Thank you for reading…
- The Introductory post about Choosing Change,
- Choosing Change #1: Safe People, Safe Places, and Safe Processes
- Choosing Change #2: So what’s my reasonable contribution to your change process? (Part 1 of 2)
- Choosing Change #3: So what’s my reasonable contribution to your change process? (Part 2 of 2)
- Choosing Change #4: Gardening with Intention
- Choosing Change #5: Traveling with Intention
- Choosing Change #6: Schemas, Defenses, Distortions and Resolution (Part 1 of 3)
- Choosing Change #7: Schemas, Defenses, Distortions and Resolution (Part 2 of 3)
- Choosing Change #8: Schemas, Defenses, Distortions and Resolution (Part 3 of 3)
- Choosing Change #9: The A-C-T-I-V-E Model by Dr. Ken McGill
- Choosing Change #10: Blueprints and Building Change
- Choosing Change #11: Building Character and Building People (Part 1 of 3)
- Choosing Change #12: Building Character and Building People (Part 2 of 3)
- Choosing Change #13: Building Character and Building People (Part 3 of 3)
This is the last post in the Choosing Change series, and subsequently, the last chapter in the last book I’m writing (Cultivating Love: Choosing Change) and I must say it’s very exciting for me to achieve this milestone! I started reading and researching for the Cultivating Love book series in 2008, and it took me six years to publish the first book in the series (in 2014). Since then, it has taken me six years to write and now complete a total of eight books that comprise the series, of which you could read about in the final section of this book (“A few of Dr. Ken McGill’s books“).
Regarding this post, we’ll visit your Bedroom and the Front Porch of your home. In visiting your Bedroom, we’ll take a deeper look at your primary relationship, and what you may wish to consider developing in your effort to create and enjoy a vibrant and healthy marital relationship. When we get to your Front Porch, I’ll encourage you to pause and engage in “rocking chair moments,” wherein you reflect on your vision, the life you have lived (or are living), and the legacy that you will one day leave behind. As much as the other areas of your home are important and deserve your undivided attention, I’d like to suggest that these two areas of your home are critical to the establishment and maintenance of marital health, which may determine how successful you are toward achieving your goal of building a rock-solid and functional home!
So when the specialists do the walkthrough of your Bedroom (and who among us wants to have a lot of people traipsing around in there!), they’ll weigh-in and offer consultation for the all-important factors that make for an intimate and strong relationship. First, we’ll look at the subject of Intimacy through the lens of the 7 Core Areas (Spiritual, Cognitive, Emotional, Physical/Biological, Sexual, Social/Relational and Environmental). These domains constitute the totality of who you are, and if a relationship is to become vibrant and healthy, then knowledge, openness, and honesty about these areas are to be explored and discussed.
Since good communication leads to respectful discussion, we’ll incorporate a few ideas about communication from Dr. Steven Solomon and Dr. Lorie Teagno’s “Model of Intimacy,” as documented in their book Intimacy after Infidelity (2006). We’ll also look at how the Imago Dialogue, authored by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt, will provide simple yet proven strategies to further assist you to cultivate good communication in your relationship.
Next, we’ll glean fresh insights about Intimacy from a colleague of mine, Dr. Alexandra Katehakis and Tom Bliss, from their book Mirror of Intimacy: Daily Reflections on Emotional and Erotic Intelligence (2014). In addition to thoughts about their book, I’ll offer some suggestions about “Intimacy Building Behaviors,” concluding with a few thoughts from my mentor, Dr. Patrick Carnes, about what it takes to develop a “positive sexual focus,” as shared in his book Sexual Anorexia (1997).
As noted earlier, the Sexual “row in the garden,” being one of the 7 Core Areas in your life, stands to offer some of the sweetest fruit to be shared and enjoyed with your partner. To that point, I’ll offer a few thoughts from two sages on the subject of sexuality, Drs. John and Julie Gottman, authors of “The Art and Science of Lovemaking,” from their Gott Sex series (2013).
Unfortunately, there are moments in our life when our sexuality is bruised, hurt, or traumatized, resulting in ruptures in our relationship, and we might not know what to do nor how to recover, renew or regenerate growth in this area of our life. If the experience of “betrayal trauma” has brought unwanted hurt, pain, and devastation to your relationship, under the subsection called “When Secrets Surface: An integrative primer to cope with infidelity,” we’ll look at clinical and corrective processes that you’ll want to consider when this type of traumatization impacts this sacred part of your life. In doing so, I’ll present resources to help both of you to understand betrayal trauma, and what processes need to be integrated into your relationship to create safety and stability (McGill’s Hierarchy of Needs) as you move toward understanding, honoring, protecting, reclaiming then healing yourself and potentially your marriage.
Some specialists that we’ll invite into this area are Pete Walker, whose book Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving (2013) provides insights to help us to understand the complex and far-reaching nature of traumatization, and how to move toward healing deep relational and often generational wounds in our relationships. Michelle Mays with PartnerHope provides deep and invaluable insight and assistance primarily for the partner involved with betrayal trauma, but ultimately for both of you. Jasmine Lee Couri’s book Healing from Trauma: A survivor’s guide to understanding your symptoms and reclaiming your life (2008) presents very practical tools for coming to your own assistance, and ultimately to the assistance of the relationship. I can’t say it enough to underscore the point that if recovery and resilience are to be experienced after betrayal trauma has hit your relationship, then careful, thorough, intentional, deliberate and consistent work in these areas will need to be a part of your day-to-day process going forward. Finally, we’ll close out the visit to your Bedroom by presenting ideas that “recovering couples” may wish to integrate in their effort to bring healing to their relationship as well.
Upon leaving your home, we’ll pause at your Front Porch to consider your vision, purpose, and the choices you are making (or have made) in your life. We’ll come “full-circle” by visiting with Dr. Erik Erikson to look at his eighth and final stage of psychosocial development (Ego Integrity versus Despair) as we consider your life, the impact you’ve made in your relationships and the legacy that you’ve established and will one day leave behind.
This seems like a lot of reading and work and it just might be that, because this important area of your life and marriage needs to be explored in-depth, breadth, and thoroughly. Therefore, I encourage you to pace yourself as you’re not in a race against time to cultivate love in this precious and important part of your life, especially if you’ve experienced or inflicted injury on someone’s sexuality. So are you ready to finish up your building process and complete your work on building a stable and functional home? Let’s begin!
Intimacy and our 7 Core Areas
You’d be hard-pressed to define Intimacy without looking at one of the most important words in the Bible that explains it, which is the Hebrew word YADA. There are actually three English words that describe and flow from the meaning of this Hebrew word: Respect, Intimate and Knowledge. When you think about Intimacy, you could easily replace it with the word Knowledge, because when you are “being Intimate” with another person, you’re actually exchanging some form of information or knowledge about who you are with another person.
In fact, YADA speaks about different ways that we gain knowledge (through perception, discernment, recognition, insight, our conscience) and subsequently, how we’re to integrate and use this information to make good and practical decisions that indicate we’re becoming wise or said another way, “skilled at living.”
But it doesn’t stop there. YADA also speaks about a “process” of how we grow in knowledge: by engaging in experiences that cause us to know ourselves better (as in introspection and emotional self-awareness), know others better (by asking questions, being curious, engaging in purposeful fact-finding, just good ole conversations!) and know God better (by practicing any of our spiritual disciplines – prayer, study, worship, meditation, fasting, serving, etc).
I think God’s idea is that as we become familiar with this vital information about ourselves, our significant others and with Him, then we position ourselves to be able to communicate and share this information so others become familiar or intimate with who we are: our identity, our values, our thoughts, our feelings, our needs, our requests, etc. If we know and share ourselves with others who demonstrate the same depth of insight and ability to know us, then our vulnerable process creates the opportunity to facilitate closeness and intimacy, which is a good thing. To drive this point home, God wants us to become so close in the knowledge of one another that it resembles the close and intimate connection that describes genital intimacy, as YADA is the same word used in Genesis 4:1, where it states: “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain…”
So if I’m close and intimate with another, I get to know their strengths, their weaknesses, their hopes, their grief, their passion, what brings immense pleasure and what might create devastating pain in them. But here’s one of the most important payoffs that accompany the practice of YADA: If I live to love them by practicing YADA, then more than likely my behavior will cause me to be respectful of and with them. If we endeavor to cultivate this deep form of knowing (and being known) then we’re being intimate with them and when this occurs respect is sure to be a part of our process. When we live like this, we’re sharing and engaging in one of the 10 components of Agape, or Love. The next step is to apply and practice this form of knowledge and intimacy in our 7 Core Areas.
Cultivating Intimacy in the 7 Core Areas of our Life
“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is replied in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’, and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” — Luke 10: 25–28 (TNIV)
“We love because He first loved us” – I John 4:19 (TNIV)
You’ll recall that the 7 Core Areas originate from the above-mentioned scripture in the Gospel of Luke, and simply validate that we’re Spiritual, Cognitive, Emotional, Physical/Biological, Sexual, Social/Relational and Environmental beings (that is, we have the capacity to be agents of change for the good of others). When you think of applying the “YADA principles” described earlier, then you’re talking about being able to know then share what you think and feel about issues that arise in each of the 7 Core Areas, as well as to inquire of your partner what (s)he thinks and feels about issues that arise in their 7 Core Areas.
For example, when you’re able to know then explain why your faith is important to you (Spiritual), or why you decided to pick up flowers on the way home (Cognitive), or why seeing a particular movie or participating in a certain ministry causes you to feel inspired, joyful, anxious or regretful (Emotional), then you’re engaging in an intimacy-sharing process with your significant other. Keep in mind that Intimacy is a “two-way road,” so make sure that if you’ve been given the gift of being listened to intently then make sure you return the gift-in-kind that’s either equal or of greater value to your partner!
So you may remember this list from Choosing Change #8. In a moment we’re going to begin a walkthrough of your bedroom and we’re going to look at some really good communication tools to assist you in your effort to “cultivate intimacy,” but for now, take a look at the descriptors of each of the 7 Core Areas. Remember, think of these like they’re “rows in your marital garden,” that you’ll want to work in to grow fruitful behavior that will nourish and edify the inhabitants in your home. That being the case…
- …Think about what goals you envision cultivating in each area, and why it’s important for you to develop and practice any behaviors that are connected to establishing your goals. What are they?
- …Think about what activities you’d like to create, share and engage in and enjoy with your spouse or family, or with others who you think could help you to reach your overall goals. What activities come to mind?
- …Make sure you plan on discussing what skills you see yourself developing and how your lives could be enriched due to the development and regular practice of the behaviors in each of the Core Areas. What skills do you see yourself developing?
Walkthrough Area #5: Your Bedroom
“You’re the one thing, I can’t get enough of, So I’ll tell you something, This could be love
Because I’ve had the time of my life, No I’ve never felt this way before
Yes I swear, it’s the truth, and I owe it all to you”
Lyrics from “(I’ve had) The Time of My Life”
Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes
In the movie “Dirty Dancing” (1987)
“Just as time knew to move on since the beginning, And the seasons know exactly when to change,
Just as kindness knows no shame, Know through all your joy and pain
That I’ll be loving you always, until the day that 8 x 8 x 8 is 4“
Lyrics from “As” by Stevie Wonder in “Songs in the Key of Life” (1976)
(Inscribed in Leslie’s wedding band)
As we begin our walkthrough of your Bedroom, know that one of the most critical of all ingredients to add to your encounters with your mate is your engagement in and cultivation of good communication processes and skills. As a Psychotherapist, when a couple comes into my office I’ll listen to see what kind of communication skills they possess, and often, it’s typically one of the first areas where I’ll intervene, in an effort to help the couple to develop their ability to speak and listen, “mirror and validate” what they heard, and most importantly, to develop the ability to empathize and respond effectively with the all-important feelings shared, which are a part of any interpersonal communication process.
When done well (and it’s a lot simpler than you think), good communication about anything connected to your 7 Core Areas facilitates increased knowledge about issues that need to be heard and understood, which in turn helps you to respect your partner and their opinions, even if you fundamentally disagree with their viewpoint. Good communication and the practice of “conflict intimacy,” as we’ll hear from one of the specialists, removes the rocks of resentment and repairs ruptures in a relationship so you’re able to reconnect and enjoy the intimacy that you’ve always wanted to permeate your marriage! So it goes without saying that one of the most important goals to develop, activities to practice, and skills to demonstrate that will help you in your effort to become intimate with your spouse is communication!
There are two groups of clinicians who’ll help us to become aware of and integrate good communication strategies. First, we’ll look at some basics from Imago Relationship Therapy, called the Imago Dialogue, as presented by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt. Then we’ll look at a few principles from the Model of Intimacy, developed by Dr. Steven Solomon and Dr. Lorie Teagno of The Relationship Institute, and specifically their “I – to – I Exercise,” which is a great way for couples to develop good “conflict intimacy” skills to work through any conflicts that may arise between them.
Specialists #1: Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt
Dr. Hendrix and Dr. Hunt created Imago Relationship Therapy as a way to help couples work through their conflict, and one of the tools they developed to assist couples is the Imago Dialogue. Their idea is with the practice of the Imago Dialogue, couples would develop the ability to hear and validate what was said between them, versus getting stuck in the “defending, blaming and shaming” cycle that derails communication. With the practice of their tools, Dr. Hendrix and Dr. Hunt envisioned a couple experiencing less emotional reactivity and greater empathy and healing behaviors in their communication and actions.
So with the permission of a colleague in Houston, TX, Barbara J. Reichlin, MA, LMFT, LPC, Advanced Clinician with Imago Relationships International and past President of the Houston Area Association of Imago Relationship Therapists who is a leader among Imago Relationship Therapists, I’ve uploaded her “Basic Instructions,” in addition to 4 charts that simply guide a couple to implement and benefit from the practice of the Imago Dialogue. Want to improve your relationship skills? Here’s what Barbara, whose sole goal over the past 26 years has been “helping couples and individuals identify and deal with the issues keeping them from having the close, harmonious and passionate relationship they desire.” Here’s Barbara’s sage information about the Couple’s Dialogue and the Appreciation Dialogue:
Imago Dialogue: The Basic Steps
Getting Started: The Basic Dialogue Ground Rule
In the Imago Dialogue, both parties agree to a basic ground rule: to talk one person at-a-time. This gives you a person who is speaking, we say “sending”, and another who is listening, or “receiving.” It is when you are in the role of the Receiver that you will be doing the three main steps of Dialogue.
Dialogue: The Three Main Steps
There are 3 main steps to the Imago Dialogue:
Let’s take them one at a time.
STEP ONE: MIRROR
In the Mirroring step, when your partner pauses, or perhaps when you have asked them to pause, you will repeat back everything you heard them say. You may paraphrase, but you will mirror without analyzing, critiquing, modifying or responding.
How to Mirror: “If I got it, I think you said…” or “So you’re saying…”
Ask if there’s more: “Is there more?” or “Tell me more.”
STEP TWO: VALIDATE
Once the Sender says there is “no more”, the Receiver will attempt to validate what the Sender has said by letting the Sender know if what they have been saying is making logical sense to the Receiver. If it does not, the Receiver will simply share what does make sense, then ask the Sender to say more about the parts that do not yet make sense.
How to Validate: “You make sense to me because…” or “That makes sense, I can see where…”
Ask for clarification: “This part (X) makes sense, but help me understand, can you say more about…?”
STEP THREE: EMPATHIZE
In the final step, Empathy, the Receiver takes a guess as to what they imagine the Sender might be feeling with regard to what they have been saying. If the Sender has already said how they feel, then the Receiver can simply reflect this back once more. If, however, the Receiver can think of an additional way their partner might be feeling, this is where they can add that.
When sending empathy, it is fine to say something such as: “I can imagine you feel like …. (you’re the only one working on our relationship).”
However, it’s important to know that once the word “like” comes into play, what’s being expressed is a thought, not a feeling. The best way we have come to distinguish the difference between a thought and a feeling is that a feeling can generally be described in one or two words: e.g., happy, excited, safe, cared for, hurt, frustrated, scared.
Try to include some “feeling” words if you can, in this step. Doing so, especially when you are lucky enough to hit the proverbial nail on the head, will often bring a look of recognition and joy to your partner’s face faster than anything else you could say.
How to Empathize: “I can imagine you might be feeling…”
Check it out: “Is that how you feel?”
Now that the Sender has said all they have to say and the Receiver has mirrored, validated and empathized, the whole process reverses. The Receiver now gets their turn to respond with whatever came up for them while the first partner was sending and the Sender shifts into being the new Receiver who does the mirroring, etc.
Note: When partners trade places, the new Sender does not start a new topic, rather she/he responds to what the first Sender said.
Below are the beautiful Couple’s Dialogue (Sender Flowchart and Receiver Flowchart) in addition to the Appreciation Dialogue (Steps for the Sender and Steps for the Receiver) charts that Barbara created. For now, here are a few questions for you to ponder:
- As you consider the Basic Steps and Instructions for the Imago Dialogue, what thoughts and feelings are you having?
- How do you see the practice of the Dialogue helping you?
- What issue might you wish to bring to your partner’s attention to create an Imago Dialogue?
So how could the integration and practice of the Imago Dialogue help to cultivate Intimacy and Love?
Glad you asked this question! I see the Imago Dialogue as a tool to help couples say what they need to say and hear what needs to be heard in a respectful and non-defensive manner. I also see when thoughts and feelings are identified, shared, validated and acknowledged in an “adult-to-adult” manner, then couples are one step closer to resolving their problem(s). Just the very demonstration of using communication tools like this facilitates hope, connection and it tends to motivate both partners to use their energy like this, which results in understanding, dyadic regulation, healing, support, and love!
Specialists #2: Dr. Steven Solomon and Dr. Lori Teagno
“Words have an awesome power to build us up or tear us down emotionally. Many people can clearly remember words of praise their parents spoke years ago. Others can remember negative, cutting words—in extraordinary detail” – Gary and Norma Smalley, from It Takes Two To Tango (1998).
Dr. Solomon and Dr. Teagno are the creators of The Relationship Institute in San Diego, CA, and for the past 25 years have worked separately and together with couples to “share with them the secrets of having a strong, healthy and fulfilling Long-Term Love Relationship.” They are the authors of Intimacy after infidelity: How to rebuild and affair-proof your marriage (2006), and it’ll be difficult to single out even a few of their noteworthy contributions towards strengthening marriages and relationships because their contributions are many! But here are a few:
First, one of the most valuable concepts they contribute to the strengthening of marriage is that of the “Long-Term Love Relationship.” For Dr. Solomon and Dr. Teagno, the Long-Term Love Relationship is achieved when a couple moves through four identified and distinct stages over the life of their relationship. The stages are:
State 1: Sweet Symbiosis – Everything is going well at the outset of the relationship. Love is plentiful, blind, sweet and the desire to create a good and strong bond is ever-present. Dr. Solomon and Teagno define symbiosis as “the living together in more or less intimate association or close union of two dissimilar organisms,” and describe Sweet Symbiosis as “a time where the deep bond that is created causes the couple to overlook what each doesn’t like in each other.” They describe this as the time that most couples try to recapture over the course of their marriage, especially when conflict enters the relationship and brings an end to this first stage and ushers in the second stage, “Soured Symbiosis.”
- Stage 2: Soured Symbiosis – Soured Symbiosis is “the end of the honeymoon,” and is marked by the reality of differences, conflicts, and disappointments. Dr. Solomon and Dr. Teagno mention this is where most couples they counsel with get stuck but are also looking for a way to grow beyond their current difficulty. Sadly, their research indicates if a couple doesn’t acquire the tools to repair their conflict (which could resemble the couple being either “Hostile Dependent” or “Conflict Avoidant”), they may tolerate the status quo, or, may separate, divorce or engage in infidelity.
- The “Three Intimacies“: At this point, Dr. Solomon and Dr. Teagno state in order for a couple to successfully create and experience a Long-Term Love Relationship, they’ll need to learn about and develop the “Three Intimacies” (which are Self-Intimacy, Conflict Intimacy and Affect Intimacy). Self-Intimacy is your ability to know your own thoughts, feelings, and needs, acknowledging them to yourself and being able to communicate them to your partner effectively. Conflict Intimacy is not only your ability to share your thoughts, feelings and needs to your partner, but also your ability to hear, make room for and validate the thoughts, feelings, and needs of your partner, and to stay engaged in conversation with your partner until you work out a mutually agreed-upon solution(s) even when your thoughts, feelings, and needs differ from each other. Dr. Solomon and Dr. Teagno state that the use of their “I-to-I” (Initiator and Inquirer) tool is what helps couples work through their conflict, and move toward (re)creating or re-establishing good connections and emotional intimacy. Affect Intimacy is created and delivered through Verbal Affection (the use of words that demonstrate caring), Affection by Action (by engaging in actions that demonstrate caring), Sexual Affection (by engaging in sexuality that demonstrates love and care), and by Nonsexual Physical Affection (by the use of casual touch to demonstrate caring). If some of the Conflict Intimacy principles sound familiar, it’s because they speak to the principle of Differentiation, the next stage of the Long-Term Love Relationship, which we visited in Choosing Change #13 when we were in the Study/Office part of your home.
- Stage 3: Differentiation – You might remember my comments about Differentiation from the previous post: Differentiation simply means you’re going to see, think and feel differently about issues than others in your life, who also deserve the same level and depth of respect because they see, think and feel differently about the same life issues as you. The practice of Differentiation means you work to protect and contain your cognitions and all of your emotional energy connected to what you’re discussing, while you simultaneously make room to listen to and respect the cognitions and all of the emotional energy the person you are conversing with has. Being guided by the healthier, Functional Adult part of you (that you convene with and provides counsel to you in your Safe Place), is what will help you to practice safe and respectful communication in addition to other values that help you to respect and honor the differences you have with the other person, even if you don’t agree with their interpretation of the issues that you are discussing. Good Differentiation means you’re becoming skilled and competent at managing your emotions so you’re able to remain in and practice your identified values in your “68° to 72°” behavior range.” Doing so means no one gets frostbite nor burned in your communication, conflict intimacy or conflict resolution process. Good Differentiation is the epitome of being a Safe Person! Dr. Solomon and Dr. Teagno state it’s in this stage where the couple uses and gets better with their communication tools to resolve conflict, develop understanding and take responsibility to create solutions and ongoing expressions of the three intimacies.
- Stage 4: Synergy – Dr. Solomon and Dr. Teagno convey that Synergy is the state of being that the couple works toward and endeavors to dwell in when they practice and become proficient at repairing relationship ruptures that threaten to interrupt their harmony, collaboration, and unity. To me, Synergy is marked by the couple being committed to creating and maintaining good Interpersonal Neurobiology, which infers they’re consistently practicing the LoveWorks principles and getting better at coming to their own assistance and to the assistance of the relationship by the integration and wise usage of the Wheel of Awareness. The consistent use of and integration of these and other therapeutic principles increases the probability that your Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex functions will remain in and produce Adult outcomes (versus Adolescent or Child-like) ones! Dr. Solomon and Dr. Teagno’s research indicates that the “loving bond” that the couple experiences deepens and becomes richer when the couple gets better at Conflict Intimacy and Differentiation. Could you see yourself and your marriage not only becoming more intimate but stronger with the practice of these tools and processes?
Finally, of great significance is Dr. Solomon and Dr. Tegno’s “I-to-I Maturity Goals” exercise. The “Initiator” (Speaker) and “Inquirer” (Listener) goals are created to help couples to speak about and listen to any thoughts and emotions that are connected to infidelity, but I’ve found they help to facilitate good communication period. The Initiator, like the Inquirer, has certain goals they’ll attempt to reach to assist “when something is bothering me” (Speaker) or “when my partner is upset and talks to me” (Listener).
A few goals for the Initiator (Speaker) are to recognize and share feelings without blaming and to honestly convey any thoughts and feelings (s)he discovers in order to help the Inquirer to know them. A few goals for the Inquirer are to remain calm, remain open while listening (“being curious and not furious”), and look for ways to respond with compassion and empathy. Goals for both are to hold onto, practice and respect the values, beliefs, and feelings of the other, as the practice of this Differentiation principle is a goal and demonstration of maturity in the relationship.
So how could the integration and practice of the Long-Term Love Relationship goals help to cultivate Intimacy and Love?
I see this model as a template for the couple to strive to produce and emulate, as the model presents a map that provides a direction to move toward and a depth of richness to reach, experience and protect. The model also validates the need to work daily on developing the “Three Intimacies,” which when developed and delivered facilitates closeness, bonding and tangible behaviors that convey to each that the person and the relationship are important and that relationship peace is a priority.
Specialists #3: Dr. Alexandra Katehakis and Tom Bliss
Dr. Alexandra Katehakis and Tom Bliss are the authors of Mirror of Intimacy: Daily Reflections on Emotional and Erotic Intelligence (2014). In this amazing text, “Alex” and Tom have “examined 366 topics related to sex and sexuality that together, point us in the direction of what comprises healthy great sex.” So their book is a year’s worth of daily reflections that explore the beauty and range of human sexuality, as a divine gift and as a human right (p. 10).
What follows are a few of my thoughts based on reading some of the subjects related to the cultivation of intimacy as addressed in their book. It’s my hope that the insights I’ve gleaned will assist you in your effort to develop and experience health in the all-important “sexual row” (and other rows!) in your garden. Since there are 12 months of reflections in the book, I’m going to share the takeaways I received from reading the material as penned each month. So when you read “mirror (01/01),” know that I’m referencing the topic (followed by the month and day, i.e., January 1st) of that particular reflection as it appears in the book.
Right off the bat, I like how Alex and Tom invite you to “look in the mirror” (01/01) and reflect on what values are important to you, when you think about sex and your sexual experience. On Day 2, I take great interest in that they touch on the YADA principle discussed earlier in this subsection, as they describe that true Emotional Intimacy (01/02) involves knowing yourself and knowing others, which sets the stage for you to connect with each other at a deep and meaningful place.
Equally, the authors mention that your sexuality (01/05) deserves the same significance and level of care as your primary relationship, and when you give yourself sexually to that person in your primary relationship, you’re giving a deep (01/09) and precious gift that no one else could give to them. With Narrative, (01/23), you’re encouraged to reflect on then develop a safe and functional process to work through challenges that arise, culminating in an opportunity to “rewrite and renew” what type of person and relationship you’d like to enjoy. They close the month by encouraging you to keep courtship (01/26) alive by continuing to develop strategies that deliver non-genital and genital connection, in addition to other intimacy needs like warmth and attention to your foreplay and intercourse.
If your sexual relationship becomes dry or stagnant, you’re encouraged to recall what worked for you in the past and reintroduce those behaviors to reawaken (02/01) your experience. In doing so, try to notice the attributes that originally created attraction (i.e. attentiveness, playfulness, etc.) and explore and develop other attributes that create and enhance mutual attraction (02/06).
As we explored in Choosing Change #6 – 8, Alex and Tom recommend that you examine how your core beliefs (02/04), cognitive distortions, negative self/life narratives, and maladaptive schemas contribute to shameful feelings and eventually behaviors that result in self-harm or harm to each other. As you could imagine you’re encouraged to replace harmful self-concepts and addictive behaviors with truthful, loving and empowering beliefs that affirm, guide and build you and others up.
Finally, and with a subject that we’ll explore in greater detail in the latter part of this chapter, you’re encouraged to become a safe person with all things sexual (02/07); with yourself, with each other, and to consistently integrate and practice (02/14) behaviors that not only protect this precious part of who you are but also demonstrate honor, value and above all love.
