemnation from an appropriate level, it becomes easier to forgive yourself.
Change your negative thoughts.
We all have a negativity bias. We look for what’s wrong. And this can cause us to be hard on ourselves and makes it difficult to forgive and let go.
When you catch yourself allowing negative thoughts to control how you feel about yourself, it’s time to change them. One of the most straightforward ways to do that is to ask yourself if the thought is based on fear or love. If it’s fear, then you can change it by looking for a loving, kind way to reframe the thought.
Learning how to forgive and let go after divorce will take time and effort. Yet the investment you make in doing so will enable you to move on with your life and be more fully you as you build a meaningful and love-filled life after divorce for yourself (and your kids).
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people just like you with healing after a divorce or breakup. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
Looking for more information about getting over the end of your marriage? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Healing After Divorce.
There comes a time in every affair when truth can no longer hide between the sheets. It may come out right away. It may come out after months or even years. But, once your cheating is exposed, your life will never be the same.
So fasten your seatbelt.
The revelation of infidelity can happen in a number of ways:
If you’re married and cheating, you may have your duplicitous life neatly and conveniently compartmentalized. As long as you can keep your stories straight and your tracks covered, you can keep everyone in your fantasy bubble happy.
Until, of course, you leave a slipper on the staircase and your carriage turns into a pumpkin before curfew.
Or until your spouse starts adding up your one-off nights of working late.
Or your affair partner gets fed up with the double-standard of being alone when you’re with your family.
Or you get tired of keeping up the charade and feel the sudden moral urge to confess.
How your cheating is exposed is less important than the exposure itself…because exposure means decision-time.
Everyone involved — even the affair partner — has decisions to make.
Are you going to end the affair and work on your marriage? Are you going to get a divorce and start a new life with your affair partner? Are you going to break off both relationships and live on your own?
What can you count on in the aftermath of being outed for your affair?
There is no definitive script for the post-cheating-discovery drama that plays out. But you can count on several unpleasantries, especially in the early days, weeks, and months following the affair’s exposure.
One thing’s for sure: The sh*t is going to hit the fan.
Even if your spouse becomes reclusive and avoidant in the wake of pain and anger, you’re going to feel the repercussions of your betrayal.
And your “logical” compartmentalization — you know, that thing that convinced you you could keep this double-life going — is going to implode.
Here is a short-list of what to expect when your cheating is exposed:
You and your spouse will be polarized emotionally.Your spouse will be fuming from your betrayal — angry, devastated, hurting, confused, self-doubting, demanding details.
Your emotions will be equally complex and may even parallel some of your spouse’s emotions.
But you are likely to feel overwhelming contrition, shame, embarrassment, and self-loathing, even if you’re hurting and confused.
If your affair was long and emotionally involved, you may have a separate set of emotions surrounding your affair partner — responsibility, guilt, anger, sadness, longing.
If you and your betrayed spouse plan to work on saving your marriage, you’ll have to make peace with this polarity, especially in the beginning.
Your spouse will be flooded with negative emotions, which may come out as unpredictable rage and fury.
Hell hath no fury like a [spouse] scorned.”
Whether your betrayed spouse is female or male, the anger from betrayal is deep and consuming.
One way to add to that scorn and fury is to get defensive with a bunch of cheating excuses.
Your spouse may not be the only one who knows about and is affected by your infidelity.Depending on how your cheating is exposed, there may be others in your family and/or social circles who know about your infidelity.
And, if your betrayed spouse acts out in a moment of rage, you may find yourself in a social media fishbowl. Now you’re not only trying to save your marriage, you’re trying to save face everywhere you go.
Who knows? Does everyone know? Does everyone hate me? Can I show my face anywhere?
You may care for your affair partner, but don’t expect your spouse to.
Advice for getting past infidelity is almost always focused on the married couple, with little or no regard for the affair partner.
This “other person” is often objectified and treated as a disposal for blame and the unfettered ugly side of anger. Easy to “just give up,” with no concern for their feelings.
But you may have developed deep feelings for this person, especially if the affair began as an emotional connection and/or lasted a long time. You may even think of your affair relationship as another committed relationship.
The understandable requisite that you completely end the affair in order to work on your marriage may be more complicated than that.
For you, at least.
Your spouse, however, won’t share your concern for this other human being.
Again, the emotional polarity….
It’s going to be a long time before your spouse trusts you again. With anything.Just plan on it.
And don’t add insult to injury by making your spouse lay it out for you or defend the lack of trust.
You’re going to have to earn it back.
And not just a few times when you think the effort is worth making.
You will now need to earn trust on your spouse’s terms.
