Sue Johnson “Hold Me Tight” is a marriage counseling book by a well-known marriage counselor.. She developed a therapy called he emotionally focused therapy that has been very helpful for many couples.
Here we will review her book “Hold Me Tight,” which explains the core assumptions that she uses in her form of couples therapy.
Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight Core Principles
One of the quotes that I think he explains her philosophy best his this:
Underneath all the distress, partners are asking each other: Can I count on you? Are you there for me? Will you respond to me when I need, when I call? Do I matter to you? Am I valued and accepted by you?
Sue Johnson approaches couples therapy from the lens of attachment.
To understand the attachment, imagine a small baby.
A small baby is very dependent on his mother for basically everything.
When a baby gets separated from his mother, he gets very upset. He starts to cry and fuss until his mother comes back.
The baby also has a physiological response to the separation. this response is the fight or flight response that our bodies use when we feel that we are in danger.
Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight – Fight or Flight
Sue Johnson in her book “Hold Me Tight” says that adults react in a similar way when they feel distant from their romantic partner.
People can feel this distance through conflict or just a lack of connection.
Their body goes into a fight or flight mode.
Sue Johnson explains that most people respond to this feeling in one of two main ways: fight or flight.
People who are more prone to a “fight” response will try to solve problems quickly. They will approach their partner and ask “What is going on.” They will want to “talk things out.” It will be hard for them to “let things go.”
On the other hand, people who are more prone to a”flight” response will try to avoid solving problems. They will not want to talk things out. They will feel attacked and try to withdraw and avoid criticism.
Which one of these sounds more like you? Which one of these sounds more like your spouse?
The most common pattern that people get into his fight versus flight. Once spouse will try to solve problems, the will try to avoid talking about problems.
In my marriage, I am the fight response.
I am always trying to chase my wife when I feel distant from her.
One time I literally chased her around the kitchen trying to get her to talk about problems with sex in our marriage.
If both spouses are more wired for a fight, there will be more explosive type conflicts between the two.
If both are wired for flight, they may never talk about anything and slowly feel the passion die in their marriage.
This leads to both spouses feeling even more distant and creating increased conflict or emotional separation between the two.
Sue Johnson – The Hold Me Tight Solution
In essence, emotionally focused therapy has the goal of stopping these patterns of conflict.
The goal is to try to uncover the feeling of distance between the two partners.
For example, instead of a fight person accusing his wife of not giving him enough appreciation, he would say something like”I want to feel important to you and I don’t when you forget to appreciate me taking out the trash.”
Instead of running away, a flight person might say something like “when you tell me I didn’t pick up the kids, I feel like you’re saying I am not doing a good job as a husband. I feel hurt and attacked when I want to feel important and appreciated by you. You are so important to me.”
In other words, the goal is to get to the deeper feelings of wanting to be loved, cherished and validated by your spouse.
Instead of going to the anger and fear that often fuels conflict in marriage.
In my experience, the approach of Sue Johnson is very helpful in several ways.
1. Helps identify your fighting pattern
Just recognizing the way that you tend to respond conflict conflict in your marriage is very helpful.
If you can break out of that cycle and approach things any more productive fashion, your marriage is bound to improve.
2. Helps you understand (some of) your deeper feelings
Going through and they hold me tight process does help you access some of the more vulnerable feelings that come up in marriage.
These include wanting to feel loved, accepted, supported and validated by your spouse.
3. Hold Me Tight accesses one of the main human needs
Humans definitely have a need to belong to someone else. To be best friends. To be soulmates. To be connected like nobody else.
It is one of the main things that we want in life. And, it’s one of the main things that we hope to have filled in our marriage.
However, this approach does at times fall short.
Cons of Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight
In my personal and professional experience, the “hold me tight” approach is certainly very helpful to point.
There are, however, a few significant pitfalls to this approach.
1. Your happiness is dependent on spouse’s approval
Probably the biggest issue with Sue Johnson’s hold me tight approach is that your own personal happiness depends heavily on how well your wife or husband responds to your needs.