In this month Alex and Tom reiterate what we learned from Dr. Siegal, which is the continued practice of healthy (sexual) behaviors promotes neuroplasticity (03/14), or the ability to grow new neural connections in your brain because you’re learning about then practicing new, different and affirming behaviors connected to healthy sexual expression. One of the biggest areas where you’re encouraged to grow new experiences is the area of overcoming the fear (03/16) of talking about what you’d like or want to develop in your sexual experience with your partner.
Here, as an adult, you’re not only encouraged to show up for yourself (and each other) to discuss your feelings about what you fear, but to take ownership and responsibility (03/21) to define what you value (03/29), and to work diligently and fearlessly to develop and enjoy not only what makes sense to you but to engage in sexual processes and other behaviors that bring renewal (03/20) to your relationship!
I really like that Alex and Tom encourage both partners to assess, then talk about their needs in the relationship (04/04), and how mutually empowering outcomes are co-created when a safe space for dialogue and expression is established. After discussion occurs, you’re encouraged to prioritize your relationship by engaging in “intention rich” actions (04/07) that demonstrate love, which paradoxically results in the accurate placement of your arousal (04/08) and passion versus the misplacement of your vital and precious sexual energy.
In May, the authors follow up on their previous comments from April by encouraging you to focus your attention and energy on developing “loving, lustful or lascivious” desire (05/01) with each other. Exploring sensuality (05/17) “beyond the flesh” and sexiness (05/19) means you won’t become complacent in your effort to mentally create erotic experiences that engage the five senses (sight, touch, sound, visual and smell) but you will engage in behavior commensurate with caring for your body in a way that ensures health and promotes attraction with your partner.
Finally, Alex and Tom encourage you to develop insight (to which I add speaking and listening boundaries) regarding negative processes and “voices” from your past (05/08) which threaten to obscure how you see yourself, others, and how you may be tempted to misuse versus effectively use your power (05/10), for example, by engaging in sexually addictive behavior (05/26) “to medicate trauma, tension or discomfort.” To the authors, sex, like the element of fire, could result in harmful or healing outcomes, especially when your moral code (05/29) guides your thinking and your behaviors.
In this month Alex and Tom express caution about engaging in “free love” (06/03) to manipulate or control the choices of another, especially when abandonment dynamics are triggered. Equally, developing positive self-talk (06/08) to validate yourself is a great way to reduce shame and bring calm to yourself by practicing the skill of emotional self-awareness.
Emotional self-awareness is especially helpful when we become emotionally triggered (06/18). That which triggers us is a signal that our memories, connected to unprocessed or untreated trauma, could threaten our ability to interpret life-experiences clearly, or derail our ability to develop solutions to current problems that need and require our best cognitions.
So being aware of, and being able to manage our thoughts and feelings is helpful, especially when we need to experience and deliver the skill of differentiation (06/23). As we saw earlier in Stage 3 of Drs. Solomon and Teagno’s Long-Term Love Relationship model, getting good at differentiation helps us to see and honor “the other side of the coin” (our partner’s) while not defacing nor devaluing our own emotionally-laden side. This skill is critical to developing and maintaining a healthy marriage (06/30), where ruptures are repaired in our relationship due to the ongoing practice of character values like reconciliation (06/21).
Hugging (07/04) provides attention, affection, co-regulation and could be a precursor to foreplay (07/09) and sex, especially when the other senses are involved in your process! There’s nothing quite like physical touch delivered in the form of hugs that conveys straightforward messages about openness and availability, warmth and significance, and love and protection. Hugs are also helpful (and perhaps indispensable) when we grieve because when we are invited to hold others when they’re grieving paradoxically it helps them to express and possibly let go of their hurt, sorrow or pain in our presence.
Hugging (or learning how to hold onto yourself) is also a powerful act when we feel healthy shame or toxic shame (07/13) respectively. When we live outside of our value system and engage in “perverse” behaviors (the authors state the Latin meaning of this word means “facing the wrong way”; 07/10) then safe and loving touch, coupled with dialogue helps us to understand the error of our behavior then move to correct our actions. This loving process and behavior helps us to humanize ourselves and others, versus engaging in dehumanization, which is one of the harsh realities of toxic or “carried” shame.
Finally, engaging in processes that result in the development of emotional intelligence (07/22) not only help to reduce carried shame, but the skill helps us to develop secure and healthy attachments with others (07/24) where being safe, considerate, empathetic and compassionate are outcomes that help us and others to reach their full potential as human beings.
August begins with insights about relationships (08/02), and with one take away being no matter what occurs in a relationship, humans have the potential to repair relationships when ruptures threaten to sabotage or shatter them. Making love (08/09) could be an outcome of a repaired relationship. Making love involves sharing and celebrating our totality; our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual selves with each other, but also engaging in healthy play (08/08), where renewal is experienced when we collaborate with each other to experience joy, especially through the actions of dating and mating.
I really like the author’s comments about self-care (08/21), where the airplane analogy of affixing the oxygen mask to yourself first has to occur before you seek to assist another, even when it’s the person (or people) that you love the most. The parallel is drawn to your own sexual wants and needs, where you’re encouraged to communicate then work toward what brings you pleasure versus engaging in codependent, manipulative or addictive behaviors, which not only squelch opportunities for genuine connection but are actually behaviors that depict self-abandonment.
Finally, in summation of the thoughts for this month, being emotionally truthful (08/29) means you’ll open your heart (08/31) to share who you are, what needs you have and what could bring health and life to your relationship. The authors correctly conclude that others may not understand nor like the person you reveal yourself to be when you’re vulnerable to them, but truth-telling is a sign of self-acceptance and maturity because while you’re being open and decisive about yourself, you’re also demonstrating security and strength as you share what makes sense to you and how you wish to live your life.
It’s no surprise that denial (09/04) and healing (09/05) are next to each other. Denial about any pain, trauma, abuse or addiction means we split off and ignore undesirable parts of our reality that beg to be looked at, acknowledged, integrated and deliberately attended to if any form of healing is to take place in our life or relationship, especially where sexual or betrayal trauma has occurred, in our past or current relationship(s).
Remaining in denial opens us up to other forms of self-sabotage and mood-altering behaviors like love addiction (09/26), which could be one of the many ways we attempt to escape personal pain (09/13) connected to our past or our present. Recovery (09/14), not only reflects a marked reduction and cessation of acts that harmed our sexuality (sobriety), but going forward, also reflects that we’re using our brain (09/10) and mind (09/21) to define what behaviors constitute (sexual) health, meaning, purpose and how we’re going to live.
Self-improvement (10/1) means we invite (versus ignore) the good, bad, ugly and traumatic thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and experiences, especially pertaining to our sexuality, into the crucible of awareness with the goal of transforming ourself into the person we’ve envisioned or have always wanted to become.
Stepping into the sexual crucible means we’re curious and open to learning, discovering, knowing and sharing about our eroticism (10/04), and that of our partner, in order to become “erotically intelligent” (10/22) about erotic behaviors that mutually arouse, co-regulate (10/08), are pleasurable and are a reflection of maturity in this sacred area of the self.
Upon “exiting” the sexual crucible, we demonstrate maturation in that we eliminate the negative aspects of seduction (10/09) but we also harness and use our sexual energy intelligently and effectively to create and share in mutual enjoyment.
The authors begin the month discussing the subject of self-pleasure (11/01), which focuses on masturbation. Their insights about masturbation communicate health and acceptance about engaging in the act and are balanced with statements that help the reader to consider when they may need to adjust their thinking and actions if masturbation takes on a compulsive or addictive tone.
I really appreciate that the topics of empathy (11/05), caring (11/23) and comfort (11/18) are included in this month, as all three of these characteristics require a “deeper level of mindfulness” from us as we apply these traits to ourselves and in our encounters with others. Empathy, a powerful healing and curative agent cautions us against “giving advice, solutions or cures…” On the other hand, empathy guides us to understand and “share the pain and touch the wound with a warm and tender hand” – Henri J.M. Nouwen (p. 336).
Empathy, coupled with processes and actions that demonstrate care and comfort, means we’re developing then practicing talking and listening skills that evidence sensitivity and compassion versus indifference or dispassion. Support (11/27), delivered in this manner to others, satisfies a need for us to be useful and connected with them and simultaneously provides an environment where value, kindness, and presence of mind are realized.
As you could imagine, the authors saved the best for last. Psych! All of the entries have been good! Each one of the 365 reflections provides the reader with deep and rich insights about intimacy, and you may be denying yourself a great piece of literature to not have the Mirror of Intimacy on your bookshelf or in your library!
In the last month, Alex and Tom speak about developing the skill of delayed gratification (12/12), a skill where an “intentional pause” allows for sexual and erotic processes to be grown, matured and mutually enjoyed. The authors enlighten and remind us that in Greek mythology, Pleasure (12/21), was born from Psyche (Mindfulness) and Eros’ intent to unite erotically. Think about it; when two seeds are shared intentionally in the midst of passionate love, pleasure is not only experienced in the moment but produces a beautiful, valuable and treasured outcome typically born from your union nine months later!
Could this be a picture of your process with intimacy? Are you willing to take the necessary time to intentionally invest in yourself and your relationship(s), to know yourself and to be known by others, anticipating that your investment of time and effort will produce personal and relational dividends that are priceless and bountiful?
Are you willing to take the time to develop a definition of what healthy intimacy and healthy sexuality (12/26) will look like, then commit to a process to develop, strengthen, protect and enjoy it with your beloved? Allow me to close this subsection with a quote from these two specialists:
“Create a climate with your partner of mutual respect and honor, and notice how you feel after a sexual encounter. An embodied sense of self that feels congruent, whole and good likely means you’re on the right track. As you hone your erotic love map you may dare to demand the experience of staying in the present moment and staying relational with your partner. Seek surrender and vulnerability and take risks you may have avoided in the past. Challenge yourself to feel deeply and to love with your entire body mind and soul” (p. 389).
So how could the integration and practice of the Mirror of Intimacy concepts help to cultivate Intimacy and Love?
I see Alex and Tom’s book as a reminder that intimacy is multi-faceted and carefully cultivated. Even if intimacy originated and is shared outside of the bedroom, the sweet, mutual and mature expression of intimacy will definitely impact the quality of connection experienced within the bedroom! I also see that Intimacy is a 365-day process to be gently worked on, discussed intentionally and mutually enjoyed due to the shared responsibilities taken and owned by both partners in the relationship. Thanks Alex and Tom for this valuable contribution to help others develop relational health!
Thank you for reading and considering this information about the subject of intimacy from the book Mirror of Intimacy. Before closing this section on intimacy with a few insights from Dr. Patrick Carnes, a dear friend who mentored both Dr. Katehakis and myself in the area of sex addiction, I’d like to offer a few more suggestions on the subject of building intimacy with your partner or spouse. Are you open to a few suggestions? Thanks for considering the additional points below about building intimacy!
By now, you have a good idea of what intimacy means, and perhaps how to cultivate it, but allow me to offer a thought or two about my definition of intimacy, and what steps you’ll want to take to build and maintain intimacy in your primary relationship. Keep in mind though that every marriage or relationship will be as strong as the daily work that is poured into it, and your shared engagement in actions that build, (re)create, and protect intimacy will no doubt be a part of your work.
So what’s my brief take on Intimacy? Good question! I encourage you to think of Intimacy as any bit of knowledge, shared or learned, that helps you to know (or be known) better, that converts into behavior that ultimately helps the two of you to be closer in the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, biological, sexual, and relational domains of your life.
To expound on this definition and the process of building intimacy, I’d like to offer 47 suggestions for you to consider implementing to become an “Intimacy Builder” (“IB”) in your marriage or relationship. Each of the entries has a keyword that’s listed in bold, and together, the acrostic spells out: “INTIMACY BUILDING BEHAVIORS I WANT TO GROW AND ENJOY ARE…”
This list of Intimacy Building activity isn’t exhaustive, and I encourage you to discuss and “personalize” these suggestions with your partner to specifically design and develop intimacy building behaviors that you’d like to grow and enjoy in your relationship. If not listed, what comes to mind that you’d like to grow, develop, implement and benefit from in your relationship?
One final point: You’ll want to return to these strategies from the Mirror of Intimacy and Intimacy Building after you’ve read the subsection “When Secrets Surface: An integrative primer to cope with infidelity,” as these suggestions and the others discussed are critical to rebuilding intimacy, especially after relationship trauma impacts your sexuality. May God bless you in your sacred work of building Intimacy!
INTIMACY BUILDING BEHAVIORS I WANT TO GROW AND ENJOY ARE…
I : Intimacy Building (“IB”) is a product of “Into-me-see” behavior, so that you know my thoughts, feelings, needs, wants, hopes, fears, challenges and more. Is this knowledge transfer occurring between the two of you?
N: IB requires identifying the needs you both have, then engaging in creative discussion about how you could best partner with each other to meet your needs. What creative insights about the development of intimacy comes to mind?
T: IB occurs when you take responsibility to use your energy to create and maintain the behavior, routines, healthy rituals and lifestyle that brings you enjoyment and protects your closeness.
I: IB seasons your interactions with safety, respect, accessibility, honesty, understanding, physical touch, realistic expectations, patience, priority, fun, sensuality, and fairness. Anything else you’d like to add to this brief list?
M: IB couples who are married (or single) don’t shy away from hard conversations nor conflict, but embrace these opportunities as a way to gain information and learn about their partner.
A: IB jettisons avoidance and fault-finding; on the contrary, IB leans into conflict, engages in dialogue, discovers problems, empathizes with feelings expressed and works to repair ruptures.
C: IB couples think of and communicate what processes, behaviors and actions bring pleasure to them before, during and after their lovemaking, and take great strides to recall the “lovemap.”
Y: IB occurs when yoga, meditation, reflection, recreation, and other activities and exercise are implemented because they bring refreshment, focus, and serenity to the self and the relationship.
B: IB couples recognize that one of their primary jobs is to build up and encourage (versus discourage) their partner. They speak words that edify, strengthen and co-regulate each other.
U: IB couples understand that in order to move beyond the hurts and trauma of the past, they need to express their anger, devastation, fear, mistrust, and ambivalence unabashedly in the present.
I: IB couples invite inspirational and therapeutic people, processes, programs (and podcasts!) into their life because they want their lives to reflect love, compassion, hope, and forgiveness.
L: IB couples have identified and live by values and virtues that make sense to them and help them to be intentional with their behaviors and commitments, such as fidelity, care, love, will, and purpose.
D: IB couples listen to, inquire or facilitate the expression of their partner’s dreams, hopes and desires and within reason, contribute supportive energy to help their dream become a reality.
I: IB couples are intentional and purposeful with their passion, and labor to demonstrate behavior that shows they’re focused on “keeping and developing life within the ring” of the relationship.
N: IB couples realize that loving their neighbor (their spouse, children, etc.) therapeutically is in direct proportion to how they are loving their own selves. Is this occurring in your home?
B: IB couples build into their day time with one another, and engage in opportunities to (re)create a life beyond trauma, where hope, fun, meaning, purpose, laughter, and love are experienced.
E: IB couples embed solutions in their talks because they’ve realized that communication without focusing on and presenting options, strategies and fulfilling needs is really complaining.
H: IB couples help their partner by consistently delivering actions connected to their love language. Gifts, words of appreciation, acts of service, quality time and physical touch flow freely and in abundance.
A: IB couples also work to ensure Agape (Love), Phileo (Best Friend), Storge (Love for the Kids and Family), Epithumia (Passionate Soul Mate) and Eros (Connected Sex) are felt in their home.
V: IB people do not engage in, make excuses for, nor tolerate verbal abuse nor violent behaviors. IB couples understand that traumatic behaviors kill off intimacy and perhaps a relationship too.
I: IB people investigate the origin of their traumatic thinking and behavior and seek immediate treatment for it because intimacy lives and thrives where there is safety versus oppression.
O: IB people work to become emotionally intelligent, which means observing what you’re feeling, then practicing safe and self-regulating behavior to ensure you’ll express or receive messages from others competently.
R: IB couples improve their relationship by re-routing their emotional energy toward behaviors that protect, empower, strengthen, validate and affirm the choices and decisions of each person.
S: IB people create boundaries and correction with shame-inducing or self-sabotaging internal (or external) talk, knowing that self- and other intimacy will be stymied until this occurs.
I: IB couples will spontaneously talk about ways to improve their relationship. Take five minutes right now to share, then listen to what the other thinks will create progress and improvement in areas where you desire greater intimacy.
W: IB partners engage in work to convey to their lover they’re special, exclusive, are a priority, and that you’ll “always have their back” when dealing with family, friends or others.
A: IB couples accept each other as they are but move to change for the better the one person they can change, which is the person in the mirror. Is your focus on how you can personally become better in the different domains of intimacy?
N: IB couples do work to “change the narrative,” that is, the story that they tell themselves (and others) about their partner. They work so that their opinion and subsequently the narrative about their partner becomes positive, kind, inclusive and encouraging.
T: IB couples also focus on “good-housekeeping” tasks. These tasks discourage the build-up of unfinished business but do encourage the practice of “positive flooding” to express your love!
T: IB people recognize that warmth, openness, and truth-telling (along with the practice of other values) not only creates trustworthiness but makes you appear very attractive to your lover!
O: IB is enhanced when open-ended questions are used because they put the focus on the Speaker, which helps the Listener gain valuable insight into the thoughts, feelings, and needs of his love.
G: IB grows when the Speaker shares her appreciation and respect to the Listener for hearing and responding to her thoughts empathetically, which are skills that serve you both!
R: IB couples know that Respect, Intimacy, and Knowledge come from the Hebrew word YADA, so they cook generously with these ingredients, knowing they not only edify but also create closeness!
O: IB couples look for or develop opportunities to help their partner to heal when they’ve committed an offense. Operating in the “Good Samaritan” mindset is a way that IB people live.
W: IB people then work to demonstrate and live by their identified values, which helps them to create boundaries with harmful behavior, strengthen their recovery and become safe people who value and protect relational intimacy.
A: IB partners discuss and pay attention to the things that matter to each other, especially to relationship building and intimacy-protecting behavior (where once there was erosion). To IBs this matters!
N: IB couples grow beyond conflict and grief because they nurture their spirituality, work their program, create safety and reconnection, and focus on solving problems and producing serenity.
D: IB couples know that dates and dining, cuddles and comfort, “thinking of me” and “thoughts about us,” romance and repair and safety and sex are good dishes to cook and they enjoy these dishes regularly!
E: IB couples envision then create a shared vision of what they want their marriage (and family) to look like, and through commitment will work to ensure their shared vision becomes reality.
N: IB couples understand the concept of neuroplasticity, which means their brains will regenerate new growth that results in good interpersonal neurobiology with the regular practice of their intimacy building behaviors!
O: IB couples openly court their partner and in the words of my mentor Dr. Patrick Carnes, will regularly practice flirting, romancing, touching, foreplay, intercourse and their commitment to renew these and other intimate connections with their partner!
Y: IB couples who yearn for mutual attraction with their partner engage in behavior that not only highlights their existing strengths but with neuroplasticity, strives to develop new skills and abilities that may result in the “wow” from their partner!
A: IB couples engage in arousing, stimulating, sensual and enjoyable activity that celebrates their sexuality, and produces satisfaction, safety, security and sexual health that above all is sumptuous!
R: IB people become friends and lovers again because they practice reconciliation, which means they lay aside wrathful behavior and live to impart peaceful behavior in their heart and home environment.
E: IB couples realize they don’t have to be an intimacy building expert, but they do need to be open, willing to learn and take the initiative to share, hear, heal and initiate intimate behaviors that coalesce!
Thanks for allowing me to provide some additional thoughts about building and maintaining intimacy in your primary relationship! It’s my hope that you’ll be patient but active in moving toward the development and enjoyment of these characteristics in your life!
So how could the integration and practice of the Mirror of Intimacy concepts help to cultivate Intimacy and Love?
It’s my hope that the Intimacy Building behaviors will serve as a catalyst for you and your partner to think about then discuss which of the “ingredients” of intimacy your relationship needs and deserves. During your discussion, I encourage you to create a “schedule of activity and delivery,” that will assist you to track the practice and the progress you’re making with the intimacy building behaviors you’re focused on developing and doing. Charting your progress in a journal then sharing it occasionally with each other inspires accountability and feedback regarding if you’re meeting the targets you’re determining to reach.
Finally, to close out this subsection on the development and maintenance of intimacy, allow me to direct your attention to Dr. Patrick Carnes’ Twelve Dimensions of Healthy Sexuality. If you’ve seen an image of the “3 Circles” (which is a way that sex addicts define sobriety), then you’ll recognize the 12 dimensions located in the Outer Circle in Dr. Carnes’ version.
The 3 Circles help people to identify harmful, addictive and destructive behaviors to avoid (the Inner Circle), behaviors that could lead to addictive outcomes that you’ll want to have good boundaries with (the Middle Circle), and finally, Outer Circle behaviors that constitute and define the healthy behaviors a person in recovery chooses to live.
Without going into great detail, Dr. Carnes offers an expanded definition of the 12 dimensions in his book Sexual Anorexia, where he encourages the establishment of goals in each dimension, the development of daily practices with each dimension, then the measurement and charting of your progress toward meeting your goals in each dimension. Dr. Carnes’ goal is that you’ll experience growth toward the development of a “positive sexual focus” with continued work and practice in these twelve areas.
The 12 Healthy Sexual Dimensions of the Positive Sexual Focus are:
- Nongenital Sex
- Genital Sex
As mentioned earlier, these dimensions and other salient behaviors are critical in the healing and reestablishment of health and trust in a relationship with others, especially when betrayal trauma has impacted a relationship.
When Secrets Surface: An integrative primer to cope with unfaithfulness
(Note: I’ve written about how unfaithfulness and infidelity occur in a previous book, Cultivating Love: When Secrets Surface (2014), and I’d like to direct the reader to this resource as well as to other literature that will help the couple to determine how this devastating experience developed in the context of their relationship. For the remainder of this subsection, first, I’d like to draw attention to the impact of betrayal trauma upon the partner (Choosing Change: Understanding and Empathizing with survivors of Betrayal Trauma), then second, suggest an integrated model of treatment (McGill’s Hierarchy of Needs) that contains insights, critical processes and specific behaviors that are crucial to the recovery and life of a relationship when this behavior such as this comes to light.
My goal with the information about betrayal trauma is to help “the Offender” to learn about, understand and empathize with the impact of his behavior upon his partner, and to help the “Offended” Partner feel validated as her voice and trauma connected to this experience could be minimized, trivialized, dismissed or worse yet, even blamed for the incident and the behavior that has occurred.
Finally, my goal with McGill’s Hierarchy of Needs is to provide a model that includes critical and corrective processes and behavior that I think are “must-have,” leading up to actions that border on the non-negotiable territory, if recovery and repair of these wounds are to be realized. Thank you, Dr. Ken McGill).
When you think of your bedroom and all that is shared, enjoyed, celebrated, protected and honored between you and your partner, one of the most difficult ordeals a person could encounter is to learn that your partner has been unfaithful. Words like “devastated, traumatized, worthless, numb, abandoned and enraged” are often expressed when speaking about the betrayal, yet they seldom capture the enormity, magnitude or pervasiveness a person feels deeply throughout their body, mind, soul, and spirit.
Among other things, learning about the behavior destroys the “Offended” Partner’s sense of safety, trust, value, and worth, and the traumatization that ensues creates physiological symptoms like pain, distress, exhaustion, panic, fear, confusion, depression, and disempowerment, and these are only at the outset of discovery. Equally, the “offending spouse” may feel guilt, shame, embarrassment, impatience, callousness, and depression as well, which may hamper their ability to be empathetic with their partner, which happens to be one of the most necessary and curative of all behaviors that are desperately needed in the season of life that the couple has now entered.
If a person (much less a marriage) is to recover from the effects of infidelity and the deep psychological, spiritual and relational wounds that have occurred, then immediate and ongoing medical, psychological (possibly pharmacological), therapeutic and spiritual attention and treatment are recommended. Also, knowing your pace of recovery is more akin to a 26.2-mile marathon versus a 100-meter sprint may help you to realize you can recover, but it will take time, effort, commitment, good resources and your need to connect with people who are knowledgeable about what it will take to facilitate change, healing, and growth in your life and marriage, especially when you think about the “sexual row in the garden of your marriage.”
As a Psychotherapist who has been a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (or “CSAT,” a specific type of Therapist who specializes in infidelity and rebuilding relationships) for the past 20 years, I have immense respect for the process it takes to treat and rebuild (and in some cases, dissolve) relationships. Based on the severity of the experience, it’s not uncommon for me to work for months before I hear a couple laugh or years before health, trust, reconnection, and restoration are experienced. If you’re reading this, it may not take years for you to personally feel better, however, it’s my experience that pain, anger, ambivalence, and mistrust are commonly felt when the couple talks about the facts, behaviors, plans, issues, and needs that revolve around their experience.
Choosing Change: Understanding and Empathizing with Survivors of Betrayal Trauma
So what follows is a post I wrote on the subject of Betrayal Trauma, Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), Sex Addicted Induced Trauma and Emotional Flashbacks, and was inspired by reading literature on the subjects as well as from listening to “Partners” who I’ve counseled with over the past decade. Authors like Pete Walker, Michelle Mays, Jasmin Lee Cori, Dr. Omar Minwalla and other contributors have produced insightful, practical and helpful materials to understand the insidious effects of betrayal trauma upon the person, and how the effects of CPTSD impact the recovery of the person and the relationship that has been traumatized by betrayal. A short and brief definition of CPTD (for the purpose of this subsection) from Shirley Davis is: “a psychological disorder formed in response to prolonged exposure to interpersonal trauma.”
When couples come into my office and seek treatment for a recent discovery or disclosure of infidelity, I’ve realized that it’s my job to help them see that underneath the “tip of the iceberg” of this devastating experience lay complex forms of trauma and posttraumatic stress that has and will impact their day-to-day life. As invited, I partner with them to learn about the harmful effects and experience of CPTSD, with the goal of helping them to understand and empathize with the experience of the Partner and the almost predictable behavior that accompanies betrayal trauma.
Again, please keep in mind this is a short primer and not an exhaustive review of the literature on these salient subjects. As time permits, I encourage you to follow up on the subjects to educate and inform yourself about how this form of trauma has impacted you, whether you are the “Offender,” the Partner/Survivor, or if you have children who are living in a family system where the effects of betrayal trauma could cause adverse consequences in their lives as well.
To understand and gain an empathetic view about the effects of Betrayal Trauma upon a Partner/Survivor, I’m going to suggest that you look at and take in the information below from four different vantage points. I say empathetic because it’s my hope that by reading the entries below that you take in what the other person may be seeing and experiencing at any given moment, and hopefully, the comments will enlighten, inform and subsequently guide you to change your behavior toward the Partner, as you understand what is occurring with her body, mind and spirit and family (past and present). I have embedded in each of the entries vital information about betrayal trauma, sex addiction induced trauma, how it affects the person, and what you may need to know in order to increase your understanding of some significant factors that arise in her process. The way it is presented may trigger strong emotion in the Partner and the Offender. If that occurs, I do encourage you to pause and take a look at some of the self-care suggestions at end of the “Do’s and Don’ts to Me” where you’ll also find additional tools that will hopefully provide assistance as you work to convert past and harmful behavior into current and healing behavior that’s connected with the trauma. So are you ready to take a look?
