Sunday, August 23, 2009

Political Affairs: The Wife's Response

Tennessee Capital Building, Nashville, 1979Image by an0nym0n0us via Flickr

Once again, this time right here in Tennessee, a state representative admits to having an affair. While it is difficult enough to know your partner has been unfaithful, it’s made more difficult when the general public knows your struggle. It must seem as though everyone is peering over your shoulder in judgment as they wait to see what decision you will make.

Women often say they feel foolish upon discovering their husband’s affair. They become self-conscious and imagine that the infidelity was known to everyone but them. It is not uncommon for the betrayed wife to feel others are laughing at her or holding her responsible for the infidelity. As a wife of a politician, the glare of media must make the self-examination even more painfully insecure.

It is important for the betrayed partner to find a position of self-worth that says, “I am a woman of value. My value is not based on my husband’s (mis) behavior, or others’ opinions of me. I am faced with a decision, whether to remain committed to the marriage or divorce. I cannot allow anything to interfere with my ability to make a good decision. I must avoid making a decision too quickly or too emotionally.

Reconciliation requires three elements. First, the betrayed partner must feel that your partner understands the depth of your pain. At the same time, she must accept responsibility for her expression of her pain. The betrayed partner must move from aggressive expression of pain to vulnerable sharing of pain.

Second, she needs her partner to examine the underlying reasons for his affair. It is not good enough to say that the behavior is wrong and won’t be repeated; the gravity of the poor choice calls for self-examination to explore the underlying influences that led to the hurtful behavior. The betrayed partner must be able to move from endless questions about the details of the affair to a more penetrating discussion of what the affair meant to their partner.

Finally, there needs to be a plan for a new, improved relationship. Without such change, a cloud of pain can hang over the marriage for years to come. Instead, the couple needs to be able to say that the crisis was painful but brought about an even stronger, healthier marriage than existed prior to the affair. This path of reconciliation takes months, even years to follow. Outsiders rarely show sensitivity to how difficult this path is (for instance, look at what is said about the Clinton’s marriage) yet as a society we encourage commitment to marriage.

Of course some hurts lead to an emotional detachment that becomes a divorce. One or both partners come to see the marriage as perpetually dissatisfying. The painful process of divorce also becomes a source of public scrutiny.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Can Marriage Counseling Be Harmful?

A couple struggling for years in their marriage finally agree to enter marriage counseling. They go for a couple of sessions. The counseling helps them to express their displeasure with the relationship, but also brings them together to work on their relationship as they had not done in several years.

Because they were working together and the tension was reduced, they decided to quit counseling - after all, it was expensive and inconvenient. They really believed they had turned a corner on their relationship problems and would be able to continue improving on their own effort.

A year later, they find they have failed to improve their relationship. They discuss seeking marriage counseling, but agree that marriage counseling didn't work in the past. Perhaps their problems are hopeless. Perhaps divorce is the only answer.

Marriage counseling requires a commitment to working over a period of time on improving your relationship. The process does not just alter your feelings toward each other. If the process is successful you will have negotiated a more intimate relationship , but this takes time.

Remember when you were given a bottle of antibiotics and the instructions included the warning to take the whole bottle even if you are feeling better. I suspect that marriage counseling should come with a similar warning: Do not begin this process lightly; be prepared to see it through to the end.

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