My Partner Cheated On Me - Should I Stay?

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Affairs hurt. Betrayal is devastating. The pain sears from the moment you found out and over time, it might weaken, but it still lingers.

Should I stay with my partner?

Here is this person that I love, who hurt me very badly. They engaged in a sexual/emotional relationship with someone outside of our relationship.

I didn't sign up for this! 

Our culture reduces to absolutes - the perpetrator and victim, good person and bad person. And perhaps it's not that simple. "She has an affair and the man is saying, 'You cheated on me, you slut, you bitch.' I'm thinking, 'Mister, you may think you have the moral high ground because your partner breached the contract but the contract has been breached many times. If we just pretend that this betrayal tops all others ... I think we do a disservice to honesty and to the marriage," says renowned sex and relationship therapist Esther Perel. Working through the aftermath of an affair takes reflection and humility, but a divorce isn't always the superior choice. Often there are other considerations at stake, like children and other family members.

So what are you to do? If you decide to stay, you're put in a double bind - If I speak to others about what has happened they'll shame me for staying, so now I have to lie to protect him. Now I can't talk to anybody.

This is where therapy comes in. A therapist can help you sort through difficult emotions like resentment, hurt, distrust, and shame, leading to a stronger sense of self and relationship.

When the Cause of a Sexless Relationship Is - Surprise! - the Man

The New York Times published a brillant essay from gynecologist Jen Gunter about sexless relationships and the implicit understanding that it's often the woman's fault. 

"Our society seems almost built on the erroneous idea that all men want sex all the timeso I imagine it would be hard for men to admit to a lower libido, even anonymously. I have lied about my weight on many forms. That doesn’t make me a broken person; it just proves that a cloak of invisibility doesn’t hide you from yourself. The most damaging lies are the ones we tell ourselves."

Relationship problems rarely get better on their own. Addressing sexual incompatibility in your relationship with a trusted therapist can be helpful in moving forward.

How to Sustain Desire in Long Term Relationships

"I find myself fantasizing about other people. Is something wrong with me?"

"I can't remember the last time we had sex."

"It just feels like a chore."

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We know you love your partner. You've been together for years. But something feels as if it's missing - there's a spark, an energy, a passion that's been gone for years now.

How do you maintain desire in long term relationships?

Pioneering sex therapist Esther Perel says that in her research, she finds two common themes. Couples find their partner most desirable when reuniting, when he/she is in his/her element, and when there's novelty

Reuniting with your partner means they've gone out and done something. For a while, I can anticipate what he or she is doing, where they are, and even long for their return. I missed you. 

Seeing our partner confident, self-assured, and in his or her passion where we find tremendous desire. My partner doesn't need me to do anything for him/her. Look at how confident she is on stage. Do you see all the people gravitating toward him?

And finally, bringing something new, original, or unexpected to the relationship brings us desire. I find my partner desirable when he surprises me. 

Dis-satisfactory sexual relationships happen and, while there's opportunity to implement these practices in your relationship, a trusted therapist can help guide the process. 

Self-Compassion

We can be really hard on ourselves.

"You could have done better."

"Why did you say that?"

"I should be able to do more?"

Often, we think (and hope) our criticisms are motivating. Instead, their destructive and painful. 

Self-compassion offers a kinder, gentler way to speak to ourselves. Check it out for yourself.

High Functioning Anxiety

Working Women and Self Doubt

"I just feel like I'm battling impostor syndrome all the time."

"This project is proving I can do this job, so any little mistake feels like I'm not capable."

"It's like I've had the wind knocked out of me."

All quotes from my female clients in the last week about work. The self-doubt and insecurity is stunting.

It's not a problem unique to women, but perhaps faced by women more often than men. Am I faking it? Do I really know what I'm doing? Am I not getting a promotion because I'm a woman? Will I get fired if I mess this up? Shouldn't I be more confident in myself?

It's easy to feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and insecure. Unchecked, these thoughts of inadequacy and insecurity turn into anxiety. Suddenly every task feels daunting, there's no way to get started, and the world feels heavy and scary.

