Posts

How to Forgive Yourself

Learning from your mistakes allows you to move forward.

Forgiveness is often defined as letting go of feelings of resentment, anger, or bitterness toward someone who has wronged you. Forgiving others can be tough. But we all can forgive. While you may be able to forgive others, how are you at forgiving yourself for mistakes you’ve made or wrongs you’ve committed?

Forgiving yourself requires empathy, compassion, kindness, and understanding. We all make mistakes. However, there is power in acknowledging, learning from, and moving beyond our mistakes. 

Why should I forgive myself?

Forgiving yourself is a big deal for your own personal growth. When you forgive yourself, you improve your self-image. Studies have shown that those who practice self-forgiveness experience lower levels of depression and anxiety, too. 

Forgiving also impacts your physical health. Research shows that forgiveness can reduce blood pressure and improve heart health.

How do I forgive myself?

Dr. Marilyn Cornish proposed a four-step approach to self-forgiveness, suggesting key actions that can be helpful:

  • Responsibility
  • Remorse
  • Restoration
  • Renewal

Kendra Cherry, MS, offers further insight on Cornish’s approach to forgiving yourself. Here’s a summary of her work.

Accept Responsibility

Some say you just have to forgive and forget, but Cherry says it’s about more than forgetting the past and moving on. The keys are to accept what happened and show compassion to yourself. It may be the hardest step in self-forgiveness, but acknowledging and accepting what you’ve done is a huge step forward. It’s rarely easy for anyone to look in the mirror and see their own mistakes.

Show Remorse

Even after you accept responsibility, you may be overcome with negative feelings like guilt and shame. Believe it or not, it’s normal and healthy to feel guilty when you’ve wronged someone. Cherry says that feeling guilty lets you know you’re a good person who has made a mistake or wronged someone, so it can lead to positive change.

On the other hand, shame makes you feel like your whole self is wrong. Left unchecked, shame and feelings of worthlessness can lead to addiction, depression, or aggression.

Mistakes are just those: mistakes. Remember that your mistakes don’t define you or make you a bad person.

Apologize and Restore Trust

Apologizing and repairing damage is vital to forgiveness. Cherry says this is just as important when you are forgiving yourself. Apologizing shows that you recognize the mistake and feel bad for what you’ve done. Offering an apology to someone you’ve wronged allows you to start rebuilding trust with them. It also enables you to work through the guilt and restore confidence in yourself.

Focus on Renewal

Cherry acknowledges that we all make mistakes and have some regrets, but she notes that it isn’t helpful to focus on those things. In fact, an unhealthy focus can damage your self-esteem and self-worth. Self-forgiveness allows you to move beyond your mistakes and grow.

One of my favorite movie lines is from Batman Begins. Alfred looks at Bruce Wayne and, quoting Bruce’s father, says, “Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Making mistakes is a normal part of life. We’re all guilty of it, but what matters is that we learn from our mistakes and move forward.

A little side note on self-forgiveness…

Self-forgiveness is important when reflecting on your mistakes and ways you’ve wronged others. However, people who have suffered abuse, trauma, or loss may also feel shame and guilt even though they could not control what happened to them. Hear me say this: You are not responsible for forgiving yourself for what someone else did to you. If you need help, a counselor can help you walk through processing the guilt, shame, and pain you’ve experienced.

Other blogs:

Questions Couples Can Ask To Improve Communication – First Things First

Is Conflict in Marriage Inevitable? – First Things First

7 Ways to Increase Trust in Marriage – First Things First

To learn more about self-forgiveness, check out these resources:

How to Forgive Yourself

What Is Self-Forgiveness and Why Is It Important To Your Mental Health?

Sources:

Taking the Steps to Forgive Yourself

Sarah J. Peterson, Daryl R. Van Tongeren, Stephanie D. Womack, Joshua N. Hook, Don E. Davis & Brandon J. Griffin (2017) The benefits of self-forgiveness on mental health: Evidence from correlational and experimental research, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 12:2, 159-168.