First, look at trauma from the perspective of the Partner, who more than likely will manifest “triggers” and symptoms of Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or Sex Addicted Induced Trauma as a result of the betrayal. From this vantage point, the statements below provide a window into her world for anyone who empathetically wants or needs to know this vital and valuable information about her psychological and physiological state. So read through and consider what the Adult person is conveying to you.
Second, consider the information the Partner is conveying from the perspective of her Inner Child, as trauma activates, triggers and causes regression to distant (or recent) traumatic experiences from the past, and this form of psychological regression causes the Partner to feel as if they are re-experiencing the horrific effects of trauma all over again in real-time (remember the process discussed in Choosing Change #5: Traveling with Intention). Trauma causes a child to feel fearful, helpless, powerless, vulnerable, abandoned, angry, etc., and at any given time, although the Partner lives in an Adult body, betrayal trauma may create a dynamic that results in her feeling much younger or smaller than she actually is. So read through and consider what the Inner Child wants and needs you to know about trauma.
Third, consider the traumatization from the perspective of your own experiences with trauma. It goes without saying that you may have experienced trauma and abuse in your own life, and perhaps compulsive, impulsive, addictive or dissociative behaviors have been accessed in your effort to numb, escape or self-medicate your own pain and suffering from your previous traumas. If this is your situation, then read through the material as if you are looking in a mirror and consider naming versus avoiding the trauma in your own past. If reading the material causes a visceral reaction in your own body, consider it a sign that begs for greater exploration regarding how you may have been traumatized and impacted in the way described as well. If you discover and become aware of what’s going on, then the Adult in you has the opportunity to do something productive and therapeutic about it. You have the option to seek treatment that helps you to come to your own assistance in positive and loving ways versus continuing to engage in behaviors and processes that harm yourself or others. So consider what your own trauma experience is revealing to you.
Fourth, if there are children in the home, then read, consider and learn about what they are going through. Children who are exposed to traumatic experiences may hide their true emotions behind smiles, silence, inseparableness or aloofness, or develop a host of other reactions to manage adverse childhood experiences. Although it may not be your intention, their inner world could be horribly shaken and destabilized, and their anxious, depressed, “parentified” or “perfect” reactions may be data they’re wanting you to pick up on to know the trauma in the family system is creating “collateral damage” and they’re the unintended recipient and victim of it. Today, if reading the entries causes you to hear their voice, then as an Adult, you can do something constructive to love and help them versus replicating any form of harm or abuse. So I urge you to consider how children are impacted by trauma.
Finally (sorry to sneak this one in on you, there are five actually!), if you’re able, read the information from the perspective of a loving Higher Power, who weeps when trauma is demonstrated (“God does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” – Lamentations 3:33)), is not trying to teach anyone a lesson by allowing this to occur, but does want harmful and traumatic behavior to cease and to compassionately help and assist the Partner, and each member of the family impacted by trauma. This could be a difficult point to consider because some forms of traumatization may have involved religious, ritualistic or spiritual abuse, which intended or not, may have hijacked or contaminated one’s viewpoints about how matters of faith or healthy spirituality could be beneficial. If you’re open, I hope you’ll consider how spirituality and your views about faith could provide life-giving, empowering and affirming experiences, especially in a season like this in your life. When you are ready, please read and consider the information from the perspective of a loving and benevolent Higher Power who wants health to be infused into the family system.
The information is presented in two sections: First, please consider the things that you are to “DO,” and second, are the “DO NOT” behaviors. Since these entries are written and presented in the first-person narrative, all of the informative words are followed by the word “Me” (i.e., “Do Support Me” or “Do not Deceive Me”). Let these words inform, validate, instruct and guide you, and feel free to “personalize” the sentiment with words and descriptions that capture and describe your experience.
Finally, I leave you with the image of the Butterfly. During the course of its life, it experiences a process of transformation and growth, from the chrysalis of old to the changed, transformed and beautiful creature of the present. When you think about Betrayal Trauma and Complex PTSD, no matter who you are, I hope there is a definitive and permanent change in the person and process of who you are: from one type of “old” life experiences to a beautiful and empowered new life. No more trauma, only transformation.
Thank you for taking this necessary step to learn about, empathize with, empower yourself and to heal from and eradicate the harmful effects of betrayal trauma – Dr. Ken McGill
- TELL me the truth! We can’t move on if there isn’t a commitment to tell the truth. Deception and dishonesty have rocked me to the core, and it’s unthinkable to believe I can move on without the knowledge of what has occurred. Are there more things that I don’t know that I need to know? You may be protecting the other person, your addiction or your ego by not disclosing the truth, but a lack of honesty does not protect me nor make me feel settled or reassured. More lies and deception mean you’re thinking about yourself and I will not allow myself to be traumatized by more half or untruths. No one ever died from telling the truth, but you are killing off something in my soul by telling me lies.
- FACE me and become familiar with the devastation and pain that I’ve carried for (days, weeks, months, years, decades). I haven’t slept or eaten for two days now and the thought of eating makes me feel sick. My whole world that I thought was true is a lie…I can’t believe anything you say! I feel trapped because you’re embarrassed and you don’t want me to tell the children or my family, so I have to keep this locked up inside of me and it is destroying me. You knew that the one thing I feared the most coming into our marriage in light of my parents was unfaithfulness, and now it’s happened to me. The most intimate thing I could share with you has been taken and shared with someone else. I’m devastated and you can’t even look at me? Look at me and see what this is doing to me!
- ACCEPT me, as I am. My heart is beating through my chest and I feel terrified because your actions look like you were intending to replace us. You tell me that this was your addiction and to understand it, but all I can see is behavior that is akin to murdering my soul. I need you to know this was like a bomb going off in my head, my body and my spirit, and it’s going to take a long time to get beyond this. I’m working on me, but you need to understand the trauma and downright fear, rage, confusion, self-doubt and horror that comes with this new chapter in our lives. If we’re going to recover from this then I need you to accept me as I am, feelings and all, and to not pressure me with this; you need to be patient with me. I need your reactions to me to be understanding, loving and kind. You need to understand I need to feel safe with you if I’m going to open my heart to you again.
- KNOW me and realize that I’m living in a constant state of fear that this will happen again and that it’s difficult for me to relax, focus, think straight, function, trust, look at and be in the same room with you at times because the safe world that I thought I lived in has been decimated. I know I will find a good Therapist to help me understand what I’m going through, but you need to know how this has really hurt me and traumatized me to the core of my being. All I can think of and see when I close my eyes are the words and pictures I saw on your phone. If you want me to understand you, you have to understand me completely and know what I’m going through.
- COMPREHEND me, and know that my “come here, go away” behavior you’ve seen in me is because there are certain things you do that triggers an emotional flashback of fear that I’m going to be hurt if I get close to you; it takes me back to the “ground zero” of Day 1 when I discovered your unfaithfulness. You have to know that I love you and there are times where I want to be close to you and I want to be there with you, but at any moment something goes off in my brain and I’m just as likely to avoid you because my survival instincts kick in. You’ve got to know that I’m doing the best that I can to deal with this. I read something that said this kind of trauma reaction might take a long time for me to get over. This is the kind of reaction that comes with betrayal. I just need you to know this and to be patient with me as I figure out why this happened, why I’m with you, and what I need to do to heal from this
- INSPIRE me, by praying and practicing any spiritual discipline that helps you so that God can be with you because there are going to be times when I’m not able to be there for you because I need to attend to my mental health and my own wounds. We both may need to get into a Therapist-led group so we each have a safe and supportive place to be real with others about what we’re going through. My friend Lana said that for 166 hours of the week she can feel like she’s going crazy but for those two hours that she’s in her group she knows she’s sane because she feels validated by women who “get it.” Right now I need this kind of help, and perhaps you might want to consider getting this type of support or treatment so you can understand why you do the things you do.
- HELP me to overcome the distressful symptoms when they unexpectedly and involuntarily arise. At times I feel like I can’t trust anyone and anything that they say to me. Help me to silence the negative thoughts that I have about myself by helping me to see the positives that are in me. Tell me that you are not the Victim here because your past statements have draped me with guilt over what I wasn’t doing and how I was the cause of our problems. Understand my sudden shifts in mood. I can be up one minute and rageful and depressed the next. I need to vent my hurt and pain, and I’ll try not to hurl it at you. Help me and the kids by honestly getting help for yourself. We can’t keep on living this way, it’s too toxic. Help me…
- GROUND me, because being exposed to traumas from our present and from my past have conditioned me to expect mistrust, confusion, and fear. Know that I’m not intentionally trying to make our life difficult! When you (and I) see me either attempting to distract myself through busyness with work or detaching from you and the kids through avoidance or shutting you out, gently pull me aside, encourage me to take some deep breaths. Tell me that you understand what I’m going through. Ask me if I’m open to hearing what you want me to see and hear. This is one of the most respectful and considerate ways that you could pass along insight and feedback to me.
- SUPPORT me, by affirming me with positive words that build me up. Protect me, because I love you and I know there is more to you than the devastating behaviors you’ve committed against me, but I need to see the work versus being told that you’re working. Esteem me by practicing this component of Agape, where the inhabitants of the castle feel esteem because the King uses his intellect and resources to protect those he loves. Empower me because I don’t need you to use your energy to defend, critique or dismiss me, but to be sensitive to how horrible I feel every day. Support me, understanding that it’s going to take time to overcome the voice of my Inner Critic, who is screaming at me to “trust no one, especially not you” and to live exactly like that. Will you support me through this?
- UNDERSTAND me, because some behaviors make me comfortable and some don’t. It’s like I’m on a roller coaster…I’m up and down and all over the place. One minute I think I can get over and beyond this, but in the next minute this trauma tells me to back up, pack up and leave even when I just had a hopeful moment. I need you to understand that I really hurt, but I know I’m going to survive. Listen to me and be patient with me, because in my mind I say and hear “What if…” all the time. What if he recovers? What if he relapses? What if I catch you lying to me? What if I don’t know when you’re lying? Do you understand my reality here? It’s been shattered into a million pieces and my mind is having trouble putting the pieces back together to just to get through another hour, much less another day. I need you to understand this and not blame me, critique me, or become impatient with me, because this is my reality.
- FEEL me, when I’m grieving the past life that I thought we had, the good life that I thought we were enjoying, and the future life that I now know will never be. I’m feeling incredible grief about the losses that unexpectedly wash over me at any given time. This is going to take some time. I need time to be sad and angry, and I need time to feel these feelings. I ask myself “how did this happen, and was there something I missed and could have done to avoid this outcome?” I realize that my grief seeks, wants and needs answers to these questions, and perhaps if I have the answers then maybe I could have (or will) protect myself from being hurt in the future. I know I didn’t cause you to do the things you did, but I still ask these questions. The best thing you can do is to make our home a safe place and give me the time and opportunity to ask questions, express my feelings and to honor and validate my experience by recognizing that I have a right to have and express my feelings.
- CONSOLE me, with positive and uplifting words, and by making our environment safe and peaceful. For too long our home life has been fraught with behavior that has ruptured and damaged our relationship, and my body and brain need a break from the traumatic, dysfunctional, crazy and hurtful behavior! This kind of crazy takes me right back to the home life I thought I left behind when I went to college. I can’t go back to that kind of life and now I understand why, for the past two months what’s been causing me to feel like I’m back in my dysfunctional family again. Please, at a time like this I need comfort, compassion, kindness, tenderness if my heart is going to soften up to you again. I need someone who’s going to encourage me, not harangue me.
- STRENGTHEN me and give me hope for our future by understanding that I need to have certain boundaries in place in our home and when you travel. I know I can’t control you but if we’re going to collaborate together to create a new relationship then there are some things I need to consistently see in your behavior in order to feel better about moving forward. I want to get over these challenges, but I need your commitment to helping me overcome them by making the specific, concrete, tangible, measurable, structured and real changes in the time frame we discussed. Doing this will help my heart to feel safer with you.
- HUG me, (when permitted) until my thorns go in, and then don’t’ let me go, because when I’m hurting, crying and telling you I’m overwhelmed with pain then I need to gently and compassionately feel your touch, love, sympathy, and care. This simple action helps to “regulate” me, which feels like my brain has just been freed from being in a hostage situation. I know that when I’m regulated (and it’s my job to get there but you can help) I can make clear and rational decisions again. So when I’m hurting, ask me if I’m open for a hug; it’s the right and compassionate thing to do when I hurt, and you see me like this.
- HEAR me and know that I don’t want to obsess nor dwell on the past each and every waking moment of the day but know that I’m working through my struggles to be present and hopeful for our future. The book says that one of the best ways to get beyond the pain of the past and the present is to create new memories to replace the old ones. I’m going to start doing that for myself, but then you can brainstorm with me or think of things that we can do that result in me feeling like I’m number one and a priority to you. Let’s develop some new routines where we point out when we see each other doing something good, new and beneficial. I like the journaling idea where each day we record the one thing we appreciated seeing or receiving from the other person. I know that coming up with new rituals that breathe life and inspire us will be good for us.
- SEE me, versus your own guilt and shame with your behavior. I know you feel bad and regret what you’ve done. But I need to know you that you see and feel my pain and anguish, not just yours. I need to know that you see my strength, effort and my ability to bounce back from this as well. For a long time, I don’t think that you’ve seen the real me, and I’m really sad and angry about that because you’ve said it was what you saw in me that caused you to drift in the first place. I’m really hurt about that. I don’t know if you see what I see. Our marriage has taken a serious hit and there are times that it’s difficult for me to see and know if it will survive. I’m not trying to throw this in your face, but I see recklessness with your behavior, arrogance in your thinking and dullness in your hearing when I asked you to work with me on our marriage. You’ve not seen me, nor heard me or known me for a while, especially how it hurt me and how and broken up I’ve felt when you rejected me and my efforts to work on us.
- NURTURE me, with words of encouragement and affirmation that generate hope about our situation. I need to hear messages of reassurance like “we will get through this together” or “this too will pass.” When I hear these words, they help to “re-mind” me and create the “cortical override” in my brain that helps me to get over the fear and the other strong emotions I feel, in addition to the negative and critical messages that hijack my brain and tend to (want to) take me where I don’t want and need to go.
- PROTECT me and us, and our future, by taking good care of yourself and your health. This means making your Doctor’s appointments (Medical, Psychiatric, and Psychotherapist) so that the trauma and craziness that’s been created will be treated. If they prescribe medicine, take it. If they suggest exercise, follow up with it. If they recommend a nutritionist, then go. I’m going to recover from this and if I’m given homework, I’m going to do it because I can’t afford to not get better, and you doing the same will show me that you are taking dedicated, focused and intentional steps to create a better future for us. Therapy and working toward therapeutic outcomes in all areas of our life could provide some of the best protection we need to get better!
- RESPECT me, because I need to know that I’m worthy of dignity and respect. I know that this is a self-message and experience that I have to develop and experience for myself, but I also want you to respect yourself and our relationship by being or becoming the best person I know you to be. One of the ways you can show this to me is by taking responsibility and being serious about our recovery. These actions will show me that you mean what you say and that you truly do care to fix and repair yourself and our relationship.
- PRIZE me, because another component of Agape is the work to give me the “gold medal and blue ribbon” behavior and attention that says I’m your priority. This is what you vowed on our wedding day and I want you to live up to your vows. I need to see and know that I matter to you because right now, the behavior you engaged in makes me feel worthless and insignificant.
- TOUCH me, when I grant permission because for too long you (or I) either ragged on and on about my body and how out of shape I am. This trauma brings up horrific things that my daddy used to say about me and now (after childbirth), I have to deal with being rejected because I’m compared to someone on a screen, who’s a person that I’ll never look like. This kind of trauma brings up horrible memories about my body, how I see myself and I need you to never critique what I look like. I’m going to take care of myself but hurtful messages about who I am won’t help.
- ENCOURAGE me tenderly when I’m having a flashback to engage in self-regulating behaviors like deep breathing and walking. I need you (and I’ll do this for myself too) to practice the “Therapeuo” components: Provide reasonable care, attention, help, service, minister to me as I also minister to myself so that (I and) we are closer to the outcome of what this word means and could deliver to us: Healing.
- COMFORT me, by listening and being present with me through this. This will help both of us to carve out safe and positive moments to create “good interpersonal neurobiology” that Dr. McGill talks about. Speaking of that, one of the most comforting things that I like about that is the “cooking with C.O.A.L.” remember, being curious, open, accepting and loving when we talk about things. It helps me to know that even though we see things differently, I still felt respected by you because you valued my opinion like I did with yours.
- CELEBRATE me because I hope you see and acknowledge the fact I’m fighting and winning the battle with the harsh voices of the Inner Critic. I’m angry and I’m a fighter. I’m angry with the lies and the behaviors you’ve committed and I’m going to use my energy to fight and build boundaries against addictive behavior. I’m angry at how the Inner Critic wants me to give in to fears and I’m going to fight because I’m not giving up on myself and healthy living. I’m angry because trauma wants me to respond in a child-like dissociative way, but I’m fighting because the Adult in me is proud that I’m resilient and I won’t give up on living and being a healthy …(woman, man, child).” For me, that’s a reason to celebrate the person I am and will continue to become!
- REASSURE me that you’re going to be here, even when it appears I’m the one who’s withdrawing and pulling away. Let me know by your words but more importantly, your actions that you’ll commit to safety, develop and use your Safety Plan, commit to your recovery and becoming the safe man that the kids and I can hopefully trust in and believe in again. If I see this then it’ll probably help to change my opinion of who you are and hopefully our future. I wish I could give you more reassurance about our marriage but right now I can’t. You work on you and I’ll work on me.
- VALUE me, as I need to value myself, and live according to the values, virtues, mores, ethics, and principles that make sense to me. Right now, I value safety, so I may ask you to depart on a Therapeutic Separation so I can give myself time to think about what I need to heal and then what to do next. I understand that you feel sorry for slipping or relapsing, but I really need to decide how to value myself, and this means grieving, crying, thinking, praying and consulting with others about what I need and want to do about my future. I hope you can honor and value that I need to be able to make a choice, and that I will have confidence in my decisions when I’m calmer, healthier and less stressed. In the past, I froze and didn’t know how to respond. Today, I know how trauma from my past caused me to do this, but I also know that today, to overcome traumatic experiences from my past, I need to intentionally pause, reflect and decide, without pressure. So while separated, I’m going to take the following therapeutic steps to deal with the betrayal trauma that I’ve experienced…
- FORGIVE me, if I’m unable to continue with this marriage or relationship. My departure isn’t an indictment of who you are, nor of the work that perhaps you’re contributing. My departure is a statement that I’ve done my therapeutic and reparenting work and after many months of considering how I wish to live the remainder of my life, I’m making the choice to leave processes and people who have wounded me, and to embrace a lifestyle that reflects, accepts, protects and champions the values that make sense to me and will dictate how I will, and need to live. Forgive me when the Victim in me said cruel, mean and disparaging messages to you (and to myself); today, I want to live as a Functional Adult, who expresses …
- COURT me, if I choose to remain in the relationship. I need a new start, and the new start has to be based on values and behaviors that honor, cherish, esteem, protect and demonstrate love to each other. Our commitment to becoming healthy people where our recovery, spirituality, and choices that reflect health, truth, trust, intimacy, openness, and other relationship-building behaviors that have eluded us is what I want to cultivate. It goes without saying that I want you to work to win my heart back, and then work to protect my heart and our relationship.
- CENTER me, by focusing on behaviors that create connection, availability, protection, and awareness between us. I don’t want to trigger and fire at you; I want to create and renew a relationship that in no way resembles what we had prior to our recommitment. I hope that you reconnect with your Higher Power. You seemed safer, friendlier and you were so much more aware and happier when you connected with God. I hope you revisit and embrace what helps you to be spiritually alive, and that you protect that connection and relationship with your life-altering source.
- LOVE me, like you never have before! It may feel like I have a checklist waiting for you to mess up, and to some degree that’s right. But the one thing that will help me to put my pencil down and to move on from this painful past and to a focus on a positive present and a hopeful future is to create newer and better memories grounded in loving, compassionate and trustworthy behaviors that I need to see consistently.
What follows below are the behaviors to bypass, eradicate, to extinguish and to eliminate as soon as you notice them, because they never did, nor ever will promote growth. More than likely, they usher in additional traumatization to the Partner, regret by the Offender, and possibly the death of a relationship that could have benefited from the absence of these damaging behaviors. The “DO NOT words are…
- DECEIVE me, nor yourself. I’m done being lied to. You know, I always think that there’s more you haven’t disclosed to me and that I’m just being kept in the dark, and I live in fear that I’ll be blindsided by what you’ve not admitted to. I feel like I married a skillful liar, and I’m tired of living in a cognitive distortion. But you need to know how much I fear deception, and that I fear being lied to. You’re right. I tried to manage your recovery in my effort to feel safe living with you. I can’t and won’t do that anymore. But I need total honesty and the truth if I am to go on living with you. So don’t…
- GASLIGHT me, because CPTSD occurs due to repeated exposure to lies and dishonesty, and yours have made me doubt myself, my reality and worst of all, made me think I was the problem, only to find out it wasn’t. Subjecting me to your reality (which wasn’t real after all) made me feel like I couldn’t believe what I saw and that I couldn’t trust others either. That kind of brainwashing left me not being able to trust and rely on my own instincts, intuition, interpretations, and conclusions, and I need those skills to be able to survive in this world. Worst of all, your fabrications almost drove a wedge between me and my family!
- HURT me, because I hurt enough. Do you realize what this has done to my body? My mind? Do you know how stressful the past twelve years has been? My body feels like it has been through war only to find out that your acting out behavior has put me at greater risk of harm while I’ve been trying to recover from my medical procedures! How could you do this and only think about yourself? Do you know how hard it has been trying to find the energy to care for you and the kids only to find out you’ve given the best of your energy to someone else? That’s devastating to me!
- CONFUSE me, because today, I know who I am! Living with you over the past 8 years has caused me to change inside and become someone who my family and friends and I didn’t even recognize! Every day your anger, bullying, insecurity, rage, and pleas for forgiveness dripped black ink into my mind and changed my whole demeanor. You made me think I was the problem; I was a failure and I needed to change. I need to change alright. You’ve lost your power and your control to make me think I’m someone that I’m not.
- TRIGGER me, as sounds, smells, TV shows or surprises may create emotional flashbacks, where I feel flooded with a range of emotions (and with betrayal trauma, none of them are good!). It feels like I’m re-experiencing the painful event all over, right now, intensely, in real-time. I just feel like something dangerous is going to happen to me. Know that when I say I’m triggered my feelings are connected to some current stimuli, and your commitment and behavior to be a safe person who engages in safe processes and safe behavior helps my body, brain, and mind to calm down. That’s why eliminating triggers and behaviors that cause triggers and flashbacks is so important to me. So don’t…
- “CRITIC” me, because I have a horrible Inner Critic that wants me to see you as someone who is unsafe and is a threat to me and that Inner voice calls me a fool for thinking that reconciling with you could work. I know it can seem unfair that I get upset and angry at you when I need to get upset and angry at the abusive people in my past that saddled me with these negative messages about myself. Your behavior didn’t help and I’m trying to become more aware of my thinking to stop this, so please, don’t critique me; if you want to help me then remind me to replace the old tapes of self-doubt and to play the new tapes that consist of positive messages that affirm who I am that I’ve “acquired and uploaded” into my brain. That’s what I need to hear.
- FOOL me, because I already feel stupid for letting you take advantage of me in the first place. One of the worst possible things you could do is to begin to earn back my trust and then deceive me by returning to the old behavior and keeping it from me. I’m already triggered, traumatized and I just said I have to fight to not replay nor hear the Inner Critic’s voice throughout the day, and if you mislead or deceive me then I’m going to have a really hard time coming back from that…I know I can, it’s just that it’s getting harder thinking that it will be in a marriage with you. So that’s why it’s so important for you to tell the truth and back it up with your actions. That creates safety in our home, and it helps with the messages in my head because seeing you do the work helps me to know you’re serious about recovering from this and seeing is believing.
- JUDGE me and complain to me about how I’m not healing fast enough for you, or that I’m doing things to sabotage our efforts at repair. If you only knew how exhausted I feel because of the negative thoughts that are in my brain, and how much I have to fight them throughout the day, then perhaps you’d understand how hard it is for me to try to work on this. I need you to show me a bit more empathy, compassion, and understanding versus sighing and snapping at me when things don’t go your way and you don’t get what you want in the time frame you expect it.
- IGNORE me, nor give me the “cold shoulder when I “freeze up” on you. That happens because my mind is constantly scanning my environment for danger and is sure that another episode is right around the corner or has already taken place and I’m about to get hurt, and I’ll be abused, left or abandoned. This is what trauma does to a person; this is no way to live and I’m certainly not wanting to live this way! So I request that we use our tools so we can work things out versus sweeping it under the rug and letting things pile up like we did before.
- STRESS me, because in the past I’ve felt immense pressure when the kids and I don’t do things your way, and I don’t know if you’re aware of what that kind of stress does to our brains and our body. The distress signals have caused me to feel belittled, unappreciated and to burst into tears in front of the kids. Our son tries to comfort me and keeps saying it’s his fault that he’s making daddy mad at me and that he’ll be better. That’s not his problem! I know if I’m feeling distressed and unsafe his world has got to be in shambles too! In an effort to help myself and them, we’re going to need to discuss putting those boundaries in place regarding how and when you and I talk and certainly how you treat all of us if this relationship is going to have a chance to survive. I don’t want to feel stressed, pressured or made to feel guilty because of (sex, money, your impatience, your abrasiveness, your blaming me for turning the kids against you, etc.).
- ABUSE me, because this develops toxic stress in my life and I’m certain it’s creating “adverse childhood experiences” in the lives of our children. This type of home environment that you/we/I may be creating could cause them to develop medical problems like infections, asthma, or hinder their growth. For me, this distress may cause heart problems, cancer or other health problems linked to a compromised immune system that comes because of living in a stressful environment. I know you wish this had never happened and that you regret what you did, but now I suggest that you look at your attitude, personality style or character defects and come up with a self-care plan for you to implement when you’re feeling stressed and you want to take it out on me and the kids. I’m not trying to be your therapist, but sometimes it seems like your outbursts are more directed at your mom who demanded you be perfect because that’s not what I’m wanting or pressuring you to do.
- DISMISS me, when I lapse into “hypervigilance mode,” which is exhausting for me and you. I need you to understand that sometimes when I walk into a room and get triggered because I see you on your phone, I may ask to see it. Seeing you there sends waves of fear through my body that you could be deceiving me again. I’m trying to use my emotional flashback tools to overcome my hypervigilance, but when I see this it takes me back to the day I discovered who you were texting, and I feel unsafe. Don’t make it about you and think I’m doubting your recovery, or about me and think I’m insecure; sometimes seeing is believing, so when I ask, don’t get defensive and dismiss me.
- LECTURE me, because when we’re dysregulated, this is the worst possible time for us to try to “make or prove a point.” My fear center in my brain is telling me that I need safety, to feel calm and to be reassured before the logical listening and problem-solving left hemisphere comes back online, which is a better time for us to talk and discuss things rationally. The best thing for us to do if we want constructive dialogue is to call a time-out for a mutually agreed upon period of time so we can calm down, look at our tools (like “The Imago Dialogue” or “The Effective use of Time Outs”) then come back together to have a productive talk where we’re both able to hear and honor what each other wants to say versus becoming activated, getting defensive, accusative, combative and dysregulating to each another. I know you hate this, and I do too.
