At the Heart of Attachment: How to Use Empathy to Communicate Effectively For On-Going Recovery

How to Use Empathy to Communicate EffectivelyBy Sarah P.

Empathy is the most mysterious transaction that the human soul can have, and it’s accessible to all of us, but we have to give ourselves the opportunity to identify, to plunge ourselves in a story where we see the world from the bottom up or through another’s eyes or heart.”  – Sue Monk Kidd

Empathy is at the heart of all successful relationships. While relationships can exist without mutual empathy, much misunderstanding and breakdown in relationships can be traced to lack of empathy for another.

Lack of empathy from a wayward spouse toward a betrayed spouse is perceived as selfishness, self-centeredness, coldness, and egocentricity by a betrayed spouse.

When a wayward spouse is in the affair fog, he or she often sees his sins as the sins of the betrayed spouse. He or she projects his or her failings onto the betrayed spouse and can seem indignant, blaming, and callous. There is a sense of irony because often the fog can cause a wayward spouse to see himself or herself without blame and he or she can project the cause of his sins or misdeeds onto the betrayed spouse.

The lack of empathy from a wayward spouse towards a betrayed spouse causes deep wounds in the betrayed spouse who feels that his or her loved one cannot see the other side of this overwhelming breach of trust. These wounds are magnified when a wayward spouse cannot sympathize, let alone empathize, with the wounds of a betrayed spouse.

Neither party can empathize with the position of the other, although in this case it is the wayward spouse’s responsibility to empathize with the betrayed spouse so that the wayward spouse might understand a sliver of the harm he or she has caused. Often, both parties feel wounded by the actions of the other, although the wayward spouse really has no logical reason to feel wounded.

 

Where Do These Wounds Come From?

Let’s go back to the very beginning and look at one of many answers. Today we will be exploring attachment theory, emotionally focused therapy, and the power of empathy. This post is not meant to indicate that this is ‘the answer’ but only one of many pieces of a larger puzzle.

One answer to pinpointing the origin of these profound wounds comes from one of the originators and main proponents of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Dr. Susan Johnson. Emotionally Focused Therapy is a tested and reliable approach that is used for assisting couples in repairing the intense emotional rifts that can occur in long-term relationships.  This method has been helpful in assisting with recovery where infidelity has been present.

EFT theory centers on attachment theory, which is the idea that the early bonds individuals formed with loved ones have created a framework through which one relates and attaches to subsequent individuals. If due to extenuating circumstances an individual did not develop a securely attached relational style with early caregivers, an individual’s core sense of security and emotional safety can be destroyed due to infidelity.

Dr. Susan Johnson explains what happens using an EFT framework after infidelity has been discovered:

“Infidelity is then seen as a potentially devastating threat to attachment security that hyper-activates the deceived spouse’s attachment needs and fears and so creates a crisis that must be addressed and resolved if the relationship is to survive and thrive. When an EFT therapist listens to spouses describe the impact of their partners extra-marital involvement with another, he/she hears that these clients talk in attachment terms. In my office, Margie told her husband, “What hurts the most is that I was not in your mind–I did not matter to you in these moments with her. You did not take me into account. You were willing to risk our relationship for this ‘excitement.’ How can I ever depend on you again? Also, you lied to me and broke our commitment. I am wounded–I have lost the sense of us as a couple. And when I asked you–when I was weeping and asking you–you avoided, shrugged it off–like my pain didn’t matter to you and you tried to put me off and cajole me with hugs. I can’t hug you–let you close. I can’t kiss you– thinking that you gave her kisses too. But I can’t bear the distance between us either. I need your reassurance–and I don’t believe it if you give it. There is no safety–no ground to stand on here.” These words echo the observations of attachment theorists who point out that a secure attachment is based on a sense that you exist and are prized in the mind of the other, that you can depend on the other when you need him/her and that this other will cherish and protect rather than reject or abandon you. When this sense is shattered there is a traumatic loss and the process of separation distress, angry protest alternating with seeking contact and clinging to the other, as well as depression and despair are elicited. Margie’s final words about her ambivalence, her distancing and her need, also echo the words of theorists who point out that attachment dilemmas where the loved one is both the source of and solution to pain are fundamentally disorganizing and overwhelming to deal with. For many clients, affairs constitute what EFT therapists have termed an attachment injury (Johnson, 2002), a trauma or wound, a violation of trust that brings the nature of the whole relationship into question and must be dealt with if the relationship is to survive.” (1)

For everyone who has experienced the pain of infidelity, Margie’s words ring true. At the very core of the healing process lies a paradox. The paradox involves an infinite dance of push and pull, engaging and retreating, with a seemingly distant or non-resolution.