The goal in her type of therapy is to try to create quote hold me tight moments” where you bare your soul to your spouse and they come to hold you, embrace you and validate you.
But, what happens with your spouse does not respond in the way that you expected? What if they cannot give you the appreciationIn the way that you are wanting or expecting? What if you are vulnerable and your spouse does not respond?
Into Johnson’s own words, this is one of the saddest things that she sees in therapy.
2. Other-validated vs self-validated intimacy
Hold me tight by Sue Johnson, as well as most other couples therapies, makes the goal of marriage counseling and couples therapy a validation of feelings between spouses.
However, sometimes that validation does not happen. And, It’s not always the best thing spread to happen.
You see, when you feel that you must have your spouse’s validation and approval of what you think and feel,you tend to be very hesitant to share that.
Or, you demand that your spouse validate you before you even share anything. And if they don’t validate you in the way you were hoping, you feel upset and”wronged.”
I know because I did this very much early on in my marriage. And I have seen other other couples fall into the same trap.
If you require that your spouse validate your deeper feelings and emotions, either before or after you share, David Scharch, the author of Passionate Marriage and other great books, calls this “other-the validated intimacy.”
Wanting validation in this way causes many problems, but can come up very dramatically in sex.
Often sex fades and can die in marriage because one or both spouses cannot bring the topic up for fear of rejection.
So what is the solution?
David Scharch calls it self-validated intimacy.
The idea is being confident in what you want and need in the relationship.
Validating to yourself that those wants and needs are legitimate.
If your spouse validates them as well, that’s great.
But if she doesn’t, that’s okay too. You still know for yourself that those wants and needs are legitimate.
3. Hold Me Tight makes your spouse responsible for your anxiety and self worth
Sue Johnson’s “Hold Me Tight” method also looks to a spouse to manage the other spouse’s anxiety in a way.
It is sort of saying “I can’t handle it when you don’t do what I want, so I need you to soothe me.”
While it is very true that our wife or husband can be a great support and soothing mechanism, it does not lead to the strongest type of relationship.
If we have no way to soothe our own anxiety, and are always trying to get that soothing from our spouse, they will eventually get tired of that and want to leave.
This can come out in a constant need for appreciation, sex, gifts or other ways to calm us down and show us that we have value.
I was definitely guilty of this for a long time and and my marriage and have seen the same pattern in many couples.
When we try to get how our sense of value and our ability to calm down from our spouse, eventually they burn out.
Balancing the main human needs
In relationships, humans have two major needs.
One of those is to belong to another person. To have a deep, powerful and passionate connection.
The other major need is to belong to ourselves. To know that we are independent and have our own minds, opinions, values and beliefs.
In my opinion, it is much easier to go on to another person when we truly belong to ourselves.
This means having a deep sense of who we are, and ability to manage our own thoughts and emotions, a sense of our own sexuality, and a clear purpose for our life.
When we truly own these things, we can share them with our spouse and create an amazing, incredible marriage.
Some people say that you have to do all of this work before you get married.
That you need to have this clear sense of self, management of your thoughts and emotions, the ability to manage your own anxiety, etc.
That just isn’t true.
When we get married, most of us are not at that point. Marriage is the opportunity to grow into that kind of person.
Marriage conflict and problems are simply part of that growing up process.
When we learn the skills and tools that we need to become strong spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and sexually, we become the best possible version of ourselves.
And, we get to share the best version with our spouse.
Marriage is the wonderful place that we get to do that.
I love helping men work through this process. To become the best possible version of themselves spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and sexually.
As they do this, their marriage transforms into something amazing.
A staple of marriage counseling is The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.
The main idea is that we all express and accept love in different ways.
We’ll follow the story of Mary and Jack.
This article is written for husbands, but wives can learn the principles here as well.
Jack and Mary are having some trouble. Jack says that his wife “just doesn’t care” about him. Mary says that Jack “doesn’t listen.”
Each day, when Mary is making dinner, Jack comes up and gives her a kiss.
Mary gets annoyed, and Jack gets hurt.