- BLAME me, control me nor regress me, because I’ve realized my body, mind, and spirit might also be reacting to the previous traumatization in my life. I’m not trying to regress but now I know that flashbacks cause emotions in me, like fear, loneliness, sadness, mistrust, anger or rage to unexpectedly flood my brain in the blink of an eye. When I’m like that I don’t want you to avoid me, nor threaten me with hollow threats that you’re going to leave and divorce me. Don’t push me away like my parents did in my family of origin. Don’t do that. Just know that certain looks, words or behaviors take me back to when I was desperate to have my Dad or Mom be there for me to protect and validate me, but they weren’t. I’m working on this part of myself. But I need to tell you something…sometimes, I don’t want you to…
- TOUCH me, or to see me when I’m undressing or naked; not until I’m ready. I already have body image issues and now I feel humiliated beyond measure. In the past, my body was not my own and now, when I look in the mirror, all I can see is how unattractive I am. Your comments about exercise and how I look have succeeded in making me feel horrible about myself. Sometimes my emotional flashbacks take me back to when I was sexually abused as a child, and as much as I want to feel good about my body, the Inner Critic makes me feel dirty, ashamed, devalued and unwanted. At times I feel so much rage and when I think about your actions of unfaithfulness, it’s hard for me to separate my past feelings from your present actions. I need to show up and be there for me, then when I’m able, I’ll let you know when I can be there for you. I don’t need your comments about me, but I do need you to be patient, kind and accepting of me, especially when we talk about all things physical and sexual. When I’m ready I’ll let you know, but until then, I need to do this to feel safe around you, so please, don’t try to…
- DISTRACT me, by wanting me to participate in compulsive drinking or using behaviors to self-medicate, escape or “enhance our pleasure.” Equally, don’t…
- INJURE me or think you can berate, belittle or get away with threatening to harm me when you drink too much. You may not remember what you say or do because when you drink you blackout, but going forward, I won’t tolerate that kind of verbal abuse and treatment from you. It’s not right for me to let you think you can get away with this. Especially when your behavior frightens the kids; they want me to leave you. You’ve got to deal with your problem with alcohol and the anger problem that comes with it. This is a boundary that I can’t bend on. So don’t…
- FORCE me or try to manipulate me into having sex with you when I don’t want to. I never want to be guilted into being with you. There were times when we had sex and it wasn’t sex at all. It wasn’t love. You weren’t there; I could feel it. I felt obligated, used and cheap because of your selfishness. That was wrong and I should have said no then, but I’m saying no now. Please don’t try to trap me into doing something that I don’t like and have regretted ever since. So don’t…
- PRESSURE me, because I want to see who you are. Don’t say it, show it. Your actions are going to reveal to me who you are and if you really mean what you’re saying and what you want me to believe. As much as I have tried to relax and enjoy sex with you, I’m not going to be put under any pressure to have it with you. You may think I’m being mean and vindictive, but I’m not. When you ask I might want to take flight, freeze or feign by thinking I need to say yes when you ask, when I really just need to say no. So take my no as no. Also, don’t…
- DEVALUE me, because shame takes me back to when I was mistreated and abused as a child. If I seem and appear “small” to you it’s because I feel like I’m 8 (or 5, or 10, or 12) years old. Besides that, my Inner Critic does enough to remind me I’m worthless, stupid and unworthy of respect, and it wants me to abandon myself and see you as an External Critic, who only wants to torment and hurt me as well! I really need to hear messages about how worthy, intelligent, loveable and how valuable I am (from you and myself) because at a time like this I really need to rebuild and reclaim my worth and strength as a woman, mom and as a wife who is loved and cherished by her husband. So I’m saying it once and for all, while we’re trying to rebuild our marriage, I need you to know that one of the worst and last things you could do to harm me is to…
- MISLEAD me, because my Inner Child needs and deserves safety, love, reassurance and my protection, and I won’t abandon her. Going forward, I will protect this vital and precious part of me and will not allow her to be frightened by intimidation or manipulation, hurt by harsh behavior nor abused by being ignored, which are all behaviors that in the past have caused confusion and eventually devastated me. I didn’t learn this lesson when I was growing up because my family never addressed “the elephant in the room,” nor knew what a boundary was, but today the Adult me stands for truth, health, sanity, and my life. I need to be there for me and that means talking about things sooner than later, and bringing things out in the open, even when you’re uncomfortable and don’t want to discuss them. So I want you to know that you won’t…
- DESTROY me; that may not be your “goal,” and I may even know it. I might see you doing the work to recover from your addictive behavior, but when triggered, the toxic shame connected to sex-addicted induced trauma screams and activates my “fight” (flight, freeze or fawn) responses, which propel me into survival mode. You might think I’m doing this to sabotage our relationship, but this is how complex posttraumatic stress manifests in anyone, and specifically me. Whereas others may see the progress I’m tempted to see and interpret danger. We both need to be aware of the 13 steps to manage Emotional Flashbacks, especially the one that helps me to remember I’m an Adult in an Adult body, and I can do something to calm myself down and act in a manner that is productive for me (and you). What I need is for you to remember this. Will you? One last thing, don’t…
- ABANDON me is the message the Little Girl in me feared would occur. For too long I thought I had to accept whatever behavior you dished out because I felt like I was damaged goods. My fear of being alone drove me to allow you to ignore me when we fought, followed by the silent treatment, and culminating in me begging you to not leave me as you stomped out the door. My therapist helped me to see that trauma from my past set me up to stay in relationships with unavailable, abusive and dangerous men because my Little Girl needed and settled for bits of love and acceptance no matter how toxic it was. But now, as an Adult, she helped me to determine what healthy love looks like, and that I had to be the responsible one to give it to myself. I had to be the one to give it to her. So I can’t nor won’t live in fear wondering if or when you might leave me. If you threaten to leave, or if you leave because you forfeit your right to be my husband by relapsing, you will never abandon me. As an Adult, I realize if the Adult in me loves my Inner Child and lives by the values and principles that define and demonstrate love, then I can never be abandoned, and I want you to know that since I love myself, I will never be abandoned.
Helpful Resources for your next steps
Thank you for reading this brief information about Betrayal Trauma and its’s impact upon Partners/Survivors. As mentioned earlier, please take a look at the suggested resources below as you consider what steps you may wish to take to either help yourself or learn more about the effects of Betrayal Trauma, Complex Posttraumatic Stress, and Sex Addicted Induced Trauma.
- Michelle Mays has a free, must-read e-book called “When it all breaks bad: Ten things to do (and not do) after betrayal.” You can access her book by clicking here. You’ll also find very helpful blog posts on this same website called PartnerHope. She really gets Betrayal Trauma and has so many practical insights to assist both of you (Partner and Offender) to further your understanding of the impact of Betrayal Trauma. This is truly a “first things first step.” One practical insight Michelle offers is for you to show yourself some kindness by creating space to understand your feelings, especially feelings of grief connected to your trauma. She states, “You can be fine one minute and furious the next,” but detaching from a caretaking role with your male partner’s feelings to give yourself permission to caretake your own is a profound act of love where self-care, kindness, validation, and tenderness leads you to release and relief.
- Take a moment to read about Trauma-Informed Care on Shirley Davis’ blog post, located on the CPTSD Foundation website. Here you’ll also find well-researched articles to further understand CPTSD and her suggested treatment options for CPTSD. I highly recommend her blog posts on this website also. Practically, to combat emotional flashbacks, Shirley encourages you to invoke “visions of safety and love before a trigger comes and to practice this ahead of time to bring up in your mind’s eye the positive image and thought you wish to wish to follow.” She states that the practice of this suggestion (and many others) creates new neural connections in your brain, as your new thoughts lead you to new decisions, and your new decisions to new actions and your new actions establishes new connections in your brain, which results in new outcomes for you, as you engage in this self-help process.
- As mentioned earlier, Pete Walker, in his book “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving” provides insightful information that helps to understand CPTSD. Pete also authored the “Thirteen steps to manage Emotional Flashbacks,” which also is a free must-read download that you can access on his website. Practically, in one of the 13 steps, Pete encourages you to “remind yourself that you are in an Adult body with allies, skills, and resources to protect you, that you never had as a Child.” He states that “feeling small and little” is a sure sign that you’re having a flashback, and he encourages you to speak reassuringly to your Inner Child, who needs to know that you love her/him unconditionally and that she/he can come to you for comfort and protection when she feels lost and scared.
- Dr. Omar Minwalla, the founder of The Institute for Sexual Health, also contributes a wealth of knowledge about Sex Addicted Induced Trauma (SAIT), and in his research, he explores “Thirteen dimensions of SAIT” on his website and in his treatment programs for men. Practically, as Dr. Minwalla speaks about Dimension 6 (SAIT Hypervigilance and Re-Experiencing, he states any stimuli could cause a Partner to become triggered (billboards, cell phones, other women, cities, sexual positions, etc.), and he validates and reframes a Partner’s behavior as her engaging in “safety-seeking” as opposed to “snooper-vising, pain-shopping or playing the victim.” Dr. Minwalla offers Intensive Outpatient services (3 – 8-day treatment modules) for men and he provides helpful insights via his podcasts and blog.
- I’ve found Jasmin Lee Cori’s “Healing from Trauma: A survivor’s guide to understanding your symptoms and reclaiming your life,” book very practical and readable that offers helpful and doable suggestions to help you to heal from trauma. Practically, when you’re distressed, Jasmin encourages you to “learn to self-soothe” yourself, by asking you to simply identify ways that you self-soothe. She asks you to consider what people, places, music textures, objects, activities, and settings could help you, and to equally to avoid activity that’s self-harming (i.e., substance abuse, spending/debting, overeating). Simple alternatives work the best, and she even references another book, “The Woman’s Comfort Book: A Self-Nurturing Guide to Restoring Balance in Your Life” by Jennifer Louden, for additional suggestions and activities.
- I’ve loved anything that Dr. Tian Dayton has written. For the longest time, I called three of her books the “trifecta.” Those books (Trauma and Addiction, Heartwounds, and Emotional Sobriety: From Relationship Trauma to Resilience) have helped me and others to understand how trauma, especially from one’s family of origin, causes a person to adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms and threatens one’s ability to regain health and balance. Practically, Dr. Dayton encourages the use of Psychodrama, which is a therapeutic tool used in group psychotherapy to help you to work through your traumatic experiences and memories, past and current, with the help of a trained psychotherapist and trusted group members. Working through old (or current) traumatization helps you to unlock and release trapped emotional energy in your body connected to your trauma, while also helping you to explore and possibly “rewrite” schemas and narratives that have hindered your overall development. Please visit her page to see and observe how Psychodrama could assist you.
- There are great texts and treatment resources by Dr. Claudia Black (Deceived, Intimate Treason and her Healing Intimate Treason workshop), Dr. Patrick Carnes (Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, Facing the Shadow and Gentle Path Treatment) and Marnie Ferree’s Bethesda Workshops (Healing workshops for Partners, Men, and Couples). I encourage you to not only visit these workshops because they provide help and treatment for the “specific treatment issues” that have been addressed and described in the entries above.
- As mentioned above, one of the best things to be aware of then access when emotional flashbacks and emotional flooding occurs is to get to a place of safety. Practically, take a look at some of the suggestions from Choosing Change #1: Safe People, Safe Place, and Safe Processes, to create a safe place in your own psyche that you could access in the blink of your eye to access your “Inner Yoda,” (or Leia, Luke or Obi-wan) who you’ll meet with to experience calm, conversation, insight and guidance, and who will affirm and help you to realize that “you have everything that you need.”
- I’ve often been helped to view problems, especially when it comes to helping yourself, through the lens of the “7 Core Areas.” These core areas, as derived from the Two Greatest Commandments (Luke 10:25 – 28), help me to conceptualize what I might need in the Spiritual, Cognitive, Emotional, Physical/Biological, Sexual, Social/Relational and Environmental domains of my life. Practically, here’s what comes to mind as I consider the domains and the 7 Core Areas:
- Spiritual: What could I do to inspire, encourage or empower myself? Go for a bike ride, read inspirational literature, watch an entertaining and insightful movie, connect with a friend, talk with a Pastor, Priest or Rabbi?
- Cognitive: Think about which of my schemas and schema modes are activated, and how the A-C-T-I-V-E Model, LoveWorks principles or the River of Integration (Psychological and Theological) concepts could help me to “recalibrate” and overcome the harmful messages of my Inner Critic?
- Emotional: How could journaling my feelings or experience help me to understand my grief, validate, “verbally vent” and process my thoughts and feelings, and guide me to pay attention to my emotions so that I could compassionately give myself what I need?
- Physical/Biological: Is there prescription medicine, exercise/physical activity, sleep, a mental health day of rest that I need to access immediately to ensure that my body is given an opportunity to be regulated?
- Sexual: Where do I want and need to follow up so that at the end of the day, I convert unhealthy sexual behaviors and addiction into healthy sexuality and sexual experiences that are safe, affirm and provide pleasure to me and my partner?
- Social/Relational: What 12-Step communities (like Infidelity Survivors Anonymous) of support might I investigate and attend so that I have not only connected with people who identify with my issues but who also guide me to adopt and practice respectful principles in all my affairs?
- Environmental: Ministering to yourself and to another are ingredients of Therapeuo (Healing). As I begin to heal and grow from the inflicted experiences connected to Betrayal Trauma, who and how might I be of assistance to others as a Wounded Healer?
- I’ve come to realize that one of the biggest things that Partners need immediately and Offenders will want to deliver is Empathy. Carol Juergensen Sheets and Allan Katz wrote an excellent (work)book called “Help. Her. Heal: An Empathy workbook for Sex Addicts to Help Their Partners Heal.” Practically, among the many helpful insights that Carol writes about is the “A.V.R. Formula.” A-V-R stands for Acknowledge, Validate and Reassure, which is to be applied in conversations between the Partner and her husband. In the dialogue, the husband will want to Acknowledge the issue being discussed, Validate the feelings of his Partner, and Reassure the Partner that you’ll be there to help her heal.
- In addition to Carol’s workbook on developing and delivering the skill of Empathy, I wrote 7 posts on the subject which are on my blog, “Dr. Ken McGill’s Blog.” As time permits, read then apply the therapeutic principles discussed in each post, in your effort to grow in the knowledge of Empathy, and deliver this all too important balm that is needed for healing a relationship. The posts are:
Thank you for taking the time to read this brief introduction about how betrayal trauma impacts a partner, her marriage and her family. Please take some time to think about, jot down then follow up on these questions:
- What stood out in the “Do” section that you need to follow up on and discuss?
- What stood out in the “Do Not” section that you need to follow up on and discuss?
- What do you need (Remember to ask for what you need and take the steps you need to create safety for yourself)
- What do you need to learn?
- What do you need to change?
- What changes need to be made in your life and relationships?
- What helps you?
- What hinders you?
- What do you need to integrate, because it will be helpful to you, as you go forward?
- What do you need to eliminate, because some thoughts, processes, and behaviors are detrimental?
- What needs to be a priority (among other questions) as you plan and plot your course going forward?
Allow me to close with this oft-repeated principle: Hurt people will hurt people, but healed people will engage in processes of healing people. Remember the butterfly: Change, transform, grow and go forward.
When Secrets Surface: McGill’s Hierarchy of Needs Triangle
So what follows are my thoughts as a CSAT where I briefly offer for your consideration suggestions and a few “non-negotiables” that I think need to be present, up-front and thoroughly involved in your treatment, activity and recovery process, when betrayal trauma has occurred in your primary relationship. In doing so, allow me to say “what this is not,” and equally “what this is” in an attempt to provide clarity to the steps you’re about to take as you read this subsection.
What this is “not”:
First of all, this is not an exhaustive review of all of the treatment processes you’ll want and need to access to recover from the discovery or disclosure of behaviors connected to betrayal trauma. When you think about the breadth, depth, and width of all that factors into how and why a person was unfaithful, and who and what will be involved in your overall recovery process, it may seem that I’m leaving out or not touching upon some processes that have impacted you in this subsection.
If this is what you’re thinking and feeling, you’re correct. However, it’s my hope that based on your unique needs, you’ll discover, consider and add skilled people and resources that you deem necessary and critical for your personal healing and recovery. If I do my job well in describing this process, then hopefully, I’ll point you in the right direction where you’ll identify issues that need further discussion, areas that need further treatment and behaviors that need to be eliminated or developed as you go forward.
Second, this is not a “quick fix” nor “formula”that will have you up and running in 3 days, 3 weeks or 3 months. Neither is this a “checklist” to be accessed where at the end of the month you’re able to say “well I tried, but it can’t be done…” Again, I have too much respect for the assessment and treatment of addiction, complex-PTSD and other psychotherapeutic processes that accompany recovering from infidelity.
If I do my job, then hopefully, you’ll understand the nature, process, gravity, weight, responsibility, and commitment that it will take to start and maintain your healing. What I offer (and what you’ll probably need) is psychotherapy at it’s most basic and “lowest” level of care, which is out-patient treatment (1 hour a week, for individual, couples or group psychotherapy).
For some of you, based on an assessment that takes your experience into consideration, a higher-level of care (Intensive Outpatient, or even Residential Treatment) may be suggested, sought or recommended. A good rule of thumb to consider is if you’re not reaching or achieving your goals connected to healing from infidelity, then perhaps a higher level of care is necessary to hit your targets. Please consider this and discuss this with your CSAT.
What this is:
1) An integrative (and hopefully thorough) recommendation of the basics or “staples”that you’ll both will want to consider that deserves to be included in your interactions and relational processes to experience healing. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? In his model of human motivation, the “lower-level” needs that a person has are to be worked on and satisfied before their “higher-level” needs are met. Well, allow me to be audacious and present to you “McGill’s Hierarchy of Needs,” where the levels of this triangle suggest there is a similar level of progression with your process and healing from infidelity, in that before higher levels of healing are experienced, then lower-level commitments and behavior are to be integrated, acted upon then maintained.
I’m going to take one liberty with the Triangles presented above: I’m going to suggest that you turn my triangle “on its side,” and in doing so, suggest you could vertically and simultaneously work on and in each of the areas as if they are rows in your garden. That way, you’re also working and being truthful, while you’re also working to be a safe person, while you’re also engaging in acts that demonstrate healthy expressions of love.
2) I’ve endeavored to keep this model simple and therefore, doable. By focusing on five simple but potent areas, it’s my hope that you can and will do something on a daily basis to bring about personal and relational change and healing. To that end, you’ll see that each of the five areas (Truth, Safety, Empathy, Care and Connection, and Love) have five critical points for elaboration, along with “Q’s” and “A’s” (that is, Questions and Action items) for you to think through, discuss, implement, then measure to determine if you’re accomplishing your objectives related to the entry you’re reading. The Q’s and A’s are meant to be insightful, practical and based upon your needs, I encourage you to use your creativity to modify or enhance the principle that is presented, as you work to bring about the necessary change(s) to satisfy the needs you’re seeking to meet.
3) Just as we’ve done with the other areas in your home, we’re inviting “treatment team specialists” to this area of your relationship whose models and work reflect years of contribution to the treatment of the person, marriage, family, etc. You’ve been introduced to some of the Specialists and their models in previous chapters of this book, or in my Cultivating Love book series, or, this may be the first time you’re introduced to their work. The specialists cover the range of trauma, addiction, neurobiology, and sex education to name a few areas. Also, I encourage you to access authors and resources from your own library, as you focus on integrating that material with the information you’re receiving from me.
4) Finally, it’s my hope that these suggestions will help and guide you in your endeavor to exit the dark forest of pain, devastation, helplessness, and hopelessness, and to enter the meadow where light, clarity, safety, good decisions, and self-/other love is realized.
Some think the only way out of the forest is to scorch the earth (and everyone involved) and burn it down. That’s the behavior of the Adapted Adolescent part of you versus the wiser, more discerning Functional Adult part of you.
When viewed in this manner, the Adolescent seeks quick fixes and immediate gratification, and will impulsively “work” to remove obstacles or seek to resolve the challenges that impact the two of you with impatience, recklessness or without expending sufficient energy or appropriate effort, which typically results in unnecessary suffering and consequences.
On the other hand, it’s the Functional Adult part of you who diligently does the work to learn how to integrate and utilize tools to effectively find the path and reach the clearing without sabotaging yourself or inflicting additional damage to others involved in the recovery and healing process.
So there you have it. A maxim that I operate by is “therapy should be therapeutic,” and if it’s not therapeutic then there could be something amiss with the behaviors, either suggested or implemented. When infidelity occurs, the last thing couples need is more pain. In order to heal, everyone and everything in the crucible needs to be considered and added because of it’s therapeutic and curative value. I hope you realize and experience this when you apply these suggestions. I wish you the best in your work toward healing and recovery, starting right now.
Level 5: Truth (Alethes)
1) The Truth is not Lethal. The Greek word for our English word Truth (and Integrity) is “Alethes,” which is a compound word: “A,” which means “No, not, without” + “Lethos,” from which we our English word“Lethal”). There is nothing that is “life-giving” about infidelity; to the contrary, it ruptures trust, contaminates love and connection, inflicts PTSD symptoms (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) and if not ceased immediately, could threaten the very life of your marriage and family relationships. So the very first step in dealing with infidelity is to engage in behavior that is not lethal, and one of the most helpful behaviors to contribute is to tell the truth.
The Truth, even though it is painful to hear, will never kill off anyone. It’s the lies, half-truths (“fractionating”) or lack of integrity that damages the opportunities to create safety, adult-to-adult communication or relationship repair.
Finally, it goes without saying, there needs to be zero-tolerance with infidelity. When you think about the horrific devastation that occurred after Hurricane Katrina hit the City of New Orleans in 2005, the only way they could survey the damage done, engage in a clean-up process and begin to rebuild the city was to first repair the levee walls so that no new leaks (infidelity or other addictive behavior) would occur.
Question: Have I told the truth? What have I left out? What relationship-threatening behavior do I need to cease immediately? Do I know the truth? What questions need to be asked and answered?
Activity: Locate a CSAT Therapist and set up an appointment to discuss what a Disclosure of the truth entails. Download and read the book “Disclosing Secrets” (and for the Partner, “Surviving Disclosure“) to gain an adequate picture of what your next steps need to entail.
2) Know the Truth: Remember the Hebrew word for“Future” (Ahar) is the word picture of a person in a rowboat. When you’re in a rowboat, you never see where you’re going, but you’ll always see where you’ve been. When you think about the behavior of unfaithfulness, I’d want you to know and understand what were and are the factors that got you to where you’re at.
To do that, you’ll want to look at your personal history, and specifically how psychological, traumatic, addictive, familial and spiritual factors to name a few, got you to a place like Darth Vader, whose psychological development we looked at in Choosing Change #6, #7 and #8, eventually thought that blowing up planets (or in your case, a marriage and family) was a good thing to do. You’ll need to know how you got into your own “dark forest,” and what factors and resources will help you to “exit” that place. Equally, you’ll want to intimately know and become very familiar with the truth and the pain your partner is currently experiencing.
Among the many insightful and practical strategies that Carol Juergensen Sheets conveys in her book “Help.Her.Heal” is to Acknowledge the issue(s) your partner is bringing up, Validate the feelings that are conveyed (or what you think is being felt) and to Reassure them of their right to the feelings, interpretations, and conclusions that are communicated, and hopefully, your expressed desire to help her heal.
Question: What are some of the reasons and factors that caused you to become unfaithful? Revisit Choosing Change #6 – #8 and record some of those factors here. How could the implementation of the “A-C-T-I-V-E” model or LoveWorks help you to correct some of these factors?
Activity: Schedule time to read these posts (or other sections of in this book) over the next 2 weeks. Read and incorporate the Imago Dialogue Charts right now (Imago Dialogue – Instructions, Sender, Receiver and Appreciation Flowcharts) to help you to empathetically listen to, talk about and begin to understand the thoughts and feelings of your partner. Since this is a “two-way street,” I encourage the “offended” partner to use these tools as well to improve your ability to be heard. Think seriously about purchasing “Help. Her. Heal.” It could prove to be a very worthwhile and wise investment to help you exit the dark forest!
3) Tell the Truth: Remember in point #1 that the “Truth is not Lethal.” This also means that your speech and the content of what you’ll both convey will need to line up with this fact. Not telling the truth “gaslights” a person and delegitimizes their reality, which tends to set off PTSD triggering, firing and suffering experiences that are downright cruel and unnecessary.
Equally, telling the truth and inquiring about the other person’s reality creates an environment where your communication helps you to “co-regulate” versus dysregulate each other, which is a critical skill to learn because it helps to lower the distress that you both may be feeling.
I suspect there will be moments where, if I were to hold up a quarter between the two of you and asked you to tell me what you see, I can promise you that you’ll see two different presentations (Washington’s head on the “biological side” and one of the 50 States on the “geographical” side). Healthy and respectful communication occurs when equal amounts of time are spent looking at the biological, then the geographical sides of issues without defacing, dismissing nor devaluing the other person’s side (their truth) and the conclusions they may reach.
Finally, Dr. Katehakis reminds us that curse words and other passionate communication originate in the right hemisphere of our brain, and when such language occurs, we understand that you’re expressing intense feelings that beg to be acknowledged and validated because you’re wanting and looking for an emotional response.
That may be the case, however, it’s the practice of Emotional Balance (Level 2, #3 below) that will help you to validate the right-hemisphere emotions you feel without losing the “logical left-hemisphere” skills that are necessary to discuss the critical issues that need to be discussed, understood and acted upon. So please, speak your truth, but be aware and responsible with the use of words, behaviors, and processes that will either bring you closer to or push you further away from your overall goals.
Question: What thoughts, feelings, issues and “passionate truth” do I wish to convey to my partner?
Actions: Write the “raw” first draft of your thoughts in your journal (remember, journaling is a spiritual discipline), then write a refined second draft of your entry and schedule an uninterrupted time to share it with your partner. Since you’re in essence taking a “time-out,” take a look at “the effective use of time outs” and incorporate these suggestions as needed. Make sure you include ideas and solutions that might help you to achieve any of the personal, behavioral or relational goals you’re aiming for which when implemented, might help you to feel better.
4) Truth/Integrity: Since the English words “Truth” and “Integrity” are the same Greek word (Alethes), take a look at and consider how the following words which originate from our English word Integrity could be beneficial to your overall effort to facilitate healing.
Know that Integers are whole numbers. This means you’ll want to work hard so you and your partner see the whole picture of the “inglorious truth” (versus revealing only fractions, or convenient parts of it). Doing this helps to create transparency and clarity with your actions because you and your partner need to know what you’re dealing with. Integral means “nothing essential is lacking.” In relation to the Truth, you’ll want to speak the truth, but you don’t want to leave out the practice of containment and love.
You’ll also want to work to eliminate cognitive distortions and other “Killer D’s” that dampen hope, and you’ll want to practice Empathy, Emotional Restitution and any of the other “Empowering E’s” with your partner, who may feel as if their soul is struggling to survive a homicide attempt.
Question: What critical parts and behaviors are still left out of the equation? What behaviors integral behaviors need to be added to the equation, for their therapeutic and curative value?
5) River of Integration: Finally, I’ve mentioned to some couples that discovering infidelity is like having a bomb dropped on you. I’ve likened the Offender’s behavior as being the pilot of the plane, who may feel enormous guilt for the “surprise attack” and the damage that was caused by unfaithfulness. On the other hand, the Offended or Partner’s experience is the recipient of the explosion, and tends to have a significantly different and difficult time trying to survive and recover from the effect of the “ground-zero” hit (which you learned about when you read “Understanding and Empathizing with Survivors of Betrayal Trauma”; if you haven’t read it yet, it’s assigned reading in the Empathy subsection below!).
