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“I forgive you.” You desperately want to hear those words, but I want to explain to you why you might not hear those words right away and why you don’t necessarily need to hear those words right away. And that’s totally okay. ☆ What you need right now is to begin understanding forgiveness itself, especially in a marital context.

I’m operating under the assumption that you are not seeking forgiveness for forgetting to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer, but rather for committing some big breach of trust and inflicting deep emotional hurt in your marriage partner. Whatever you did, understanding how forgiveness works is important.

Why you probably won’t hear, “I forgive you,” right away:

  • Most definitions of “forgiveness” describe it as a process. Processes take time.
  • Even though you might truly be sorry and even expressed your sorrow multiple times, your hurt spouse has emotional trauma to work through in order to forgive. This emotional trauma often has physical symptoms, too. None of this can be rushed.
  • Your hurt spouse may need professional help to work through this process.
  • Your hurt spouse may need time to see changes in your behavior, rebuild trust, understand that you are truly sorry (not just sorry you got caught), and see over time that your relationship will be different moving forward. None of this happens overnight.

You’ve got work to do in the meantime…

  • You might be needed for some conversations to help process your spouse’s thoughts and feelings or answer questions. Offer to share as much information as your spouse feels the need to know.  On the other hand, your spouse might need some space to internally process. Respect both.
  • While it might be frustrating and take much longer than you believe it should, be willing to do what it takes to rebuild trust with your spouse, even if it doesn’t make sense to you, makes you uncomfortable, or is a blow to your pride. Transparency, vulnerability, and willingness are your best friends right now. Your phone, laptop, bank account, etc., might all need to be open books. Accounting for your time and whereabouts might be necessary now. Whatever it takes.
  • Your spouse might want you to attend some couple’s therapy sessions or for you to attend some sessions on your own. 
  • Your task is NOT to be the perfect spouse (there’s no such thing) but it is to demonstrate that you are truly sorry, value your spouse and marriage, and prove that you are working to be trustworthy and reliable and are willing to do what it takes to honor your spouse and protect your relationship. (If you were unfaithful with someone you met at the gym, you need to be willing to gladly switch gyms or even work out at home for a while to show that your spouse comes first. Many people have found new jobs to remove themselves from a co-worker they cheated with. Yes, that is the level.)
  • Empathize. Really empathize. Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes and feel what they might be feeling. (If you reach a place of, “Well, I wouldn’t expect…” stop empathizing and keep honoring.)

While you’re at it… check your backbone. 

A lot of people have a wishbone where their backbone should have grown. They wish things were different, easier, that they wouldn’t have done this or that—but wishing doesn’t make it so. Marital mistakes, conflict, and difficult seasons don’t have to be terminal. In fact, they often have the opposite effect when people have some backbone and use it to lean into the hard stuff. Broken bones are stronger when they mend. 

You and your marriage can grow from this!

Whatever “this” is, it’s part of your story now. In the best stories, the good guys—the heroes—have had to work to overcome something very, very difficult. You can do this, and you don’t have to do it alone. Get growing!

  1. Learn how to manage conflict and how to communicate your way through it.
  2. Find meaningful ways to say things like “Sorry” and “I forgive you” and live those words out.
  3. Learn that love is an action, not a feeling.
  4. Have friends that are for your marriage.
  5. Have an older couple as mentors.
  6. No keeping score and no looking to “even” it.

This season isn’t easy or fun, but it can bring you and your spouse closer together than ever before. Every scar tells a story. What kind of story do you want this to be?

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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Forgive and forget,” right? That’s what they say. But what happens when you can’t forget and you certainly aren’t ready to forgive? Have you ever felt like something was wrong with you because forgiveness didn’t come quickly, easily, or at all?

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An angry wife greeted her husband, who was late getting home again from work, as he walked through the door. As was their usual pattern, an argument followed. This has been an ongoing issue between the two for several months with no apparent resolution in sight.

In Gary Smalley’s book, The DNA of Relationships, Smalley wrote that the external problem couples tend to argue about over and over again is rarely the real problem. Believe it or not, many couples argue about superficial issues, never actually getting to the real problem for the duration of their marriage. Smalley contends that this is a destructive dance many couples are involved in and it stems from fear.

