Sometimes what you’re most afraid of doing is the very thing that will set you free.
Psychology says people don’t always need advice. Sometimes all they need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen & a heart to understand.
Do you suspect (or know) that a supposedly monogamous partner has cheated on you? You are not alone. Between a fourth and half of all attached partners will cheat (or have cheated) at one time or another. Knowing others are affected too, however, does not lessen the hurt. Take a look at these steps and use them to help you get through the trauma. This can be an exceptional painful issue and the emotions are very intense so use this as a checklist to help yourself get through the event.
1. First and foremost – take a deep breath and some time. Do not let yourself have a knee-jerk response. Think! This is especially important in long-term relationships. Sudden reactions without thought can lead to consequences you might regret. Give yourself some mental space before you take any action.
2. Talk to someone. You are not alone. Statistics are sketchy and vary widely, but many surveys have been done on cheating and they indicate that between a fourth and half of all married people will or have cheated at one time or another.
3. Do not blame yourself. It’s easy for people to start looking at themselves for reasons why their partner cheated… nothing good will come of that. Issues that lead to cheating sometimes involve both people, but that’s certainly not always the case. However, it would help, at a later date look inwards too to find out why your partner looked elsewhere for comfort. There could be certain gray areas in your behavior which could have led to such actions. You have to remember that most humans like a monogamous lifestyle, as it brings about so much of happiness & security. However, there are a few who would not conform to this.
4. Determine whether you were actually cheated on. Ask yourself these questions: Were you officially boyfriend and girlfriend at the time this “cheating” occurred? Were you officially monogamous? If not, you cannot be sure that your significant other knew what he or she was doing would offend you, in which case you might want to consider less confrontational options.
5. Talk to your partner. Let your concerns and fears be known. It might come out that nothing at all happened, or perhaps something did happen and coercion was involved (workplace sexual harassment, for example, which needs to be discussed openly and immediately to ward off future occurrences). There could be a substance abuse or psychological issue that needs to be addressed (sex addiction is very real). If help is warranted, you might want to support your partner in getting help – that could prove therapeutic for both of you. However, substance abuse is not a valid “excuse” for inappropriate behavior and you absolutely must not permit the “yeah but I was drunk so it doesn’t matter” argument – stand very firm on that.
6. Ask yourself if you will ever be able to look at your partner the same way. Infidelity doesn’t mean much for some, and some people have more than one physical relationship and it doesn’t suggest a shortcoming in their relationship with their steady partner, but this is rare. Infidelity often indicates boredom and dissatisfaction with the present relationships. Dealing with a partner who doesn’t want you in the first place, or one who doesn’t mind hurting you, is ridiculous. Dump him/her if this is the case.
7. If you decide this is irreconcilable, don’t break up with your partner and later take him/her back. This will only give you more emotional stress. If you break up, make it a clean break. However, a trial separation is a valid option. If you do make a break of any kind (permanent or trial) don’t talk to your ex after breaking up with him/her immediately. Give yourself some cooling off time first. If there are children or critical financial issues this might not be possible. In that case, set specific ground rules (time frames, meeting places, etc). This can be difficult, but it’s important.
8. If you are married and pretty sure a more-than-casual relationship is happening, you might need to consider an attorney or a reputable detective in the area that specializes in domestic cases.
9. If you do use an investigator, do not confront or accuse your partner. Let the investigator do his/her job first (if you confront them they may continue in an even more cautious way, which will make the investigation more expensive).
10. Get tested for STD’s as soon as possible. Not knowing will cause you extreme stress. Early treatment is critical.
11. If you can, collect evidence (receipts, emails, photographs, etc.) of the paramour. Keep this information at a friend or family member’s house. This will be less work the investigator will need to do later on your dollar.
12. Don’t start rumors. Share your suspicions with more than one close friend is likely to create gossip that can have very negative results in many areas. If there is an investigation underway, that kind of talk can hamper the case.
13. Look at your own personal actions, too. If you are also cheating, then it might be time to have an open discussion with your partner and clear the air. Perhaps couples counseling is in order. If divorce is the chosen option, remember it can get very ugly, very quickly, and your indiscretions will be brought into the limelight as well.