Working with a trusted professional therapist can help remove these roadblocks, empowering you to move forward with confidence and ease.

 

What I'm Reading

Constructive Wallowing, by Tina Gilbertson
I'm not far into it yet, but Tina Gilbertson suggests wallowing, or allowing yourself to feel "negative" feelings, leads to a fuller life. Instead of pushing "negative" feelings aside, accepting and embracing difficult feelings gives you power and understanding over yourself.

So, what is it you practice anyway? (Part 2)

This is the second part of a series on identifying the types of therapy I practice. Read Part 1 here.

What's the meaning of life? Why are we here? What's our purpose and passion? These are the kinds of questions I wanted to help people discover through therapy and turned to Existential therapy for framework.

Existential therapy is an optimistic approach that firmly believes in the human potential. It's a therapy that asks clients to confront and resolve conflicts of the human condition to live a meaningful and purposeful life. 

Irvin Yalom identified four themes or conflicts to the human condition: death, freedom (& responsibility), isolation, and meaningless. These four themes are the root of psychological problems and do not have real answers. They're used to conceptualize and address problems.

Death: Confronting the reality of death is a central pillar of Existential therapy. The goal is to encourage awareness of death with resources to not allow someone to become overwhelmed by it. Existential therapy works to identify denials of death through avoidance (afterlife, distancing), and/or uniqueness. "What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow? How would you live differently?"

Freedom (& Responsibility): Freedom is choice, agency, and awareness of constructs. Existential freedom helps one understand the influences one has been subjected to and encourages taking ownership for thoughts and feelings. The responsibility that comes with freedom is acknowledging what one has done and recognizing defensive patterns. This is where change happens.

Isolation: Yalom identified three types of isolation. Interpersonal isolation is separation from oneself and others. Intrapersonal isolation is splitting oneself off from their relationships as to not be fully present. And existential isolation is the concept that we're never able to truly overcome our isolation, as it's part of the human condition. Understanding how and why we isolate is important to recognizing defensive and destructive patterns. 

Meaningless: Existential therapy maintains that humans are meaning seeking and/or meaning creating being, depending on your world view. I hold that to a degree both are true - life can be meaningless and we create meaning out of it. However, I also think there are aspects of life that have meaning, we're just seeking them out. It is in this theme we explore coping versus growing, and seek to help individuals move from just coping with perceived problems into growing and fully living.

Existential therapy believes that humans are essentially alone but long to be connected. Though we seek connection, our own validation must come from within. We cannot seek validation from others. 

Existential therapy is a powerful and deep framework I use to conceptualize some of life's greater problems. As a counterweight to CBT, it works well in identifying patterns and motivations, resolving life struggles, and dissecting the root of the problem.

So, what is it you practice anyways?

This first in a multi-part series exploring the types of therapy I practice.

I've been a big believer in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) since studying it in graduate school. The simple premise behind CBT is that your thoughts influence your feelings, which influence your behavior. Understanding this pattern allow you to change it, right at the core.

Say you're in a meeting with your boss and she's not saying much. 'Is she annoyed with me?' you think. 'Maybe what I'm saying is totally off base.' These thoughts might make you anxious and start second guessing everything you're saying. These emotion-filled thoughts are called automatic thoughts, and they pop up based on beliefs about ourselves and the way the world works. Instead of automatically thinking your boss was annoyed, wondering if your boss was tired or preoccupied may change how you behave.

Automatic thoughts rely on perceptions about yourself and others called core beliefs. Core beliefs are developed from childhood experiences, cultural influences, your environment and more. Common core beliefs often follow themes of abandonment, un-lovability, defectiveness, helplessness, and entitlement.   

I have to be in control to be ok.

I'm unsuccessful.

If I don't succeed, I am worthless.

It's not ok to ask for help.

I'm stupid.

I'm bound to be rejected.

Challenging these automatic thoughts is the key to accessing and changing these core beliefs. Asking yourself questions like "Am I jumping to conclusions?" or "Am I condemning myself as a total person based on a single event?" or "Am I using all-or-nothing thinking?" can help challenge these thoughts. 