“We have found that most women have a core fear related to disconnection – they fear not being heard, not being valued, somehow losing the love of another,” said Smalley in his book. “Most men, on the other hand, have a core fear of helplessness or feeling controlled – they fear failure or getting stepped on. We noticed that the common core fears are all related to two main primary fears: the fear of being controlled (losing power) and the fear of being disconnected (separation from people and being alone). Without identifying your own core fear and understanding how you tend to react when your fear button gets pushed, your relationships will suffer.”

The tardy husband had no way of knowing that at the core of his wife’s anger was the reality that her father used to come in late from work because he was seeing another woman. While she and her husband argued about his tardiness, the real issue – her fear that he might be cheating on her – did not surface until much later.

Smalley’s book encourages people to do a self-examination to determine their core fear. Maybe it is rejection, feeling like a failure, being unloved or being humiliated, manipulated or isolated.

Couples who are dancing the fear dance know the steps well. The cycle begins when your feelings get hurt or you experience gut emotional pain. You want to stop feeling this emotional pain and you want the other person to stop treating you in such a way that “causes” you to feel this pain. You fear they won’t change, so you react and try to motivate them to change. In doing so, you start the same process in the other person.

“The fear dance can start with discussions of sex, money, in-laws, disciplining children, being late, etc.,” Smalley wrote. “People fall into patterns of reacting when their buttons are pushed. Most people use unhealthy reactions to deal with fear. Most of us try different ways to change the other person’s words and actions so that we will feel better. As a result, our relationships are sabotaged. It’s how you choose to react when your fear button is pushed that determines harmony.”

So, how do you break the rhythm of the fear dance? According to Smalley, these steps can help:

  1. Take control of your thoughts, feelings and actions. Your thoughts determine your feelings and actions.
  2. Take responsibility for your buttons. You choose how you react when someone pushes your fear button.
  3. Don’t give others the power to control your feelings. Personal responsibility means refusing to focus on what the other person has done. The only person you can change is yourself. You can stop the fear dance.
  4. Don’t look to others to make you happy. Don’t fall into the “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” myth. Come to relationships with realistic expectations.
  5. Become the CEO of your life. You can’t force people to meet your needs, but when you express legitimate needs to others, they can choose to step in to assist you.
  6. Remember that forgiveness heals relationships. Taking personal responsibility means confessing your wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness. You also forgive others.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 19, 2019.

Looking for more? Watch this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Many people are looking to do some cleaning out at the beginning of a new year. Whether it’s a detox body cleanse or binge-watching “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on Netflix, people are interested in freeing themselves from toxins in their body and letting go of material things that seem to hold them back from living their best life.

A relational cleanse could also be helpful. Start by asking yourself, “What did I drag into this new year that is holding me back?” It could be things like:

  • bitterness and resentment
  • a toxic friendship
  • lies you have taken on as truth about yourself
  • childhood experiences that still haunt you
  • a lack of forgiveness of yourself and/or others
  • disappointment that weighs heavily on your heart
  • despair that things will never change
  • an addiction
  • a job you dislike, or something else.

Are there people who suck the life right out of you every time you are around them? If so, why do you choose to hang with them? How would your life be different if you moved on?

What purpose does unforgiveness, resentment and bitterness serve? Holding on to emotions may seem powerful in some way or that it is actually impacting the other person, but it’s really killing you instead. Letting go of the poison doesn’t excuse the behavior; It gives you the freedom to live.

What about disappointment and the complications of life? Spouses walk away, jobs end, unexpected illness hits, children make poor choices, and sometimes the biggest disappointments come from the ones you care about the most. Is collecting and carrying around disappointments helping you move forward? Sometimes you look back and realize that one of your biggest disappointments taught you one of your greatest life lessons. But, if you can’t figure out how holding on to disappointments is helping you be your best you, then it’s time to let them go. Doing this might feel like letting go of a very heavy weight.

Excessive spending, gambling, alcohol, drugs, food, sex, pornography, video gaming, exercising, work and cutting are just a few of the addictions people often find themselves battling. Acknowledging that any one of these has a stranglehold on your life is the first step toward dealing with it and moving forward. Addictions are often bigger than what we can handle on our own, so don’t be afraid to seek professional help to get you moving in a healthy direction.

Oftentimes, the hardest part is recognizing that we each make a choice, consciously or not, to continue hauling stuff around that isn’t helpful or healthy for us. Making an intentional decision to stop dragging around unhealthy relational things can give you a completely different perspective on a new year and your life. Opportunity lies ahead.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 20, 2019.