Jack plays with and riles up the kids while Mary cleans up dinner. Mary gets upset by this, but Jack can’t figure out why. After all, Mary said that she wanted Jack to spend more time with the kids.
Mary recently saved up some money to buy Jack a nice watch that she thinks looks great on him.
Jack didn’t look too happy when he opened it, and now never wears it.
Jack and Mary are both trying hard to show love to their spouse, but it just isn’t connecting. What’s going on here?
An Introduction to Love Languages
In 7th grade I took a semester of French. It felt fun to learn new ways to say things, but also awkward. And, since I never practiced it, now I don’t remember much besides how to sing “Frere Jacques.”
Learning love languages can be similarly awkward at first. But, it is one of the most important things you can do to get the kind of deep, meaningful relationship with your wife that you want.
Learning love languages, and becoming “fluent” in your spouse’s love language, is one of the most important thing you can do to get the kind of deep, meaningful relationship with your spouse that you want.
Why is that?
Love languages are the way each of us receive love.
If you want your wife to really know that you love her and feel that love for her, you must communicate it to her not in your language, but in hers.
If your wife speaks only French, but you keep telling you that you love her in English, the message will not get through.
And you’ll both get frustrated because you’re trying to show love, but it’s not being received.
For her (and for you) to feel deeply loved, you each need to “hear” it in your own love language.
What are the love languages you ask? And how many are there? Read on!
The 5 Love Languages
Thankfully, there are not thousands or even hundreds of love languages. There are just 5.
And they are much easier to learn than Chinese.
This idea comes from Gary Chapman and his book, The 5 Love Languages. It’s a great read if you want more information on this topic. You can get the book here.
The premise is that people accept and feel loved in different ways. When we feel loved, our “love tank” is full and our relationship is great.
When we don’t feel loved, our love tank is empty, leading to stress and distress.
While most of us will accept or feel loved in each of these ways, Chapman argues that we have a “primary” love language. I’m not so sure about there being one primary, but I think we definitely respond to some more than others.
Without further ado, here are the 5 love languages (in no particular order).
This means spending time together. Date nights, taking walks together, that kind of thing.
Chapman also says that you might know if a love language is important to you by how hurt you feel if the opposite is done. So, if your wife really loves you bringing lunch to her at work or making sure you have date night, she might have quality time as a love language.
If your wife gets really hurt by you spending more time with friends than with her, quality time might be her love language.
Tip: Planning a date will make you golden in her book.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, though there are variations. My wife likes gifts. She says that “it shows me that you were thinking of me.” I think that’s a pretty common reason that people with gifts as a love language appreciate it.
If your wife really lights up at a gift, and feels badly when people forget a gift on a special occasion, gifts might be her love language.
Tip: Flowers, candy, or a little trinket that reminds you of her are great ideas. It doesn’t have to be something big, just something that shows she was on your mind.
Sex is part of this, but also hugs, kisses, holding hands, massages. And for a lot of women, the non-sexual touch is more important to show love (more on this in later articles).
If holding hands or hugs really helps your wife feel loved and she feels emotionally distant when you are physically distant, touch might be her love language.
Tip: A hug, kiss, dance in the kitchen, or light touch on the arm will show your wife you love her.
Words of Affirmation
If your wife really loves a kind word in a card, note or email, or just a sincere compliment, words might be her love language.
If criticism seems to hurt her more than it does most people, words might be her love language.
Tip: A love note, kind text, or poem would be great for your wife.
Acts of Service
If cleaning up the house or picking up dinner for your wife really melts her heart, she might have acts of service as her love language.
If your wife feels especially hurt and angry by you neglecting helping around the house or with kids, acts of service may be her love language.
Tip: Cleaning things up that are typically “her” job or getting kids ready for school will take you far.
Take some time to figure out what your love language is and your wife’s. It will be one of the best investments that you can do to create a great marriage.
Letting your wife know your love language is also going to be a big help. She may be telling you all the time how much you mean to her, but you may just want her to buy you something nice once in a while.
