self help

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.

"I'm not good enough"

It's been a common theme in sessions this week; this idea of not being good enough. I've heard from several clients,

"I'm tired of trying."

"I should be doing more."

"Why can't I just do [insert action]?"

The judgments flow freely and harshly. The comparisons to both real and imagined people keep clients stunted in the vicious cycle of inadequacy. Left unchecked, stuck inside our heads, this inner critic can paralyze us. 

"What can I do?" a client plead earlier this week, desperate for relief.

Focus on progress instead of perfection

Instead of focusing on your shortcomings, in what ways have you made improvements? What are the areas you'd like to change and how are you moving closer toward your goal? Focus on the positive.

Comparison is the thief of joy

The people you compare yourself to are probably comparing themselves to someone else, too. Measuring yourself against others is the surest way to limiting your sense of worth. Everyone's journey is different; there's no better or worse.

You can't hate your way into success

Motivational posters don't say "suck it up," or "gosh why are you so awful?" Telling yourself you aren't worthy or lovable won't make you more worthy or lovable. 

You are enough just as you are.

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.