Getting to a CSAT Therapist or an APSATS Therapist (Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists) and integrating the suggestions that make sense to you and that’ll help you to survive this initial and traumatic crisis is crucial at this time, much like having an Emergency Medical Technician attend to you after you’ve been traumatized due to being in an unexpected accident.
Both of you will want to thoroughly understand the trauma and the subsequent behaviors connected to it, and the treatment that needs to be immediately accessed and integrated if healing is to commence.
I can’t underscore this enough! I encourage both of you to dedicate yourself to learning about trauma, how to effectively support your partner when traumatic reactions hit, and about behaviors that will extinguish psychological and physiological triggers, flareups and retraumatization.
Finally, when you’re able, take a look at the concepts we discussed in Choosing Change #12, about the River of Integration. I encourage you to focus on committing actions that’ll help you to stay in the River (mental health) and as best as you can avoid behaviors that are akin to hitting the sandbars or shore (mental disorder).
One such behavior that could prove to be very helpful is to take a “strategic time-in.” A strategic time-in is like a strategically called time-out, but its purpose is to give you time to “S.I.F.T” whats going on in your mind.
Remember, “SIFT-ing” means you’re focusing on your Sensations in your body, Images that are coming to mind, as well as the Feelings and Thoughts you’re currently experiencing. Sometimes, you might wish to include a Therapist, Psychiatrist, Pastor, Priest, Rabbi, or a safe friend to assist you in determining what “your next right step” could be.
For the “Pilot,” I’m reminded of the words of Marnie Ferree, CSAT and Founder of Bethesda Workshops, who would pass along three bits of information: “You’re probably going to be in the doghouse longer than you’d like, this is going to take longer than you have the patience for, and you’re going to have to work harder than you think you’re working.”
Which leads me to suggest to you as we close this first section about how vital the Truth is, I encourage you to get rid of the drill and toss it overboard (self- or other sabotaging behavior), grab the oars, and keep rowing into your future. If you keep rowing (working each day and throughout the day), you may find that you’ve moved past the burned and scorched earth landscape on the shore of the river, and into a future that is safer, greener and most certainly desired!
Question: What books or resources do you have, or who among your friends or associates could help you to understand the traumatization associated with infidelity?
Action: Read (PDF’s Below). Dr. Omar Minwalla’s Thirteen Dimensions of Sex Addicted Induced Trauma Model and Michelle May’s When it all breaks bad: Ten things to do (and not do) after betrayal offer excellent insight about where you are, validation for what you’re truly going through, and help to illuminate the next steps in your journey.
Level 4: Safety (Teros)
1) Feeling safe is essential! In addition to the infusion of the truth, safety is probably the second most needed behavior that could serve your marital dyad well. If the Offender has engaged in the self-serving behavior of unfaithfulness that was kept secret from their partner for months, years or even decades, it’s not only shocking and traumatizing to discover the infidelity but it’s also disorienting to the Partner because to them, the person who they once thought was safe, trustworthy and reliable, is seen and could be experienced as threatening, unsafe and mired in mistrust. Identifying and ceasing unsafe behavior, while simultaneously (and consistently) implementing behavior that reflects and increases safety could not only stabilize a rocky relationship but also serve as a catalyst to begin healing.
The Greek word for our English word “Safety” is “Tereo,” and we’ll explore the meaning, different nuances and practical expressions of Safety that originate from this word in this subsection.
The first description of the word Tereos is that of the “Watchman,” as the word is used in Matthew 27:35-36, 55. These verses describe the behavior of the soldiers and of the women who watched and observed Christ as he hung on the Cross. It’s interesting that excruciating and crucial are other words derived from the word Cross because I suspect, like Jesus, the Offended Partner may feel and experience excruciating pain and suffering.
Equally, it’s crucial that the Offender not only observe and bear witness to the suffering their behavior has caused, but like the women who stayed and cared for Jesus, the Offender will want to “watch, work and engage in” actions that heal, while simultaneously “watching out for,” guarding against or work to eliminate harmful behaviors that do not need to be committed.
Question for the Offender: As you integrate the knowledge you gained from the section on Truth, what agonizing behaviors are you observing in your partner, and beyond saying “I’m sorry,” what actions are you engaging in that result in the alleviation of suffering in your partner?
Question for the Offended Partner: As you inventory your head, heart, body and the trauma you are feeling, are you able to express where and how you are hurting, and even more important, identifying and taking in behaviors from the offender that could help you to begin healing? What hinders this from occurring and what internal changes will you make to validate his contributions?
Action: Take a look at the 68° – 72° Degree Target Chart below. Read the instructions then answer questions #4 and #5 to identify what your Red (Intense) and Blue (Cold) behaviors are, in addition to receive insight from your spouse regarding what it’s like to be on the receiving end of your behaviors. (Note: If you’re the Partner doing this exercise, please know that any behavior you identify and move to become responsible with does not constitute cause, fault nor blame for infidelity).
2) Empathy facilitates Safety: In his Complex PTSD book, Pete Walker reminds us that trauma impacts your spouse’s Sympathetic Nervous System, so that if she detects a threat it “locks in the ‘on’ position,” which means it’ll be difficult to have her Parasympathetic Nervous System and all of it’s calmning functions available to help her regain her emotional balance, so that the two of you could create and benefit from attuned communication.
This matters because even though we’ll look at the subject of Empathy in greater detail in Level 3, at this time it’s important to understand just what Empathy means and how it could help you to introduce calm to your family system, so that safety is established in your head, in your relationship and in your home. Empathy, coined and defined by Psychologist Edward Titchener in 1909, means “to project yourself into what you observe.”
One way to accomplish this is to use the Imago Dialogue Charts to inquire what your Offended Partner thinks and feels about her experience with betrayal trauma. Using the Imago Charts to mirror what you hear, validate what makes sense to you (as shared or explained to you by your partner) then empathize with what she may be feeling means you’ll use your energy constructively to create safety and co-regulated connections between the two of you.
Equally, I encourage the Offended Partner to use the charts as well to hear, validate and empathize with the sorrow and contrition that the Offender is hopefully conveying to you. The temptation is to make this a one-way street, where the Offender hears about and receives predictable rage response(s) from his Offended Partner for his misgivings. However, Empathy is always a two-way process; remember, we don’t want to deface either side of the coin because the humiliating and dehumanizing shame associated with betrayal as well as projected shame (rage) that’s triggered and delivered as a response serves no one and is toxic for your body, relationship and home environment.
Do you remember Dr. Janis Spring’s comment in How can I forgive you?: “She will pay attention to her pain until you do?” If so, then to the Offender, I say the sooner you understand, validate, empathize with and provide comfort to your Partner’s hurt, pain, grief and devastation, the sooner she might move to a position to release it and let it go from her body and your home.
Question: What are you learning about your Partner’s pain, anguish and fear that needs acknowledgement and validation, as you use the Imago Dialogue Charts? Is there anything you’d like to convey to your spouse that you appreciate, as you use the Imago Appreciation chart?
Action: It goes without saying that I’d like for you to use the Imago Dialogue Charts to facilitate good communication, understanding, validation, empathy and appreciation with each other.
3) Comfort creates Safety: Here’s something that I think could help that I’d like to offer up for your consideration. I don’t want to be preachy, and I encourage you to take what you can use, but I did say this was going to be integrative. That being said, I’d like to introduce a few passages from the Bible over the next couple of points.
First, know that your Higher Power/God desires to help versus harm you (Jeremiah 29:11), by providing comfort to you in moments when shame, rage, guilt, anger, fear, pain and devastation threaten to overtake and tear down all that is precious to you, important to you, and perhaps remains inside of you.
Even though you both may be struggling to receive or give to each other because you’re doing the best you can to hold onto yourself during this painful season of your life, I want to remind you that the Holy Spirit is called our Comforter, Counselor, Encourager and Inspiration, which happen to be behaviors that could benefit the Right Hemisphere of your brain in your guilt-laden or emotionally reactive moments, and are activities that could be produced by your Middle Pre-Frontal Cortex, or said another way, the Functional Adult part of you. I’m focusing on comfort because of this scripture in 2 Corinthians 1: 3 – 4:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we have received from God.”
So what am I suggesting here? My hope is that you’ll consider how connecting with your Higher Power could help you to access and experience comfort (or fulfill any other longing or need you have) so that after you’re empowered and replenished, you’ll offer up to “your neighbor” the same attribute (and specifically comfort), that your brain, body and spirit received from your God, especially when you think about the amount of suffering that needs to be tended to and reduced. Remember the “66% – 33% solution” and other helpful principles from Choosing Change #2 and #3: Connect with God to receive, be loved, be fed and be empowered, then as you’re led and guided by your Higher Power, give what is appropriate to satisfy the needs that are before you.
I’m reminded of Ambrose Bierce’s quote in The Mirror of Intimacy by Dr. Alex Katehakis: “While your friend holds you affectionately by both hands, you are safe, for you can watch both his.” Comfort, when aptly and tangibly applied, conveys care, concern, interest and safety, and more than likely, will be an ongoing need that your brain, body and home will benefit from when delivered, but also when connected to the next point below.
Question: Are you open to being comforted by your God? By your spouse? In what way would you like to be comforted? When are you prone to avoid comfort, because it feels too vulnerable?
Action: Have a talk about when and what form of comfort will be delivered, especially to be applied when emotional flashbacks are experienced. Create, discuss then practice a 3-point (simple) plan that you could implement to help you to regain calm and to be open to (or deliver) comfort to yourself then to each other (i.e., call a time out for 20 mins., look at Walker’s Emotional Flashback material, read scripture passages that help you, and when you’ve regained composure, move to comfort or deliver support to your spouse).
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…” Galatians 6: 9-10 (TNIV).
4) Safe people guard against unsafe behavior: You’ll recall that our Greek word for Safety (Tereo) infers that safe behavior will be kept and obeyed, per the “Warden and the Guards,” which are part of the “Tereo-making” process. This means that your internal safeguards may need to work overtime to monitor your thoughts, feelings, experiences and behaviors that if left unchecked, could threaten to sabotage the safe person and the safe environment that you’re working to create, especially when care, concern, comfort or other curative behaviors are sorely needed!
To create and maintain internal and external safety in your environment, I’ll encourage you to revisit then keep in mind the principles connected to the A-C-T-I-V-E Model from Choosing Change #6, #7and #8. Why? Because safety in your head, in your relationship and in your home is achieved when you’re aware of, then guard against any possible “jailbreaks” by your maladaptive schemas, maladaptive schema modes, ego defenses and cognitive distortions.
Being aware of how, and having a plan to foil an uprising that could happen at given time is the responsibility of the Warden (i.e., your Functional Adult), who protects those within the walls (your Brain) and the community outside (your Neighbors) from the “bad guys” (your Harsh Internal Critic or other pathological tendencies) who, if left to their own devise, would create havoc, confusion, sabotage and mayhem, which is the last thing you need when you’re trying to facilitate healing from infidelity.
Question: Are you aware of which, and how any of your maladaptive schemas, maladaptive schema modes, ego defenses or cognitive distortions could wreak havoc with your goal(s) of guarding against unsafe behavior? How might you sabotage your effectiveness and create unsafety?
Action: Review your answers to questions posed in Choosing Change # 6, #7 and # 8. For that matter, include your responses in Choosing Change #5 as well, because you’ll want to identify when you’re not “traveling with intention” as well. Finish up by applying the A-C-T-I-V-E Model suggestions to determine what choices and changes you need to make to maintain and protect your mind and others, in addition to applying your 68° – 72°-degree Target Chart Worksheet responses to focus on additional solutions that could be beneficial to you.
5) Safe People have an eye for what is valuable to them: In addition to using the A-C-T-I-V-E Model and the 68° – 72° degree Target Chart to help you create safety, the Apostle Paul reminds us of a plan and process in Galatians 6:14, which when it’s implemented, could help you to regain your focus regarding what’s important and a priority in your life. It’s my hope that by enacting this “cognitive shift” you’ll not only see what’s valuable and needs your protection, but that it will also help you to produce behaviors that establish safety, will lessen emotional triggering and reactivity, while also assisting you to protect the curative ingredient of Safety. Here’s the scripture:
“May I never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (TNIV).
To me, the Apostle Paul is saying (with insight from Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, in the Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, 1996) may the world and all that it has to offer to him, generate no more appeal to him than a corpse on a cross would appeal to him. Equally, when the “roles are reversed” and if he were on the cross, the Apostle is saying that he would take no more delight in the things of the world than a man who is dying on the cross would delight in the things he sees before him.
This imagery strikes a very sobering chord. When life or death circumstances are part of your current life experience, what captures your attention, and (how) will you demonstrate what’s important and what matters to you? It’s my hope that embracing this cognitive shift will challenge you like no other one will, and that it will lead to some form of behavioral change whereby you demonstrate what’s important to you, which at this time is demonstrating that safety and creating a safe environment takes precedence in your thinking and your behavior.
So as we close out this subsection on safety, have you “checked your psychological guns at the saloon door,” so that others (and you) will feel safe having a conversation at the table with you?” Are you working to observe, keep and live by (Tereos) the principles that deliver the intangibles of humility, gentleness, grace, patience and peace, along with the tangibles of speaking truth in love, using words to build others up and eliminating impatient and mean-spirited behavior? If you are making progress with the development and delivery of these behaviors that are oriented in eliminating dishonesty, coercion and gaslighting, but on the other hand are focused on depositing behaviors that convey worth, value, honor and esteem, then you’re well on your way to solidifying the all-important intimacy need called Safety.
Question: What are your responses to the questions in the last paragraph?
Action: Create a brief list of 5 – 6 behaviors that define and constitute safe behavior. To the list add people and behaviors that demonstrate a reprioritization of what you value. Add these items to your 68° – 72° degree target chart that you’ll look at each day. Affirm yourself for the progress you’re making toward telling the truth, creating safety and clarifying what’s most important to you.
Your 68° to 72° Degree Target Chart (Psychological and Theological)
These next two exercises (“Your 68° – 72° Degree Target Chart – Psychological and Theological”) are intended to assist you in creating and maintaining safe behaviors in your mind and in your relationships, and will also serve as a “quick glance” to help you notice then prompt you to course correct when unwanted or harmful personal behavior comes to your awareness. Here’s more information about how to benefit from creating your 68° – 72° Degree Target Chart.
In counseling sessions, I’m prone to bring up the “68° – 72° degree range” which refers to the temperature and thermostat setting in my office, which is typically set for 70°.
I’ve noticed over the years that I, and the people whom I’m visiting with, are comfortable, able to focus, are insightful, and function at their optimum when the temperature setting is right at or around the midrange of 70°.
Equally, I’ve noticed discomfort, distraction and derailment tends to occur when the temperature is below 68° or beyond 72°. When this occurs, I quickly move to adjust the thermostat to recreate an environment that’s conducive for constructive outcomes. Through the years I’ve observed how this metaphor actually applies to our overall behavior in life as well, and I’ve encouraged others to create their “68° – 72° degree zone.”
So in your effort to continue to live an examined life where the creation of safety and other functional behaviors are important, I’d like for you to compile your own 68° – 72° Degree Target Chart of Green “Zone” behaviors that define who you are (your identify), what’s your purpose (reason for living) and of course, how you wish to live (your destiny and legacy). The “Green Zone” behaviors you identify in this living document, will always reflect the good and helpful targeted behaviors that will yield functional adult and constructive outcomes for you and those in your environment.
While you’re at it, I’d like for you to take a deep look in the mirror and identify what your Red (Intense) or Blue (Cold) extremes are, that you’d like to avoid if not eliminate altogether. Finally, respond to the questions below in your effort to recoup then redirect your energy from the extremes of the Red and Blue areas to your actual or aspirational Green Zone behaviors. I’ve found that using my energy to develop and live within my Green Zone is the best way to experience the benefits that accompany intentional living!
Questions for the Psychological 68° – 72° Degree Target Chart:
1) Think about the Green Zone behaviors you’re already doing, or, the behaviors that make sense to you as you consider living a healthy and balanced life. What are they? Chart them in your Green Zone.
2) Think about then consider including any helpful feedback or suggestions you’ve received from your Spouse, Partner, Family member, Doctor, Therapist, Pastor, Rabbi, Spiritual Guide or Good Friends that you might wish to develop in your Green Zone. What might you consider incorporating or developing because they make sense to you and the manifestation of these Green Zone behaviors would help you to live a value-focused life?
3) Who or what resources will you access regularly to help you to develop, grow, accomplish and protect any of the Green Zone goals and behaviors you’ve identified?
4) What are your Red or “Intense” behaviors, or “Cold” Blue behaviors, which when displayed or demonstrated, reflect you’re “out of your comfort zone,” which may distract, irritate, create escalation and harm if you don’t “adjust your thermostat” and engage in strategic Green Zone behaviors? Chart those behaviors in the Red or Blue areas.
5) What is the effect of your Intense (Red) and/or Cold (Blue) behavior on others? Ask your Spouse or Partner what it’s like to be on the receiving end of your Red or Blue behavior(s). What Green Zone response(s) would counter the effect and help to heal versus traumatize them?
6) Take a look at your Green Zone behaviors each day. Visualize yourself engaging in then practicing them daily. Journal or share with others what happens when you practice them. Be encouraged and celebrate the positive changes and skills that define who you are and are becoming!
Your 68° to 72° Degree Target Chart (Theological)
In your effort to continue to live an examined life, I’d like for you to look at the bible verses below and compile your own 68° – 72° Degree Target Chart of Green “Zone” behaviors that are “seasoned by scripture.”
When I think about the legacy that I’m leaving, I’m encouraged that my thoughts, feelings, goals and behaviors will reflect an integration of intentional, inspirational and therapeutically focused living.
As you did with your 68° – 72° degree range Psychological Chart, I’d like for you to identify what your Red (Intense) or Blue (Cold) extremes are, that you’d like to avoid if not eliminate all together.
Finally, respond to the questions below in your effort to recoup then redirect your energy from the extremes of the Red and Blue areas to your actual or aspirational Green Zone behaviors. I’ve found that using my energy to develop and live within my Green Zone is the best way to experience the benefits that accompany intentional living!
Questions for the Theological 68° – 72° Degree Target Chart:
1) Think about the Green Zone behaviors you’re already doing, or, the behaviors that make sense to you as you consider living a healthy and balanced life. What are they? Chart them in your Green Zone.
2) Think about then consider including any helpful feedback or suggestions you’ve received from your Spouse, Partner, Family member, Doctor, Therapist, Pastor, Rabbi, Spiritual Guide or Good Friends that you might wish to develop in your Green Zone. What might you consider incorporating or developing because the scripture makes sense to you and the manifestation of these Green Zone behaviors would help you to live a value-focused and inspired life?
3) Who or what resources will you access regularly to help you to develop, grow, accomplish and protect any of the Green Zone goals and behaviors that you’ve identified or are identified in the verses?
4) What are your Red or “Intense” behaviors, or “Cold” Blue behaviors, which when displayed or demonstrated, reflect you’re “out of your comfort zone,” which may distract, irritate, create escalation and harm if you don’t “adjust your thermostat” and engage in strategic Green Zone behaviors? Chart those behaviors in the Red or Blue areas.
5) What is the effect of your Intense (Red) and/or Cold (Blue) behavior on others? Ask your Spouse or Partner what it’s like to be on the receiving end of your Red or Blue behavior(s). What Green Zone response(s) would counter the effect and help to heal versus traumatize them?
6) Take a look at some of the Green Zone scriptures each day. Visualize yourself engaging in then practicing them daily. Journal or share with others what happens when you practice them. Be encouraged and celebrate the positive changes and skills that define who you are and are becoming!
Level 3: Empathy (Splanchnon)
1) Your Heart will be Safe with me: “Your heart is safe with me” is the name of a blog post that I wrote on the subject of Empathy, that’s found in my book Cultivating Love: Daily Bread For Life, Volume I. Actually, there are 7 total posts in that book on the subject of Empathy, and I’ll integrate some of that material into these 5 points in this Level 3 subsection on Empathy.
Upon the foundation of Truth and Safety, we turn to and build in the necessary ingredients of Empathy, which invites you to handle the heart (and soul, and mind and body) of your Partner (you included) with great tenderness, care and gentleness. I’ll talk about what I think are the main ingredients of empathy, but for right now, I implore you to realize that a commitment needs to be made then conveyed that you will care for and handle the heart of your spouse tenderly and sensitively, with your words, expressions, feelings and actions, in order to develop an environment where a hurting heart that’s been devastated could begin, or continue in a process that’s devoted to helping her to heal.
But first, a word about the need for sensitivity and tenderness. The Ancient Greeks thought your Viscera (your internal organs such as your heart, stomach, liver, kidneys, intestines, reproductive system, etc.) is where your Visceral emotions (course, base, earthy or crude emotions, like suffering, but also where anger, fear and love) were thought to originate. Your Visceral organs are located in the large cavity of your body that we call your “Trunk.” If you place one hand at the base of your neck and your other hand at the base of your genitalia, everything in between is the vital area where your visceral organs are located.
What is of interest here is that the medical term for the part of the human anatomy that we call the Viscera is the Greek word Splanchnon. Even more interesting is that Splanchnon also happens to be the Greek word used in the Bible that translates into our English word “Compassion” (Matthew 9:36). So what point am I making here with this interdisciplinary lesson?
One of the most important takeaways for me is that if the “heart” is hurting, grieving, traumatized or misunderstood, then the appropriate response is compassion. When this vital part of ourselves or other parts is exposed (their emotions or our viscera), we’re encouraged to demonstrate a compassionate and empathetic response that conveys to the other (and in this case, your Partner) that their heart is safe with us. Simply stated, their viscera need our compassion. The best way to ensure that this is done…the best way to make sure their heart is safe with us, is to demonstrate compassion with our spoken words, tender touches and just as important, by providing a listening and empathetic ear that strives to understand their visceral emotions.
Think about it. As with any part of the human anatomy, if we have the opportunity to touch the inner parts or organs of another person, the hope is that we do this with great care and with tender and skillful attention, because whoever is touched is in obvious need of our help and our touch or the way we respond will determine if our spouse will feel greater pain, or, will begin to heal. So when others are feeling hurt, pain, anger, sadness, depressed, shamed, guilty or fear, empathy prompts us to demonstrate compassion to their viscera in order to fertilize healing outcomes. Their heart needs to be safe with us.
“We think we listen, but rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know” – Carl Rogers, Psychologist
Question: What behaviors might you need to adjust, because at this present time, they are harsh, hurtful and may actually harm your partner or spouse? What have you heard them say or what comes to mind? What are the compassionate actions that you already know will facilitate healing, and you just need to do more of them without being prompted by your spouse?
Action: You’ll want to add your responses to these questions in your 68° – 72°-degree Target Chart Worksheet, then begin to apply them each day, as if you were applying ointment to a wound that needs to heal.
2. The Ingredients of Empathy: The words below are descriptors or “the ingredients of empathy” that I’d suggest you incorporate into your relational diet, because the serving up and ingesting of these behaviors will help to facilitate nutritious, edifying and empowered outcomes when the curative agent of empathy is needed.
You may not need or use them in each conversation, but try to integrate them as nutritious snacks (brief phone calls or conversations), staple side dishes (conversations that occur regularly), or as the main entrée (after bouts of conflict when you know these are the only ingredients to be served in your effort to repair a rupture in your relationship).
So here are the ingredients of empathy, and I encourage you to become very familiar with them, and to stock them in the cupboard of your mind and heart so that you have them when you need them. Some of the “ingredients” of Empathy are:
a) Compassion: Compassion is one of the primary or “staple” ingredients of Empathy. Compassion infers demonstrating speech and behavior that is tender, kind and is considerate of the “innards” (literally the heart and other vital organs in the trunk of a person). Remember, to the Greeks, the heart was the seat of the emotions, and empathy is your attempt to understand the heart and the emotions of another.
b) Safety: We add Safety because it promotes calm, which promotes communication, which promotes connection and reconciliation in a relationship. Adding Safety to an encounter also reflects that we value and respect the physical, emotional, spiritual, talking and listening boundaries of others. Like adding liquid to any recipe, safety is a must in the empathetic process.
c) Sympathy: Sympathy infers that we try to feel what the other person is feeling, right then and there. It’s possible that your partner could be grieving or suffering; can you identify with his/her grief, loss or suffering experience? Demonstrating sympathy is a lot like trying to understand what may be impacting your spouse, then providing the appropriate response that the situation deserves.
d) Love: Love is a “binder” in any encounter that you wish to create with another person. Love reflects the distinct characteristics of Esteem, Favor, Honor, Acceptance, Respect and Devotion (to name a few) when we practice it. Empathy will take on a greater quality, consistency and substance when these characteristics are added. Think about these words; define them and then attempt to practice them, or, ask your spouse/partner what the behavioral manifestation of these characteristics would look like to them, then, as you are able and within reason, try to provide them.
e) Mercy: Mercy means we engage in a process where our contribution to the situation and/or person is to relieve distress, ease misery and to provide reasonable responses to alleviate the suffering of a person. To this end, Mercy is a valuable ingredient because not only is it the concrete expression of pity and compassion if your spouse is feeling hurt or devastated, but the practice of Mercy also facilitates psychological and physical healing. Keep Mercy close by!
f) Touch: The right amount of touch(ing) at the right time for the right reason promotes connection, care and love as you endeavor to serve up Empathy. A safe, warm, non-sexual but tight embrace at the right time promotes reconnection and reassurance between you and the recipient. It also helps a person to feel noticed, loved, anchored and valuable, which are important outcomes in the empathetic process.
g) Understanding: Understanding is another key staple of Empathy, as it infers you are asking questions and engaging in dialogue to thoroughly know the viewpoint(s) of your partner. Understanding is a compound word (“Together” + “to put”), and the meaning of the Greek word (Syneimi) speaks about your engagement in a process with each other to hear, perceive and comprehend, presumably with whatever issue you are both struggling through or working on. The meaning of the second part of this word (“to put”) describes the collecting together of the individual features of an object into a whole, as if you are collecting pieces of a puzzle and putting them together (so that you both see the picture). This word also means that reflection, pondering and “laying to the heart” (letting it sink in, deeply getting it and demonstrating you got it) is to occur in your process and is a result of your process also. Could you see how your integrating this “ingredient” could help to facilitate Empathy as you endeavor to work to understand each other?
h) Grace: Sometimes we just need a little grace from each other, or, we need to give grace to the other. The demonstration of Grace literally means to engage in behavior that causes and creates joy, pleasure and delight in your life and in your relationships, marriage or otherwise. It is used with some latitude to mean gratification, thankfulness, or appreciation for a kindness that is granted or desired. It also describes favors done without expectation of return. What does the demonstration of grace look like in your life? Who needs to receive it the most? How could your Empathetic process be strengthened if Grace is demonstrated one to another?
i) Peace: Peace is achieved when we lay aside wrathful behaviors (in our speech, mannerisms and body language) and look to impart behavior that facilitates calm, connection and safety. If combined with Safety, outcomes where healing is needed have a better chance to occur due to your work to eliminate any toxic behavior in the soil of your relationships and your marriage.
j) Collaboration: Collaborators or “Co-Laborers” as I use the word, find ways to use their personal energy to identify what is going on, then, within reason, they use their energy to take ownership and responsibility to create negotiated and meaningful outcomes. Collaborators don’t misuse their power or energy in destructive ways with each other. On the other hand, they work and communicate together to deal honestly and responsibly with their emotions, their needs and their expectations. Typically, when Collaboration is added to the Empathetic process, you are more apt to experience a win-win outcome in your interactions with each other because Equality and Empowerment are unique flavors of Collaboration.
k) Patience: From time to time, most dishes you prepare may call for you to add a little salt. Patience, like salt, is a critical ingredient of Empathy, because it not only gives Empathy flavor, but woven into the meaning of the word is our response to another which demonstrates we care about them. Why is that so? Because the Latin word Patiensmeans “I am suffering” (which is why we call the person in the hospital in need of some form of care, a Patient). So what is the reasonable form of care, attention, help or service that you could render to the person who is suffering and is in need of an empathetic response called Patience?
l) The Secret Ingredient: What’s your “secret ingredient,” which when used helps you to put the “wow” factor back in the outcome of your Empathetic process? What I have seen that makes one spouse sit up and take notice of the growth and maturation of the other is the skillful demonstration and application found in “Visiting the Gallery of the Heart” (Empathy #1). By visiting the Gallery of the heart of another, you are thoughtfully using speaking, listening and observation skills to take in the experience of the other, make sense of it, which will hopefully prompt you to deliver an appropriate response. This is truly a skill and demonstration of Empathy. However, since you know or are endeavoring to know your spouse, what have you learned about him/her that helps the two of you to re-engage with each other and maintain closeness, warmth and connection? Keep that ingredient close by!
