This is the second part of a multi-article series from our friend Tim Tedder, a licensed counselor in Winter Park, Florida.  The series will address ways to find relief from obsessive thoughts or conversations about the affair.

This series will cover these eight strategies:

  1. Take 3 steps toward controlling your affair conversations.
  2. Turn cages into clouds.
  3. Redirect negative thoughts.
  4. Start a Flip Journal™.
  5. Create a Sleep Story.
  6. Release your grip on the past.
  7. Increase your support.
  8. Seek help from an EMDR counselor.

In the first article of the series, Tim covered strategies 1 and 2.   In this post, Tim will tackle strategies 3 and 4.

relief from obsessive thoughtsStrategy 3: Relief from Obsessive Thoughts by Redirecting Them

Repeated negative thoughts form powerful patterns in the brain. So powerful, in fact, that they can eventually overwhelm past patterns of cognition and become the new normal in a person’s thinking process. These thoughts are uncomfortable and unwanted, but attempts to ignore or deny them seem impotent. Each defeat reinforces the “I am trapped” belief.

To help clients break free, counselors often make use of a technique called thought-stopping . I often recommend the book, The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques by Margaret Wehrenberg. (Part 1 is a rather detailed look at how the brain functions, but you can skip to all the management techniques in Parts 2-4, if you want.)

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Regaining Control:
Dealing With Obsessive Thoughts, Triggers and Memories of the Affair

Arm yourself with a variety of techniques, practical strategies and  knowledge to help you to manage those intrusive thoughts, triggers and memories of your partner’s affair.

She writes:

Any thought we think repeatedly makes a sort of neurobiological rut in our brains. Once a neuron pathway is set, it takes some time to change that pathway, so stopping and then interrupting thoughts must be done repeatedly to eliminate the worry tendency over time.

But saying “no” to negative thinking is only one part of the change process. Pushing out an unwanted thought requires significant effort. Eventually, a person becomes too tired or distracted and, in that moment, the unwanted idea slips right back into its familiar place.

To keep that from happening, the old thought must be purposefully replaced by a new one.

Wehrenberg continues…

Thought-stopping is critical, but it is insufficient on its own. You must also divert your attention to a preplanned thought replacement. Your brain makes a decision that the thoughts are unnecessary and then exerts control over them.

So how do you do this?

Start preparing yourself for the struggle by clearly defining the ideas or beliefs on which you want to focus. These thoughts will be opposite from those that have been controlling you up to this point.

See also  Finding an Affair Recovery Specialist

They will probably include statements that are true, rational, or hopeful rather than false, irrational, or fearful. Define them clearly, even though you may have no strong emotion connected to them yet.

Here are some examples:

  • My life is changed, not ruined. I am capable of making choices that will lead to something good. (Imagine what those choices look like.)
  • I am not alone in this experience. Others have survived pain like this and found something satisfying on the other side. I can, too. (Imagine the good stories others have told, or the good one you want to eventually tell.)
  • This moment does not define me. It does not define my marriage. My choice is more powerful than my circumstance. (Imagine yourself making healthy choices and what the positive outcome of those choices might be.)
  • Focusing on the details of the affair does nothing to heal me. Rather, I will increase my awareness of the ways we are working to heal our marriage. (Think about your partner’s attempts to connect with you. Imagine the ways your marriage might change. Imagine the ways you might change so that your marriage becomes stronger.)
  • Whatever intimacies were shared in the affair are part of the past. I don’t have to keep bringing them into the present. Instead, I can reclaim our intimacy so that it becomes the only thing that matters now. It’s possible that we might learn to experience a stronger connection. (Imagine times of genuine connection and intimacy you shared with your partner, even if it was at the beginning of your relationship. Imagine images or scenes of the way you might be intimately connected to your partner again.)
  • This was not my fault. I am not perfect, but I am not to blame. The affair was a bad choice made by my partner, not me. I accept responsibility for the choices I make from this point on, and I choose to change for the better. (No marriage is perfect. Honestly acknowledge your part in past marital struggles, whether small or big, but recognize that none of these were an excuse for betrayal. Now imagine the ways you want to change. Picture yourself interacting with your partner in a way that is consistent with how you want to live and love.)