14. Turnabout is not fair play. Don’t start a relationship just because your spouse has done so. This is pure revenge and nothing good will come of it.
• Get out if the incident has hurt you too much.
• Being honest with yourself is important. If you don’t end the relationship, can you live with the thought that it might happen again?
• Get counseling! It’s not a particularly bad idea to do this even if there’s nothing wrong in your life, but when you are hurt it can definitely help to talk to someone professional.
• It always helps to forgive and put it behind you and not dwell on the past if you want to move forward.
• Do you want to invest the energy to “monitor” the relationship?
• Do men and women react differently after trauma? Yes.
• Does it mean one suffers more than the other? No.
• Do the differences confuse and often create tension for couples? Too often.
What we find across cultures is that in the face of traumatic loss, women need to speak about what has happened and men need to do something about what has happened. In one scene from the devastation of the Tsunami in Sri Lanka in 2005, the women gathered, crying for their lost children while the men rebuilt the homes.
In their 2006 review of 25 years of research on sex differences in trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in the Psychological Bulletin, David Tolin, and Edna Foa reported that although men have a higher risk for traumatic events, women suffer from higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. In their analysis, they suggest that the different rates of PTSD may actually be a function of the fact that men and women manifest their emotional pain in different ways.
In the aftermath of a traumatic event, women are more likely to have feelings of anxiety and depression, while men are more likely to express distress and depression in terms of irritability, anger and increased alcohol consumption.
Caught in the physical and emotional pain from a traumatic loss or event, couples often have very little patience for differences. It is hard for them to believe that their partner could feel different. It is even more difficult to believe that their partner could feel the same and react so differently.
When she suffered a miscarriage in the beginning of her fifth month, Claire was devastated. Then in her late 30’s, she was worried that this might have been her only chance to have a child. Even when she regained her strength, she was often unable to concentrate or sleep. She would ruminate and blame herself for waiting until her career was set before starting a family.
Claire was further upset by her husband John’s reaction. He was upset by the loss, but he seemed confident that there would be other chances. Claire wondered why he wasn’t blaming himself for their decision to wait to have kids. When she questioned him about this, he felt judged and blamed her for making it worse. They would end up fighting.
According to Dr. John Gray of Mars and Venus Starting Over, in the aftermath of the loss, both men and women need time to grieve. As such, it is often more common for women to blame themselves and for men to blame others.
Differences Don’t Equate to Lack of Love
If you find yourself struggling with your partner in the aftermath of a traumatic event, it does not mean that you don’t have a good relationship, or that you were never truly in love.
• Traumatic events are beyond what we ever expect. No one is prepared to respond.
• Differences in response don’t mean that as a couple you won’t cope or can’t heal.
If you take your time and give yourself and your partner a chance to grieve, cope and regulate stress in your own way and different ways, you will be able to use your relationship as an asset for coping.
• She joins a bereavement group at the church.
• He increases his workout schedule.
• She doesn’t want to socialize on the weekends, but he needs to get out—they settle on a movie date together.
Couple Considerations for Coping
• Everyone deals with trauma in their own way and in their own time – there is no right way.
• When in doubt don’t assume the worst about your partner – assume you don’t know.
• Interest and acceptance of your partner’s reactions invite sharing and empathy, which enhance healing.
• Being physically next to someone you love is a natural buffer for stress and emotional pain.
• Talking about the pain at times for her, valuing the shared silence for him—reflects the resilience of connection.
Sometimes the best-traveling companion in life is someone who sees and reacts to things in a way you would never have considered.
1. Can I relieve your stress in any way?
One thing all writing manuals say is “SHOW, don’t TELL”. Words aren’t all that helpful to a person struggling with depression. So what I found most comforting when I couldn’t pull myself up by my bootstraps is when a friend came over and fixed me lunch, or when someone offered to tidy up my place. I realize that sounds a tad pampered and self-indulgent.