Marillyn A. Cornish, Nathaniel G. Wade (2015) A Therapeutic Model of Self-Forgiveness With Intervention Strategies for Counselors, Journal of Counseling and Development, 93:1, 96-104.

Kyler R. Rasmussen, Madelynn Stackhouse, Susan D. Boon, Karly Comstock & Rachel Ross (2019) Meta-analytic connections between forgiveness and health: the moderating effects of forgiveness-related distinctions, Psychology & Health, 34:5, 515-534.

7 Ways to Increase Trust in Marriage

Strengthen the foundation of your relationship with these tips.

Trust is the foundation of a healthy marriage. It’s like oil in a car engine, heat in an oven, Beyoncé in Destiny’s Child. Without it, things just don’t work well. 

Ideally, marital trust should grow with time. It’s a glue in your relationship that ought to get stronger, even though it isn’t always the case. Trust can rust. 

The good news is you can strengthen that glue. 

We all have the power to value or devalue a marriage, to help or hurt our spouse’s well-being. Think about it: the next words I choose to say to my wife can either make her smile or cry or make her just plain mad. I’ve got that power. (So does she.) And my words will make me look more or less trustworthy in her eyes.

A big part of increasing trust in marriage is channeling that power to be beneficial and to do that often. 

Want to increase trust in your marriage? Here are 7 ways to amp it up!

1. Extend Forgiveness

Forgiveness goes a long way. It means you’ve decided to work through negative emotions, that you’ve let go of the need to “get even.” Forgiving your spouse shows you’re willing to recognize they are human. Which, in turn, takes the pressure off having to be perfect for you. And it shows you can be trusted to not keep score of wrongdoings and that you are committed to trust again after a fallout. 

2. Uphold Boundaries

Maybe the idea of boundaries seems limiting to you. But when it comes to building trust, it’s quite the opposite. Healthy boundaries can keep you both on the same page. How you decide to navigate social media. What you view online. Friendships (particularly with the opposite sex). Resolving conflict. Spending leisure time. Dividing up chores. Handling these and other issues well can increase trust.

3. Express Humility

Humility is simply an accurate view of the self, both the good and the bad. You express humility when you use your power to build your spouse up instead of yourself or ask for forgiveness. And research suggests that humility is associated with greater trust and marriage satisfaction. 

4. Exercise Vulnerability

Brené Brown says vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and exposure. It’s being fully seen, warts and all. Research says trust arises when risk is involved. In other words, you’ve got the power to either affirm or attack each other’s vulnerable spots. The more you show vulnerability in your marriage and affirm your spouse’s openness, the stronger the trust. 

5. Practice Reliability

Your trustworthiness is also affected by how well your spouse perceives your follow-through. Do you follow up with people, complete projects, see your goals to the end? Keep your commitments? Have you ever given your spouse cause to doubt your reliability? When your spouse sees you as reliable, it builds more trust. 

6. Show Self-Control

The same idea goes for your spouse’s perception of your self-control. Do you typically keep your cool? Choose your words calmly and carefully? Keep your moral integrity intact? Do you try to respond in helpful ways, even if it’s tough or costly? These are all signs of self-control that build trustworthiness between you two.

7. Develop Confidence in Your Spouse

Author and researcher Shaunti Feldhahn says that couples who believe the best about each other have high marital satisfaction. Even during conflict, both acknowledge they’re on the same team. And no matter what, their spouse has their back. This kind of confidence boosts the marital trust factor.

The bottom line is, powerful trust makes for a powerful marriage. Share your intentions with your spouse. Begin working on one or two of these tried-and-true trust practices this week. Trust is key. 

***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 that 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.***

,

5 Simple Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage When You’re Stuck at Home Together

Being together all the time can be a struggle, but these things can help your marriage thrive!

With the ongoing pandemic many couples are stuck at home together more than ever, which for some has been great. For others, it’s been a real struggle to not get on each other’s last nerve.

