Affairs PART 3 – Boundaries

“Fences” or clear boundaries allow us to focus on taking care of the good things growing in our own garden and allow others to do the same. Solid boundaries are a must for a committed relationship. When your partner is your best friend, the one you confide in first and foremost and the one you don’t have secrets from, your relationship has the appropriate boundaries.

That we experience an attraction to another person’s energy who is not our partner is normal. Or as Shirley Glass says, “being attracted means you’re still breathing”. We are usually drawn to an energy our partnership is missing, when we are attracted to somebody other than our partner. The choice of an affair partner appears to be based on how that person differs from the spouse. The attraction is not so much about the other person, but about the energy they embody.

If our marriage has been missing playfulness because the everyday problems have been weighing heavily on us, we might be attracted to somebody else who we are not carrying any responsibilities with, due to their playfulness. Or if we have felt not good enough in our marriage in one or more ways, another person who laughs at our jokes and seems to think we are the best thing since sliced bread is a huge temptation. If our partner hasn’t paid us any compliments in a long time and somebody else feels we are beautiful and smart, that is a strong attraction.

So what is it that enables some people to resist having an affair, while others slide into one? There is of course a complex dynamic of opportunities, vulnerabilities, unmet needs, and values at play. One important factor is whether clear boundaries with others exist. Couples who are dedicated to each other are as protective of their relationship as couples who’ve just fallen in love. They have built a safe couple bubble and they act in accordance with the rule that other people are third parties and that the partner always comes first. They see each other as best friends, primary confidants and are conscious of each others vulnerabilities and needs.

Often “outside observers will speculate unfairly and ignorantly that the betrayed wife must have been reluctant or inadequate in the bedroom… Just as uniformed gossip often blames inadequacies or weaknesses in the betrayed partner, women are more prone than men to blame themselves for their partner’s infidelity.” (Glass) Women have a tendency to think if they had been more loving, available, patient, sexy, slender and so on, the affair would never have happened.  Glass calls this the prevention myth. A loving partner or good marriage does not prevent affairs. The less aware a couple is of appropriate boundaries with others, the more likely it is that one partner will slip into an affair.

Couples who know how to safeguard their long-term relationship follow basic guidelines:

  1. They know that attraction to others is normal but that just because you feel it does not mean you need to act on it. Being attracted to someone else does not mean that you are with the wrong person, but it means that there is some energy or trait you are attracted to in the affair partner which needs to be brought into your long-term relationship. It is never easy to talk to your spouse about the attraction you are experiencing, but it is worth it. It can save your marriage and make it even stronger.
  2. They don’t allow themselves to fantasize what it would be like to be with that other person because affairs begin in the mind.
  3. They are conscious about not flirting. Even though “flirting” is usually considered harmless, it signals that you are available.
  4. They avoid risky situations, e.g. being alone with a potential affair partner.

In her book “Not ‘Just Friends’” Shirley Glass uses the symbols of walls and windows each relationship has. When you withhold information from your partner and keep secrets, you create walls, but if you open up to each other, the window between you allows you to know each other free of illusions and be truly intimate with each other. “In a committed relationship, a couple constructs a wall that shields them from any outside forces that have the power to split them. They look at the world outside their relationship through a shared window of openness and honesty. The couple is a unit, and they have a united front to deal with children, in-laws, and friends.” (Glass, “Not ‘Just Friends’”)

When a love affair happens, the unfaithful partner has built a wall to shut out the marriage partner and has opened a window to let the affair partner in. After the affair, the walls and windows must be reconstructed to be in line with the “safety code” every relationship house requires. A solid wall needs to be established to block out the affair partner and the window between the marriage partners needs to be installed and kept open. Appropriate walls are necessary to safeguard the relationship against further betrayal.

Further guidelines to follow to protect a relationship are:

  1. Not to discuss relationship problems with anyone who could be a potential alternative to your spouse. When you complain about your partner or listen to somebody else’s complains, you establish intimacy. That opens a window and begins to create a bond with the outsider that then often develops into an affair.
  2. Only discuss your relationship with a professional or a person who is a true friend of the marriage. A friend of the marriage is somebody who is not in competition with the marriage but reinforces the value of your committed relationship and being honest with your partner. ”Single people on the prowl or married people who openly complain about their current relationship are least likely to be friends of the marriage” (Glass). A meddling mother or father who is not able to see their own child in their true light is also not the right person to commiserate with. If you cannot be sure that the other person will encourage you to speak to your partner and work through things, do not talk to them.
  3. When one of you has a friend who wants to talk about personal problems, be careful about your boundaries. Include your partner in these conversations or helping gestures towards the friend. The moment you keep a secret, you have created a wall that shuts out your partner.

Click to read AFFAIRS PART 1 “Assumptions Versus Facts”  or AFFAIRS PART 2 “Lying and Gaslighting”.