There are even categories within these categories. For example, my wife really likes when I bring certain foods home, which would be considered a “gifts” love language. But she doesn’t care as much for flowers.
Take the time to find out what “dialect” of love language your wife speaks and you are on your way to a much more fulfilling marriage.
The Golden Rule Does (Not) Apply
Learning about Love Languages was a big paradigm shift for my husband. He had always tried to show love in the way he likes it, but he eventually realized “the Golden rule” didn’t seem to be working. He loves gifts, but I really don’t. I could appreciate the effort and thought, but then hated feeling obligated to pretend I loved whatever he bought me. Through some frank discussions I was able to help him realize that I’d much rather spend an evening in good conversation with him, rather than him wasting time at a store, spending money on something I probably didn’t want while I sat home alone. Once that clicked- Game Changer!
Stacy S, Utah
This is tricky because my husband KNOWS my love language, but still won’t speak it. He prefers speaking *his* language. I wish he *really* REALLY understood that love languages are real, and they are what fills the other person to their core. I wish he didn’t just figure “Eh, it’s all going to fill the need.”, because it isn’t true. I NEED *my* specific need met in a specific way.
Jill H, California
Have you ever tried to do something nice for your spouse, only to find out that they didn’t really care?
I like surprise parties. My two favorite birthdays of all time have both been surprise parties. So, early in our marriage, I decided to give my wife the best party: a surprise party!
I put a lot of time and effort into getting people invited, food made/brought, arranging everything for the surprise event. As we walked up to the door to the surprise, I couldn’t wait.
But, once she opened the door, her face told me that she didn’t like this kind of thing as much as I did. She was nice about everything and kind, but the end result was a lot of stress for my wife.
If we don’t think about it and make a conscious effort, we tend to show love in the way that we like to receive it. This is normal and natural, but doesn’t lead to the best connection or “full love tanks” for spouses. Usually, it just leads to frustration as you feel like you’re showing love, but it isn’t received.
It takes conscious effort to determine your wife’s love language and yours, then to speak that language in a way she recognizes and appreciates.
The following are real responses from nearly 500 wives I surveyed. See if you can figure out which “love language” each woman speaks. Some are trickier than others and some are saying more than 1 love language:
Just simply saying I love you every day.
I have shared with him how important it is to me for us to talk without distractions. He knows it’s important to turn off the TV, our down his phone, and talk with me about any subject. He’s also learned the power of chocolate to make me happy! He brings home treats for me when he knows it’s been a hard day.
I wish he would just listen. I am pretty open about what I want yet that doesn’t seem to matter because he doesn’t show love that way. Example: I don’t want flowers I want a clean house….I still get flowers because that is nice of him.
Talk to me, pay attention to me, dance with me, be intimate without expecting intercourse
Flirt with me and hug/kiss me more
Here’s the answer key:
Words of affirmation
Acts of service
Probably quality time and physical touch
#4 is probably the trickiest. If your wife gives you an answer like this, you may want to explore more with her which of the love languages resonate with her.
Also, we’ll get into this in later articles, but emotionally connecting with your wife through deep communication is one of the biggest things wives crave from their husbands.
If you feel like you don’t know how to do this, don’t worry. You’ll learn how in later articles.
Just when you thought you had it figured out…
The most attractive thing that he has done, & continues to do, is realizing that my love language changes over time & changing his expression to suit it. Love languages are fluid not concrete & it has meant more to me than I can ever express that he stays aware of me to notice when they change without me having to tell him (sometimes I don’t realize they change either!)
-Mary S, Arizona
Our love languages can and do change over time. So, if all of the sudden your gifts of flowers aren’t doing it for her, don’t automatically assume something is terribly wrong. Your wife’s love language may have just shifted.
It’s a great topic to bring up with your wife and to discuss how you both feel most loved in the present.
Marriage counseling has been around for many years. Many couples turned to marriage counseling has a way to improve four save a marriage.
Before you decide to do marriage counseling, however, you should understand the benefits and pitfalls of traditional marriage counseling techniques.
How Marriage Counseling Can Work – The Good
Chad and Emily went to a marriage counselor because they had “communication problems.”
