By Dr. Diane Kramer, Extraordinary Self Online Programs Co-Founder
A patient in my marital therapy practice said to me yesterday: “Dr. Diane, I used to trust my gut. Now I am not sure.”
I reassured her (let’s call her Anna) that she was on the right track by doubting her gut. Why? Her gut feelings were often fear, anxiety or stress based. These gut feelings were accompanied by suspicious thoughts about her husband’s wandering eye and fearful thoughts that he would have another affair.
Yes, his third affair had come and gone. And fortunately for Anna, Richard, as we shall call him, was now ready to take a look ‘under the hood’ of his mind and figure out why. Why did he have these affairs? What was his need? How did Anna’s behaviors figure into the equation? What did he really want?
Factors Leading to “Richard’s” Extramarital Affairs
Richard’s reasons – It turns out that at the time of each short affair, Anna had been hospitalized with another bout of cancer. What overcame Richard at each hospitalization was fear of being left, stress related to Anna’s illness, and loneliness because she was not available. Richard told me that he had the affairs to attempt to feel less lonely. The physical contact, even for a short while, made him feel less alone and more attached.
Richard’s background – Richard had spent his childhood alone in a highly alcoholic family. His mother and father were both alcoholics, as were his two older brothers. As a result of the chaos in his family, Richard described himself as alone and lonely when he brought himself up.
To hide from the dysfunction of his family, even to himself, Richard focused on presenting his ‘ideal self’ to the outside world. He came across as successful, secure and satisfied with life. Any hurts, disappointments or sadness he kept locked away.
Richard wanted respect from the outside world, and since he only presented his ‘ideal self’ to others, he was respected and sought after. He never opened up to Anna regarding his doubts and fears. He stayed hidden from her and from himself. No wonder Anna mistrusted him. He never revealed himself to her. So, she could not predict his behavior.
Now that Richard was in therapy and beginning to understand himself and what he really wanted, he started to change and commit to Anna and her needs. And yes, Anna did experience some change in him. But her ‘gut of fear’ kept insisting that Richard would succumb to an affair the next time Anna was ill or had some kind of trouble. After all, he had done that three times in the past.
Predicting Behavior based on the Past
Most of us use past behaviors as a guide to predicting future behaviors of ourselves and others. In that sense, Anna was using her best predictive powers based on her gut reactions of fear. But Anna left the possibility of change out of the equation. She was solely using the past to predict the future and causing new problems with Richard because he did not like her suspicions.
In truth, Richard was changing before her eyes. He was more attentive, more affectionate and more open about his inner thoughts and feelings, especially the ones he considered weak.
I explained to Anna that the more Richard opened up and was affectionate and loving, the more her suspicions, fear about the future and mistrust of Richard would slowly fade. As Anna began to believe that Richard was really changing, she became more loving and validating of him, especially when he spoke to her more about his deeper thoughts and feelings.
As Richard and Anna improved their relationship, they both came to know that a good relationship involved sincere commitment into the future, mutual need satisfaction through time, and a mutual respect for each other.
Changing Prediction Strategy
Within the therapy context, Anna slowly came to realize that her gut was wrong. Her fear-based gut was good at predicting the future based on the past.
But now Anna needed to focus on her heart and predict the future based on the present changes in Richard. Love began to replace fear as Anna slowly let go of the fear. And as Richard became more transparent to Anna, she began to appreciate him at a whole new level.
And so their relationship became one of love, not fear. It is too early to say that this unraveling of Anna and Richard’s old relationship and replacement by a new way together will weather future storms? All we can say at the moment is they are headed in the right direction. Congratulations Anna and Richard! You worked hard to make this new improved relationship happen.
Need help with your relationship? If you need help resolving issues with your partner or spouse, marriage counseling can help. Another alternative is to gain insight and begin your own changes by enrolling in our e-Course to build more Extraordinary Relationships and Win-Win Communication. Or go to www.extraordinaryself.com to learn about all our Extraordinary Self Program offerings.