After witnessing some of these struggles, Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, wrote 5 Ways to Be with Each Other When You are Stuck at Home.

Here are five simple ways to strengthen your marriage when you’re stuck at home together:

1. Call a truce on throwing verbal bombs.

“You can kill your spouse with your tongue or you can give them life,” says Chapman. “Verbal bombs will always explode in the heart and mind of your spouse. Each of these bombs causes further destruction in the relationship.” 

Chapman recommends trying to go three weeks without throwing a bomb. Then work to replace the bombs with affirmation or appreciation. 

You might be thinking you don’t have any words of appreciation for your spouse. If that’s the case, Chapman encourages you to think of just three things to appreciate about your spouse. It could be putting gas in the car, cooking a meal, engaging with the children (if you have any), remembering to pay the bills, or something else. If affirmation and appreciation don’t come easily for you, try writing out a sentence and practice saying it before you say it to your spouse. For the next three weeks, share one way you appreciate your spouse without expecting anything in return.

“This changes the emotional climate in a relationship,” Chapman says. “It moves it from death to life.”

2. Tear down the emotional wall.

It’s easy to get offended in stressful times, especially if your relationship is already rocky or you’re stuck at home together more than usual. According to Chapman, each time a spouse is offended they put a block in the wall. Before you know it, that wall is long, high, and thick. It’s impossible to have a long-term healthy marriage without apologies and forgiveness. 

Chapman says apologies don’t look the same for everyone, and research backs that up. When you apologize, what do you say or do? What do you want to hear and see when someone apologizes to you?

The following five ways to apologize can help you out in this area:

  • Expressing regret. This is the emotional aspect of an apology. People who speak this language believe it’s important to acknowledge that you offended them. Then you must express your own sense of guilt, shame, and pain that your behavior has hurt them deeply. Saying, “I’m sorry” is very important to a person who speaks this language. 
  • Accepting responsibility. In this instance, an apology means accepting responsibility for one’s actions and being willing to say, “I was wrong.” 
  • Making restitution. For an apology to be genuine, it isn’t just about saying, “I am sorry.” It’s about making it right.
  • Genuinely repenting. The word repentance means “to turn around” or to change one’s mind. And not do it again.
  • Requesting forgiveness. A person who speaks this language believes an apology not only includes, “I’m sorry,” but also asking for forgiveness. 

“Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a decision,” Chapman says. “Forgiveness does not remove the consequences nor does it rebuild trust.” It’s a good place to start rebuilding your relationship, though.

3. Discover and speak each other’s primary love language while you’re stuck at home together.

There are five love languages—words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, physical touch, and gifts. If you don’t know your own love language or your spouse’s love language, do yourself a favor and take the quiz. This one thing could transform your marriage while you’re stuck at home and spending more time than (maybe) ever together.

4. Learn the value of teamwork.

Even though roles may have changed during the pandemic, you probably have the same objective as a couple—to keep all the balls up in the air and keep your relationship moving forward. If you’re both willing to adapt and adjust and work together as a team it can make the load seem lighter.

5. Have a daily sit-down-and-listen time.

Take time out each day and share three things that happened in your life and how you feel about them. You may know what your spouse is doing, but you may not know how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking unless you take time to be curious and find out.

If you want to take things a step further, Chapman suggests a weekly time focused on one conflict or thing you wish you could change as a couple. Take turns sharing.

No doubt, every marriage faces challenges, but most would agree this year has been a bit extra. If you feel your marriage is off-kilter, utilizing these five strategies can help you get things back on track and enjoy each other’s company while you’re stuck at home together.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Will My Spouse Ever Forgive Me?

Understanding how forgiveness works is important.

“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.***

Image from Unsplash.com

I Can’t Forgive My Spouse

Sometimes forgiving is just hard.

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?

You are definitely not alone and there is certainly nothing wrong with you.

These struggles are common and normal. What we don’t want is for unforgiveness to turn into bitterness, resentment, or worse. (Which can happen so easily, so quickly.)