2. Is there something I can do for you?
Again, like number one, this is a SHOW, not TELL moment, and those are very effective at communicating compassion. The chances are that the depressed person will just shake her head as she cries, but I can assure you that she will register your offer in that place instead her heart that says, “This person cares about me.”
3. Can I drive you somewhere?
Here’s something that most people don’t know about folks battling depression: they are really bad drivers. REALLY bad. Bad driving is an easy way to diagnose a mood disorder. So, this suggestion is not only to help out your depressed friends who maybe do need some fish oil or tissue paper from the drug store, but also all the other people on the road.
4. Where are you getting your support?
Notice the difference between saying, “Are you going to any support group meetings?” which implies, “If you aren’t, you are one lazy who deserves to be depressed.” And “Where are you getting your support?” which says, “You need some support. Let’s figure out a way to get it.”
5. You won’t always feel this way.
That was the perfect sentence that I could hear 50 times a day when I wanted out of this world. Those words don’t judge, impose, or manipulate. What they do is convey hope, and HOPE is what keeps a person alive, or at least motivated to get to the next day to see if the light at the end of the tunnel is really a place of rebirth or a friggin’ freight train.
6. What time of day is hardest for you?
This one is brilliant. Call twice a day, once in the morning–because depression is usually most acute upon waking (“Crap, I’m still alive.”)–and at about 3 or 4 in the afternoon when blood sugar dips and anxiety can take over. Mind you, you don’t have to say a whole lot, but knowing that they could count on you during those two times is a little bit like holding someone’s hand through a dangerous intersection.
7. I’m here for you.
It’s simple. It’s sweet. And it communicates everything you need to say: I care, I get it, I don’t really understand it, but I love you, and I support you.
That’s the most uncomfortable one because we always want to fill in the silence with something, even if it’s weather talk. But saying nothing … and merely listening … is sometimes the very best response, and the most appropriate. I love this passage from Rachel Naomi Remen’s bestselling book Kitchen Table Wisdom:
“I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. And especially if it’s given from the heart. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them. Just take them in. Listen to what they’re saying. Care about it. Most times caring about it is even more important than understanding it.”
Stress is inevitable. It walks in and out of our lives on a regular basis. And it can easily walk all over us unless we take action. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to minimize and cope with stress. Here are 10 ideas for handling stress without causing more strain and hassle.
1. Figure out where the stress is coming from.
Oftentimes, when we’re stressed, it seems like a big mess with stressors appearing from every angle. We start to feel like we’re playing a game of dodgeball, ducking and darting so we don’t get smacked by a barrage of balls. We take a defensive position, and not a good one at that.
Instead of feeling like you’re flailing day to day, identify what you’re actually stressed about. Is it a specific project at work, an upcoming exam, a dispute with your boss, a heap of laundry, a fight with your family?
By getting specific and pinpointing the stressors in your life, you’re one step closer to getting organized and taking action.
2. Consider what you can control—and work on that.
While you can’t control what your boss does, what your in-laws say or the sour state of the economy, you can control how you react, how you accomplish work, how you spend your time and what you spend your money on.
The worst thing for stress is trying to take control over uncontrollable things. Because when you inevitably fail — since it’s beyond your control — you only get more stressed out and feel helpless. So after you’ve thought through what’s stressing you out, identify the stressors that you can control, and determine the best ways to take action.
Take the example of a work project. If the scope is stressing you out, talk it over with your supervisor or break the project down into step-wise tasks and deadlines.
Stress can be paralyzing. Doing what’s within your power moves you forward and is empowering and invigorating.
3. Do what you love.
It’s so much easier to manage pockets of stress when the rest of your life is filled with activities you love. Even if your job is stress central, you can find one hobby or two that enrich your world. What are you passionate about? If you’re not sure, experiment with a variety of activities to find something that’s especially meaningful and fulfilling.
4. Manage your time well.
One of the biggest stressors for many people is the lack of time. Their to-do list expands while time flies. How often have you wished for more hours in the day or heard others lament their lack of time? But you’ve got more time than you think, as Laura Vanderkam writes in her aptly titled book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.