Question: Which of these ingredients are you familiar with and currently practice, which results in healing outcomes with your partner? Which might you need to incorporate more of into your day-to-day encounters for mutually edifying outcomes?
Action: Ask your partner what he or she may wish to “consume” more of, because the production and ingestion of this behavior, like the scripture in Proverbs 16: 24 will become true: “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”
3) Empathy acquires “season passes” to visit the Gallery of the Heart: In a previous post, I likened Empathy as the two of you having a “lifetime season pass” to visit the most famous art gallery in the world, which is the gallery of the heart of your partner. Upon your frequent visits you’ll take time to view and take in all of the treasured and valuable pieces that are displayed on the walls of her or his heart, where you’ll interpret and comment upon what you’ve observed. When you visit the gallery of the heart like this, you’re exercising empathy, which Titchener described as “projecting yourself into what you observe.”
I encourage you to create moments in your calendar to make frequent visits to the gallery of each other’s heart, where you’ll take and use your communication skills to observe valuable thoughts and feelings to learn about, understand and appreciate the artwork that portrays horror, beauty, hope, vision, devastation, reality and serenity.
To the Offending Partner: When you “sit in a corridor and have time to talk about what you’ve observed,” what is your insight telling you about her circumstance? What questions do you ask to further inquire about her condition? What comments do you make or what behaviors are you moved to implement based on what you discover about your spouse? What books or resources are you inspired to pick up that will help you to understand then adequately respond to what you’re seeing?
To the Offended Partner: Does the gallery of your heart provide open hours and opportunities to be visited? Is there adequate lighting and space for your spouse to see and take in the finer pieces and nuances of what is written on your heart? Are you exhibiting the prominent pieces of art that need to be viewed and deserve attention, or are you hiding the most precious and sensitive pieces of your heart in storage?
Inferred in your empathetic process is time, consistent visits and adult-adult conversations that help you two to know the sensitive parts of your heart that needs, requires and warrants appropriate attention to facilitate healing.
Question: What’s your response to the questions in the subsection?
Action: Take time to share your responses with each other. If you don’t already have it on your schedule or calendar, make sure you plan frequent visits to the gallery of the heart of your spouse, where you’ll take with you the tools, skills, conversations and processes that will assist you to reverently take in, gain knowledge about, understand, appreciate and honor what you’re privileged to see and have discovered.
4) The Practical behaviors of Empathy: In Cultivating Love: When Secrets Surface (2014), I provided a list of 75 “Do’s” to cultivate Empathy, Sympathy and Compassion, in addition to 25 “Don’ts,” which eliminate Empathy, Sympathy and Compassion. I’d like for you to create a practical “Do’s and Don’ts” of behaviors you’ll be responsible for producing (or eliminating) in your relationship.
Feel free to incorporate insights you’ve arrived at from your readings, or, have drawn from previous conversations with each other, your 12-step meetings, sermons you’ve heard or counseling sessions as you create your list. Here are a few from the past to get you started:
Question: What actions come to mind that you’d like to include or eliminate?
Action: Jot down your “Do’s and Don’ts” behavior that will either cultivate or eliminate Empathy, Sympathy and Compassion.
5) Connecting and Redirecting for Empathetic (Level 3) and Care and Connection (Level 2) outcomes:
Are you ready to proceed to the remaining two levels of this triangle? I trust and hope you are! But know this: All of the work that you’ve committed to do in the previous three levels will deterime how successful you’ll be in accomplishing the tasks of the final two levels, and a good part of your success will depend on how well you do with the concepts and tasks of this partular point of “Connecting and Redirecting.” How so? Let’s take a look.
Do you remember Dr. Tina Bryson’s insights about “Connecting and Redirecting” in Choosing Change #13, when we visited your children’s room? Well the same concepts she encouraged you to implement when your children become dysregulated also apply and work to create good interpersonal neurobiology when the brain, body and mind of you and your spouse become dysregulated as well.
By now you know that all which is connected with Betrayal Trauma will create emotional flashbacks and dysregulation with you and your partner faster than either of you could blink your eyes. Your brains and minds may perceive threat, fear, shame, anger, rage, abuse, entitlement, etc., and your “4 F’s” (Fight, Flight, Freeze, Feign) will sabotage your ability to connect with each other to create “bio-balanced calm,” which helps you to redirect your energy toward attuned communication, which could result in problem solving and the other gifts of your Middle Prefrontal Cortex (like emotional balance, empathy, insight, morality, etc.) and anything else you may need for repair.
The title of one of her books, Whole Brain strategies: From reactivity to resilience is exactly what you’ll want and need to create between the two of you, if you’re going to move from Level 3 to Level 2, and your ability to Connect and Redirect from the emotional to the logical is critical. Not impossible, but critical. But you’ll have to move from the “downstairs” part of your brain (reactive and survival-oriented) to the “upstairs” (cerebral, reasoning, and good executive decision making) part of your brain which is the Connect-Redirect process.
So by the practice of telling the Truth (Level 5), working to create and maintain Safety (Level 4, and that’s between the ears and between each other!), and by becoming skilled at delivering Empathy and Empathetic behaviors at the right time for the right outcome (Level 3), you’re engaging in processes where your traumatized or dysregulated partner has the opportunity to see your behaviors, be seen and esteemed by you, and most importantly, to begin to see you’re not out to hurt nor harm her, but on the contrary, you’re focused on helping her to heal. When these critical processes are delivered continuously, you’re creating new connections in the brain and rewiring it so that mutual regulation and co-regulating behaviors become the norm (remember “the cells that fire together wire together!”).
Connection in this manner, coupled with behaviors like hugging, touch, validation and reassurance help the emotionally laden Right Hemisphere to calm down. When this occurs, the emotional flood that threatened to short-circuit the functioning of the logical Left Hemisphere recedes, leaving you with the (restored) ability to use that part of yourself to Redirect the energies of your brain and mind toward processes that not only protect connection, but will lead both of you toward communication, activity and solutions to the ever important needs you both have. Your engagement in the “Connection and Redirection” process creates the upward spiral that helps and inspires both of you and is the antidote to the negative, reactive and shame-based downward spiral, which helps no one but harms many.
So think about the communication, therapeutic (healing), psychological, recovery-based and spiritually empowered “tools” that you’ve used to help you to create a good triangle of well being within yourself, and good interpersonal neurobiology between each other. Remember the “66%-33% solution” in Choosing Change #2 and #3 that helped you to help yourself and love your neighbor as yourself by making reasonable contributions to your change process. Think about which components and activities you’ve discovered with the A-C-T-I-V-E model, the River of Integration (Psychological and Theological) and the “68° – 72° degree Target Chart,” that you’ll want to implement and practice now, because they hold keys that have assisted you to reach your goals in your change and maturation process.
Finally, think about the LoveWorks principles that you’ll fall back on, as well as the Wheel of Awareness (which we’ll look at again in Level 2) and how they have helped you to get closer to or achieve other goals you’ve made for yourself or your relationships. Do you see how they have, or could help you to be successful with Connection? With Redirection? With changing into the man or woman you’ve always wanted or need to become? Are you experiencing calm because you’ve created safe moments to talk? Are you feeling more self-assured because you feel like the truth you’re being told is matching up with the behavior that you’re seeing? If so, then you’re closer to cultivating healthy and loving behaviors that heal, nuture and authenticate change than you think!
Question: Which of the exercises in this book (or that you’ve become aware of and familiar with) will help you in your goal to Connect and Redirect your energies toward repairing ruptures while also continuing your growth? Is there anything you need to “monitor and modify” for better outcomes?
Action: Take time to revisit those entries, chapters, assignments or strategies. Reacquaint yourself with the ones that helped and commit to read or become familiar with the ones that you need to strengthen.
Level 2: Care and Connection (Engaging the Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex Functions)
Your goal with the Level 2 behaviors and processes is to capitalize on the foundational work of creating openness, honesty and transparency (Level 5), creating safe moments and experiences that facilitate containment and connection by becoming a safe person (Level 4), and by creating empathetic experiences that reflect you’ll be kind, compassionate and understanding with your partner (Level 3).
All of your work in the previous levels prepares you to take your repair process to another level (pun intended) where the best of your thoughts, insights and creativity to repair your relationship will focus on developing and delivering care, good communication and healthy expressions of loving behavior that not only seeks to heal a broken heart, but also provides fruitful behavior that edifies, empowers and transforms.
The first step toward accomplishing this is to draw upon the Wheel of Awareness principles you read about in Choosing Change #13. The Wheel of Awarness principles are important because by practicing them you’re helping your brain to move beyond the losing strategies of “attention on affliction” and toward brainstormed strategies that render self-care to yourself and others, alternative ways of viewing and integrating information, and the creation of strategies that reflect win-win outcomes. Using your brain, mind and energy in this manner promotes resiliency from illness and of course the end-goal of experiencing good interpersonal neurobiology with each other!
So let’s start with a brief reminder of the “saboteurs” on the wheel, which you’ll want to eliminate and extinguish because they simply thwart or defeat progress. Then we’ll look at how the Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex functions could help you to develop and deliver a higher form of care and communication to help heal your relationship. The saboteurs are:
a) Unintegrated Adversity: Distress occurs because critical or germaine issues about unfaithfulness or other important life issues are left out, not talked about, denied, defended against or dismissed. Not attending to nor focusing on these areas of your life or relationship means the proverbial elephant in the room will be ignored or neglected, which ensures more hurt and conflict will surface.
b) Dyadic Dysregulation: Distress occurs between the two of you because your energy is unwittingly (or intentionally) misspent on keeping the “Killer D’s” (Dishonesty, Disputes, Digs/Digging In, Defamation) alive. Not using your communication tools (Imago Dialogue) or giving yourself permission to blow past healthy boundaries (68° – 72° Target Chart) ensures you’ll devolve into Hostile Dependent eruptions or Conflict Avoidant inactivity, but never problem resolution marked by win-win outcomes.
c) Posttraumatic Repetition: Distress occurs because the triggered symptoms of postraumattic stress cause the predictable “4F” responses: Fights, Flights, Freezes or Feigned behavior. These triggered responses create Angry, Enraged or Entitled Child modes (Fight), Detached, Avoidant or Self-Soother modes (Flight), Passive, Surrendered or Self-Deprecating modes (Freeze) or Compliant, Subservient or Codependent modes (Feign), ensuring traumatic disruptions by intrusive memories from the past, or by ongoing abuse that’s currently displayed.
d) Emotional Flooding Skills: Distress occurs because the best of your awareness, insight and thinking that’s necessary to solve or resolve current issues is short-circuited by paralyzing or overwhelming emotions, like shame, pain, sorrow, rage, guilt, humiliation or devastation. There’s nothing wrong with having the emotions; the problems arise if there’s no plan nor process to take care of yourself or the current situation at hand before it deteriorates into the “hurt people hurt (other) people” cycle.
In order to get to the other side of the wheel of awareness, where opportunities to develop and deliver the higher form of care, communication and connection exist, you’ll want to employ simple, and I mean very simple processes that will help you to calm down, and “bio-balance” or regulate your body. Right now, you could be emotionally triggered, worked up and feeling very (fill in the blank). But you’ll only frustrate yourself and the other people involved, and worst yet, probably create new problems that didn’t previously exist if you don’t use the simple tools to come to your own assistance.
What are these tools that metaphorically (and literally) help you to reduce the emotional flood so that you’re able to access the best of your cognitive abilities? Here’s a few which, and if you don’t know it by now, spells out a word! This one’s “R-E-P-A-I-R.”
Employing “R-E-P-A-I-R” to access the Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex functions
R: Remove yourself from the stimuli. Kindly say you need a time-out for 5 mins., 20 mins., 2 hours, 12 or 24 hours, based on the intensity you’re feeling. When you’re separated from each other, make sure you immediately follow through with the remaining strategies.
E: Engage in repetitive cycles of deep breathing (inhaling and exhaling) for 5 minutes to calm down. Remember, you can’t be anxious and relaxed at the same time, and breathing in sends messages to your distressed Sympathetic Nervous System (the “Fight-Flight” part of you which needs to know you’re OK and the threat is removed), and exhaling is linked to your Parasympathetic Nervous System, which helps you to calm down and become relaxed.
P: Progressive Muscle Relaxation could help as well, where you tense up then methodically release the tension in your muscle groups, first from your head, then through your shoulders and arms, through your trunk and legs then finishing up with your feet. Remember, Relaxation begets Bio-balancing, and whether you know it or not, you’re actually engaging the first of the Nine MPFc functions, which is “Body Regulation.” But there’s more to repair.
A: Focus your Awareness on Aiming for the other side of the Wheel. Tell yourself the Answers are on the other side, and that’s where you want to Arrive.
I: Integrate any of the Choosing Change #1: Safe People, Safe Places and Safe Processes strategies (like creating your own psychological safe place to receive a consultation from your inner Obi-Wan Kenobi, Leia or Yoda). Or draw 4 – 5 principles from your 68° – 72° degree Target Chart to help you to course correct your behavior. Or how about reaching back and quickly reviewing The 12 Steps to Changing your Mind with Interpersonal Neurobiology, because after all, isn’t that what you want to create and get better at? You get the picture. Integrate winning principles and strategies that are part of your 180° turn to access the higher-level functioning located on the other side of the circle.
R: Returning to your Functional Adult status, marked by your use of these practical, psychological and theologically empowered tools means you’ve accessed your “light, compass and map” to exit the forest without causing additional consequence to yourself or others!
Question: Can you see yourself practicing the principles of repair to create emotional calm within yourself when any of the saboteurs threaten to derail you from your resolve?
Action: Take time to create then practice your own “R-E-P-A-I-R” process. It carries the weight and equivalency of dialing 9-1-1 because there’s an emergency that has occurred, and you need the skills of an Emergency Medical Technician to help you sustain life versus putting your life and relationship in peril.
Engaging your Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex Functions (MPFc)
Now that you’ve made a successful turn to the other side of the circle on the Wheel of Awareness, let’s take a look at how your Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex functions (MPFc)could assist you to accomplish the tasks that are associated with Level 2, providing a higher form of care and connection to each other.
With each of the nine functions, you’ll note the presence of one of the nine Fruit of the Spirit (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control – Galatians 5:22-23), where the integration and application of the virtue is intended to dynamically enhance the MPFc function described.
1) Body Regulation: This is the first of the Middle Prefrontal Coretex functions, and you already have a leg up on creating and accessing the benefit of this necessary function in your brain and body by employing the R-E-P-A-I-R strategy. I can’t say it enough: Your ability to access the other eight functions of your MPFc depends on your ability to be successful in regulating your body, so make sure you practice these principles and other strategies associated with creating physiological calm (like walking, yoga, aerobic exercise, breathing, and if walking or running, add other spiritual disciplines, like prayer, worship, reflection, contemplation, etc.) to activate the all important bilateral stimulation in the Right and Left Hemispheres of your brain for maximum insight and creativity!
The Fruit of the Spirit is Self-Control (Kratos). It describes someone who develops and possesses mental and physical strength and abilities because they’re continually engaging in and practicing specific, deliberate and intentional training processes, which helps and empowers them to be capable of producing positive results for any situation they are involved in. Like the athlete who engages in Self-Control, you’re encouraged to use your strength to regulate your body, so you’ll be successful in producing positive outcomes in your interaction with each other.
2) Attuned Communication: There are two goals here (actually, there are many, but we’ll only focus on two). Your first goal is to create “dyadic regulation” which is achieved when your brain, mind and body recognizes, values, promotes and protects interactions between the two of you that facilitate Peace (Eirene, which is not just the absence of strife, but is the production of undisturbed or untroubled harmony and well-being). Focusing on the creation of a home environment where you benefit from behavior and communication marked by the practice of truth, safety and empathy goes a long way toward the creation and enjoyment of attunement and peace with each other.
This first goal is also synonymous with creating a functional Triangle of Well-Being (remember, from the 12 Steps to Changing your Mind with Interpersonal Neurobiology), and when you’re practicing the principles to produce a good Triangle of Well-Being in yourself, then you’re positioning yourself to create and enjoy Attuned Communication, which is a part of good Interpersonal Neurobiology!
Your second goal hones in on the “guts” of Attuned Communication, which is achieved when you practice winning strategies like “Cooking with C.O.A.L,” that is, when you’re curious, open, accepting and loving in response to your partner or spouse when they share something with you. Their heart, their thoughts, their hurts and their hopes are respected and treated with dignity, no matter how much they differ from yours (remember the beneficial strategy called Differentiation!).
Attuned Communication endeavors to listen and understand, is collaborative and solution-oriented when needed, and strives to deliver compassion and care with the utmost goal of being sensitive, safe, compassionate and contained in speech and behavior. When these processes are identified and championed, then Attuned Communication will produce the internal states of calm, which is necessary for healing and the development of co-regulated states (again Interpersonal Neurbiology) which is a key ingredient of producing long-term love relationships.
The Fruit of the Spirit is Gentleness (Prautes). The main focus of this word encourages you to be in a humble position to hear from God, who will speak, instruct, counsel, convict then prompt you to accurately demonstrate specific behaviors that the situation you’re in dictates or deserves, at any given moment.
With the application of Gentleness (Prautes), you don’t contest nor resist the message and action you receive from your Higher Power, and the gentle response that God initiates in you (sometimes I describe this as “God dropping into your mind the next right thing He intends for you to do”). On the contrary, you humbly accept God’s instruction and endeavor to carry it out, because more than likely, a gentle response is what will facilitate Attunement between you two and will lead you closer to versus further away from your goal of delivering and experiencing healing and connection.
3) Emotional Balance:As with Body Regulation, you’re probably closer to creating and enjoying ongoing Emotional Balance due to the practice of the principles you’ve identified in your 68° to 72° degree Target Chart. Consistently engaging in your “Green Zone” behaviors helps you to produce outcomes that affirm and are adaptive, are focused and functional, and are inclusive and loving. Equally, by practicing Green Zone behaviors, you’re exercising good boundaries (and Self-Control) to avoid Intense or Cold behaviors that evidence strife, disconnection, dysregulation, numbness, anxiety and rigidity.
By staying in your Green Zone, you’re not only producing behaviors that promote balance with your emotions and respect for the emotional life of others, but you’re also rewriting the narrative regarding how you wish to live when you produce and reinforce habits that reflect which values are important to you, which is a critical component of the A-C-T-I-V-E Model.
The Fruit of the Spirit is Peace (Eirene), because Emotional Balance thrives in environments where your mind not only focuses on the elimination of behaviors that cause strife, but also focuses on and produces behavior that creates calm, tranquility, peace and well-being prosperity in your home and in your relationships, which is what Eirene stands for.
To produce and maintain Peace, I enourage you to make peace with God (“Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you” – Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430); make peace within yourself (“A heart at peace gives life to the body” – Psalm 14:30); then make peace with others (“If it is at all possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” – Romans 12: 18). Finally, recall the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”
4) Response Flexibility: Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn (or Feign) are automatic reactions when your brain perceives a threat, whether real or imagined. The biological chemicals associated with Posttraumatic stress (especially Betrayal Trauma) are instantaneously discharged throughout your body to prepare you to defend yourself, and please, there’s no crime committed when you’re moved to defend yourself when there’s an actual threat or an identifiable danger that’s made to your person or those who you love. But there’s one important thing to note here: Your automatic responses may limit or prohibit you from responding in new and creative ways to the emotional triggers that are “firing” within your system.
You’re not to be blamed for this reaction. Dr. Dan Siegel reminds us (in Choosing Change #11) that your brain may be “hijacked” because of the chemical explosion occurring in your brain and body, which creates a “chemically induced tunnel vision,” that causes you to “get lost in all the old familiar places” of Right Hemisphere Reactivity, as the chemicals tend to direct your (re)actions or responses.
The problem though is when the emotional flood occurs, it tends to short circuit your ability to access and implement the positive, logical, constructive and strategic responses (Left Hemisphere abilities) that could help you to deal with, solve or resolve the conflicted situation that you’re currently in. Simply said your Response Flexibility is limited, which is why the same old arguments, with the same old stale, frustrating or worst yet, tragic responses are being employed in your relationship, which is exasperating, especially when your situation needs and deserves a fresh and new way of looking at things that will lead you toward healthier and healing outcomes!
So envision a line graph numbered 1 to 10. Emotional flooding or trauma reactions limit your sight to the first four responses that are numbered 1 – 4 (Fight, Flight, Freeze or Feign – Right Hemisphere). Response flexibility creates more bandwith within your brain, permitting you to “think outside the box” so you’re able to imagine, create, brainstorm then implement and measure the effectiveness (Left Hemisphere) of options 5 – 10, which hopefully will be grounded in good cognitions and seasoned with your Green Zone values and processes.
The Fruit of the Spirit is Goodness (Agathos), because as the word infers, it guides you to engage in acts that are good, benevolent, profitable and useful. However, this particular fruit also inspires you to cultivate morals and values in your mind (see the necessity of Response Flexibility brought on by both hemispheres of your brain working in concert together?), and eventually in your behavior which are good, right, godly and true. The idea is to think about then practice these good actions regularly so that in essence you create a new default toward “numbers 5 – 10” in your mind all the time.
Finally, the end result with Goodness is such that if our mindset is influenced toward thinking about what is good, then we’re apt to engage in, act and deliver the good behavior that’s appropriate to the situation with others, even when it’s outside of our comfort zone. So instead of misusing your energy and allowing your mind to get hijacked and taken to a place neither of you would prefer to expire, think about (even if your thoughts are only aspirational) how you’d like to accurately place your energy by saturating your mind with thoughts about the good, beneficial and advantageous behaviors behaviors you’d like to provide to each other. This is the concrete and positive expression of Response Flexibility!
5) Fear Modulation: Modulating your fear could be one of the easiest or most difficult steps you’ll take. I prefer the easy path, and I hope you will as well! Why? Because you’ve already made a lot of progress by creating regulation in your body and mind, and we don’t want to overlook the momentum you’ve built, nor overlook the skills you’ve developed in (re)building your house so far.
Getting through this step occurs when you come to your own assistance to apply healthy, functional and loving principles for your own personal benefit when you’re feeling fearful. You simply need the Adult part of you to come to the assistance of the fearful Child part of you, then give yourself the next right, empathetic, kind, reassuring, comforting and loving behavior that you need.
You’ll know that you’re modulating your fear when you acknowledge, lean into and learn from your fear, versus ignoring or worst, run from or regress when you feel fear (or threatened, worried or anxious). What do you think this emotion wants you to know about yourself? What need does it signal that you’ll want to address and meet? What obstacle does it want you to run from and what barrier does it not what you to overcome?
Remember, Pete Walker, in his Complex PTSD book, reminds you that there are positive characteristics of the “4 F’s.” What are they? First, when I feel like Fighting, could the Adult part of me channel my energy into being assertive and courageous on my way to implementing boundaries for my self-protection?
Second, when I feel like running or “taking Flight,” could I channel my energy into taking a “Time Out to Take a Time In,” to reflect on my situation, devise a plan, strategy or action that’s good for me (and others) that I’ll execute when I come out of my time-out?
Third, when I surrender and Freeze, could I channel my energy to center myself, quietly pray, engage in contemplation and seek God’s will for the situation I’m in? Finally, when I feel like Feigning and being disengenious with my thoughts and behavior, could I channel my energy by breathing, calming down and try to focus on speaking my truth with love to others? If you could see yourself channeling your energy where your goal is to convert it into accomplishing positive outcomes for yourself and others, then you’re well on your way to modulating your fear.
Remember the calming words of Luke and Leia to a hyperaroused and possibly fearful Rey in the Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi: “You have everything that you need.” When you have the Adult part of you poised and ready to work on your behalf to cultivate safe, positive, constructive, affirming and loving outcomes, you have everything that you need to overcome your fear. Meet with your Inner Luke, Leia or Yoda (or God!) for reassurance, calm, empowerment, inspiration and direction, then “cortically override” your fear and move on to act courageously!
The Fruit of the Spirit is Love (Agape), because as you read in Changing your mind with the practice of LoveWorks, the Bible reminds you that “there is no fear in love, because perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). How does this occur? Well, when you’re practicing any of the ten descriptors of love, then you’re being intentional to focus and use your mind energy to create and manifest behaviors that are loving, esteeming, cherishing, respectful, honoring, favoring, accepting, prizing, abundant with relish and distinguished with devotion in all of your affairs. When you’re generating concrete behaviors like this, guess what you’re not generating? Fear. By default, Fear is displaced and is replaced by Love. Focus your mind and subsequently your actions on developing and delivering actions that are loving, toward yourself and others, and you’ll find yourself creating and demonstrating behaviors seasoned with love!
6) Insight: Insight encourages you to take an inward glance and use your ability to see, know, discern and understand yourself, each other, and how all of the collective pieces from your past and your present fit together, both cognitively and emotionally, as you endeavor to envision and create a hopeful, safe and loving future for yourself and your marriage.
When you take a “time out to take a time in” to reflect on, contemplate and know where you’ve been (and how you got there), where you’re currently at (and how you got there), what you’ve done (and the impact of your behaviors on others) but most importantly, what direction and destination you want to get to (and what it’s going to take to get there), then you’re exercising and using your Insight effectively.
Practically, this means pausing to look at, consider and take to heart the hurt that betrayal has inflicted upon those you want to love. It also means to look at and consider and take to heart the damage that’s been inflicted and the people who need you to engage in therapeutic actions to facilitate healing. Finally, and going forward, it prompts you to pause, consider and think through and consistently deliver truthful, trustworthy, safe, empathetic, kind and caring behaviors that will be part of your healing and part of the healing of others.
Choosing to use your energy in this manner means you’re consciously directing your will to make the choice to “cortically override” the mental default process in your brain and mind that resulted in the production of toxic, impulsive, selfish, entitled, malicious, maladaptive, dysfunctional, harmful and downright useless behaviors that wound up hurting people.
Equally, your purposeful use of Insight means you’re electing to remember and learn from past mistakes (that you don’t wish to recreate), and that you’ve resolved to live a life where your decisions lead you to think about, focus on and use your energy to generate therapeutic responses, behaviors and environments that are potent and will produce morally good outcomes, one day at a time.