Noticing these automatic thoughts and changing them to a more realistic view can relieve distress. Changing the thought pattern from 'My boss is thinks I've done a terrible job; I'm worthless' to 'She's had a busy day and isn't saying much; Can I ask for feedback?' will change your behavior.

CBT is effective in treating:

  • alcohol use and abuse
  • substance abuse
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • chronic pain
  • chronic fatigue
  • eating problems
  • health problems
  • relationship problems
  • sleep problems

It's a short-term, problem-focused therapy that aims to systematically change the way you think about yourself and the world. 

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion, where one extends compassion to themselves in instances of struggle, failure, or inadequacy, can be a tremendous therapeutic tool. Instead of ignoring or piling on to pain, it's reminding yourself how difficult this is right now, and asking yourself what you can do to comfort yourself.

Dr. Kristin Neff, the leading researcher of self-compassion, has identified three key components to self-compassion: 

  • self-kindness - being warm and kind toward yourself in times of personal failings instead of critical and judgmental.
  • common humanity - recognizing that we all make mistakes. Suffering is part of the human experience.
  • mindfulness - a non-judgmental, receptive mind state that allows you to have a more balanced approach to emotions

The more you open your heart to disappointments, frustrations, personal failings, and imperfections, the kinder you are to yourself and others.

In the therapy room, I use self-compassion on client's who are intensely critical of themselves. I often ask questions like, "How can you be kinder to yourself?" or "What would you say to a friend who was experiencing the same thing?" I'm aiming to pull the client out of their destructive thinking cycle and introduce a more compassionate and kinder way of thinking.

Test it out for yourself. Take the quiz to see how self-compassionate you are. 

Wise Mind

Wise mind, a Dialectical Behavior Therapy concept, asks us to become aware of our different mind states. Finding your Wise Mind, that midpoint between acting emotionally and rationally, becomes a powerful tool for navigating difficult life situations.

Quick Mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation can feel like a commitment. We can often find excuses or reasons not to practice. Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months, and months into years. Break the cycle.

Do one action mindfully.

Just one!

It could be something you do everyday, like brushing your teeth. Notice how the bristles feel against your teeth and gums. Notice the water, taste the toothpaste. Take a minute to be truly aware of the moment, without judgment.

Notice your train of thought. Bring it back to brushing. Feel the toothbrush in your hands, listen to the sounds it makes. 

Carve out the time. You can find it. 

Emotional Flooding ... and how to stop

The dog won't stop barking, the kids won't listen to anything you say, you're tripping over shoes strewn over the house. Before you know it, you're furious - an uncontrollable rage that's pulsing through your whole body. You're ready to blow. 

It's flooding. You're so consumed by your emotions you're drowning in them. It's the opposite of numb. You can't NOT feel what you're feeling to the infinite degree and you don't know how not too. You've lost the ability to use your higher thinking and you're acting on impulse. 

Yelling at the kids to listen to you.

Hitting the dog in a desperate attempt to get him quiet.

Throwing shoes across the room.

Suddenly you've turned into this monster, doing the very things you thought you'd never do. How can you stop yourself before it gets too far?

1. Recognize the physical signs of flooding. Is your heart starting to beat faster? Are you clenching your fists or jaw? Take a quick body scan to see where you're holding your tension and try to release it.

2. Take a minute to focus on your thought stream. Are you taking these actions as personal attacks against you? Are you jumping to conclusions? Are you turning toward blame? In what ways can you change your thinking pattern?

3. Take a break. Take a few deep breaths and watch your belly rise and fall. Close your eyes if it feels right. 

Using these calming strategies, engage your higher thinking to productively problem solve. 

Relationship Activity Questionnaire

When relationships are in crisis, we often forget how or why attraction started in the first place. Use this worksheet to learn more about your partner, turning the focus temporarily away from problems.

G.L.A.D. - A simple mindfulness exercise

Incorporating mindfulness into your daily life doesn't have to take much time. This simple exercise takes less than 5 minutes and provides an opportunity for reflection, something we often forget to do.