Emily felt like Chad just “didn’t understand her” and “didn’t support her enough.”
Chad felt like Emily “didn’t appreciate him enough” and “never wanted to have sex.”
Their marriage counselor focused on communication.
The counselor taught them:
How to use “I emotion” language. She taught Chad to say “when you say you don’t want to have sex with me, I feel sad and rejected.”
How to listen better. She taught Emily to say “I hear that you feel sad and rejected.”
How to “not hold things in” and “let your spouse know what you’re feeling.” She allowed Chad and Emily to yell at each other during the session to “vent.”
Chad and Emily both felt a little bit better after the sessions. And as they focused on communication at home, things got a little bit better.
For a little while.
Validation in Couples Therapy
Much of couples therapy focuses on getting validation from your spouse.
The main goal is for you to express yourself and your spouse to understand, accept, and validate you completely.
For example, Emily would say “When I do the dishes and you don’t appreciate me doing that, it makes me feel bad.”
In couples therapy, Chad is then supposed to say something like “I didn’t know you felt that way. I will try to appreciate you more.”
Then, when Chad gives Emily more appreciation, their marriage is supposed to get better.
And it did get better for Chad and Emily. For a little while.
But, eventually, Chad got tired of trying to give Emily appreciation all the time. And Emily got tired of trying to give Chad sex all the time just to make him feel better.
Here’s where the problem happened.
If you are constantly relying on your spouse to validate what you want and need, you are in a bad situation.
It’s bad because You can’t feel good about yourself or what you are doing or what you are feeling and less your spouse says it’s okay.
This leads to two big problems.
The first problem is that you are dependent on your spouse to feel good about yourself.
That puts your spouse in a position of total control over you.
You are not an agent to yourself anymore at that point.
You have really given away your power.
The second problem is that it puts your spouse in the position of always trying to build up your self-esteem and manage your anxiety.
This is draining for your spouse.
Your spouse cannot and should not be responsible for your sense of self or your emotions.
Make trades and contracts in marriage counseling
Chad and Emily’s therapist also recommended they make certain contracts with each other.
Chad made a commitment to start washing the dishes more. Emily made a commitment to be more open to sex.
This worked for a little while. Chad did the dishes more and Emily was more open to sex.
But, one day Chad did not do the dishes. Emily then felt justified to not be open to sex.
Emily started blaming Chad for only wanting sex. Chad started to blame Emily for not caring about him.
And now, they were back in their same old pattern.
The problem with contract marriage counseling is that as soon as one party breaks the contract,The other party feel justified in breaking their end.
And we always fail sometimes in these contracts.
How Marriage Counseling Fails – The Bad
Too dependent on other people
We have already discussed why did depending so much on the other person is a problem.
If we are not solid in our own sense of self and managing our own anxiety, we try to make our spouse do that for us. And eventually they get tired of that.
As human beings, we need both connection and autonomy. We need to belong to someone else, and belong to ourselves.
Most marriage counseling focuses too much on the connection aspect. It recommends a merging to a point that is not very healthy.
Another problem with traditional marriage counseling is that typically the therapist will require that husband and wife to be part of the therapy.
However, often this is not possible.
It is very common that one person wants to work on the marriage through marriage counseling while the other does not.
End Goal Problem
Probably the biggest issue with traditional marriage counseling is the definition of the end goal.
Many couples therapist to believe that the ideal marriage is one where there is complete unity and oneness.
Where there is little to no conflict.
Where are you both support each other and know each other completely.
This goal sounds very nice and is the focus of many romantic movies and shows.
Chad and Emily were caught in this idea. That a good marriage meant losing themselves and becoming a connected one.
However, it neglects the need for her autonomy in life and marriage.
For marriage to thrive, there needs to be both separateness and togetherness. You need to belong to yourself and to your spouse.
A good marriage is like water.
One of you is hydrogen. The other is oxygen.
When you come together, you make something bigger and better than either of you could have done alone.
But, you are still hydrogen or oxygen. Water includes both as unique and individual parts, but the bond between them and makes them something even better.