According to EFT theory, this painful dance will likely continue until the core matter is addressed—and this core matter is the wounding breach of trust and thus security in one’s relationship and indeed one’s entire being. Infidelity seems to swallow the betrayed spouse whole and does so in the most unforgiving of ways. Infidelity can hit to the core of attachment that developed in childhood.

empathy quote 1

 

A High-Level Primer on Attachment Theory

But, let’s back up a bit and take a brief look at attachment theory so that the larger context of this article can be understood.

Attachment theory is important because some therapists and researchers believe that the attachment styles that individuals form early on in life literally direct the way in which subsequent relationships are formed. These attachments even have an effect on the way that individuals perceive and respond to interactions with others. There are four different attachment styles and they generally form between the ages of birth to three:

Secure: Secure attachments are formed when a caregiver remains a constant in a child’s life and is sensitive, attuned, and responsive to the child’s every need. Breach in security can occur when the child is separated from the primary caregiver for extended periods of time or has multiple caregivers. There is a movement called attachment parenting where parents carry their children in front packs or backpacks and are never separate from their child from birth to three. I am personally a proponent of this parenting style.

Ambivalent/Anxious: Ambivalent attachments are formed when the primary caregiver is never consistently attuned to his child’s needs. For example, if a child cries because he or she is uncomfortable, a caregiver will respond to a baby’s need. However, if this response from a caregiver is inconsistent, a child never knows if he or she will get his or her need met. This type of parent could have issues such as alcoholism or substance abuse, but this likely occurs where depression is present. This parent is not malignant, but is most likely dealing with a larger crisis in life.

Disorganized: This type of attachment occurs when a primary caregiver is physically abusive or emotionally cruel or frightening to a child. The primary caregiver is simultaneously the child’s source of survival and demise. In order to survive, the child must rely on the very person who harms him. This type of caregiver might often lash out in verbal or physical violence if the child does something that displeases the parent. This type of parent almost always has issues such as alcoholism or substance abuse.

Avoidant: In these situations, the primary caregiver is not emotionally attuned to his or her child’s needs at all. These caregivers encourage early independence and often do not comfort a child in distress. If they do interact with a distressed child it is usually tell to them to stop crying. These caregivers show little to no empathy for their children and often behave as if the child is a burden. You might see this kind of parent tell an injured toddler to “grow up” or they might simply walk away from a child who is in distress. This type of parent could have issues such as alcoholism or substance abuse or could be generally neglectful.

Was that painful to read those descriptions? I will tell you that it was painful for me to write them. I am of the school where I believe every child should feel valued and profoundly loved by his or her parent. I do not believe there is ever too much saying or showing that you love your child, especially when that love comes from a place of selflessness, not neediness, on the part of the parent. I have encountered too many parents who cling to their children for emotional support, instead of the other way around. It sets up a very harmful dynamic that sets the stage for a lifetime of harmful relationships for the adult child.

Attachment patterns influence whom we marry and while there is only one healthy attachment pattern, there are three unhealthy ones. Each of these three harmful attachment patterns set the stage for finding and perhaps marrying partners that unknowingly create the same kinds of wounds that someone received as a child.

Whatever style a child grows up with seems normal to him, unless he is exposed to a glaringly different style and has the insight to understand something was wrong in his or her household. This is not always the case and often people marry others who are like a parent with whom they had a conflict. They hope to subconsciously work through those difficulties as adults within their marriage. Others marry individuals who are the exact opposite of the parent who wounded them. They hope to escape the pain of the trauma they received while growing up.

If you want to know more about Attachment Theory, here’s a video that digs deeper:

 

We internalize the view we have of ourself

Above all else, people internalize a view of themselves due to how they were treated as children. This internalized view sets the stage for how they will perceive and react to interaction with others later in life. It will also set the stage for personal resilience (or not) and how deeply interpersonal trauma effects them. Dr. Susan Johnson explains how all of this impacts us as betrayed spouses:

“Attachment theory also points out that models of self and other are internalized from repeated interactions with those who matter most to us. The model of the other as a dependable attachment figure, who prioritizes the spouse and the bond with the spouse, is seriously compromised by events such as affairs. This model has then to be reconstructed in couple sessions. When Margie asks, “ How can I put myself in your hands again?”–part of what she is asking for is a clear narrative, an explanation of how the affair occurred and was dealt with, so that her spouse may again become known and predictable. Models of self are also threatened by these events. Margie says, “I was a fool–you made a fool of me.” More importantly, she sometimes blames herself for her spouses’ behavior and, in her despair, concludes that she is indeed unlovable or deficient–or he would not have turned to another. Many partners who believe that they are “strong” and should instantly end a relationship with an unfaithful spouse, have great difficulty coming to terms with their experience of vulnerability and helplessness. The EFT therapist is prepared for these responses and actively helps the client work through these fears and self-recriminations. Attachment theory states that the essence of a secure bond is mutual emotional accessibility and responsiveness.” (1)

At the heart of mutual emotional accessibility and responsiveness, we find that empathy is key. The wayward spouse must set aside pride, secrecy, and shame in order to empathize. He or she must place himself or herself in the shoes of the betrayed spouse. As painful as it is for the wayward spouse to make that switch, it is necessary. Empathy is the key to understanding the betrayed spouse’s wound and it is essential for rebuilding trust.