You must spend time to define and imagine your “positive thoughts” or else they will never become strong enough to replace the undesirable ones.

See also  Discussion: Is Affair Love Unconditional?

When you consider these preferred alternatives, make them so real in your mind that you can imagine all the sensations experienced (touch, sight, sound, smell, taste). Focus your attention and practice the process until each thought becomes readily accessible.

Once you’ve practiced this, you’ll be ready to face the next onslaught of unwanted thoughts.

When they come, immediately do these four things:

  • Recognize : Don’t try to ignore these thoughts or pretend they don’t exist. Acknowledge them for what they are: unwanted guests.
  • Reject : You must say “no” to them. Whether you do this in your mind or out loud, be forceful in proclaiming your unwillingness to engage them. (I once pulled my car off the freeway, stood on the side of the road and shouted “NO!” to the intrusive thought that had become my foe. It may have looked a bit weird to passing motorists, but I was determined to reject the thing that was feeding my own sense of failure and shame.)
  • Refocus : Especially at the beginning of this process, the negative thought is not going to easily submit. It wants to fight back. Don’t allow yourself to get pulled into the struggle. Rather, do something that helps distract you from your focus on the unwanted thing. Do whatever works for you. Here are a few ideas: (a) Keep a rubber band on your wrist and snap it as a way to help you refocus. (b) Imagine a huge, red stop sign in front of you, or draw a stop sign in the dirt or on a piece of paper. (c) Play a quick game on your tablet or smartphone. (d) Listen, read, or watch something that engages your mind. (e) Practice mindfulness techniques by focusing on what is present around you. (f) Pray out loud. (g) Audibly quote something you’ve memorized. (h) Find a small object that represents change to you, keep it with you, take it out and use it out as a point of focus whenever necessary.
  • Replace : Once you have successfully refocused, turn your attention to the positive thought you have practiced. Spend time with it; nurture it. You will have to recognize, reject, refocus, and replace again and again. But every time you do this, you are exercising your control; you are walking through a cloud instead of staying stuck in a cage. Positive thinking will, eventually, become more normal than negative thinking.


journaling about obsessive thoughtsStrategy 4: Start a Flip Journal™

The idea for this exercise was born in a session with a client struggling with obsessive thoughts following her husband’s affair. The spiral bound notebook I was using for session notes prompted a new idea. I suggested she process work at challenging her thoughts in a more intentional way by flipping her journal.

See also  Attachment Patterns, Narcissism and How They Relate to Infidelity

Since then, many clients have given testimony regarding the benefit of using the Flip Journal™ technique. (At the time I write this, I am in the process of developing a version of the Flip

Journal™ that will offer daily direction in “flipping” a person’s thought patterns. See for more information.)

To practice basic flip journaling, follow these steps:

  1. Buy a spiral bound notebook with pages that are lined on both sides.
  2. At least once a day (or every time you feel overwhelmed with negative thoughts), open the “front” of the journal, turn to the first available empty page, date it, and then write out the full expression of whatever you are thinking and feeling. This is the “Recognize” phase described in the previous strategy.
  3. When finished, close the journal and flip it over so that the back cover is now being used as the new front cover. This simple behavior represents the “Reject” and “Refocus” phases of the previous strategy.
  4. Turn to the next available page, date it, and write out the thoughts or beliefs that are in contrast to what you just finished writing. Focus on what is true, rational, and hopeful. Whether or not you fully believe these things, write them anyway. This action is consistent with the “Replace” phase in the previous strategy.

What you end up with is two perspectives in the same journal. Eventually, they’ll meet somewhere in the middle of the notebook.

As you start, you may have much more to write in the first part. In fact, your writings in the positive side may start out being only a few sentences long, but don’t stop.

Keep doing this for at least 30 days. Like others who have tried this, you may find that the daily entries in the negative side diminish in length while the positive comments begin to expand.

In the next article in this series, Tim will wrap things up by addressing the final four strategies for finding relief from obsessive thoughts or conversations.