Marriage Counseling Success Rate – The Ugly
Because of these problems, the unfortunate truth is that marriage counseling has a relatively low success rate.
Somewhere between 50-85% of couples do not have a “successful” experience in couples therapy.
According to a New York Times article, two years after ending counseling, studies find, 25 percent of couples are worse off than they were when they started, and after four years, up to 38 percent are divorced.
New approaches have been more helpful as they have started to understand the importance of respecting differences between partners in trying to understand them.
However, these are still depending upon both spouses being part of the treatment.
Marriage Counseling Alternatives
What are the alternatives to traditional marriage counseling?
Some people consider individual therapy hasn’t alternated to couples counseling.
However, this can lead to problems.
Traditional therapy will often focus on validating the patient.
This means that when you complain about your wife, your therapist will say “that must be really hard. It sounds hard that your wife does not appreciate you.”
Well you feel better after these sessions, and it oftenCauses more problems in your marriage.You feel like someone else can validate you but your spouse cannot.
Again, and this goes back to the idea that for you to feel good about yourself, someone else has to validate your emotions.
Some counselors doing individual therapy even recommend a divorce without ever meeting or knowing the spouse.
Coaching – A Better Solution
Many people do not understand the difference between coaching and therapy.
There are definitely similarities. However, to me there are a couple of main differences.
Focus on results and tools
In therapy, the focus is often on understanding your past and how that influences your future.
Traditional couples therapy will often look very closely at your past and may even assign blame to your parents for your current marriage problems.
Unfortunately, marriage counseling and other traditional therapies sometimes do not give tools that will be helpful in changing the situation.
Coaching on the other hand is focused primarily on fixing problems now and creating a better future.
There is much more focused on getting and using tools to make your situation better now.
We still may look at your past, but we will try to “heal the past in the present.”
As you understand your current thinking and behavior patterns that are causing problems in your marriage, you will find that you may be able to fix more relationships than just your marriage. Including relationships with your parents or siblings.
Some marriage counselors will tell you that your marriage is broken because something is wrong with you or your spouse.
The approach that I take is that the problems in your marriage are normal and part of a developmental process.
We often do not learn the skills that we need to create tea passionate hand loving marriage.
We usually tend to focus either more on the other person’s happiness, or our own happiness.
We can either be too selfless or too selfish. And often we go back and forth between these two things.
My focus is helping us develop the ability to see ourself as equal to our ourselves.
Not more important, not less important.
Is also about learning to be okay with who we are and not need her spouse to give us our sense of self esteem or manage our anxiety.
These are lessons that we get to learn in marriage.
The problems you’re having are expected. This is a process of becoming a stronger person. Marriage is the place that makes this happen.
Scott and Jill wondered if affair recovery was possible for them.
Scott had an affair. In fact, Scott had multiple affairs over several years.
He felt guilty and unworthy about his affairs. He knew that he had hurt his wife deeply.
But, he also felt alive, wanted and desired when he was with the other women.
Scott wanted affair recovery, but wasn’t sure his wife would ever trust him again. It seemed like when he tried to change and tell her he was sorry, it just wasn’t enough.
He felt rejected and upset that his efforts to change went unnoticed. Sometimes he would wonder if it was really worth it to keep trying to win his wife back.
Jill was devastated. She felt extremely betrayed. She wasn’t sure that she wanted affair recovery, especially right at first.
Jill would picture Scott and the other women together. She felt unattractive and rejected.
She also felt angry at Scott. Very angry.
Sometimes she would blame herself. She would wonder what she did wrong to make Scott stray.
Jill also sometimes wondered why this was happening to her. Hadn’t she been faithful? Wasn’t God supposed to protect her from something like this?
Jill sometimes fantasized about being with other men through all this. Sometimes it was to get revenge against Scott. Other times it was just to feel wanted and attractive.
She didn’t act on these thoughts, but they made her feel very guilty.
So, what were Scott and Jill to do? How could they get affair recovery?