After all, how can trust be rebuilt if a wayward spouse cannot empathize with the feelings of the betrayed spouse?

If the wayward spouse cannot empathize, recovery will only happen on the surface. Recovery and renewal of the marriage will never take root in the wayward spouse, and in my opinion, this leaves the wayward spouse open to emotionally harming the betrayed spouse further during the recovery process.

Here is the crux of it all: at some point, the wayward spouse must feel the intense pangs of hurt that have become the new normal for the betrayed spouse. In a way, the wayward spouse must live a similar kind of crippling emotional pain before the wayward spouse can truly understand the hurt of the betrayed spouse. They must make that empathic connection in order to truly understand the gravity of betrayal.

And yet… some might never be able to do so.

Will the ability to get through to the wayward spouse fall on the betrayed spouse? No. It is much more complex than anything the betrayed spouse can do if the systems for empathy are lacking.

Togetherness (2)

 

Where Does Empathy Come From?

Recently, there has been some ground-breaking work done on empathy. Neuroscience has made tremendous contributions to the understanding of the human mind and has shone light on our moods, the way we love, and our motivations. It turns out that empathy originates in a very particular area of the brain. Up until now, it was assumed that people felt empathy when they used their own emotions as a reference point. Recently, it was discovered that the story of where empathy originates is different. Christopher Bergland explains:

“In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience on October 9, 2013, Max Planck researchers identified that the tendency to be egocentric is innate for human beings – but that a part of your brain recognizes a lack of empathy and autocorrects. This specific part of your brain is called the right supramarginal gyrus. When this brain region doesn’t function properly—or when we have to make particularly quick decisions—the researchers found one’s ability for empathy is dramatically reduced. This area of the brain helps us to distinguish our own emotional state from that of other people and is responsible for empathy and compassion… The right supramarginal gyrus ensures that we can decouple our perception of ourselves from that of others. When the neurons in this part of the brain were disrupted in the course of a research task, the participants found it difficult to stop from projecting their own feelings and circumstances onto others. The participants’ assessments were also less accurate when they were forced to make particularly quick decisions… Until now, social neuroscience models have assumed that people simply rely on their own emotions as a reference for empathy. This only works, however, if we are in a neutral state or the same state as our counterpart. Otherwise, the brain must use the right supramarginal gyrus to counteract and correct a tendency for self-centered perceptions of another’s pain, suffering or discomfort.” (2)

I am particularly interested in the idea that the brain must counteract the self-centered perceptions of another’s pain, suffering, and discomfort.

So, if the wayward spouse is in the affair fog, his or her brain will not be in a neutral state or the same state as that of the betrayed spouse—quite the contrary. This further complicates the picture. Thus the implication is that the brain of the wayward spouse will need to make the necessary self-correction that is required to feel empathy.

But, since the affair is of a personal nature and since the wayward spouse is in the altered state of the fog, I will venture to guess that this self-correction becomes difficult. I would also venture to guess that this is one of the issues that might contribute to why a spouse can stay either in the fog for so long or take a very long time to recognize the pain that the betrayed spouse has experienced.

So while the betrayed spouse is in the fog, the experience of the betrayed spouse and the wayward spouse are the polar opposite of the other. The wayward spouse is not in the same state or the neutral state that is required to really empathize with the betrayed spouse. At least this is one of the takeaways that I have concluded from this new finding. I am not a neuroscientist and so he or she might have a different view.

 

How Does This Impact Communication?

Communication, in all relationships, is more of an art than a science. Each person has a different point of view and a different experience of an event than the other. This is sometimes referred to as the Rashomon effect. That Rashomon effect is named for the Japanese film, Rashomon, and Wikipedia further defines the effect:

“The Rashomon effect is not only about differences in perspective. It occurs particularly where such differences arise in combination with the absence of evidence to elevate or disqualify any version of the truth, plus the social pressure for closure on the question.” [1]

This phenomenon can certainly be found when it comes to infidelity.

In many cases of infidelity, save email, voice, or video records, there is no objective truth to be found. A betrayed spouse must rely on the wayward spouse’s filtered version of the truth and often lives with the distress of knowing that they, the betrayed spouse, will never have access to the whole story or objectivity. Even after a couple has recovered from infidelity, a betrayed spouse often experiences an uncomfortable feeling that when it comes to the affair, they are aware of only the tip of the iceberg.

The only way to go is to try to move forward, but both parties often need to play a role in this process. One of the best tools a betrayed spouse has is encouraging empathy in the wayward spouse.

But how can someone encourage empathy in the person while in the fog?

