Originally Posted by BluWave
1. What are the tools to challenging our own limiting reactions/emotions that have become so habitual and engrained in us, including from childhood? (ie I retreat into feeling as if Im a victim and feel hurt, unheard and defensive)

I struggle with this. The dirty spoon is an example. I feel guilty for leaving a dirty spoon in the drawer, immediately feel defensive (like what gives you the right to attack me over a GD spoon??), go into victim mode (he's such an a-hole, why do I put up with him), have some flashbacks to my mom yelling at me for being messy, feel like he should unload the DW if it matters that much, etc. I even feel, strangely, like my womanhood or ability to be a good mom is being challenged, because most women are the ones who care more about a clean house, is he saying I'm raising my children to be pigs, I'm gross because I left a dirty spoon in the drawer-- all of that would race through my head at a million miles an hour and my immediate normal response is to be defensive or go on the attack.

Now when I sit and think through all this stuff (note this isn't something that happened yesterday... understanding my own reactions to this kind of interaction is something I've been thinking on and working on for more than a year, part of my 180s from originally reading DB and Gottman stuff) I was able to parse out that just about all of that baggage... was on me. It wasn't from my H. He's never said any of that. it probably comes more from my FOO and myself than anything he has said to me.

So the first step that worked for me, at least in this situation was... stop. Don't say ANYTHING. Just listen. Even if I was fuming inside and dying to say something back, I zipped my lip. That both prevented me from going to my usual reaction but also forced him to respond differently. And, for the most part (yesterday being an exception) he's become much better about this kind of thing-- says it nicely, like hey, looks like the dishwasher isn't doing a good job, I found this spoon. (I'm just using the spoon as an example-- it isn't always the dishwasher, it could be just about anything in this category.)

Then I noticed.. I had that same response NO MATTER HOW he said it to me. Because he started saying it more nicely and I *still* felt guilty and defensive. That helped me realize that this was my issue, more than his.

Taking that beat has really helped me in a lot of ways better interpret what my H is actually saying or doing from an intellectual space, without going immediately to the ingrained emotional response. Alison helped me with this a lot too, seeing where my own behaviors were actually aimed at getting some response out of H and it was a form of trying to maintain control.

Sometimes that beat is enough. Sometimes it needs to be three deep breaths. Sometimes I say, I can't really do this right now, I'm sorry, can we pick it up in a minute? And take the time I need to think through what is going on, what I'm really hearing from him and what blanks I'm filling in from my own experience and emotional response.

This has helped me in my interaction with my mom, too, quite a bit. She can say some nutty things and my immediate usual response is to get frustrated with her, and I know she thinks I jump all over her for taking the smallest misstep. Now I take that same beat with her and try to separate out what I'm hearing vs what me just reacting to her or the context.

Naming your own emotional response in the moment helps too. Rather than just feeling defensive and that huge spurt of adrenaline fueling your response, being able to say wow, I feel defensive right now, helped me at least to calm down. And if you get to the point where you can also name that to your H-- I'm sorry, I'm feeling kind of defensive right now-- that also can help him understand what is going on for you in that moment.

Once you can take that beat and control your initial emotional response, then another step you can take is to listen carefully to what it is that your H is saying. What is he really trying to communicate to you? A lot of times it isn't in the words he's using-- those are often the same old retreads as well. Be curious. Ask deepening questions. (Another very, very serendipitous thing that happened for me at the same time as this whole crisis was that I had the opportunity to participate in this incredible 18 month leadership fellowship, a lot of which was about learning how to be a better listener/communicator, and I had an executive coach also who helped me with a lot of this in a work context.) See where he's coming from. I think a lot of times it can defuse your own emotional response to understand where he's really coming from, because it is often not about you (something you can be defensive about) but rather how he feels, which you can probably empathize with.

Later, spend some time parsing through what happened. How did you feel? What did you say? What might you have said instead? What is really at the heart of your regular emotional response? If you were a fly on the wall and observing another couple having the same conversation, what would you think?

Anyway, just some thoughts that helped me.

Originally Posted by BluWave
2. At what point does our own belief system, including the lies we tell ourself, become harmful and when does it no longer matter? (ie I have believed that my Hs A with X-OW was not as meaningful as it may have been in order to accept it happened)

This is a tough one. I think we all have our own realities in our heads, and any two people who have a shared experience will have somewhat different interpretations of that experience. That is natural and normal. I think we all color our memories and beliefs about certain facts to help us make better sense of the world and our places within it. I think you can also choose to have a certain view of the world-- for instance, the cashier in the store is kinda rude, you might think wow, that person really doesn't like me. Or you might think wow, that person is having a bad day. I wonder if he's okay. I choose the latter, always. I could be totally wrong-- the guy could not like me. But what I don't know doesn't hurt me in this instance.

Something big, like how serious your H's A was... I think... it depends on you. I think sometimes, you can choose to feel a certain way because it helps to to make sense of the whole thing and better accept where you are now. It could be that your H participates in this too, even-- maybe he said ILY to her, and now he thinks, I can't believe I said that, I wasn't ever really in love with her. or whatever. You're both able to label the A as not so serious and part of how you're able to handle it and move on together.

The question is-- does that gnaw at you? Do you worry about it? If it bothers you-- and I think it might because you are bringing it up here-- then I think it is worth thinking through. Roll the idea around. What would it mean to you NOW if you accepted that your H had a more meaningful relationship with the OW than you had accepted in the past? What does that change? What does not change? What feelings does it bring up for you? Honor them, feel them, think them. Give yourself time to be okay with this new knowledge. (Also... how sure are you that this was a lie? Do you need to open up the conversation with your H to understand, more? Will he be able to be open and honest to you or will he be scared of upsetting you? if so, how do you set the stage for a conversation where he can be open and you can believe him when he says how he felt, or didn't feel, back then? It may even be that his truth is now that it was just a fantasy or whatever, no matter how real it seemed to him then... if he says that to you now, will that make a difference in how you view the objective "truth" of the situation?)

I don't know if all these questions help or hurt... just some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head, contemplating your question.

HUGS to you. xoxo M


Me (46) H (42)
M:14 T:18, D9 & D11
4/19 - 12/19: series of escalating BDs
9/20 - present: R and piecing