And that may include surrender in some very uncomfortable ways — passwords, cell phone-monitoring, curfews, and, of course, zero contact with your affair partner.
You’re going to face a firing squad of very uncomfortable questions. And your spouse is going to expect you to answer them.
As with the lack of trust, you should brace yourself for the barrage of questions about your affair.
Your spouse’s reality has been shattered in one revelation. Nothing makes sense.
And your spouse desperately needs something to make sense.
They will flounder under the weight of self-doubt, wondering why your transgression wasn’t obvious. How could I have not known? How can I ever trust again?
In an effort to put the pieces of sanity back together and decide how to move forward, your spouse is going to ask. A lot.
And, while you’re going to have to humbly, compassionately, contritely answer, you’re also going to have to exercise prudence.
Some answers may be too explicit to achieve any end but more harm.
And some answers may actually be necessary, despite the shame and discomfort you feel when delivering them.
Seeking qualified professional help during this time can remove some of that “burden of prudence” and give you both a safe place to heal.
Even if you want to save your marriage, you may not believe you can endure the punishment.
Affairs aren’t the scarlet letter of miserable marriages only. They happen in happy marriages, as well.
And those marriages that have (however ironic it sounds) a strong foundation of love and respect tend to fare better after an affair.
But, depending on the nature and length of the affair, you may believe the cost of repairing your marriage is just too steep.
You may, for example, doubt that your spouse will ever forgive you, let alone trust and desire you again. And no one can live with a prognosis of perpetual monitoring, blame, and reminding.
If your spouse expresses the desire and commitment to work on your marriage and that’s what you also want, know that the journey ahead is going to be long. It’s also going to be painfully, exhaustively, inconveniently reflective.
Infidelity changes everyone in its path – the betrayed, the betrayer, the affair partner, children, family, friends.
When cheating is exposed, the veil is lifted – on a lot more than just the infidelity.
Ironically, the exposure lays bare the very issues that made your marriage vulnerable to an affair in the first place.
It also reveals, with alarming clarity, the fragililty of the reasoning behind choices made to avoid them.
Perhaps your affair was a wake-up call to the supplications of a marriage you want to save.
Perhaps it was a sabotaging of a marriage you subconsciously want to end.
Whatever your motive for cheating, know that its exposure will be a turning point in a lot of lives.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I work with individuals struggling with how to get over resentment after an affair. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. Schedule an introductory private coaching session if you’d like to take the first step toward working with me.
Looking for more information about the repercussions of cheating? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.
You take your vows anticipating the good, the hopeful, the uncomfortable-but-not-insurmountable conflicts. What you don’t anticipate is struggling to figure out how to fix a miserable marriage.
And yet, sometimes it’s a slippery slope from happy to just-a-shift-in-priorities to growing apart to unhappy…to miserable.
Would you even know the 12 signs of a bad marriage without reading about them or learning about them in therapy?
Granted, there is an infinite spectrum of subjectively interpreted happiness and unhappiness. And what’s happy/unhappy for one person/couple may not be so for another.
But, if you’re going to learn how to fix a miserable marriage, you need to first recognize the signs of issues you want to “fix.”
Do you know what’s making you miserable?
Have you and your spouse stopped talking? Do you fight all the time? Or have you stopped fighting altogether?
Has sex become a thing of the past or even something withheld as retribution or an expression of contempt?
Has one of you had sexual indiscretion or begun to push the limits of an emotional affair?
Is there verbal, emotional, or even physical abuse?
(As always, if you or someone in your home is a victim of domestic violence, please seek help and safety immediately. Here is the link to The National Domestic Violence Hotline.)
If you’re asking how to fix a miserable marriage, you may already have taken the first critical step: deciding that you want to fix your marriage.
Why is that such a big deal?
Because, by the time you think of your marriage as “miserable,” the thought of getting out of it may seem like the easier option. It may even seem like the better option.
So ask yourself:
Are you unhappy in part because you’re at a loss for how to repair something you love that is broken?
Or are you unhappy because your marriage has reached the stage of criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling?
Being able to admit that you and your spouse have let your marriage erode is a noble admission.
And reaching out for help to bring it back to life is actually a humble, hopeful, courageous beginning.
Here, then, are the most important things to know about how to fix a miserable marriage:
Stop doing damage.
There is absolutely no way you can heal a life-threatening wound if you’re busy creating more wounds.
Stop. Doing. Damage.
You should both feel the nudge of the “angel on your shoulder” telling you to pull back, stop, bite your tongue.
There will be times when this kind of surrender will feel sacrificial and one-sided.
There will be times when you will fail because you won’t even recognize that you’re doing more harm. (But remember, that’s largely how you got here in the first place.)