The Fruit of the Spirit is Kindness (Chrestotes), and although you’d think that the beneficial properties of Kindness would primarily be for the benefit of others, the manifestation of this fruit actually focuses on the development of this virtue within yourself. Kindness goes right to the heart and root of your being, where you’re challenged to apply your will (with the help of your Higher Power) to develop “grace which pervades your whole nature, that mellows all that would be harsh(ungentle and unpleasant in action or effect) and austere (severe in manner or appearance; uncompromising, strict, lacking softness – Zodhiathes, 1996).” The practice of Kindness means your mindset is intent on producing (and safeguarding) beneficial environments where opportunities to convey that people are valuable and are to be treated as such is the way that you’ve chosen to live.
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God” – Philippians 1: 9 – 11 (TNIV)
7) Empathy: We’ve explored what Empathy means and it’s value in the previous level. Here, I simply encourage you to apply the principles of endeavoring to see what others see, feel what others feel, imagine what it’s like to be them and what they’re experiencing at any given time and endeavor to identify and understand what it’s like to live the life they’re living.
Employing observation skills to see, take in and understand, while also asking questions that demonstrate interest and curiosity are part of an empathetic process that helps others to know you’re present with them and they matter to you. When you’re invited (or when you seek permission) to share your nonjudgmental insights you reinforce that the environment is safe for connection because ingredients of healing like sympathy, tenderness, compassion and patience have become a regular part of your disposition and communication. Equally, engaging in the delivery of Empathetic statements and processes validates that you’re learning that there’s more than one way to look at and view issues in life.
The Fruit of the Spirit is Joy (Chara), which means “joy, to rejoice and gladness” and it describes that which causes joy, pleasure and delight in the recipient or the observer.” Joy is much different than happiness, which is dependent on circumstances or conditions working out in your favor. If things go your way you might feel and be happy; if they don’t then unhappiness, sadness, depression, gloom or grief might describe your experience.
On the other hand, Joy is an emotion, but it’s also the outcome of a complex set of spiritual and cognitive processes that results in you experiencing the emotion because you’ve learned to see, view, understand and accept life issues from a very different perspective. Let me explain.
When bad (or ugly, or traumatic) things happen to good people who don’t deserve those afflictions (i.e., Betrayal Trauma), it’s difficult to think that you could feel any other emotion than fear, rage, shame, depression or gloom. Perhaps, up to this point, you’ve lived your life and circumstances have worked worked out in your favor and you’ve experienced positive emotions connected to your life experiences. But when life turns sour, and the conditions don’t work out in your favor, the honest question that deserves to be answered is how can I grow beyond this life experience?
I’d like to suggest that one way to grow beyond the hurt and pain associated with your grief and loss is to invite your loving, kind and benevolent Higher Power, God, into the very midst of your circumstances. For me, when devastation hit our family with the loss of our daughter and sister of our son, I needed a power greater than myself to empower me, help me to understand the “whys and hows,” and to guide me through the tunnels of grief and anguish and into the light of hope, meaning and purpose. By inviting a “suffering servant who was familiar with pain, suffering and affliction” (Isaiah 53) into my life to partner with me (and carry me) and to help make sense of my experience, among other things, I not only began to experience healing, but I also began to experience hope and joy as my pain was converted into a passion and purpose to help others who have experienced suffering in their life as well.
It took more than a few weeks, months and years to transform, grow and get to the place I’m describing, and yes, there are still cloudy days that form in my life. However, my prayer for you is that Joy, which flows from connecting with a God who sees life beyond our devastating experiences, will partner with, carry you and impart into you empowerment, purpose, hope and a passion to live beyond your current set of circumstances.
8) Morality: Empathizing deeply with those who hurt, feel pain and have been devastated by your behavior means you’ll also introspectively come face to face to examine your mindset, your core beliefs and your resulting behaviors that requires a response to the questions “Who am I, What’s my purpose and How shall I live?”
Morality requires that you clear up and clarify once and for all the values, mores, ethics, virtues and principles that define your identity, what’s important to you and going forward, will reflect how you will live your life, especially in light of the actions you’ve committed in your recent or distant past. Will you own your past behaviors, become responsible for changing them, which means diving deeply into your Mind and Spirit to discover, work on, transform and retool your thinking, feeling and behavioral processes? Henri Nouwen reminds us “when our wounds cease to become a source of shame and become a source of healing we have become wounded healers.” Will you become a “Wounded Healer” or remain an “Unhealed Wounder?” There’s a lot riding on the outcome of what you choose to do regarding the renewing your mind (Romans 12:1 – 2).
Morality invites you to look in the rear-view mirror of your past to discover, learn about, acknowledge and work through any trauma, schema and personality issues that shaped your identity and subsequently your behavior.
But Morality doesn’t stop there, because Morality, and hopefully these newly found principles that accompany it, helps you to turn around, look through your windshield and with your new “cognitive GPS” identify not only the direction and path you’ll take toward healthy living, but also the “stops and shops” that you’ll become very familiar with where you’ll acquire reason, skill, insights, wisdom and other valuable tools that will be useful and integrated into your mind for the reminder of your life journey.
Are you willing to upgrade your Morality Mindset from an outdated, virus-laden “me-focused 1.0” version to an insightful, moral guided and “we-oriented 2.0” version in your mind and life? Will you become faithful to it’s prompts and programs that reflect a new mental, spiritual and moral operating system ? If so, you’re on your way to creating new outcomes that are marked by Morals and Morality.
The Fruit of the Spirit is Faithfulness (Pistis), and it means (and infers) we have a “firm persuasion, conviction or belief in the truth or reality of something.” One thing that I’m convinced about is that my God wants nothing more than for me to be a fruitful human being. How do I know this? Allow me to share a few verses with you:
“I am the Vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” – John 15: 5, 8 (TNIV).
For me, the fruit of Faithfuness is demonstrated when I choose to live out my convictions one day at a time by engaging in and by demonstrating practical behaviors that are reasonable and functional to me, and are honorable and beneficial to others, simply because of the God who loves me and because of the Spirit who lives inside me.
When thinking about Betrayal Trauma, the question is will you remain convicted and convinced that you have a job to do, which not only is to integrate moral principles that guide you to live a life that harms no one, in this case your Partner, but also beckons you to remain faithful and true to loving your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:29 – 37) by engaging in therapeutic behaviors that facilitate healing, as described in this chapter much less this whole book? Your words matter, but your faithful actions that reflect a daily choice to change yourself, your marriage, your family and other environments by the practice of moral behavior is probably what matters the most.
9) Intuition: And with Intuition, we’ve come full circle (or we’ve looked at all nine of the MPFc functions of this side of the circle!). Intuition occurs after you’ve read, listened to, sought out and integrated moral, psychological, emotional and relational information that helps you to understand all that is contextually associated with causing and healing from Betrayal Trauma.
I say after because when you’ve “crunched all of the psychological data,” you’ll want to turn to your body for more biological information and data about your circumstances via internal sensations, cues and processes that when listened to will inform your mind (MPFc) and which in turn will guide how you respond behaviorally.
Remember, as you read about in Choosing Change #13, when you looked at the Child, Adolescent and Adult Goals, Activities and Skills information, your body is full of messages to listen to, explore and affirm. Your Intuition, coupled with the integration of other forms of information from your MPFc will inspire you to act for your own benefit when you feel unsafe, move closer and risk vulnerability when truth matches behavior, or offers affirmation and gratitude when you feel loved, supported and connected.
Equally, your intuition may signal to one or both of you there is unfinished business to discuss or transact, or there are change and growth processes that require healthy doses of Patience in your journey toward repairing ruptures and facilitating healing expereinces. This is why Patience, the next and last Fruit of the Spirit to be addressed in this subsection might be one of the most critical.
The Fruit of the Spirit is Patience (Makrothymia), and typically relational healing processes of any kind will be strengthened by the presence of, demonstration and “consumption” of this fruit.
Patience means and deals with suffering experiences (as it specifically means “l-o-n-g s-u-f-f-e-r-i-n-g”), and as we learned in Level 3 where we looked at the subject of Empathy, the viscera of a person who’s recovering from Betrayal Trauma needs not only empathy, sympathy and compassion but also Patience, as the Latin word for Patience is “Patiens,” which means “I am suffering” (which is why we call the person in the hospital needing or recovering from a medical procedure a Patient).
From my perspective, one of the most loving, fruitful or restorative behaviors that you could deliver to yourself or to others who are attempting to recover from suffering experiences, loss, trauma or injury (and all of these and more could be experienced with Betrayal Trauma) is this particular Fruit of the Spirit. So allow me to close this Level with a word about the necessity of Patience to the Offended and the Offender:
To the Offended: You are attempting to recover from some form of trauma that you have experienced in your body, mind, soul or spirit, and the recovery period wherein you’re experiencing some form of suffering will take time (plus work) as you move toward healing. Take your time and balance your actions with getting the rest, body regulation that you need to experience emotional balance and the other functions of your MPFc, but also make time to do your work to “exercise and work” your psychological, spiritual and biological muscles to assist in your healing processes.
To the Offender: Your partner is in the process of healing from suffering, grief and trauma and I enourage you, to the best of your abilities to practice love, care, empathy (again, which is being tender with her innards), which is what any Doctor would want you to know to assist in her healing. More than likely you may be he “neighbor” who is closest to her to facilitate and deliver reasonable responses to her, which is like medicine to help to ameliorate her suffering.
However, know that her suffrering experiences from the trauma that she has experienced will more than likely take longer than you probably have the patience for, so make sure you plant, harvest and consume a lot of patience for your good (through the practice of spiritual disciplines) so that your actions are liberally seasoned with insights and behavioral applications from your MPFc as well.
Question: What are your thoughts about the Nine Functions of the Middle Prefrontal Cortex? What insights are you “leaving with” and what stood out the most that you see yourself practicing? (Additional space is provided on the next page for your notes and comments).
Action: Take time to create some of the actions you’re formulating or have arrived at from reading the information about the Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex Functions. As mentioned earlier, draw from other items in the book that will help you in your planning processes to deliver behaviors that help, heal, create hope and facilitate change.
In closing this level and turning to our last level, you probably know where this is going. The greatest medicine, the best antidote, the most powerful serum that could help to heal a ruptured relationship where the heart if broken is Love: the Greatest of all.
Level 1: Love (The Ten descriptors of Agape Love)
“Do everything in Love” – 1 Corinthians 16:14 (TNIV)
Thank you for your diligent and hard work to reach the top and final level of the Hierarchy of Needs Triangle, which is the demonstration of Agape Love. As I’ve said before, my definition and your definition of Love will probably differ, and I appreciate you being open to learning about how I conceptualize, understand and suggest how Love, when aptly understood and delivered, will not only help to heal deep wounds caused by unfaithfulness, but will provide a springboard, environment and fruitfulness to edify and nourish a relationship that needs and deserves love for the remainder of your days. Again, thank you for your openness to discovering a new way to view, develop and apply Agape Love.
As a brief reminder, please know that the curative actions associated with Love flow from the presence of the behaviors described in the previous levels. From Level 5 you learned that Love stands on the foundation of Truth because Love promotes life, and the Truth as you read, is not lethal. From Level 4 you looked at how Love produces behaviors and thrives in environments (i.e., head, heart and home) that are Safe.
From Level 3 you looked at how Love, flowing from the integrity of Truth, and the presence of Safety fertilizes your ability to develop and deliver the skill of Empathy, which yearns to know, understand, calm, connect with and protect the heart that is healing. In Level 2, once the heart is calmed by engaging in Empathetic processes, you were challenged to take your demonstration of Love to a higher level, where your mind focuses on producing inspired, reasonable, logical, creative, good, practical and beneficial behaviors that facilitate Care and Connection with each other.
Which leads us to this final level, where the combination of these behaviors are infused, empowered and capped with what I think is the most powerful binder and ingredient of healing of all, which is the production and demonstration of Agape Love. After I describe how these definitions for the words that describe Agape Love came to be we’ll look at how this virtue “seals the deal.”
The 10 Descriptors of Agape Love
Dr. Spiros Zodhiates and his team of Biblical Scholars produced the Hebrew – Greek Key Study Bible (1996). In this Bible, Dr. Zodhiates defines Agape Love as being the behavioral manifestation of 10 words that describe and demonstrate Agape Love. When developed and applied, these words describe a person who Loves, Esteems, Cherishes, Respects, Favors, Honors, Accepts, Prizes, Relishes and demonstrates Devotion. Thankfully, I’m glad that God, through this team of researchers, boiled it down to these 10 descriptors because it keeps it simple.
As I did my study, I reasoned that since these 10 words define what Agape Love is, then it made sense to me to let the Bible also provide definitions for each of the 10 words as well. So, in my study, I looked up each of the 10 words as they are found in the Old and New Testaments.
What I discovered as I read the Hebrew and Greek definitions of the 10 descriptors simply left me saying “wow” as I not only began to understand what love is, but also how much God loves us by the behavioral application of these words. I never looked at Love from such a vantage point as this, and I’ll never define the word Love without including the behavioral processes that characterize the fulfillment of the word either. There’s so much to gain when the words are practiced and so much is lost if the translation is excluded!
So my studies helped me to clearly see how God loves us in such a magnificent, unprecedented and practical manner, and He wants us to not only thrive in this unique expression of Love, but He also wants us to reproduce the essence of love (with His help) in a manner that’s realistic and achievable for our benefit and for the benefit of others.
So it makes sense to me that everything that has to do with life, living, healing, connecting, building, nurturing, teaching and correcting is to be flavored with the mature expression and demonstration of Agape Love. That’s why Love is the tip of the triangle, the binder that keeps the triangle together and the foundation upon which the triangle exists; without the supremacy of Love, we have nothing, but with the presence of Love we have an abundant life that delivers everything that we need.
Finally, I defined these words in two previous books, Cultivating Love: When Secrets Surface (2014) and in Cultivating Love: Daily Bread for Life, Vol. 2 (2018) as well as on my blogs (Dr. Ken McGill’s Blog and Daily Bread For Life). As time permits, I’d encourage you to take a look at these references not because the definitions are different, but possibly to obtain a different picture of how these words could be applied in other contexts in your life. So let’s look at how the development and application of Love will facilitate healing behaviors and outcomes that are needed and welcomed.
1) Love (Agapao): It’s interesting that Dr. Zohdiathes and his team included the word “Love” as one of the ten descriptors in the list, but it makes sense because Love, like all of the other words that describe Agape, is an action word, and if we’re going to say we love someone then our actions need to line up with the word as we say it, define or use it.
Love may describe the feelings you have for someone but here, the fulfillment of Love is demonstrated by actions that include and demonstrate all of the behaviors connected with the other nine words in the list, if you want your actions to qualify and be “credited” as Loving behavior.
Think of Love as being the combination of ten essential ingredients that are poured into the foundation that supports the house you’re building. If the foundation does not contain all of the ingredients or components of Love, then your foundation and home will eventually reflect instability because when something critical is missing, then you’ll eventually realize that something is missing and you’re building on shaky ground.
Or think of Love as the being the combination of ten instruments or ten procedural steps that are necessary and crucial to perform a successful open-heart surgery operation; take away any tool or step and the patient may not live to survive the operation. To me, the application and demonstration of the components of Love are that important!
On the other hand, as you begin to practice these components of Agape, notice how each supports, informs, resuscitates, creates change, meaning and purpose that facilitates healing, and eventually behaviors that are trustworthy, safe, empathetic, caring and above all, Loving. You simply cannot miss when you practice Love, and your processes will reflect maturity, wholeness and completeness when you endeavor to include all ten of the descriptors in your actions.
So as you move on to the other nine descriptors of Agape, try to focus on becoming intentional and dedicated to their development and delivery of Love in your life and in your relationships.
The best way to do this is to apply the “G.A.S. up” principles we discussed in Choosing Change #12. When you think about the development of Love and the descriptors below ask yourself what are the appropriate Goals that you’re are aiming for, what are the Activities you’re going to consistently engage in to shape your thinking processes and acts of Love, and what are the Skills that you hope to demonstrate, based on your continual practice of these behaviors that constitute Love?
Your commitment to focusing your Brain, Mind and Spirit on appropriate behaviors that demonstrate Love is the best gift you could give to yourself and to your partner. But remember what we discussed in Choosing Change #4 as we spoke about Gardening with Intention: Even though you don’t see the initial results immediately, I encourage you to not abandon your work nor the garden of your marriage.
On the other hand, as you’ll see when you read the Agape descriptor called Cherish (#3 below), “plant the seed and grow the behavior.” Be patient with the process of cultivating love, knowing that your focus and effort will produce results that edify and heal! Thanks for making the development and delivery of Love a priority in your life!
2) Esteem (Hasab): The word Esteem is found in 2 Chronicles 26: 14 – 15, and it describes King Uzziah’s thinking processes and clever military actions that he devised to “protect this house,” that is, the people and inhabitants of his Kingdom; those who he led, loved and he served.
The core idea of the word is to use the best of your thinking to create tools, weapons, processes and strategies to protect yourself and the “inhabitants in the castle,” because if you focused your mind on using your energy to develop winning strategies to protect them (i.e. your spouse and family), the result is they would feel esteemed. This is what God does for us, in protecting us from the Enemy of Humanity (John 10:10), and this is the process and resulting actions that He’d like for us to reproduce in our effort to protect those we say we love.
Practically, what strategies have you created to do battle against any person, process or entity that wants to defeat you and your family, especially if the enemy shows up in self-sabotaging thinking in your own mind (sometimes we could be our own worst enemies!)? How is the essence of Esteem being demonstrated on a daily basis in your mind and in your life? What steps have you put into place to ensure that you “have the back” of your family members? Are they feeling peace in the castle because they observe and know that your behavior is focused on protecting them, your sexuality, your recovery, your marriage and your family? If so, then you’re doing a great job of planting, growing, harvesting and delivering the Agape Love component of Esteem.
3) Cherish (Samar and Ra’ah – OT; Horao – NT): Cherish or Cherising is connected to the directive, responsibility and role that God gave to Adam in Genesis 2:15 (“The Lord God took the man and put him in charge of the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it”).
The core idea of the words that describe Cherish/Cherishing is to use your intellect and creativity to fulfill your role and responsibilities of taking care of the garden, and when this responsibility is fulfilled, the observers (Adam included) should expect to see something awesome occuring, bordering on the miraculous (John 11:4, 39 – 40).
Of course the garden that we’re to work in is our mind (I am made of soil mind you – Genesis 2: 7-8), the mind, body and spirit of our partner, and the same with our family members. Using our mind to strategize, reason, examine and problem solve what behaviors that evidence care, attention, help, service, ministry to self and ministry to others and how we’ll plant, water, nurture, prune, fertilize, harvest, consume and be strengthened by is inferred in the definition and process of Cherishing.
Is this not what God does with us? And how does this process of Cherishing others or working for positive, constructive and edifying outcomes show up in your daily actions in the garden you’re “charged” to care for and cherish? Does your body and mind reflect that you’re using your energy effectively so that from the moring until noon you’re demonstrating progress and growth, with additional progress and growth that is seen and measured when you return then complete your activites at sundown? If so, then you’re doing a great job of caring for your garden and delivering the Agape Love component of Cherishing/Cherish.
4) Respect (YADA – OT): There are three English words that flow from this Hebrew word and beautifully interact with each other: Respect, Intimate and Knowledge and the “interplay” of the words helps us to know God, know ourselves, and to know each other. YADA actually points to two people becoming so close and intimate, in knowledge, and behavior, that the word is used to describe intercourse as well (remember the King James Version of Genesis 4:1, where “Adam knew Eve and she conceived and bore Cain…?” the same word is used here).
So how does Respect, Intimate and Knowledge compliment each other as they flow from this Hebrew word? Here’s three important ways.
First, YADA speaks about the processes that help you to gain and grow in knowledge: by exercising perception, discernment, recognition and insight, then to understand, integrate and act on the information to make good and wise decisions, that depict you’re becoming wise or “skilled at living.”
Second, YADA also means that you’ll continue to use your tools and this information to engage in activity to learn about God (think the practice of your spiritual disciplines: study, prayer, contemplation, etc.), learn about yourself (through reflection, introspection, insight and intuition, etc.) and to learn about your partner (or others), by asking questions and becoming curious about who they are.
Finally, YADA would lead you to not only know this vital information about God, yourself and others, but it also means that you’ll take concrete steps to make yourself known to others, because when you reciprocally engage in processes to know then share yourself with others, you’re actually “producing” intimacy.
The main idea with YADA is that if you know and become familiar with and integrate into your being the attributes and character of God. Once familir with and integrated into your life, you use them reciprocally in your interactions with others to show who you are and to learn about them. Once you’ve demonstrated who you are and learned about who they are, more than likely this will lead you to demonstrate behavior that respects and values who they are; behaviors that evidence help versus harm; behaviors that reflect and demonstrate Agape Love. See how the three words weave together for a beautiful outcome?
Can you see how the integration and application of these principles leads you to become open and transparent, vulnerable and safe, curious and knowledgeable, intimate and respectful, focused and productive, fruitful and mature? If so, then you’re well on your way to demonstrating Agape Love by the production of this virtue!
5) Favor (Yatab – OT; Charis – NT): The Old and New Testament words used to describe this characteristic of Agape also define another English word we know called Grace. Favor/Grace speaks about your ability to not only do well, but to be pleasing, good, beautiful, kind, lovely, fruitful, cheerful and joyful (If it sounds familiar it’s because Charis is the same word we looked at in Level 2: Joy).
The demonstration of Favor reflects your contribution in words and actions that build up the other with no expectation of repayment in mind. You simply are committed to doing the right thing, at the right time to effect and produce the right outcome, which is never harsh, but only what is beneficial for the other (“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit [charis] those who listen”– Ephesians 4:29, TNIV).
Interestingly, Solomon shares in Proverbs 18:22 that “he who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord” (TNIV; notice that it doesn’t even say a ‘good’ wife, but a wife!). Solomon goes on to describe the favor othat a wife brings to a marriage in Proverbs 31: 10 – 31, where he lists the attributes, characteristics, qualities and benefits that her husband and family receive as she demonstrates this virtue.
A few of the benefits that describe Favor are:
- a noble character (v.10)
- trustworthiness (v.11)
- being consistently productive (v.12)
- being eager with work (v.13),
- is punctual in providing sustenance (v. 14),
- is committed and sacrificial (v. 15),
- is a visionary but also industrious (v. 16),
- is capable and follows through on plans (v. 17),
- acquires resources to get the job done (v. 18),
- is very considerate of the broken-hearted (v. 20),
- prepares for the unexpected (v.21),
- supports her (his) spouse in public (v. 23),
- is creative (v. 24),
- has developed fortitude and is not easily intimidated (v. 25),
- is learning how to be skilled at living, especially when it comes to communication (v. 26),
- is attentive (not idle) to the needs of those living in the house (v. 27),
- earns the praise of her/his peers due to healthy behaviors (v. 28)
- is praised for having a vibrant spirituality (v. 30)
- and receives the appropriate reward for jobs well done (v. 31)
Could you see yourself focusing to develop and deliver behaviors that typify Favor to your partner and to your family? What might you need to change to become a man or woman who regularly provides this quality of edifying “fruit” to those who need it? If you could see yourself uploading and operating from this particular template then you’re on your way to providing Favor to your family!
6) Honor (Kabed – OT; Doxa and Timao – NT): This characteristic of Agape means you give something of great value to (yourself and) another person, so that they feel valued, impressed and “weighted down” with the goods, property, money and basically the abundance of your gift, so that they in turn feel wealthy because of the actions that you bestow upon and deliver to them. Demonstrating and treating the other person as one who has distinction, recognition and prestige is also inferred in the meanings of these words.
The simple takeaway regarding the word Honor is since your behavior reflected dishonor and dishonorable behavior to you partner, then in what way will you reverse you thinking, behavior and the environment in which you live and within reason, build, demonstrate behavior and protect your ability to deliver honor to him or her?
God provides honor to us by giving His Holy Spirit to us as a down payment (2 Corinthians 5:5) to be “paid in full” when we come into His presence. For me, among the many reasons that He’s done this is to prompt me to see, think, know then act to do the “next right thing” in my behavior with others, that conveys to them that thy have great worth in my eyes and in my presence.
If your Higher Power so illuminates, guides, “reminds” or inspires you, what are the behaviors that you’re prompted to create and deliver, that convey to your partnrer that he or she matters to you? The behaviors don’t have to be profound, but I would encourage you to move beyond the “subtracting of the negatives,” and into the “development and delivery of the positives.”
What could that look like? It could be to live a life of amends where you endeavor to practice not only the principles discussed in this Hierarchy of Needs Triangle continiously, but also the principles that have helped you to choose and maintain the changes in your life that you’ve learned as a result of reading this book. Or what specific, measurable and concrete behaviors have you heard from your partner or other stakeholders in your life that if delivered, would help your partner to feel special, important or valued? If you could see yourself developing and delivering these behaviors consistently, then you’re well on your way to providing behaviors and environments that will help your spouse to not only heal, but to feel honored by you!
7) Accept (Nasa and Bahar – OT; Dechomai – NT): There are three words that define and describe the virtue of Acceptance, a component of Agape. The first one means to “raise or lift up our face, eyes, voice or soul, then, to bear, carry or carry off something.” The second word describes the process of Acceptance: that Acceptance is only awarded after a thorough testing and proving process where keen observation and careful deliberation has been exercised.
This second word (the Hebrew word Bahar) is used to describe the process that King David took when he picked five stones from a stream that he would eventually use to kill Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40; Of note here is that David did such a good job of “Accepting” the right stone after he raised it up to his face that it only took one to accomplish his objective!).
Finally, the New Testament word means “to take and receive deliberately and readily,” as the word suggests receptivity, favor or interest in what is being given to you.
Taken together, these three words suggest that Acceptance is a process and an outcome that we go through, where behaviors are looked at with scrutiny. When those behaviors have been determined useful and credible, then we’re encouraged to receive and admit into our mind and heart what we have observed and experienced.
So what does the virtue of Acceptance look like practically? Well, tt makes sense to me that before Acceptance is granted, the behavior or process that is under consideration will be scrutinized (not judged nor criticized) to determine if it is credible, real and will do the job. If it is useful, functional, edifying, “passes muster” and is effectual, then it stands to reason to be accredited as Acceptable and subsequently deserving to be Accepted and “brought into the heart” by the receiver.
God offers credible behavior that is worthy of scrutiny then Acceptance into our lives all the time. For example, when we pick an orange from an orange tree and cut it open, we expect to see and taste a piece of fruit that’s by definition an orange, which is not a carrot, a muffin nor a wrench. When you tell your partner you love him or her, then it makes sense to me the behavior you’re positing to eventually be accredited and Accepted as love undergoes some scruitiny, because perhaps in the recent past you attempted to pass off “loving behavior” that resembled an apple, but unfortunately if turned out to have a worm in it, or razor blades or worst yet, was made of wax!
Know that your Partner deserves and will scrutinize your behavior because that’s implicitly a part of the process of granting Acceptance but if you engage in and produce behavior that is deemed credible, then more than likely it will result in and will be called “Acceptable.” If you’re planting then producing behavior which like a fruit, is real to the touch, is beautiful and pleasing to the eye, and is nutritious to the body and refreshing to the soul and uplifting to the spirit, then you’re well on your way to demonstrating behavior that qualifies as Love and deserves to be taken in as Acceptable!
8) Prize (Brabeion and Stephanos – NT): There are two words that are used in 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 27 that explain this characteristic of Agape. The scripture from the passage reads as:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” – 1 Corinthians 9: 24 – 27 (TNIV).