Enter Dr. Gail Gross, the founder of the Empathic Process. She developed the Empathic Process in order to teach both couples and families how to foster more healthy communication. Dr. Gross encourages couples to find a location in the heart of the house, such as the kitchen, to have a conversation. She defines the empathic process as thus:

“The rules of engagement in the empathic process include both intimacy and respect. Each person speaks a third of the time while making physical contact during communication to maintain an intimate atmosphere. Both partners maintain eye contact during communication. At no time does either partner defend against accusations sent their way.

 The last third of the time is used for mutual conversation with both partners invested in the successful outcome of their dialogue. This approach can be used weekly, at a set time in a set place, and as a time for reviewing the week’s problems and mutually solving them.  As a result of the empathic process, a safe place is created, in which both partners can return at any time.

Never use confidential information as a weapon while fighting.  If you ask your mate to tell you honestly what he or she thinks of you, only to turn around and use it against him or her, trust will be broken and intimacy injured.

Also, pay attention to your partner’s feelings and refrain from saying hurtful or reactive things. You can win the battle but lose the war by damaging esteem and demeaning your partner.” (3)

Dr. Gross also believes that there are some other skills that need to be present in order for the empathic process to work. For example, she recommends that each partner in the relationship accept the other just as he or she is. This hearkens back to the idea of “radical acceptance” that some counselors use as a foundational tool in therapy. Dr. Gross also believes that is essential to accept and validate the differences in one another instead of trying to change someone. As we know, the only person we can change is our self.

Dr. Gross also brings up a good point about wants versus needs. She believes that our needs are based in our early interactions with caregivers and that our wants are similar to aspirations. One must differentiate between what is a want and what is a need and bring oneself into harmony with the two. It is also important to understand the difference between the two.

nothing hurts more

 

A Quick Exercise…

So, here is an exercise for the next time that you would like to communicate about a topic that often causes disagreement.

Take a seat at the kitchen table and be sure that there are no other distractions such as children, televisions, or electronic devices. Set ground rules such as:

  • Listening to critical feedback without getting defensive
  • Radically accepting differences in your partner that are non-deal breakers. (A non deal-breaker is something like a political view or an opinion that does not influence morality or integrity.)
  • Use of “I” statements and how someone makes you feel when they do x, y, or z.
  • Hearing your partner out without interruption.

As you speak, I want both of you to make eye contact and to hold each other’s hands. That might seem like the very last thing you wish to do while talking about a disagreement, but I want for you to try it. I want for you to put yourself into your partner’s shoes and listen non-judgmentally.

Listening non-judgmentally does not mean you must agree with someone. It simply means giving them the space to talk and for them to finish their thought or perception without being interrupted or harshly judged in the moment. I would like for you to maintain eye contact and hand holding throughout the entire conversation.

Before you knock the process, try it. After I found out about empathic communication and actually used this process, I will tell you that it is very powerful. Instead of my husband and I going into hurt mode in our minds, we were able to talk about a difficult topic while realizing that we were still a team.

I know that it seems like a challenge to do this when speaking about infidelity, but I urge you to try it out a couple of times. Tell your spouse house his or her infidelity has made you feel while using gentle words, making eye contact, and hand-holding. While this does not solve all of your problems, it is a process through which you might gain more understanding of your spouse and in turn gain a stronger relationship.

 

Getting Into the Empathetic Mindset

Jeff brown, the author of the book Soulshaping, talks about the impact of empathy on his life. Indeed, it appears to have changed everything:

“In my late twenties, something shifted. I became more conscious of empathy as both a healing tool, and a way of being in the world. It served me in my efforts to stop personalizing the behaviors of others. If I could get inside their journey, I could see where they were coming from and stop making it about me. And it served me in my efforts to be understood by others. After an early life riddled with hateful judgments, I relished the feeling that someone was taking in my experience with an open and receptive heart.” (4)

Jeff has also developed his own trademarked Empathy Process, which is deeply healing. One of the elements that Jeff stresses is the idea that during communication, ones goal is to really hear, see, and be present for the other. He recommends the following idea to assist in getting into a mindset where one is really able to drop one’s own narrative of hurt and make it about the other person. He recommends the following to get into the mindset:

“As one you have blessed with the opportunity to receive your sharing, I promise that I will hold the space with as much kindness, genuineness and openness as I can. This process is not about me. It is about my receiving your experience. It is about my empathizing and walking in your shoes. I will do my best to remove any biases, hard feelings and projections from the field so that I can be fully present for your experience. I will not attempt to re-frame your experience, nor will I judge you for it. And I promise you that I will not share any of the details of your sharing with others, without your express permission. This is your process. It is safe here.” (4)

Dropping one’s narrative and becoming one with the state of mind of the other is transformative in and of itself. But, specifically in the case of infidelity,  I cannot stress enough that this is a process in which the wayward spouse should engage.

