Amy came in to see me today to talk about her marriage. She explained that her husband was STILL talking to his girlfriend and he was becoming more and more mean to her...
"We went on this amazing trip and he was so rude to me. We went to tour a historic house and he basically ignored me. Walked ahead of me, didn't say a word, and when I finally went outside and started to cry, he came out and said, "See, you always ruin things." I feel like I am going crazy. He just keeps telling me I am ridiculous. Am I crazy, Dr. Kathy?" she asked.
I told her, "No, Amy, of course you're not. You're in a really difficult situation. You know your husband is not being honest with you and you're having a hard time with that. You open up to him and let him know that you're hurting and he responds by being mean and critical. Of course you are going to feel terrible."
"So what should I do? My friends tell me to get a lawyer and just kick him out. I guess I should, but I still really love him and want this to work. I can't just keep being a doormat, is there another way?" she wondered.
Yes, there is another way and for our purposes, I am going to call it the "Diamond Strategy."
Before I explain the strategy, let me ask you a couple of questions...
1. Why do you think people like diamonds? Is it because they're sparkly and pretty, or is it really because they're rare and represent something valuable?
2. Do you think people want what they can have all the time for free? Or do they value something that is not easy to get and requires effort to attain?
My feeling is that people want and crave things that are rare, that are valuable, that not everyone can have, that are elusive.
So if this is true and we want your spouse to be more into you, you need to become a rare, valuable, and elusive creature.
And guess what.... you already are!
There's only one you. There's no one just like you and your spouse is LUCKY to have you.
If your spouse has been having an affair and is having trouble breaking it off, we need to remind them that what they get from you and your relationship is a rare gift, not some disposable trinket.
Back to Amy for a second...
Amy had been talking a lot about the affair (understandably) and she and her husband had agreed that he'd break off all contact with his girlfriend. He hadn't done it yet for a variety of reasons, but as Amy and I talked, one reason became clear: Amy was not being very optimistic or pleasant or positive and every conversation turned into doom and gloom. Even a fun, romantic trip to a historic location turned into a bad experience.
Now, this is not Amy's fault!
She's in a lot of pain and she's been very badly hurt. Her instinct is to talk about that pain, and she should, but we need to have some balance.
It can't be all doom and gloom or your spouse is going to give up hope and be pushed towards their affair partner.
In Amy's case, she was trying to get her husband to understand her pain. By doing so, he started to feel a lot of pain himself. He felt her pain and became more depressed, guilty, and shameful. He could not cope with his pain, so he started to relapse and reach out to his affair partner.
The affair partner was like an aspirin he thought would cure his pain, so whenever things got too upsetting, he'd call her. He wasn't willing to give up his "aspirin" because he didn't see an end in sight to things being painful with Amy.
You can think of it like an addiction: husband acts out, wife gets hurt and starts voicing her pain, husband never feels better, keeps feeling pain, continues to reach for aspirin to cure pain, causing more pain to wife, and the cycle goes on and on.
People are reluctant to give up their painkiller if they think more pain is in their future.
Not everyone responds this way and when you have a spouse that does, it's time for the diamond strategy.
(Need help healing from an affair or other trust injury? Start here.)
The Diamond Strategy
Step 1: Stop talking about the affair and the pain and the hurt. This is going to be very hard, but stop for a little while. You can write all of your thoughts in a journal or on an online blog instead.
Step 2: Focus on being the best, brightest, most positive version of yourself. In essence, be a sparkly diamond - the best you. Get busier, go out with friends, take up a painting class, go do some fun things.
Step 3: When your spouse is having good behavior (being kind, friendly, warm and thoughtful), reward that good behavior with kindness and affection and thoughtfulness. Do the dishes, help cook dinner, watch their favorite show, go put gas in the car, etc. Be a loving spouse. Tell them how much you love their behavior and what they mean to you. Really reward the good behavior.
Step 4: When your spouse is having bad behavior (being mean, going off without telling you where they are, sneaking away with the cell phone, etc..), leave your spouse alone and ignore them. Don't be mean, don't yell and scream, don't throw things. "Punish" your spouse by your absence and the absence of all that's good about you. Be a calm, neutral roommate, not a loving spouse. Stop cooking dinner, stop doing the laundry, stop all the loving things you do. Or if you prefer, just stop doing a couple of these things.
Step 5: When your spouse notices that your behavior is changing, say something like this: "Chris, I really love you and I want our marriage to work, but I deserve better than this. When you act like a loving spouse to me, I will act like a loving spouse to you. When you act like a hurtful spouse to me, I am NOT going to give you all the love and good things you can expect from me. I'm not trying to hurt you, I'm just not giving you the goods. If you want the goods, you have to treat me as someone you cherish."
Step 6: Stop tracking, stop checking up on them, stop reading emails, etc. Put the burden on your spouse to prove to you that they're being honest and trustworthy. You can say, "Yes, I see that you are doing better and are making a real effort. I'd like for you to find ways to prove to me that I can trust you." If your spouse says, "Like what?", feel free to give examples: (1) you can show me your email, (2) you can give me your cell phone, (3) you can show me your credit card receipts, etc.
The goal of this strategy is to create a contrast between you (the diamond) and the affair partner (the cubic zirconia). You both look sparkly, but only one of you is rare and valuable. Your spouse can only have a loving, warm home life with you. Your spouse can only have Christmases with the kids with you. Odds are, you are a lot more wonderful than the affair partner and we really want to highlight this.
We also want your spouse to see that a future with you can be fun and wonderful, not all doom and gloom, so we have to highlight that you are fun and cheery and warm. This approach will help you do that too.
Go give it a try. Go be the diamond that you are and let me know how this works for you.
(Need help healing from an affair or other trust injury? Start here.)
Please note that this story is dramatized and all names and identifying information have been modified.