G.L.A.D.

In a journal, reflect on the following:

G: Write one thing you're grateful for. It could be basic, like the shoes on your feet or the bed you can sleep on, or it can be a meaningful relationship in your life. 

I'm grateful for my dog, as she provides me entertainment and company.

L: Write one thing you learned today. It can be something you learned about yourself, about how you relate to the world, or a new skill or piece of information you discovered.

I learned I do my best work when my office is in order.

A: Write one thing you accomplished today. This is a small accomplishment (unless you have a big one to celebrate), but is a simple reminder of the things you do every day. 

  • getting out of bed
  • getting enough sleep
  • paying all my bills on time
  • making it to work on time
  • completed all my domestic chores

D: Write one thing that delighted you today. These are things that made you smile or laugh, things that entertained you, or simply made you happy.

I was delighted by the Youtube video I watched today, which made me laugh. 

Set yourself a reminder and practice this exercise everyday for a week. Notice how you feel during and after this exercise.

"Do I really need therapy?"

Knowing when to ask for help a brave and courageous step. How do you know when or if you need therapy?

We all experience a range of emotions, from happiness and excitement, to grief and stress, and none of this is necessarily problematic. However, if your emotions feel out of control or unmanageable, it's time to seek help from a psychotherapist.

If you struggle with regular eating, hear voices, or have difficulty sleeping through the night, it's time to seek help.

If your relationships are suffering, be it a parent/child relationship, spousal relationship, friendship, etc., it's time to seek help. 

If you find yourself using (and/or abusing) substances to cope with unwanted feelings, it's time to seek help. 

If you no longer find pleasure from activities you used to enjoy, it's time to seek help.

If a friend, family member, or loved one suggests you need help, it's time to seek help.

A trusted relationship with a mental health counselor can drastically improve your life. 

"I don't like feeling this way."

"I just don't want to feel like this anymore," I remember saying to my therapist. I was anxious and sad and didn't know what to do about it, but knew I didn't want to feel that way anymore. I was fed up. 

What I didn't know then was that I was experiencing distress intolerance. We often feel uncomfortable. There are times we're too hot, too cold, have achy or sore muscles. The type of discomfort I'm talking about is emotional discomfort - feeling sad, ashamed, disappointed, etc. Some find they're able to ride out difficult emotions, but for others, they "can't bear," or "must get rid" of these difficult feelings. This desperate need to escape emotional distress has a compounding impact, often interfering with other areas of one's life.

It makes sense to move away from things that feel unpleasant but for emotional distress, it often causes more problems than it solves. Often people intolerant of distress use the following tactics:

Avoidance. Avoiding people, places, or things that trigger an emotional response. Distracting and suppressing the emotion.

Numbing and withdrawing. Using drugs or alcohol to numb the emotional pain. Binge eating or excessive sleep to withdraw from others.

Harmful releases. Taking the distress out on ourselves, including scratching, cutting, and picking.

These tactics can provide short-term relief, but often cause more problems in one's life. From neglecting relationships to drug and alcohol abuse, the effect compounds upon itself. Now, in addition to dealing with upsetting depression or anxiety, you're struggling with an addiction that prevents you from holding down a job. Because you feel so ashamed and cut yourself, you're constantly living in fear that someone will find the scars.

The more we struggle with and fear distress, the worse it gets. In fact, the best solution is to lean in and tackle the distress head on. Since it's impossible to get rid of emotional distress, it's imperative to learn how to live with it. Working with a trusted mental health professional can help you develop a distress tolerance action plan to move through the pain and discomfort.

Are you suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Winter, especially in the Pacific Northwest, can be brutal. Days on end of limited light, the endless drizzle of rain, and a sun that sets at 4 p.m. can take it's toll on anyone. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of mood disorder whose onset occurs with the change of the season. For most people with SAD, the transition into winter finds them moody, irritable, and sapped of energy. Researchers believe SAD may be a type of hibernation found in other animals or an imbalance of serotonin or melatonin

Treatment for SAD include light therapy, medication, and psychotherapy. In addition to recommendations from your doctor, you may find the following helpful:

  • Make your environment brighter. Open the blinds, turn on the lights, and sit closer to windows throughout the day.
  • Spend more time outside. Go for walks or spend some time in the park. 
  • Exercise. Finding a physical activity you enjoy doing will decrease depressive symptoms. 
  • Schedule social activities. Plan to do activities with friends to get yourself out of the house and engaged with the world.