When it comes to marriage and forgiving our spouse, we often unconsciously resort to some cold, hard math. We add and multiply and divide these factors of what our spouse did and see how the equation works out.

Then we keep the totals in our Relationship Ledger.

  1. Is it their “first offense” or have they been doing this for years?
  2. How serious is what they have done? Lied to you or like, left clothes on the floor?
  3. How hurt are you over what they did? Disappointed to brokenhearted?
  4. Did they apologize and ask for your forgiveness? Did they seem sincere?

The Hurt Spouse then takes all of the above information into account and “calculates” how mad they will be, for how long, if retribution is in order, and finally, if and when they will forgive the Offending Spouse. This is Cold Forgiveness Calculus.

We do this math almost instantly in our minds subconsciously. We do this math with our kids, friends, co-workers – everyone really. It can be extremely difficult to get the numbers to ever add up to forgiveness.

Forgiveness is one of those things that we desperately want for ourselves, but we are often absolutely stingy when it comes to giving it out to others. 

I get it. All the “calculations” are a function of self-preservation. We don’t want to keep getting hurt. We certainly don’t want to be taken advantage of by our spouse. Honestly, we don’t want to feel stupid because the same dysfunctional stuff keeps happening to us, so we keep that Relationship Ledger handy and it dictates how vulnerable we will be. (What is forgiveness if it isn’t being vulnerable?)

Could there be another way? What if we dropped the Cold Forgiveness Calculus that constantly keeps our spouse in the red? If we saw forgiveness as part of the self-sacrificial love that we pledged to our spouse? What if we forgave them the way that we hope they will forgive us when we need it?

Does all this sound crazy? Too exposed? Risky? Naive? I hear you. I feel it too.

Let me make it simple: The math will never add up. There will always be a remainder. This is how we love and forgive our spouse- we forgive the remainder.

Some practical things to think about…

  • You should forgive when it is real and you mean it. Take as long as it takes to be sincere. (It is ok and healthy to tell your spouse, “I am having a hard time forgiving you for _____. I am working on it. I’m trying to get there.”)
  • You might need to practice on yourself. If you can’t forgive yourself, let go, and move on. Forgiving others will always be a struggle for you.
  • Forgiving DOES NOT mean forgetting. If it did, we would set ourselves up to continually be hurt and even abused. “Forgetting” means NOT bringing up a past, dealt with, healed-over situation and using it as a weapon against our spouse.
  • You don’t have to wait to be asked for forgiveness to forgive your spouse.

Forgiving your spouse is also FOR YOU so that you remain healthy and don’t become bitter and resentful. (Treating them as forgiven might be the thing that causes them to realize how they hurt you. Even if it doesn’t – forgive anyway so YOU can move forward!)

  • Forgiveness can be a way that we take back control of our life from a spouse’s failings, from a past hurt, an unresolved issue, or even an ongoing situation. What we won’t forgive controls us.
  • Forgiveness DOES NOT mean that we don’t work with our spouse to understand what went wrong and work together to avoid it happening in the future.
  • Forgiveness is made tangible by the relationship being restored and going back to normal as if your spouse had never messed up in the first place. But…
  • Forgiveness DOES NOT mean all consequences are automatically erased. If your spouse betrayed your trust, you might truly forgive them, but there will still be things they need to do to rebuild trust over time. This DOES NOT mean they are not forgiven.

Forgiveness takes us to the very core of what it means to love someone. It isn’t easy. Do we sacrifice ourselves or do we protect ourselves? That’s a hard question that we live out day by day in our marriage. I do know that there is no formula or equation and that Love realizes the ledger will never be balanced, but forgives anyway.

***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.***

Looking for more marriage resources? Click here!

Image from Unsplash.com

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. It is obvious that some fear impacts their marriage.

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.

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 and start tidying up your life can give you a completely different perspective on a new year and your life. Opportunity lies ahead.

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 or needing to affair-proof his marriage 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 for Affair-Proofing Your Marriage

“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 mean 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.***