Even though the wayward spouse had the affair, the wayward spouse has his or her own narrative, which involves the alleged hurts they received from the betrayed spouse. When a wayward spouse is still in the affair fog, he or she will have developed a narrative, which allowed the wayward spouse to have an affair. Often this narrative involves perceived hurts caused by or deficits on the part of the betrayed spouse. If anyone needs the empathic process, it is a wayward spouse.

However, the empathic process is especially recommended for any discussion that has been fruitless in the past. If you would like to read more about Jeff Brown’s Empathy Process, I encourage you to read his entire article, which can be found in the sources below. Jeff has many brilliant ideas that can truly cause a needed shift in consciousness. Even though he doesn’t specifically speak about infidelity, his process can be used to address any kind of wound or breakdown in communication.

In summary, if there is anything to drive a rift between a couple and turn positive communication on its head, that thing is infidelity.  Eventually, a couple must find common ground and communicate in ways that facilitate healing. The empathic process can help.

Even if a wayward spouse is not interested in discussing the infidelity, a betrayed spouse can still use ideas from the empathic process. A betrayed spouse can start first and model a healthy communication style. Even if you have given up hope, empathy is powerful because it joins people together. Fighting for affair recovery or your personal recovery from the pain is worth it because living your best life is worth it.

All my best to you in your continued recovery.

If your marriage has almost fully recovered from the affair, what communication styles worked for you? Was there any particular thing that provided a breakthrough in the wayward spouse?

 

Sources:

Johnson, Susan M. Broken Bonds: An Emotionally Focused Approach to Infidelity. From http://relationshipinstitute.com.au/files/resources/2005p_Broken_Bonds_An_Emotionally_Focused_Approach_to_Infidelity.pdf

Bergland, Christopher. The Neuroscience of Empathy: Neuroscientists identify specific brain areas linked to compassion. October, 10th, 2013. From https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201310/the-neuroscience-empathy

Gross, Gail, PhD, Ed.D. The Empathic Process. February 7th, 2013. From http://drgailgross.com/relationships/the-empathic-process/

Brown, Jeff. The Empathy Process. March 17, 2015. From http://soulshaping.com/soulshaping/empathy-process/

 

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22 Responses to At the Heart of Attachment: How to Use Empathy to Communicate Effectively For On-Going Recovery

  1. Shifting Impressions September 6, 2016 at 11:26 am #

    Interesting….I cried my way through the book “Hold Me Tight” by Dr. Sue Johnson while the EA was going on (unbeknownst to me at the time). I always find it interesting when the OW or the CS says “but the wife didn’t know”. I didn’t know what was going on but I knew something was very very wrong.

    Margie’s description of what the BS is feeling is so spot on it gives me chills just reading it. My husband is starting to show more empathy and understanding of what this has done to me but I have fears of getting to close. Sigh….it’s a long and hard journey, to say the least.

  2. Sam September 6, 2016 at 11:54 am #

    I wish my dad could read this, as he seems to have no empathy at all at the moment.

  3. TheFirstWife September 7, 2016 at 2:40 pm #

    I just don’t get this post. What am I missing? Maybe I am a guy in disguise lol.

    If your spouse is holding your hand or laying in bed next to you and you know what they are saying is a complete and total LIE – how does empathy help?

    I used to look my H right in the eye calm and collected. Please tell me the truth and it will end this cycle we are in. Let’s just clear the air and be honest.

    yet he chose to be a COWARD and lie.

    ??????

    • Doug September 7, 2016 at 3:37 pm #

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think many cheaters can have empathy while in the affair fog or while the affair is still going on. Too much selfishness, lying, etc. I think it will typically come later in the process – if at all.

      • Catherine September 9, 2016 at 8:03 am #

        What about someone who once he has admitted to the affair and said that it lasted only 1 month, yet has been lying about it for almost 25 years? I would say the “affair fog” has had more than adequate time to lift, yet he kept his ruse going on for decades. I, like TFW gave him opportunity after opportunity to tell me what was wrong. He fabricated things about himself to make me believe he was the person I thought he was. Made me believe he was living up to the agreements we made before we married. Used my honesty regarding what I thought and wanted from life to fabricate things that made him pretty much what I wanted. He tells me he did all of these things “for us, for our marriage.” He knew exactly what I wanted from marriage before we married and he agreed that was what he wanted and believed the same things I did (honesty is the best policy) as Dr. Huezinga’s program teaches. We did all of the things he teaches in his program before marrying, agreements included except for putting everything in a contract. Yet when it came toiling his “beliefs” he didn’t. He didn’t live up to a single agreement, instead he took it upon himself to decide what was best me/us. Which conveniently let him off the hook regarding consequences. He says he couldn’t see what he was doing regardless of the fact that when I caught him in small lies I reminded him of our agreement to always be honest, he never saw the need to live up to it for 25 yrs. I have a hard time swallowing the affair fog stuff, I believe each and every cheater knows exactly what they’re doing, they just don’t care about their spouse. Their spouse is someone who is reliable and they like that reliability/security to help them maintain what they want to do. They need the spouse to keep their home intact for them. What is your take on this individual?