It's normal to feel sadness occasionally. If you're finding your not enjoying activities you once did, if you feel overwhelmed or hopeless, you might be depressed. Seek the guidance of a professional for an evaluation.

Managing Holiday Stress

'Tis the season! What's the most wonderful time of the year for some is a complete nightmare for others. The holiday season, stretching from Thanksgiving through New Year's, can often be long, stress-inducing, and painful for people.

Learning how to manage your stress level, especially around the holidays, is a great skill to develop. 

Plan. Start thinking about your holiday plans before they sneak up on you. Who are you celebrating with? Are you traveling? What will you need to do in anticipation of the holidays? Spending time considering the impact your plans have on your life may reduce your stress level.

Set aside differences. Beyond the actual holiday (are you celebrating Christmas? Hanukkah? Kwanzaa?), learning to set aside differences to enjoy time with family and friends is key to reducing stress level. If your Aunt Anne thinks Donald Trump is the best thing to happen to America, just let her. Your brother's kids driving you up the wall and you wish he'd step in to discipline them? Let go of your parenting ideas. Setting your ideas of "how the world should be" aside and allowing everyone to experience it themselves, no matter how frustrating, will reduce your stress level!

Act intentionally. The holidays come with a lot of obligation. You have to make Christmas cookies for the gift exchange party. You always go to your grandmother's house for Christmas Eve, even though you hate it. And if you don't: disaster. Instead of acting out of obligation this year, focus on acting out of intention. What will happen if you don't go to your grandmother's house for Christmas? Could you take her to brunch a week later instead? What will happen if you purchase cookies for the office exchange instead of spending five hours in the kitchen making from scratch? Look beyond your initial reaction to consider what will actually happen. And from there, choose to act intentionally. 

Make a budget. Holidays are expensive! Travel cost, gifts, parties, etc ... it adds up quickly. Spending a few minutes planning your holiday budget will help you feel in control of your finances and live within your means. 

Honor yourself. Above all else, choosing what's best for you is most important! Be reflective. Take inventory of what you're willing to do and what you'd rather not. Stick to your healthy habits. Be mindful of how you feel. If you'd rather stay in with a good book on Saturday night than attend the company holiday party, it's ok to do so. It's ok to take 30 minutes on Christmas morning for a jog. It's also ok to feel occasional sadness, despite the holiday season!

Seek professional help. If your anxiety or depression isn't going anywhere, don't hesitate to see a counselor. Bouncing what's happening off a trained professional may help reduce your symptoms and help you navigate this stressful time.

What I'm Reading

There's never a shortage of great reading material on mental health. I recently stopped at the store to pick up a couple things:

Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom by Rick Hanson. A great read on how contemplative practice can help harness your mind to cultivate happiness, love, and wisdom.

And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance after Baby Arrives by relationship expert John Gottman. Relationship satisfaction plummets after the arrival of the first child, and Gottman offers six steps to keeping the relationship spark alive during the most difficult first months of a child's life.

The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn. Introducing practices of mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy, four experts provide meditations and tools to sit with uncomfortable feelings. It's not just "thinking your way" out of depression, but developing a practice that works. 

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnston. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Drink explores contemporary trends with women's relationship to alcohol. 

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to be and Embrace Who You Are by shame expert Brene Brown. Brown offers ten guideposts challenging us to change our thinking from "What will people think?" to "I am enough."

Hope and Other Luxuries: A Mother's Life With A Daughter's Anorexia by Clare B. Dunkle. A memoir about a mother's struggle with her daughter's anorexia. Too often we're consumed with focus on the individual struggling with illness, but the entire family suffers.