Tim TedderTim Tedder, LMHC, NCC

Tim is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a Nationally Certified Counselor with a passion for helping couples in crisis.  Please check out his courses for healing, change and renewal.






    26 replies to "Obsessive Focus – Relentless Thoughts or Conversations About the Affair – Part 2"

    • CBb

      All great ideas that are easier said than done. It is 18 months since DDay and I still struggle with the things that were said in justification of the affair. Hard to hear from someone you love. Also hard to read things written about you to someone else.

      It is not the affair, it us those terrible hurtful words that linger and make “recovery” difficult.

      Therapy has helped tremendously.

      If someone tells you “I am not sure I still want to be married to you” and then a few weeks later says the opposite and keeps you on a roller coaster for 6 months, how do you recover? When your CH ends your marriage twice in one week to be with the OW, how do you have confidence they really want to be married?

      How do you know it’s real?

    • TrustingGod

      I agree that it is difficult to use these strategies when the CS is not exhibiting behavior that fosters security or making true efforts to reconcile with the BS. It seems like they would work better for those who have some evidence that things will get better if they make the effort to work through it and learn to trust again. Right now, having to deal with a CS that would not confess, gave a lame apology, and did almost nothing of what I asked in order to stay in the marriage, I feel so close to giving up most days. I finally got some hope when my CS finally got rid of his FB account, because monitoring it was the thing that made me obsessive, insecure, jealous, and filled with pain. It is hard when there are financial reasons and other practical reasons you can’t separate to show that you don’t have to stay and put up with the rejecting kind of behavior your spouse shows when you are trying to do your part.

    • Scott

      “No marriage is perfect. Honestly acknowledge your part in past marital struggles, whether small or big, but recognize that none of these were an excuse for betrayal. Now imagine the ways you want to change.”

      To what end? This is the one thing I read over and over that I just bristle at. Why change myself? Suppose my spouse wanted to reconcile, the hurt, the pain, the anxiety, the anger, all those things that I never asked for, signed up for, wanted, or deserved, have a direct line to her actions, not mine. So the spouse can change. And if my spouse doesn’t want to reconcile, who cares what I do or don’t change anyhow? I’m not advocating being stuck as a person, but to sit down and say to yourself, “well, my marriage wasn’t perfect, so I’ll go ahead and fix all my crap” seems moronic. Here’s a news flash, when your spouse cheats, there is no marriage. There’s a piece of paper, but a marriage? No, there really isn’t. There’s a past tainted by infidelity. Maybe, with a ton of work and effort, there’s a future if both of you want it, but the one doing the cheating is the issue, not the faithful spouse.

      Let’s say you’re a stay at home mom, you run yourself ragged, from 6 AM to 9 PM. You get the kids off to school, do the laundry, vacuum, dishes, then pick the kids up, it’s off to soccer, then baseball, make dinner, run some errands, and at 9 PM you sit down with your husband and chat for a while. Once a week you get in a lunch with friends and about once a month you have a night out with your pals. Once a week it’s date night. It’s all good. Then one day hubby comes home and drops the bomb. The blame starts, the mind numbing trickle truth, the idiotic gaslighting, and all the while you think, “I must really suck as a human or he wouldn’t have cheated.” So the advice is to focus on what you can change about yourself???? Really? That’s like saying, hey, it’s not your fault, but fix yourself anyhow????

      How about this. For about 2 years, you just heal. You don’t press yourself into anything, you don’t decide this is a great time to get that PHD, and you don’t drastically alter anything. You just heal. You feel better. You learn to sleep again. For 4 months, I didn’t sleep. And I didn’t eat either. Felt great (yeah, right). I alternated between crying and yelling. Half the time I didn’t do anything but stare at work.

      Now, how am I supposed to “fix” myself, when it’s all I can do to eat and sleep and learn how to be alive again, huh? Seriously, I get the good intentions, and maybe the idea is to heal through change or some crap, but I just don’t buy that this isn’t some “improve yourself to make your cheating partner want to stay” BS. Really, at the point my wife decided to sleep with someone else, her opinion of what I should or shouldn’t change was the most worthless and inconsequential opinion in the world. It was all her not facing her own demons and projecting that onto me. The only person that needed change was her. I wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t cheat, and fixing myself is a fools errand when I can barely tie my shoes from exhaustion.