        • Doug September 9, 2016 at 9:42 am #

          Hey Catherine, Thanks for the comment. Well, my reply to TFW was in the context of empathy – not dishonesty. And I think that there are just some people who for whatever reason – just can’t be honest. In the case of infidelity, the main reason I feel lying is so prevalent is simply out of self-preservation. And I wouldn’t doubt that is probably the main driving force in your husband’s dishonesty for all these years. He did’t want to lose something, or he didn’t want to feel uncomfortable, or to face confrontation, or possible consequences for his actions – so he lied. It was easier and safer for him to lie. The affair fog isn’t some trance like state where the cheater doesn’t know what they are doing – Of course they know what they are doing. The fog is more about the high they get from the affair and the rationalizations used to keep the affair going – and in my opinion is very real.

          • Catherine September 12, 2016 at 9:44 am #

            True, My question, though long and drawn out, was – Is someone such as this chronic liar/spineless coward even capable of empathy? It doesn’t seem like it would be, to me.

            • Doug September 12, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

              Well, when you put it that way I would tend to agree with you.

  4. Alice September 7, 2016 at 2:53 pm #

    Sam,
    Affair fog aside, some people are incapable of empathy. It’s not a case of “if they would only see it this way…”because they can’t see it that way. their brains are not wired to feel empathy. Google narcissism and/or sociopathic behaviour and see if your dad fits any of the descriptions.

    I’m sorry you’re going through this

    • Sam September 10, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

      I’ve always said that he is a ‘Narcissist’ with NPD! Though he doesn’t think he does or needs help at all (typical NPD behaviour).

      • Sarah P. September 10, 2016 at 6:04 pm #

        So did you dad behave like a narcissist during your entire childhood? Or is this new?

  5. Hopeful September 7, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

    For us my husband seemed to focus on himself once I made significant progress. Before that his primary focus was me, my healing, me being happy… Once he saw major progress with me he started to really look inward.

    As far as communication goes I try to focus on as you said “I” statements and explaining how I feel. I try to take the emotions out of it and make it more factual. It has helped in general my husband is less defensive. When over 10+ years your are lied to and told you are the issue and problem for various reasons it can be hard to bring up any topic. I instead focused on being the best person I could be, having a strong professional life and reputation and taking excellent care of our kids. It is hard when you directly confront someone and they lie to your face. All I know is that it had zero to do with me and I can see what a miserable and unhappy person he was. In the end I have to be content and happy with myself since there will never be any guarantees.

  6. Sarah P. September 7, 2016 at 5:17 pm #

    Hey everyone, thanks for your feedback ?Please know I am mostly kidding when I say this, but I am ready to put a waiver on all posts that says something to the extent of “does not apply to high conflict personalities, narcissists, sociopaths, or borderlines.”

    I should probably start including something about my assumptions when writing an article. The assumption would be that the spouses involved don’t have personality disorders. They may have issues like we all do, but not the insurmountable issues that come with true personality disorders. I hate to say it, but the only thing to do in those cases is to leave. A true personality disorder seems to lack the ability to have insight under all circumstances.

    I saw an extremely disturbing example of this in action yesterday. My blood is stilled chilled. My husband showed me a text message conversation that his brother sent him. The conversation was between my BIL and my MIL. My BIL and his wife had a baby. My MIL wanted to call the baby an offensive nickname. My BIL simply said, “please don’t call the baby that name because it hurts my feelings. Thank you for understanding.” Fair enough. Anyone normal would apologize and say that was not their intent. My MIL said that she would call the baby whatever she wanted to call it and then she proceeded to text bomb him with nasty messages for an hour straight. She told him he was a horrible person – that he was crazy – that he needed to be medicated – that he was ugly – that he was stupid – that he needed to check into a psych ward – and on and on. Then she started in on threatening him with all sorts of things. My husband showed me the entire conversation his brother had forwarded. I have experienced my MIL acting this way in person but never anywhere where there was a record of it that could be referred to later. I could tell my BIL was cracking under the stress. He kept apologizing and she kept the insults going. So I will say that the only thing that works with personality disorders is to leave but more importantly to cut contact. I feel sorry for my FIL because it’s his birth today and she did that the night before his bday. My FIL is unfortunately a living example of what happens when someone stays. The fellow is a nice man but a shadow of himself. Long story short, there can be no real recovery if someone is married to a personality disorder. I could write a book on that topic alone.