Eric was married with two children. Life at home was good, and he considered his relationship with his wife to be healthy. They frequently spent time together and intimacy between the two of them was good. He never considered having an affair until he faced a potentially compromising situation with a co-worker.

“Contrary to popular belief, most people do not set out to have an affair,” says Dr. Shirley Glass, infidelity expert and author of Not “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity. “Eric’s situation is all too common. It is faulty thinking to believe that being attracted to someone else means something is wrong at home. It is possible to be attracted to somebody else, even if you have a good marriage.”

Appropriate Boundaries Are Important

“The single most important protector against an affair is appropriate boundaries,” Glass says. “In a culture where men and women are working so closely, you must make sure you are not creating opportunities for an affair to occur. Especially at a time when you might be vulnerable – like right after a fight with your spouse. One of the most common doorways into an affair is where a man and woman who are ‘just friends’ innocently begin to discuss problems in their primary relationship. They are doing their marriage work with someone who might not be a friend to the marriage.”

According to research, 25 percent of women and 40 percent of men will have an extramarital affair at some point.

Glass says that openness, honesty and self-disclosure defines intimacy in marriage. Anything that interferes with that creates walls of secrecy and should be a signal of looming danger. For example, meeting the same person every morning for breakfast in a public place without telling your spouse creates a wall of secrecy in your marriage. If you’re uncomfortable talking with your spouse about it, that’s a warning sign.

Interestingly, only 10 percent of people who leave a marriage for their affair partner actually end up with them. Many say they wish the affair had never happened and that they had worked on their marriage instead. 

So, how can you guard against an affair?

  • Establish clear boundaries.
  • Stay connected to each other and keep the lines of communication open.
  • Instead of creating walls of secrecy, talk with your spouse. Eric came home to his wife and told her about what happened with his co-worker. They were able to talk openly about strategies for clearer boundaries. This strengthened their relationship.
  • If you feel attracted to someone else, never let them know.
  • Watch out for outside influences that encourage infidelity. For example, avoid an environment where other people are fooling around. Be on guard at business socials where drinking and dancing happen and spouses aren’t present.
  • If you have experienced infidelity in your marriage, it’s possible to survive it and be stronger than before. Unfortunately, it takes time for the wounds of betrayal to heal, and both parties must be willing to work together to move the marriage forward.

If you are working through infidelity, Glass recommends the following:

  • Stop the affair. The betrayed person cannot begin to heal until the affair is over.
  • Replace deception with honesty. The person who had the affair must agree to be accountable and create a safe and open environment by letting their partner know where they are.  
  • Because someone has violated trust, you must tell the story of the affair. The only way to tear down the wall of deception is to have an open window – no secrets. Usually, partners want all of the details. They need to put all of the missing pieces together and ask questions. The partner who had the affair must be patient, understanding and willing to share information. This is one way to rebuild intimacy.
  • Identify vulnerabilities in your relationship and begin to work on them.
  • Discuss what faithfulness and commitment means to you. Just because a relationship is not sexual does not mean you are not having an emotional affair.
  • Understand that this is a very difficult process and you may need professional help to work through your issues.

Eric was able to take a potentially harmful situation and turn it into one that fostered more open communication and trust in his marriage. The window of openness and the sharing of uncomfortable situations actually builds a marriage up instead of tearing it down.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! This course includes exclusive access to:

  • 5 downloadable relationship-enhancing PDFs
  • Videos full of easy-to-use communication tools
  • Questions to ask each other to spark a deeper connection
  • Fun activities to guide you through each of the concepts discussed

ADD TO CART

Popular talk shows imply that everybody intentionally cheats in marriage.

“In reality, most people don’t cheat,” says Kristina Coop Gordon, co-author of Getting Past the Affair. “Based on research, approximately 40 percent of married people cheat on their spouse. Studies indicate the person most likely to cheat is someone who is dissatisfied with their relationship and/or feels insecure about themselves. They use the relationship outside of their marriage as a way to feel better about themselves.”

What is Unfaithfulness?

Some people believe that if sex isn’t involved outside the marriage, they weren’t being unfaithful to their spouse. However, Gordon and others such as Dr. Shirley Glass, author of Not “Just Friends,” disagree.