      Tim even admits it, it’s not your fault. So don’t act like it’s your fault. The only thing I changed was my marital status. Maybe that’s too cruel for this blog…I don’t know. But doing anything I didn’t want to do, or something for the sake of someone so sick and disturbed, was just not in my blood. I worked hard at my marriage prior to her “dday”. She did not. I was there for the kids, I did tons of work, perfect no, but cheater, no way. And me changing anything is unrealistic. I’m not the problem. I wasn’t the problem then, and I’m sure as heck not going to run back to a therapist or my ex wife and ask what my shortcomings are so I can be a better person. The problem can change or not change. I don’t care. I will change what I want to, when I want to.

      When I did care to make myself better for my marriage, I ended up on the short stick, getting cheated on, getting left at home with my son, while she went and partied. From my perspective, changing yourself for anyone, on anyone elses timeframe, or anything but your own satisfaction is insanity.

      • Strengthrequired

        Scott, you sound like someone I should hang out with. My h treated me terrible during his affair, he would see her leaving me at home with our children while he did what he wanted with her. I came close to leaving on several occasions but he stopped me, he would keep giving me hope. Yet tbh, I don’t even know really if he is still in contact with the ow now, I don’t think he is, he is different to when he was, but I do wish I would see him doing what I need him to do to help me feel secure and loved.

      • TryingHard

        I think you’re awesome. You’ve made some great points. I don’t see however where Tim is saying anything about changing yourself. I think he’s talking about helping us get over the obsessive thoughts. To your point no there is nothing about you you need to change. I think you are confusing changing yourself to taking care of yourself. I can empathize with the fact that at some point you can barely lift your head off the pillow let alone contemplate getting that PhD!!! Of course not. But at some point whether you’ve stayed or divorced you have to quit the thoughts that swirl with regards to your partners affair or the fact that we were “cheated on”. These thoughts to get stuck in your head and they can become debilitating. And they are counterproductive to moving forward in your life regardless if you are trying to reconcile or not.

        BTW I don’t think you are harsh at all for this blog. I’m happy to see you here. I’ve seen you post on other blogs and I always love reading what you have to say. Please don’t leave, keep posting. We will support you here as well. And IMHO your wife was def the loser in her shit show. You my friend will do great!!!

    • antiskank

      This is something that has irked me for a long time too. We are told that we must do the majority of the work, hold our broken marriage together, wait for the cheater to give up their affair partner, (however long it takes) wait for them to love us again, forgive them – all while trying to just function after the devastation of betrayal. We need to heal ourselves, then change so that we will be able to hold on to our cheating spouse.

      I have thought long and hard about this after questioning why should I change when I have been working on making myself better my whole life? I didn’t lie, cheat, try to destroy another person’s life and spirit. He is the one that needs to fix himself! Then I realized that as a person who puts everyone else first, giving of myself to make them happy – I am making it too easy for them to treat me poorly. I have changed to be more skeptical, less trusting, less tolerant of his lame excuses or habits. I will not be manipulated or pushed around or made to feel guilty every time he doesn’t get his own way. I am taking back my life and regaining so much of the confidence he destroyed.

      In the beginning, I thought I couldn’t go on if my marriage ended but now I know that I will not settle for mediocrity or absence of love, trust, and respect. We’re still together at the moment but I no longer look at it as a forever thing. I haven’t felt married since D-Day and he really needs to up his game and fight for me if he wants to stay with me.
      As many here have said, it isn’t so much the affair that keeps me so insecure in our relationship, it’s the lying, disrespect and lack of effort on his part that does it. I’m sorry that you, like the rest of us are still suffering the effects of an inconsiderate and selfish spouse.
      I do enjoy reading your perspective, stay with us!

    • tabs9


      Great comment. I also made it too easy for my H to treat me poorly. Although I could find a much better word to describe how I was treated rather than “poorly”.

      • Antiskank

        Yep,me too. Don’t get me started, I’m trying to be nice!! Can you believe that they could treat someone they claim to love in this way?