Start focusing your energy on looking for your spouse’s responses. Pay attention to the facial expressions, body language, disconnect, even tears in response to your words and actions.
The information you need to heal the wounds in your relationship, believe it or not, is always right in front of you.
Abandon the need to always be right.
Always having to be right is exhausting. It’s exhausting for the other person, and it’s even exhausting for The Perfect One.
Very little of what makes relationships work is based on “right or wrong.”
You can definitely make right or wrong choices in the moment. But sometimes, if the need of the moment calls for you to agree that the sky is green and grass is blue, so be it.
If you use social media apps like Facebook, you’re probably familiar with the ability to “pin” a post on your page. The purpose is to keep an important post always at the top, regardless of what you may post after it.
Use this analogy as a visual for your marriage.
Pretend the value of your marriage and spouse is an important Facebook post. Pin it at the top of your page so it’s always the first thing you consider before you “post” anything else.
And give yourself a break from needing to be right. Chances are you’re not always right.
And, unless a life hinges on being right, giving someone else the honors is such a refreshing grace.
Get professional help now.
Don’t wait to bring in the experts.
There are knowledgeable, experienced, compassionate therapists who spend their lives teaching couples how to fix a miserable marriage.
They can help you develop healthy communication skills while helping you diffuse the accumulated anger and hurt in a safe way.
And if your spouse won’t go to couples counseling with you, you can still get the help you need to make sure your side of the street is clean by working with a therapist or coach individually. The beautiful thing about this is that once your behavior changes it becomes easier for your spouse’s behavior to change.
Do a personal inventory of your discontent/misery.Each of you should do a personal inventory of what your discontent looks like.
Does one of you feel unloved because of the infrequency of sex?
Does the other feel unloved because of the lack of help that would build the desire for sex?
Is there too much stress in your lives?
Do you suffer from any medical condition that contributes to your marital dissatisfaction?
Do you feel unheard, unappreciated, unacknowledged, disrespected, unloved?
Do a collective inventory of your discontent/misery.
Besides your personal inventories, there will be the inventory of how you relate as a couple.
What are you doing to support your marriage? What are you not doing that would help to make it better?
Did date nights go by the wayside when children came onboard?
Did you stop talking about the little things because they stopped seeming important?
Have you lost respect for one another?
Have you stopped spending time together?
Have you stopped dreaming about your future as a couple/family?
Do an honest inventory of how your unhappy marriage is affecting your children.
Remember that you aren’t the only ones affected by a miserable marriage.
If you have children, you have built-in barometers of the discontent.
Be mindful of the ways your children express their unhappiness and fears.
Are their grades slipping in school?
Are they acting out?
Are they retreating and closing off communication?
Are they asking unusual questions that imply insecurities about your family?
Listen to your children with full engagement. And let the love that leads you when listening to them inspire you to listen to your spouse with love too.
Spend time remembering and talking about the good parts of your history.
If you’re wanting to know how to improve a miserable marriage, you must be holding onto the good memories of your relationship.
This is wonderful!
Acknowledging what was and is good about your relationship isn’t a denial of what needs to be fixed.
It’s simply a way to nurture a languishing entity back to life with memories of how you once took great care of it.
If you can do that, then you’re telling yourselves you have something worth fighting for.
Find reasons, times, and ways to infuse kindness, compassion, respect, and love into your communication.
When you’re miserable, affection is usually the farthest thing from your mind.
While it’s unrealistic to expect a full resurgence of a happy sex life anytime soon, affection doesn’t have to remain absent.
You would be amazed what a gentle touch – on your wife’s back, on your husband’s hand – can instill in both of you.
To come full circle from the first point of “doing no more harm,” finding moments to infuse goodness comes in those “pauses.”
When you bite your tongue on being snippy or sarcastic, you create a moment, however fleeting, to change course.
If the Magic Ratio in a healthy relationship is five positive actions for every negative action, how much work do you have to do?
Be willing and prepared to forgive…
yourself, your spouse, the little things, the big things, the harm done, the missed opportunities. Forgive. And don’t forget what it took to get here.
Learning how to fix a miserable marriage when you want to save it is a lot like taking an intensive course in Relationships 101. It’s a return to fundamentals, but with murky water under the bridge.
As long as you still have respect and the memory of love coursing through your relationship, there is hope.
Just remember to pin your marriage at the top of your page.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a life and divorce coach. I help people, just like you, who are struggling with an unhappy or even miserable marriage. For immediate help, you can download your FREE copy of “Contemplating Divorce? Here’s What You Need To Know.” And if you’re interested in working with me personally, you can book an introductory 30-minute private coaching session with me.