The two New Testament words used here are Brabeion and Stephanos. Brabeion has a dual meaning. A Brabeion is the prize or award that goes to the winner of the games, however, a Brabeus (“Bray-be-us”) was the Umpire, Judge or Head official who awarded the prize, only after determining that the contestants followed the rules and ran a valid and certifiable race. Stephanos was the crown or wreath that was placed on the head of the victor, usually by the Brabeus.
The prize or crown that was given to the victor or winner of the race was an ornament and honor bestowed only to one. In the events of the Isthmian games that Paul is referencing, there was only one first place winner, and we could extrapolate with other games, only one gold medal winner and only one blue ribbon winner. Only one person won the first-place prize.
Taken together, these two words that describe this characteristic of Agape demonstrate that God’s crowning achievement, men and women, receive the first-place prize (and are subsequently encouraged to give the first-place prize to others as well). We are the ones in His creation who get to walk on two legs versus four, we are the ones endowed with a full range of emotions and higher reasoning to boot, and we are the ones that can appreciate and enjoy all His creation in full. Human beings are the recipient of the first place prize given to us by God (Psalm 107:31, Psalm 139:14-15).
So, the question is what will the blue ribbon, gold medal or first place activity and effort resemble that you’ll shower upon your partner to help them know they’re first place in your life and they’re deserving of such treatment and energy? Like the Olympian sprinter, how will your recovery display that you’re all in and are committed to giving 4 years of dedicated effort for a race that could be 10 seconds long? What form of “strict training” might you undergo that, while agonizing, prepares you to contest in battle against the Enemy of Humanity as well as to win back the hearts of your spouse and your family?
I pray you realize that second place effort(s) will never deliver to you nor to your spouse the gold medal that he or she deserves, so gear up to focus your will, energy and effort to deliver outcomes that evidence and yield you’re operating with a blue-ribbon state of mind!
9) Relish (Nepes and Nasa – OT): To define this characteristic of Agape we return to a previous word used to define Acceptance (“Nasa”). Nasa means “to raise or lift up one’s face, eyes, voice or soul, and to bear, carry, or carry off something.” Nepes, another important word in the Bible, defines our breath, life, or that immaterial part of ourselves that we call our soul.
To the Hebrews, Nepes is the “passionate existence” of an individual, and is used to describe our appetite, our craving, our desire and that which we take and receive delight in, whether the delight or craving is directed toward God (Psalm 42:1-2), or for the “soul mate” your heart desires to love (Song of Songs 3:1–4).
Practically, and on the lighter side, relish, or that which is sweet, savory, appetizing and is the pleasurable appreciation of anything, is not too far from the deeper meaning of the word. When you relish something, you’re simply focusing your life energy and your passion, toward that which you crave or feel passionate about, with your enjoyment being a result of your behavior. Your passion could be directed toward God or man, husband or wife, addiction or sobriety, a hamburger or a milkshake.
I describe addiction as the misplacement of your passion (your energy, your resolve, your best decision making), while recovery reflects the accurate placement of your passion. The question is, who or whom will you direct your soul or passion toward, not to mention your heart, your mind and your strength to drive home the point that you are passionately interested in them (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27)?
If you’ve allowed something other than your loved ones to usurp your energy, especially your sexual energy, then this descriptor of Agape encourages you to reclaim, redeem and refocus your energy back toward the one who deserves it (or, to develop it if it has been suppressed or stolen from you – Jeremiah 4:30). Refocusing your desire toward the one who shares your wedding anniversary and learning to use your creativity to cultivate healthy and passionate sexual encounters that leave you relishing what you have, and wanting more, is the idea behind Relish and is a prime aspect of what cultivating love and “life in the ring” is all about.
Remember what we discovered in the fourth descriptor of Agape (Respect); transferring knowledge to each other facilitates intimacy and respect. This aspect of Agape invites you to talk about what brings pleasure and connection to each of you, especially pleasure behind your bedroom door, and when you discover what brings pleasure and connection to your spouse and become committed to this part of your growth process, then you’re accurately placing your passion in the ring and are well on your way to cultivating behaviors that reignite intimacy, recreates healthy bonds and of course, cultivates a passionate love for each other.
Finally, you’ll also want to remember that one’s very life energy or soul is involved here. I’ve heard a few partners describe Betrayal Trauma being akin to “soul murder.” So the question is how will your actions treat the immaterial part of her called the soul? I’d like to suggest that your actions need to line up with your intent, and your intent is to engage in and deliver behavior that resuscitates and breathes life into her soul. Anything less isn’t a positive option, and really shouldn’t even be considered an option at all! So where, how and in what manner do you consistently prove that what is written on your heart and enabled by your breath is your commitment to produce behaviors that are solely focused on enhancing life?
10) Devotion (Kun – OT; Scholazo – NT): This tenth and final characteristic of Agape (Kun) encourages you to be ready, prepared, firm, steadfast, faithful, reliable and certain. Kun also speaks about a person who works to bring something into existence (i.e., a meal, your personal spiritual growth, reconciling behavior in a marriage, etc.), and describes the actual preparation for that event. Kun is also the personal satisfaction that a person receives when they know that their heart is devoted to God, and God is directing his or her path in life.
You’ll find Scholazo in the New Testament and when you pronounce Scholazo, you may hear the English words Scholar, and School, which also originate from the word. Scholazo means to devote oneself to something, a task or a process. A scholar is a person who is highly educated or has an aptitude for study, and as a reflection of his or her devotion, is recognized as a specialist in each branch of knowledge.
Taken together two these words describe Devotion as a disciplined, rigorous and involved process of personal learning and preparation, for you to create something that gives you distinguishable credibility upon its completion. When others observe the outcome of your work that represents your devotion, the “WOW,” factor is probably the first thing that comes to their mind and more than likely the first words that roll off their lips.
When you think about God and how you’ve seen God show up in your life, what “wow” statements come to mind? Was it a beautiful sunset at a beach, a drive through the mountains, a photo safari in Africa? Did those experiences of viewing God’s handiwork cause you to say wow?
How does your life reflect you are co-partnering with God and as a result of your connection, He’s shaping your brain, your thoughts, your feelings and your actions, where the end results demonstrate you’re creating something that doesn’t already exist (like a renewed mind and a restored relationship)?
How are you “Working for the WOW!,” where you, your partner or others observe and take notice of the sum total of your work, and are profoundly impressed by your “scholarly dedication” to processes that repair and heal, edify and grow, are wise and mature, and set you apart as someone whose heart, will and energy expenditure truly reflects Devotion?
Please remember, we’re not talking about perfection, but we are talking about your engagement in a process of work to generate something of meaning, worth and of value; simply a reflection of your Devotion, and your Love, to yourself and to another. That’s what God has done for us, and what He endeavors for us to create and offer to others. If your “architectural mindset” and sleeves are rolled up to do the daily work it takes to (re)build a life, marriage, relationship and family that reflects the quality and standard of Devotion, then you’re well on your way to building a house on the rock that will stand (Matthew 7: 24 – 25).
As we move to close this section on the Hierachy of Needs, here are a few insights on the five Greek words for Love, that depict unredeemed and redeemed qualities of Love. It’s my hope that you’ll learn about and (re)integrate these unique qualities into the garden of your relationship, and will be edified and nourished by the rich and redeemed expression of them all!
The Five Greek words for Love
1) Eros: Eros is the Greek word for sexual love, and is not even mentioned in the Bible, due to its “weak” comparison of what true love is. In its unredeemed expression, Eros is a behavior that is related to the word PORNEIA, from which we receive the word pornography. Porneia conveys a picture (which is what porn is) of “a type of relationship” but is not a real relationship (these are actors) based on any kind of extramarital sexual encounter, where the primary focus is on the genitalia. The fact that Eros primarily focuses on the genitalia is one of the reasons why Eros alone could never provide the full expression of what love is.
When redeemed, erotic or sexual love is a beautiful and sensual expression and manifestation of what God intends and endorses with two partners who have committed their lives to each other. Engaging in erotic love is one of the most pleasurable ways to say I love you, but there are other words that capture the meaning of love also.
2) Epithumia: Although our English word Love does not appear in scripture when Epithumia is used, it is included in this list because Epithumia is the word that is mostly translated as desire or craving. Epithumia is a “neutral” word, meaning it can be expressed in good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, functional or dysfunctional ways. When we think about our appetite, our lust, our desire, our craving and our passion, we are describing Epithumia. In its unredeemed and extreme form of expression, Epithumia depicts a strong and negative desire to possess and treat another person as an object, and contextually, primarily for one’s own selfish sexual gratification (Ephesians 2:1-3; Galatians 5:16-17).
However, when redeemed, Epithumia portrays a picture of healthy and focused desire (think about Relish, #9 above here), as desire and passion is directed toward one’s spouse, in order to share in, learn about and enjoy the presence, work and fruit (sexually and otherwise) in the marital garden that is built for two and two alone. This word is also important to our emotional well being in that its root Thumos, is found in other New Testament words (Patience), as well as other English words (Thermos, Thermostat and Thermometer), which are critical skills to develop as you work toward emotional self-awareness and the containment of your emotions (Thumos also describes “anger” and “passion”).
3) Storge: Storge is the beginning of love that is demonstrated for the well being of another person, as opposed to the unredeemed qualities of Eros and Epithumia, which tend to be self-centered in expression if experienced outside of a healthy spiritual context. Storge appears in the Bible (Romans 1:31) actually with the prefix of “a” in front of it, denoting “no, not or without,” negating its meaning, which is to “cherish affectionately.”
Storge conveys the picture of the type of love that a parent has for his or her children; love which seeks to care for them and provide for their needs, marked by affection, comfort, nurturance and commitment for their safety, their development and their survival. If you have bought a two-year old an ice cream cone one hour before dinner and enjoyed the delight on her face as she consumed it, you have experienced Storge. If you have laughed with your 10 year old about a fanatical rant heard on the radio as you began a road trip to the NFL Hall of Fame ceremonies, you have experienced Storge. Or, if you cried on the night your first child was born, and you knew your life would not be the same and you prayed for God to help you to sacrifice anything for her well being, you have experienced Storge. Unique to your children, Storge is the warmth you feel inside you when you are making the life memory, and it is the warmth probably mixed with laughter as well, that you feel when you recall the memory years later.
4) Phileo: Phileo is the word used to convey a closeness and fondness that develops as two people choose to befriend each other, and who work to build a friendship and a relationship with one another, within or outside of their family relationship. Phileo is the type or expression of love that clearly marks how a person of faith is to enter into, and to constructively “share and repair” relationship with another person of faith, as “best friend” qualities are reflected in their interests, activities, time, connection and conflict resolution, with each another. As with Eros, Epithumia and Storge, Phileo really comes to life when spiritual values, disciplines and behaviors are integrated into one’s expression and experience of these words.
5) Agape: Agape is the word that defines the unique quality of love that is demonstrated from God to us, us to ourselves, and the spiritual and behavioral love that we are encouraged to demonstrate in our relationships: to spouses and other “neighbors,” within or outside of the family of God (Luke 10:27-28).
As we’ve seen in this subsection, Agape is definitely action-oriented and most often, its focus is to engage in healthy and balanced behaviors which contribute to the overall well being of the recipient (yourself included). Agape is marked by our unconditional expression of love, acceptance, honor, cherishing, value, esteem and devotion that we display to the recipient.
Agape is the type of love that is compassionate and merciful in its expression (I Corinthians 13:4-8) and is the love that Jesus states will clearly indicate who is following Him in word and deed, to any observer who happens to be watching you or is needing Agape from you (John 13:34-35). Agape informs and guides our thoughts, feelings, behavior, and experiences (especially in the core area of our sexuality – I Corinthians 6:18-20), and is the seed, fertilizer, process, and fruit that are produced in and from the garden of our life when we endeavor to cultivate love.
Concluding thoughts with the Integrative Primer
Thank you for reading this long but hopefully informative primer regarding what you may wish to focus on developing and integrating when unfaithfulness or infidelity impacts your primary relationship.
What follows are a few more items located on my blog (also printed in Cultivating Love: When Secrets Surface, and in Cultivating Love: Daily Bread For Life, Vol. 1) for your consideration as you respond to the questions and action items in this subsection, on your way to rebuilding your home. The other items are:
- Uncommon Love: A few thoughts on 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 8a
- The Killer D’s and Empowering E’s (Part 1 of 3)
- The Killer D’s and Empowering E’s (Part 2 of 3)
- The Killer D’s and Empowering E’s (Part 3 of 3)
- Couples Who Recover (Part 1 of 2)
- Couples Who Recover (Part 2 of 2)
- Recovering Couples Do Heal (Part 1 of 2)
- Recovering Couples Do Heal (Part 2 of 2)
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, there will probably be other people and resources that you’ll consult on your way to tending to this significant wound in your relationship. Some of you may seek healing from this wound via separation or divorce, and if you’re thinking this might yield a better outcome for you then by all means please invite into your thought process people who will assist you to walk circumspectly as you consider the impact of your decision. God will never shame nor force you into carrying a burden that feels abusive, denigrating or overwhelming when you crave and deserve rest, peace, honor, empowerment and fidelity.
On the other hand, as a result of your circumspection and deliberation, if you arrive at a place where you’re open to reconciliation, the same counsel applies here; please consult with good, knowledgeable, safe and therapeutic people and resources that will help both of you to understand the direction and work it will take to reach this worthwhile goal as well. Regardless of the road you choose to travel on, my hope is that you’ll focus your energy to cultivate, grow and eventually enjoy the type of love that heals, restores and of which legacies are made.
So you have a choice to make as you exit your bedroom, in your effort to move beyond the behavior we’ve just looked at. One choice will simply lead you out of the bedroom, through your home and toward the front door and into a separation or divorce. This particular choice is characterized by tunnel vision, which sadly means you’ve not attempted to take in, learn from, expend energy nor correct errors to help your partner recover from this type of wound. A recovery could occur, but tunnel vision approaches almost always means while some parts of your situation experience will be helped, usually other parts will remain untreated, resulting in more pain and suffering experiences for all involved.
Or, you have another choice to make. As you walk out of the bedroom and through the remainder of the house to get to the final place that we’ll look at, your Front Porch, you choose to pause, deliberate, take in, reflect on, embrace and continue to use all of the tools you’ve been exposed to in this book which up to this point, have helped you to make good, necessary and noticeable changes to your life, marriage and relationship. You choose change, and you choose to work to change your circumstances for the better.
Selfishly, it’s my hope you’ll make the latter choice, because your life, marriage and family stand to benefit if choices are made to seek and engage in behaviors that result in healing outcomes. By using all of the tools you’ve encountered to rebuild trust, safety, empathy, connection and love means someone will heal. By using all of the tools you’ve encountered to build intimacy and good communication means someone will heal. By using all of the tools you’ve encountered to “cook with” and serve up virtues and values means someone will heal.
By using all of the tools you’ve encountered in your Office to clarify your purpose and to consistently work to change your character means someone will heal. By using all of the tools you’ve encountered to bless your children, and to work to create “Wheel of Awareness” skills and environments so their minds benefit from these gifts means someone will heal.
By using all of the tools you’ve encountered in your Dining and Living rooms to create Triangles of Well-being and Interpersonal Neurobiology when people converge in these places (like in the River of Integration) means someone will heal. By using all of the tools you’ve encountered to devise blueprints that depict the house (and person and people) you want to build, the spirit that will flow from and breathe life into your home, and the spiritual disciplines that strengthen your foundation means someone will heal.
You get the picture. You get it because you’ve either used these tools to build your home like this, or you recognize the value in using these tools to create a home that’s built on the rock. With the help of God you’ve made the choice to take in, use the tools as a “Chief Architect” and have become skilled at living to effectively build up yourself and others who are important to you in your life.
This is the energy and effort it will take to (re)build which could help you to create and enjoy the final area of your home, your Front Porch, where one day you’ll sit and rock in your rocking chairs and reflect upon the life you’ve lived, the love you’ve created (and dispersed) and the legacy you’ll leave behind. Thanks for choosing to change. Regardless of the circumstances you’ve encountered thanks for living an examined life that repairs, rebuilds and leaves a legacy of cultivated love and a life well lived!
The Final Walkthrough Area: Your Front Porch and your “Rocking Chair” moments
“Choice – Purpose is a choice and the answer to the question WHY?; We are who we CHOOSE to be, so we should be very clear who we choose to be… and WHY?; The essence of our humanness is the freedom to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances” – Richard Leider
“Life is not measured by its duration but by its donation” – Pastor Greg Laurie, Harvest Christian Fellowship, Riverside, CA
So the final place in your home you’re “finishing out” is your Front Porch, where the rocking chairs are typically located. It was there, usually after a morning or day of hard work on our property that my wife and I sat, rocked, and talked about our investments and commitments (time, financial, etc.) in the home projects we made or were going to make.
Eventually talk would turn toward our children, where we discussed what goals, activities, opportunities, and skills we wanted to contribute and impart into their lives for their personal, academic, athletic and spiritual development. Contextually, having those “planning” discussions on the front porch about how we wanted to purpose our lives seemed fitting, given we were reflecting on how we would expend our life energy so one day we’d sit in that exact spot in our home, reflect about our life and hopefully, be in a place to enjoy the “the fruit of our labor.” You could say those rocking chair experiences symbolized our focus on the work we had done or were going to do, while we also envisioned how life would be when our work was completed.
So symbolically, or perhaps literally, this may be where you are in your life. After a long day (or a lifetime full) of work, whether you’re by yourself or with your partner in life, and you take a moment to sit back and reflect upon the outcome of your work, are you in a place where you’re enjoying the fruit of your labor? Are you at peace with how you spent your time and your energy, especially when you consider your commitment to a relationship, the children who were “stewarded” to you to raise, and the outcome of your actions and work, which reflect what was truly important to you?
When you consider the spirit God gave you to value and infuse life, your brain to visualize and devise plans, your heart to facilitate warmth and connection, your body to build and promote wellness, your sexuality to nurture and enjoy intimacy, your relationships to mentor intentional living and your resources to benefit others, are you satisfied with your outcomes? I pray that you are because all of these choices and actions speak to the legacy you’re creating and the legacy you’ll leave behind.
But get this: No one has or lives a perfect life or lives life perfectly. In fact, even though you may have chosen to live a good and principled life, in return, life may have given you a huge basket of lemons for all of your effort! But at the end of the day or perhaps toward the end of your life, were you able to rebound from those difficult circumstances, marshal your energy and resources and convert your lemons into lemonade? Or take a step further, were you able to deliver sweet lemonade “seasoned” by your values which provided refreshment to others (and yourself) who benefitted from your response?
If you’re able to say “I’m at peace with how I used my life energy to create constructive outcomes over the course of my life” regardless of the circumstances then more than likely you’re experiencing Ego Integrity and the virtue of Wisdom, which are positive outcomes that Dr. Erikson identified in the eighth and final stage of Psychosocial Growth. If you’re not able to make or agree with this statement, then it’s quite possible you may be somewhere along the spectrum but closer to the other side of the pole which he called Despair.
To me, Despair means I missed golden opportunities over the course of my life to impact others in a positive or constructive manner, and I certainly know I’ve had a number of encounters in my life like this that I regret! Moments where I not only blew it, but I also toxified those experiences with immaturity, insensitivity or inactivity, and I cannot “unring” the bells that were set in motion by my carelessness.
But I have some good news for you. If you’re not (or, even if you are) in the age range of this particular stage of psychosocial development, you have the opportunity to do something about it. As long as you have breath in your lungs, and the ability to comprehend and communicate, you can still engage in processes that will determine the legacy you’ll leave behind.
I’m reminded of a quote that a friend shared to me by a mutual friend of ours, Ken Wells, the author of Dare to be average: Finding brilliance in the commonplace. I believe Ken was quoting novelist Mary Ann Evans who said“It’s never too late to be the person you always were meant to be.” That’s good news! Whether you’ve dished up a tart or sweet or lemonade, before you die or while you’re still alive, you have the opportunity to pass along something refreshing to others.
The three questions I asked in Choosing Change #10 when you began this journey to change the course of your life by building (and now leaving) a house on the rock applies to you now more than ever; Who are you? What is your purpose? How shall I live? To these three questions we add a fourth: What is my legacy?
Your legacy could mean a number of things. Some may think to leave an inheritance or financial resources through trusts or wills to children, family members or to communities at large comprise their legacy, which are commendable and noble contributions that culminate in a life well-lived. But Dr. Erikson infers there is more to leaving a legacy than the sum totals on a ledger. Erikson’s research indicates the virtue Wisdom, which I’ve defined it by its ancient Greek meaning “to be(come) skilled at living” is inferred here.
Wisdom infers you’ll make choices to gain, use, apply and impart your knowledge, skills, resources and energy to create well-being in yourself and others, whether they’re in the next room or on another continent, or whether you’ve spent your life by their side or if its someone you may never meet. Wisdom also infers when mistakes are made, you’ll learn from them and engage in “course correction” processes and activity to reduce the likelihood of making similar mistakes again in your future.
So as I conclude this book on Choosing Change, let’s bring the subject of legacy, wisdom and becoming skilled at living closer to home so when you’re in your rocking chair reflecting on the life you’ve lived, you’ll be able to enjoy some very good, sweet and refreshing lemonade, especially to be shared with those who are fortunate enough to be close to you before you depart your home on this Earth for another one.
To do this, I’m going to introduce one last acrostic called “L-E-G-A-C-Y,” which contains a series of questions and inferred actions that I’d like for you to consider. As you read these questions, think about the subjects and issues you’ve read about in this book which speak to the changes you’ve already made for your betterment, or will spur you on to complete any unfinished business that deserves your attention and effort.
Remember, it’s never too late to focus your energy and use your breath to impart a blessing to others that will not only answer the four questions above, but will crystallize in the mind, heart and spirit of others who you are, your purpose as seen in the accurate placement of your passion, and what you considered important based on changes you’ve chosen to make. I pray you enjoy working on your legacy and leaving good rocking chair memories for others to reflect upon as they drink in and contemplate how your life was refreshing to them!
Leaving a “L-E-G-A-C-Y” for others to enjoy
- What life lessons have you learned and what wisdom do you wish to impart because of them?
- What impressions or impact(s) have you made that you’re proud of and are leaving behind?
- As you look at your life, what regrets do you have? If possible, what would you like to change?
- What important statement(s), behavior(s), process(es) would you like to leave to others?
- Who did you love and what did you love about them? How did that change you and them?
- What activities brought significant meaning and enjoyment to you, your family and others?
- What challenges have you faced and how did you manage to endure them?
- Is there anything you wish or need to clear up, clarify or explain while you still have time?
- Who do you wish to empower and what do you wish for that person(s)?
- What encouraging thoughts or words would you like to pass on to inspire others?
- What are your thoughts about God, your Higher Power or the significance of spirituality to you?
- What are you gracious for? What do you have the most gratitude about?
- What good habits or deeds are you proud of that you’d like to acknowledge and see continued?
- Are you content with the work you’ve done in the garden of your life? What remains to be done?
- What in your life still brings grief? Is there any gladness that has been borne from it?
- What attributes, gifts or guidance do you wish to give or impart to others?
- What affirmation(s) have you received or heard which inspired you to be your best?
- What achievements or accomplishments are you most proud of?
- What activity meant a lot to you? Why? Are there activities you regret being a part of?
- What life-altering advice have you received or what advice would you like to pass on to others?
- What have or are you afraid of? How have or will you overcome your fear or this challenge?
- Who provided care to you and how did that change you? To whom might you express thanks?
- Who and what might you wish to celebrate because this is deserving of commemoration?
- What convictions have you developed during your life of which you are certain?
- Is there anything you’d like (or need) to correct while you have time and energy?
- What blessings, gifts or “charges” might you wish to convey to your children?
- Who would you like to comfort? For what reason? What behavior do you see yourself delivering?
- What character traits would you like to impress upon others? Why?
- Is there anything you’re still yearning for or would like to accomplish? What and Why?
- What unfinished business do you have and need to address? What and Why?
- What “tools” have helped you to become wise or “skilled at living?”
- Are you satisfied with your legacy? Why or Why not?
- What would you like to be remembered and known for? Why?
Instead of providing my answers to the above-mentioned questions, I thought I’d create a slideshow that captures my “rocking chair memories” and to-date reveals the legacy I’ve been a part of and will one day leave behind! May God richly bless you and your legacy!
As I close this post and in essence this book, allow me to leave three things with you. First, as the pictures depict, I didn’t create a legacy alone and I suspect you won’t either. I identify with the principle “it takes a village to raise a child,” as there were many people who nurtured and contributed to my personal and professional development, just as others did spiritually (i.e., my grandmother’s grandparents) who I’ve not met in this life but do look forward to thanking when my race on this side of eternity is complete. Had I not received everyone’s love, input, patience, guidance and support, I know my life would have been qualitatively different!
Second, and in talking about races, I’ve come to see that my life lines up more with the idea of a 26.2-mile marathon versus a 100-meter sprint. How so? Well, much of what you see, the relationships, the growth, the change and the positive impacts that accompanies change didn’t develop “overnight” nor in the time it takes a person to finish a sprint (these days, about 9 seconds!).
On the other hand, it actually took weeks, months, years and even decades to create and enjoy most of these sweet and fruitful life experiences that I now look back on and treasure with immense gratitude. And just like miles 5 – 7 in the L.A. Marathon (the Sunset Blvd. incline), some of my life experiences (like yours) were downright arduous! I’ve had the privilege of running alongside some of you up those steep inclines and I can attest that although you experienced difficulty in your own race, you kept moving, step-by-step toward your goal(s) culminating in the creation of a legacy experience. Words don’t convey the appreciation I feel for being invited to join you during a segment of your life journey during which you never gave up!
Finally, looking at my life through the lens of a marathon brings me joy because when I think of brief moments or certain segments of my life (i.e., the sprints), I could get discouraged with some of the choices I made. However, when I step back and look at the full context of my life, that is, the hills I encountered, the challenges I experienced, the changes I’ve made, the difficulties overcome and the lives that were blessed along the way, I feel gracious for the race I’ve been purposed and empowered to run and the awesome “scenery” (your life) I’ve been privileged to take in.
I think that’s how God sees it as well; He sees the whole length of the run and the whole life of a person and is intent on helping us to learn how to become skilled at living, one step at a time and one day at a time. So I encourage you no matter where you are in your life journey, continue to choose changes that are purposeful, intentional, strategic, that matter, and will reflect that you’ve become skilled at living! I pray you enjoy your legacy and that you have sweet rocking chair moments!
Concluding Thoughts about Cultivating Love: Choosing Change
Thank you so much for taking this journey with me to explore how we change, what helps us to change, what impedes our change and how we could sustain positive change in our lives and in our relationships!
In conclusion, I’m not going to add more here and there’s not much more for me to say. It’s my hope that as a result of reading this book but more importantly doing the work associated with the insights, questions and activities that you are on your way to experiencing transformation, improvement and enjoyment that comes with making positive changes in your life. Again, thank you for choosing changes which have resulted in cultivating love in your life!
Feel free to let me know what changes you’ve made as a result of applying the principles outlined in this book. You could reach me at:
Dr. Ken McGill
Thanks for reading this excerpt from “Choosing Change #14: Living, Loving and Leaving a Legacy.” As time permits, please visit the other blogs written by Dr. Ken McGill: Daily Bread for Life and “3 – 2 – 5 – 4 – 24″ for additional information that could be helpful.
I welcome your comments below or via email and your favorites, your retweets and your “+1’s” if you have a brief moment and find the information helpful. Again, it is my desire to provide the very best info for your consideration.