        • Strengthrequired

          My h used to go out and while getting dressed he would ask if he looked good. Of course he did, but he was asking because he was going off meeting up with his skank while I stayed home and looked after the kids. Makes me mad just thinking about it.
          Today is my birthday, it is now night time, and only just now have I recieved a happy birthday from my h.

          • Rachel

            HAPPY BIRTHDAY Strength !!!!!!!

          • Doug

            Happy Birthday SR!

          • TryingHard

            I know it’s not the same but Happy Happy Birthday. I’m sorry your husband didn’t acknowledge it till the end of the day. It hurts.

          • Blue

            Ah, Strength, my h used to do the same thing…until after his cheating, when I told him how he always made me feel like a nothing on days that were special to me eg; my birthday. In fact I told about all the times he made me feel crappy, and you know what? He didn’t realize he wasn’t the prince charming he thought he was- in fact- I had put him on this pedestal that he didn’t deserve. By being a big flirt and witty with women he thought he was pretty amazing. Let any of the swooning women be married to him for a couple of years and they’d soon find out he was quite un-charming.

            Strength- I wish I could take you out for your birthday and treat you like the goddess you are. You are! You seem to be such a sweet and kind woman. I wish for you a great year filled with healing and joy.

            Bless you Strength, and Happy Birthday to you!!

            • Strengthrequired

              Thankyou so much all. My h and I went out last night, it was a nice night. Yet really just like any other night. Would be nice to be treated special, but knowing my h the way I do, he never was a great one to show it. That is until he was able to show the owl just how thoughtful he was, to her. (I guess that is why I expect a bit more now, lol) We have our wedding anniversary next week, so we will be going to the same restaurant as last night for that. Amazingly enough he remembers how long we have been married for, which is 24 yrs. he didn’t even have to stop and think, I was the one who actually paused to think about how long, lol.
              Thankyou all again.

    • Rachel

      In sept in will be 2 years from my divorce.
      It truly was a world wind.
      The comments that my ex said to me still roll in my head.
      How dare he get away with saying the horrible words to me.
      He slammed my parents which completely increases my hatred towards him.
      He never slammed my dad for plumbing our new home and not charging a penny.
      He never slammed my parents when they wrote inheritance checks for us.
      They wanted to give us money because they wanted to see us enjoy it.
      But the nerve of that skinny ass jerk saying he wanted to divorce me was because my parents didn’t have a lot of friends. All an excuse to make it right because he is a cheating bastard.
      I have 2 notebooks of his horrible hurtful words. How he changed his words all around and lied that he didn’t say them. That’s a typical narcissist. But fortunately and unfortunately my two boys were there to hear him and called him out on it.
      Ican’t even bare to open them but I will when I’m ready to right my book.
      Hopefully the hurt and deceit will be gone and released in my best seller ( haha).
      I don’t think I processed my divorce still. My mom was sick and my dad shortly after and then passed. Now day by day I am struggling.
      Although the ex really doesn’t make it easy as I had a gut feeling about the life insurance that I am suppose to stay on .
      I called the insurance company and sure enough he removed my name of beneficiary!!!
      I called my attorney and the ex was charged with contempt.
      He refused to pay my attorney fees and I was left with the $500.00 bill.
      He said I should have let him know of the honest mistake and he would have changed it back. After all I am a nice guy???!!! He has gotten worse!!!!!!!
      My attorney said a judge may not make him pay the court fees because it was changed back but at least we have it on the court record for the next time.
      Oh and by the way, the policy wasn’t changed right away because the ex forgot to sign the form so it took a few weeks. Ya, what a nice guy!
      Thank you for letting me vent! Happy Friday !

      • TryingHard

        You ex has put you through the ringer!! I can’t believe he’s so motivated to still be an asshole to you. But like you said that’s what Narc’s do. Like the scorpion riding on the back of the frog to cross the river only to be stung at the end of his usefulness the frog says You do You. They are what they are, it is what it is. What a sad human existence to only choose to wreak havoc on others.

        I hope you do and are writing your book. And NO he is most definitely is not a nice person.