 You can also read or listen to my three part article I Don’t Trust You

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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The Purpose of Our Intimate Relationships

Naomi and Ben are both in their late twenties. They are part of a bigger group of friends. On and off they have crossed the line from platonic friends to friends with benefits. Ben seems to be comfortable with this spontaneous commitment-free arrangement, but Naomi is growing more and more dissatisfied with it. Yet, she feels the need to follow popular relationship advice and pretend to be strong and self-sufficient, appear busy and not interested in a serious commitment. Ben can have his cake and eat it too; he gets the excitement of being together intimately while not truly needing to be vulnerable. Meanwhile, Naomi is trying hard to be mysterious and is not expressing her genuine needs and feelings. She has noticed that Ben is more interested in her when she goes out with other guys. Lately, she has half-heartedly started going steady with Rick. All of a sudden, Ben’s interest is really peeked. He wants Naomi to break up with Rick and go steady with him instead. Naomi feels excited, yet guilty. She is confused by Ben’s change of heart as well as by her own feelings. What is at the bottom of this situation?

Attachment theory designates three main “attachment styles”, as well as combinations of them: securely attached, anxiously attached and avoidant of attachment. Stan Tatkin has named these three styles as being an anchor (secure), being like a wave (anxiously torn between attachment and non-attachment) and being like an island (avoiding attachment and favouring independence).

Attachment theory is based in research with children and their primary care-givers, and considers our evolutionary programming. We have been programmed by evolution to single out a few specific individuals in our lives and become attached to them to increase our chances of survival. Our brain has a mechanism that consists of emotions and behaviours that ensure our safety and protection by staying close to our loved ones.

baby-father-hands-cropped

In the 1940s, parenting experts warned that “coddling” would result in needy and insecure children. Parents were told to let their infants cry themselves to sleep, and train them to eat on a strict schedule. In hospitals, the common practice was to separate mothers and babies at birth and keep the babies behind a glass window in the nursery for the first days of their lives. In the 50s and 60s, attachment theory (Mary Ainsworth, John Bowlby) proved that infants who had all their nutritional needs taken care of but lacked an attachment figure failed to develop normally. Their physical, intellectual, emotional and social development was affected.

In fact, attachment is an integral part of human behaviour throughout our entire lifetime. Our learned attachment style is relevant for a variety of relationship situations in adulthood. “We live in a culture that seems to scorn basic needs for intimacy, closeness, and especially dependency, while exalting independence. We tend to accept this attitude as truth—to our detriment” (Amir Levine, Attached). The co-dependency movement and other similar approaches portray healthy adult relationship attachment in a way that is similar to the detrimental views held in the 1920s about child rearing. According to these ideas, we should be able to distance ourselves from our partner and look after ourselves. If you are emotionally attached it is looked upon as “too enmeshed” and “co-dependant”.

couple-holding-hands

As much as I agree that we are responsible for our own feelings, we are also in each other’s care in a partnership. Partners can have a huge stress relieving effect on each other. The assumption that we should control our emotional needs and soothe ourselves in the face of stress is at odds with our biology. “Numerous studies show that once we become attached to someone, the two of us form one physiological unit. Our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing, and the levels of hormones in our blood.” (Amir Levine)

If our partner does not know how to reassure us when we are stressed, we are programmed to continue our attempts to achieve closeness and reassurance. That might look like “neediness” or “clinginess”. In reality, we are only as “needy” as our unmet needs!

Needy

There is in fact a phenomenon that is called “dependency paradox” in attachment literature. “The more effectively dependent people are on one another, the more independent and daring they become” (Amir Levine). The ability to step into the world on our own stems from the knowledge that there is someone we can count on for emotional and physical support. If we feel secure, the world is at our feet. We can step into the unknown, take risks, be creative, and pursue our goals and dreams. As adults, we provide the attachment role for our partner. We are able to provide a secure base for each other if we understand our attachment styles and work on being securely attached to each other.

When we flip between feeling insecure, anxious or even obsessive and feeling elated and passionate in our relationship, we might mistake this for love. However, what is most likely going on is an activated attachment system of somebody who has a non-secure attachment style. Jealousy, fear, and mistrust are not signs of love, but signs that we are in a relationship with an insecure attachment.

When we are in a relationship with somebody who has a secure attachment style, our experience is completely different. Securely attached people are

  • Great at de-escalating a conflict
  • Not threatened by criticism
  • Effective communicators
  • Not game players
  • Comfortable with closeness
  • Quick to forgive
  • Inclined to view emotional intimacy and sex as one
  • Respectful and loving with their partner
  • Confident in their ability to improve the relationship
  • Responsive to their partner’s needs and well-being

In such a secure relationship the true purpose of our intimate relationships becomes clear. The partners provide a sacred space for each other to be able to be who we truly are with all our needs and desires.

relationships_purpose

To get back to our couple from the beginning, Ben has a mostly avoidant attachment style. He sends mixed messages about his feelings, doesn’t like girls who are “too needy” or “too dramatic”, he pulls away when things are getting close, and he wants to keep the relationship light and non-committal. He feels most comfortable being aloof and independent. He only misses Naomi when they are apart, or once he realizes he might lose her to somebody else. Naomi, on the other hand, has a relationship history which has turned her from being secure in her affection for her significant other into somebody who longs for closeness but doesn’t dare to hope for a secure attachment. Their vibration matches. Ben mirrors her expectations and fears.

To get out of this painful pattern, Naomi needs to understand his attachment style and be authentic in regard to her own needs, feelings and dreams. We can all learn more securely attached relationship interactions. That shift begins with an honest relationship with ourselves.

Rumi_Love Barriers 1

 

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