  7. TheFirstWife September 7, 2016 at 6:28 pm #

    Again I think that for so many betrayed spouses that stay in the marriage, that they are being empathetic. Maybe to a fault. Maybe giving too much compassion & understanding to a cheating spouse.

    If there was no empathy so many BS would have flat out left the marriage. In fact there was a person on this blog who left his marriage after realizing the CS had no intention of being honest or truthful. I admired that.

    Many of us stay and continued to be subjected to the continued lies, cheating, etc.

    If we weren’t understanding we wouldn’t accept mid life crisis situations or family health issues or any number of reasons why people cheat.

    I think that more BS and families are understanding than we get credit for. In my case the affair was long over and my H still was lying about stuff and being a coward.

    Empathy and compassion and understanding did not help as much as it should have in my case.

    It would be nice if it was actually recognized by the BS. But it seems that it is taken for granted.

    • Butterball December 31, 2016 at 11:10 am #

      Interesting perspective. Maybe what is needed is less empathy from the BS and more from the CS. I know I have a lot of empathy for my husband but maybe I shouldn’t. Yes he is suffering an MLC but perhaps his behavior is part of the reason he is so miserable.

  8. Hopeful September 8, 2016 at 3:15 pm #

    I will say I hear that my husband empathizes and says the right things. But deep down I do not know if he can ever really understand. I just doubt he gets it. The fact he was able to do what he did even. I know people can change and give them a second chance but it just does not seem truly possible sitting in the betrayed seat. I think as a human he gets it that it was the worst thing he could do to me and he has shame and guilt that I am not sure will ever go away. But even with changes I think he might not really get it. I feel like it is how I can understand and empathize with someone going through cancer treatments but if I have never dealt with it I just cannot get it. It is a confusing think to express empathy.

    On the flip side in our relationship my husband was always empathic towards others to a fault. But I can see why he never felt that way toward me. If he did then he would be at fault and a terrible person. Even though he knew it already but having to face that would have been too much. He was a coward who felt it was better to take care of himself at the cost of the people closest to him.

    • TheFirstWife September 8, 2016 at 3:43 pm #

      I agree with you 200% on this point.

      You can see they understand the pain the cheating and its associated behavior inflicts BUT it should never have been done in the first place.

      I believe my H gets it now but during his affair he didn’t understand, didn’t care to understand, didn’t try to understand and was very clear the OW was front and center.

      A few times I have been so angry that I wanted to make him feel exactly what he made me feel. Just for 5 minutes so he can really truly see what it is like.

      Unfortunately I am not the type to cheat and would never retaliate. But my H is lucky in that he never had a former GF or anyone he dated cheat on him. Ever.

  9. Sarah P. September 10, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

    For those of you who mention or describe being the reliable spouse (everyone here) I think that some people count on having a reliable spouse to keep the house in order. Sometimes I wonder if selfish people don’t subconsciously target reliable people for marriage. It’s not fair, but if someone is selfish, it makes perfect sense. They can know that someone has to keep a home together because a home with two selfish people just does not work. One spouse must be reliable to a fault for the kid’s sake. Some selfish people know they can play the role of being reliable just enough to keep the real reliable spouse in the marriage.

    I know this is a pretty bleak opinion on my part and it’s just an opinion, so don’t take it to heart.

    I can think of my first serious boyfriend as an example. I didn’t have a relationship until I hit college. That fellow was a business major and his dad was an exec at a car company. From the outside, no one looked more squeaky clean than him. He went to church on Sunday mornings and wrote letters to his grandma on Sunday afternoons. All of my friends said he was a ‘dork’ and went as far as to say he didn’t have a sensual bone in his body because of the image he projected to everyone. He was the perfect student, never swore, and rarely drank even though he was 21 when we started dating. (I was 19.) He and I did have a physical relationship and I need to say that part so that his cheating cannot be written off as being starved of carnal affection. That guy carried on slyly with FIVE different women. He would meet them at the library, at the park, in their apartments, etc. The only reason he told me was because he got a disease from one. I gave him the fifth degree and he confessed to all five. I asked for their names and found out who they all were. One of them I knew because she was a friend of a friend. She later came and apologized and said he said he was single. I don’t blame her and know she was telling the truth. The one thing that these women had in common was they were all had dark hair and were about 50 pounds overweight. That is not a bad thing, it is just something they all had in common. He had always asked me to gain weight but I have been into fitness my whole life. If I take myself out of it, I found it refreshing that a ‘catch’ like him liked the women that often get overlooked because they don’t fit into society’s beauty standard. I don’t like the harsh judgements that go on in the media against women because no one wins except for the 5-10 women in the world the media deems as perfect. Anyhow, Mr. Squeaky Clean who was the LAST person anyone would have suspected of cheating was the biggest cheater of all. He needed someone like me who was moral to a fault and he talked about marriage often. After he told me about these women, I said there was no going back and there wasn’t. He ended up going on to his next ‘victim’ and he cheated with the same 4 women and found a different 5th since the original fifth woman found out his game. His next victim was this super-sweet elementary education major. She was also moral to a fault. It took another 6 months for her to discover his cheating and she was out of there too. Way back when I had tried to get out of him what possessed him to cheat with 5 different women and where he found the time. He just didn’t have answers or insight. He didn’t know why he did what he did. He was very disconnected from his emotions and so that is plausible. I am just glad that at the time I realized that he had a big problem and that his cheating wouldn’t go away. And I was right, he continued the same behavior with the next girl and then he graduated. I learned so many lessons from that experience, one of them being that guys who appear to be ‘the biggest dorks in the world’ like one of my girlfriends said are capable of cheating. That guy had two different identities and he used his ‘dork’ identity to cover his Lothario identity. And yet, when he wasn’t in a relationship, he didn’t want to see his ‘chosen 5.’ It was only when he was dating someone seriously. He also never wanted to be seen in public with his chosen 5. This is something I will never understand and it is a mystery to me. But, I will say the cheating certainly has some kind of psychological root as evidenced by the idea that he only wanted to see the chosen 5 when he was in a serious relationship. Very messed up.