      • Strengthrequired

        Rachel, sending you loads of hugs.

    • tabs9


      It’s amazing what comes out of a self-righteous CS. My mom was dying of ovarian cancer when I caught my H in his affairs. With a diagnoses of 12-18 month, my H said I went “wonky”??!! Yes, I’m still married. BUT, it memories like this that make me wonder what life would be like if I weren’t.

      • Strengthrequired

        My h tried to blame my depression after having my last baby for his affair. So how is it that I’m still here, considering it was his depression that sent him off the rails, and I was able to pull myself up as much as I could out of my depression to help him. Even though while I was here for him, while he turned his back on me and was there for his long lost love… Puke…. The love of his life, puke and double puke. It’s like tit for tat.

    • Rachel

      They truly are amazing.
      They think nothing wrong of what they have done.
      My ex removed me from the insurance policy after he forwarded an email For me to pay half of the charge card bill.
      The charge card that he the six figure man gave my boys.
      What is he flipping nuts?? Well, yes we do know that he is but really??
      I forwarded the bill to my kids and said, pay this, not my problem!
      So the ex removed me from the policy.
      These Narcisstic jerks think that they are entitled and privileged .
      Not in my book!! Not any more!!

      • Strengthrequired

        Rachel, I’m proud of you, with all the crap your ex has thrown at you, you are still on top. He never deserved a woman like you, look how much your thriving without him.

        • Rachel

          Thsnk you strength!!!
          I still have my days. Just keep plugging along.
          I think th hurtful things he said about me was what hurts.
          But I hear the complete opposite from other people.
          I do realize he was full of it and himself.

          • Strengthrequired

            Rachel, your welcome. Believe it or not I admire you and your strength. Your a beautiful strong woman and your ex blew it big time. He may never ever admit it, not even to himself. Yet deep down he knows, so now he will live with his flings, his one night stands and no one will compare to you. He may even end up alone, as an old man, and he will have no one to blame but himself. You on the other hand will have a life that will prosper and get more wonderful day by day, you will have your beautiful boys around you, their family too, you won’t be lonely or miserable. Xoxo

            Today is our 24th wedding anniversary, the start of a new year….

            • Rachel

              Thank you Strength for your kind words.
              A new year, indeed.
              Happy Anniversary !!

    • TrustingGod

      Having already separated from my husband temporarily a few years ago, it is this type of behavior that makes me want to stay married sometimes. Because when we are separated and he is angry, he is more selfish and mean than he is now. And if he gets mad and says cutting things to me, when he is the cheater, and when I have been trying to get him to help me over this, what will it be like later? More of him telling my sons that I lie and am selfish when we don’t have any food and they tell him so, because they’re hungry? I thought my first husband was a horrible liar and cheater, but now I just feel cursed to always find someone who will in no way appreciate me for everything I do and everything I am. I really am tired of waffling back and forth, but last night was yet another time for my husband to use information against me. I hardly tell him anything anymore because of this, but some things are just old wounds he knows about and he wants to hurt me so that I will stop telling him the things he has done/is still doing that make me feel insecure. But he is incapable of ever saying what I need to hear. It’s been pretty clear for a while that he doesn’t really want to be with me, and that he is just staying for the kids. He says, “why would I be here if I didn’t want to be?” But he doesn’t say, “I love you so much, and I will keep trying to show you.” He says, “why would I cheat on you again?” But when I found out about his cheating, he lied and said, “why would I need to do that?” And that’s definitely not, “I made a huge mistake, and I would never hurt you that way again, no matter how I felt.” Sometimes I don’t know whether it’s just that my husband doesn’t know what to say, or if he is just trying not to make promises he doesn’t mean to keep. Anyway, I am going to do a lot less of obsessing over him, and a lot more of being healthy, stable, and confident. My children need me, and I need to find a job to support us. He’s already shown me that we can’t count on him. I am probably just spinning my wheels trying to improve our marriage without counseling or his full efforts, so I guess I should just pull myself together and get ready for the divorce that he must really want.

    • Eleanor

      I wonder what Konnie and Andrea have to say about cheating, marriage and divorce. Plus your eldest.

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