Being unfaithful to your spouse starts when you begin to hide what you are doing with someone else. If you’d be uncomfortable with your spouse knowing about conversations with a co-worker or a regular lunch appointment, or if you schedule workouts to spend time with someone, then you have probably crossed the line.

Only 10 percent of people who leave their marriage to pursue their affair partner actually end up with them. Many say they wish the affair had never happened. They often wish they had worked on their marriage instead.

“It is not uncommon for couples who have experienced infidelity to believe that their marriage is over,” Gordon says. “However, based on 20 years of research we have found that at least 65-70 percent of couples survive the affair.”

For many, this seems impossible. How can you ever re-establish trust? At least one spouse has betrayed the marriage relationship, creating a lot of trauma and questions. The offended spouse often experiences great anxiety and wonders if it will happen again.

“If you are willing to do the soul searching in your marriage, I will just about guarantee your marriage will not only survive, but you will be happy in your marriage,” Gordon says. “In fact, a couple I recently worked with shared that as difficult as the affair was to get through, while they would not want to experience it again or wish it on anyone, they are grateful it happened because it was a real wake up call for their marriage.”

Gordon’s step-by-step guide helps couples dealing with infidelity. It encourages them to look at themselves and their marriage, discover where things derailed and identify steps to get back on track.

A huge piece of the restoration process is forgiveness.

“Some people confuse forgiveness with excusing unacceptable behavior or no accountability,” Gordon says. “This is not true. Forgiveness is very freeing. Just because you forgive, it doesn’t necessarily mean immediate reconciliation. Questions still have to be asked. People have to be willing to look at themselves and acknowledge, ‘I messed up. What caused me to do that?’ Couples willing to do the hard work receive a gift because they learn a lot about themselves, their spouse and their marriage.”

“The affair is one layer of our relationship,” says a couple who used Gordon’s book to help them heal from an affair. “It is a painful, awful, yucky layer. We are continuing to weave our relationship and lay so many more layers on top of that layer that it will be just one line in the many layers of our marriage.”

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Once a man took the day off to take his son fishing. His son was thrilled that his father would take a day away from important work to spend time with him, and he considered this day as one of the best days of his life. After the father passed away, his son found a diary among his dad’s possessions and began reading it. When he came to the day they spent together fishing, the entry read, “Took off work to take son fishing. Day wasted.”

Essays written for an FTF essay contest about fathers often described a warm and loving relationship between father and child, but some children were courageous enough to write about their strained relationship with their father. They described difficult circumstances and even questioned their father’s love. However, each of them seemed to hold out hope that their relationship with their father would someday be better.

Many people, young and old, find themselves in a father-child relationship that is difficult at best. Words and deeds from the past continue to drive a deep wedge in the relationship. Deep down they would like things to be better, but they don’t know how to change the situation for the better. In too many instances, one party is waiting for the other to apologize.

If you find yourself in a similar circumstance, here are five steps you can take to restore your relationship.

  • Be willing to make the first move.
  • Forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean the behavior was justified. It means you are willing to cut someone loose from a debt and move on with your life.
  • Keep your expectations realistic. Relationships do not mend overnight, so it will take time and commitment on your part. You can’t predict how someone else will respond, but you can choose how to deal with whatever it might be.
  • Accept the person for who they are. Everyone has faults. It’s easy to tell a person how they need to change. It is much harder to accept them where they are with all of their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Celebrate the small steps toward restoration. Even though the relationship may not be all you want it to be, understand that even the smallest move toward reconciliation is reason to celebrate.

Distressed relationships do not happen overnight. Through a series of events, people become wounded and keep a tally sheet; then bitterness grows into anger and relationships weaken. It only takes one person to take the first step toward mending a broken relationship. Even if the other person doesn’t respond, you can allow healing to happen in your own life. If nothing else, you will know that you have made an effort to change the situation for the better.

Don’t let this Father’s Day be “a day wasted.” If your relationship with your father is a great one, be thankful and show it. If your relationship with your father or child is less than what you would like it to be, take heart and know that you can be the one to take the first step to repair that broken relationship.

As you begin this journey it will be helpful to remember the three P’s: Be practical, patient and persevere. You never know what might happen. A bad relationship can become better and a good relationship can become great, so never give up. It may take longer than you would like, but when you least expect it, your relationship could take a turn for the better.