    Did anyone else encounter someone like this in the dating world? He was my first relationship.

  10. TryingHard September 12, 2016 at 9:16 am #

    Empathy or the lack of that trait is so interesting. Certainly ALL of us know many individuals who lack that trait. You know something is missing but aren’t quite sure. It’s the people that say pithy comments like “this too shall pass” and then move on.

    I believe the important idea to grasp is knowing that there are people who lack this trait and it may or may not be your cheater. It’s important to know that the cheater is NOT looking at the affair with the same lens that you are viewing the betrayal and like Doug said most probably won’t EVER.

    It’s important to point out in conversations “how would YOU feel if I did this”. But otherwise I believe it’s impossible to “teach” an adult to be empathic. You either are or you aren’t. And besides who wants to play therapist in a marriage?

    During the affair expecting empathy is impossible. And during the “fog” it’s a slightly more probable to invoke empathy. But damn those good feeling hormones will over ride it every time. Not to mention the draw of the fantasy they are desperate to cling to.

    More powerful is to invoke your own empathy and truly understand what is pulling them to the AP. That’s where the power is. Not trying to “teach” the cheater empathy or anyone else for that matter.

    Once your understanding through your empathic strength you will more clearly be able to decide what your next move is with regards to either forge ahead or call it a day.

  11. Sam September 12, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

    UPDATE:
    My dad wants to meet up with me and go out for a meal with me. He was texting me all night the other night – I would get a text, once every hour (probably when he was out and was telling the OW he was at the toilet; which is when he would text her). During our text conversation I asked him if he even cared and love my mum, and he replied with: “Yeah, of course I do…”. He seems really eager to go out with us (me and brother) – though my brother says he doesn’t want to. I would only go out with him just to annoy the OW, as I know she would be very jealous that he is spending time with me, instead of her (selfish cow). I also got really angry before our text convo and said that she was cheating on him with someone else (which I wouldn’t put it past her), and he replied with: “Really?, Who?”, whereas (if I said someting like that before) usually he would never reply to me at all and dismiss it. Personally I think he wants her to cheat on him with someone, so therefore he has a reason to come back to us, rather than admitting he is wrong with what he has done – do you think things are NOT too good with him and the OW? I also asked him if the OW is controlling with him, and I had no answer at all – so I assume that means “YES!”.

    Furthermore: his parents are all in hospital; his father is in hospital from a bad fall, his step-dad (who is really his real dad in a way) has just had leg surgury, and his mother who had dementia is in hospital from a fall. He is seeing them all in three different hospitals. Usually he wouldn’t have bothered in the ‘Affair Fog’, but now he is going and seems eager to do so… Some of his friends have said that they think the ‘Honeymoon Period’ is over (already) and I he is coming to terms with what he has done.

  12. TryingHard September 12, 2016 at 3:56 pm #

    There’s a great article at Truth Code regarding empathy and those of us who have it. Good reading

  13. theresa September 17, 2016 at 3:37 pm #

    this is an old post on this topic.

    theresa said
    There is only one way to “know how it feels” to be betrayed. I know there are no words that he would hear.

    So I was trying to figure out a way, a physical way, to help him understand.

    One of my children sustained a painful injury. I still remeber how I felt. To my core. Viceral, gut wrenching, the weight on my chest.

    This is how I felt when I learned of his affair.

    “Ghostbusters” flashed across my mind. There is scene where 2
    students were participating in an experiment. The female subject was beautiful,
    the male, not so much. A wrong answer would result in the subject getting an
    electric shock, (guess who had the most wrong answers?)

    I liked the idea. A cattle prod came to mind. His lack of empathy would
    result in a poke with the prod.

    I sat there smiling.

    I like this idea

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