We all have the same 168 hours, and yet there are plenty of people who are dedicated parents and full-time employees and who get at least seven hours of sleep a night and lead fulfilling lives.
5. Create a toolbox of techniques.
One stress-shrinking strategy won’t work for all your problems. For instance, while deep breathing is helpful when you’re stuck in traffic or hanging at home, it might not rescue you during a business meeting.
Because stress is complex, “What we need is a toolbox that’s full of techniques that we can fit and choose for the stressor in the present moment,” said Richard Blonna, Ed.D, a nationally certified coach and counselor and author of Stress Less, Live More: How Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Can Help You Live a Busy Yet Balanced Life.
6. Pick off the negotiable tasks from your plate.
Review your daily and weekly activities to see what you can pick off your plate. As Vanderkam asks in her book: “Do your kids really love their extracurricular activities or are they doing them to please you? Are you volunteering for too many causes and so stealing time from the ones where you could make the most impact? Does your whole department really need to meet once per week or have that daily conference call?”
Blonna suggested asking these questions: “Do [my activities] mesh with my goals and values? Am I doing things that give my life meaning? Am I doing the right amount of things?”
Reducing your stack of negotiable tasks can greatly reduce your stress.
7. Are you leaving yourself extra vulnerable to stress?
Whether you perceive something as a stressor depends in part on your current state of mind and body. That is, as Blonna said, “Each transaction we’re involved in takes place in a very specific context that’s affected by our health, sleep, psychoactive substances, whether we’ve had breakfast [that day] and [whether we’re] physically fit.”
So if you’re not getting sufficient sleep or physical activity during the week, you may be leaving yourself extra susceptible to stress. When you’re sleep-deprived, sedentary and filled to the brim with coffee, even the smallest stressors can have a huge impact.
8. Preserve good boundaries.
If you’re a people-pleaser, saying no feels like you’re abandoning someone, have become a terrible person or are throwing all civility out the window. But of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Plus, those few seconds of discomfort are well worth avoiding the stress of taking on an extra activity or doing something that doesn’t contribute value to your life.
One thing I’ve noticed about productive, happy people is that they’re very protective of their time and having their boundaries crossed. But not to worry: Building boundaries is a skill you can learn.
9. Realize there’s a difference between worrying and caring.
Sometimes, our mindset can boost stress, so a small issue mushroom into a pile of problems. We continue worrying, somehow thinking that this is a productive — or at least inevitable — response to stress. But we mistake worry for action.
Clinical psychologist Chad LeJeune, Ph.D., talks about the idea of worrying versus caring in his book, The Worry Trap: How to Free Yourself from Worry & Anxiety Using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Worrying is an attempt to exert control over the future by thinking about it, whereas caring is taking action. When we are caring for someone or something, we do the things that support or advance the best interests of the person or thing that we care about.
LeJeune uses the simple example of houseplants. He writes: “If you are away from home for a week, you can worry about your houseplants every single day and still return home to find them brown and wilted. Worrying is not watering.”
Similarly, fretting about your finances does nothing but get you worked up (and likely prevent you from taking action). Caring about your finances, however, means creating a budget, paying bills on time, using coupons and reducing how often you dine out.
Just this small shift in mindset from worrying to caring can help you adjust your reaction to stress. To see this distinction between worrying and caring, try this activity where you can list responses for each one. For example:
Worrying about your health involves…
Caring about your health involves…
Worrying about your career involves…
Caring about your career involves…
10. Embrace mistakes—or at least don’t drown in perfectionism.
Another mindset that can exacerbate stress is perfectionism. Trying to be mistake-free and essentially spending your days walking on eggshells is exhausting and anxiety-provoking. Talk about putting pressure on yourself! And as we all know but tend to forget: Perfectionism is impossible and not human, anyway.
As the researcher, Brene Brown writes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth and it’s not self-improvement.”
Nothing good can come from perfectionism. Brown writes: “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life-paralysis [‘all the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect’].”
Plus, mistake-mistaking can lead to growth. To overcome perfectionism, Brown suggests becoming more compassionate toward yourself. I couldn’t agree more.
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” — Anais Nin.
Friends add meaning to our life, they enrich our experiences, bring joy, and share our problems. If there were a fourth need besides food, water, and shelter, we could say it would be the need for human interaction, closeness, and friendships. After all, what if great things happen in your life—you got a new job, a promotion, or fall in love—and there is no one to share the news with? What is the use of getting that new dress, purse, car, or house if there is no one to tell you, “I’m so happy for you!” And what can give you more relief in time of frustration, grief, sadness, or “the blues” than talking to a friend? Our friends are an important part of our lives, and also a necessary part; they are our mirrors, and our sounding boards.
Choosing a friend is not an easy task, for we all had one or two experiences in our life when a person who we thought was our friend let us down. Those lessons were hard to swallow, yet necessary to our inner growth. Later we learned that it is better to be alone than to be in wrong company.
It is of utmost importance to carefully choose the people we will associate with, for they will have great influence on our life. ‘‘Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.’’ (Assyrian proverb). We are the average of the five people closest to us, and that relates to their lifestyle, manners, income, etc. If you make friends with someone who is always looking for an easy way out, tells “white lies,” makes excuses, is envious, sarcastic, and avoids taking responsibility, it is only a matter of time before you start slacking off in those areas and justifying your own behavior as acceptable. Somehow what seemed unthinkable before, will gain a new perspective and become the norm, for if you run with the wolves you too will learn how to howl, and just like a mirror you will start to reflect the behavior of your friends—the good and the bad.
Stop for a moment now, and take a little inventory of the person you are right now compared to the person you were a year or two years ago. What qualities have you adopted from the people you surround yourself with? What character traits, attitudes, vocabulary, even quality of your self-esteem, confidence, acceptance of yourself and others? How did your friends (consciously or unconsciously) influence you in those areas? If the change is positive, and you feel yourself moving toward more, that’s great! How about if the change is negative, slowly but surely getting you down, making you feel that you are less instead of being more?
It is up to you to make the change, for as long as you tolerate mediocrity from others, you too will find mediocrity in your own life acceptable. Know, however, that this will be one of the hardest changes you will have to make, for your friends will not want you to grow. They have spent months or sometimes years getting you to a point where they themselves are, and now they are feeling comfortable with you right there, and it will not be of benefit to them if you should decide to change that. They don’t want you to grow, for the result of your personal growth will be outgrowing them and their comfort zone. At all cost they will want you to stay where they are, where they can continue to influence you and will not have to worry that someday you may become better than them. Their intentions may not even be based on jealousy but rather on fear, so forgive them quickly so you can go on your way to become the person you are meant to be.
Sometimes you have to leave behind those who are not willing to climb the mountain with you, if they refuse to share your vision of personal growth, then they should not try to discourage you in reaching your dream. How will you know what their true intention is for you? Look at their own lives, in which areas have they already reached the success that you are striving for? If they tasted the victory, they will want the same for you, however if their life never left their personal comfort zone they will be eager to share thoughts of fear and discouragement with you. So on your travel to a greater you, only take counsel from those who have already been there. Surround yourself with friends who are models of something instead of experts of nothing, for if you share your problems with someone who is incapable of contributing to a solution dipping in their own life’s experiences, your time and energy is wasted. Oftentimes though, it is those who never did anything who are the first with their ill-fitted advice. Know then, that at those times you can reserve the right that not everyone has the privilege to speak into your life. Instead of wasting your time with those people, invest in some time spending a few hours with people who have ‘‘been there and done that” and came out of it successfully.
It is said that there are three kinds of people in this world:
• Those who watch things happen.
• Those who make things happen.
• Those who wonder “What happened?”.
So let’s make things happen. Start today!
Choose good friendships in your life, the kind of friends who will enrich your life, pull you up when you are down, and push you when you can’t go on by yourself, who will be generous with praise at your successes and eager with encouragement at your struggles, those who will not patronize you to make you feel good for a moment, but those who will tell you the truth and help you get better for a lifetime.