Note: Scott and Jill are a composite of couples I have worked with. Their names and any identifying features have been changed to maintain their privacy.
5 Steps to Affair Recovery
Scott and Jill were able to achieve recovery after the affair.
Here are the 5 steps that they took to make it happen.
Step 1 – Start with Integrity
To reach affair recovery, Scott had to commit to being a man of his word. He had to be trustworthy not just in the big things (like being sexually faithful to Jill), but in the little things.
Scott, for example, would often “forget” to take the trash out, even though he said he would.
This always upset Jill, but after the affair, Jill was furiouswhen Scott would forget.
Jill and Scott didn’t understand why Jill got so mad at first. Jill’s But, when we talked about it, it made sense.
The biggest injury after an affair is betrayal. Having your trust broken.
So, any time Scott didn’t keep his word, even in small things, it would bring up all the pain of the affair.
Once they both understood this, Scott committed to following through when he made a promise. He wasn’t perfect, but he apologized when he messed up.
Jill also was able to put things in better perspective. She saw that forgetting to take out the trash was not the same as having another affair. She was able to forgive him more easily and start to see some changes that she wanted.
Jill was starting to trust him. Just a little bit.
Jill also had to commit to having more integrity. She had suspected that things were going wrong for some time, but hadn’t had the strength to bring them up.
She also needed to commit to working on the marriage and being faithful to Scott, even when he hadn’t been faithful to her.
Step 2 – Understand the Difference Between Forgiveness, Faith and Trust
After the affair, Scott really wanted Jill to forgive him and trust him again.
In fact, he asked for her forgiveness and trust over and over again. “Don’t you trust me!? What else can I do?! How many times can I say I’m sorry!?”
Jill would respond “I want to, but I just can’t yet.”
“How long will it take?” asked Scott.
“I don’t know.” Jill responded.
These kinds of exchanges left both of them feeling hopeless and frustrated.
When we talked more, we realized a big part of the problem.
Scott and Jill both thought that forgiveness and trust were the same thing.
In other words, if Jill forgave Scott, she would have to trust him to be faithful to her in the future.
This sounds good to Scott (or whoever had the affair), but it’s very scary for Jill (or whoever did not have the affair).
Here are some definitions that they found very helpful.
Forgiveness means to stop trying to punish the person for what they did.
It’s allowing God (or the universe or whatever you believe in) to be responsible for punishment.
It’s taking yourself out of the position of judge, jury and executioner.
In other words, when Jill was thinking of having her own affair to “get back” at Scott, she was not in a forgiveness mindset.
Forgiveness is a gift. It’s given freely to another person.
And, when you do give it, you find freedom for yourself.
You stop seeking revenge and start looking for peace.
You can give forgiveness at any time. It can happen very quickly. It takes effort, and often prayers for help, but it can be done.
The Tree of Trust
Trust on the other hand, is not a gift.
Trust must be earned. And it must be earned over time.
The big question that Jill was asking after the affair was: “Can I trust Scott to be faithful to me?”
Building trust is like growing an apple tree.
It starts with just a small seed. The seed is faith. Faith is a belief in something.
Jill can have faith that Scott will change and be faithful to her.
Scott can have faith that he will stay faithful to Jill.
Both need faith to start the journey. That faith can start very small. And usually it’s smaller for the Jill’s than the Scott’s.
But, that faith is just the seed. Scott has to prove to Jill over time that he will be faithful to her.
That means Scott has to follow through on small and big things that he commits to do.
That might include no contact with the affair person (or people). It might include checking text messages and emails. It might include calling each other at specific times.
Exactly how this will look will vary from couple to couple.
Scott at first didn’t like this idea. He would ask “Can’t she just trust me?”
The answer to that is: NO!
Jill can have faith, but not trust. She can forgive, but not trust. Not yet.
Scott has to be willing to let his promises, big and small, be verified because he broke such a serious promise.
And, those promises need extra verification when it comes to contact with the opposite sex.
The apple tree takes time to grow. Trust is the fruit. It comes after attention, effort and follow through.
There’s no exact time frame to this either.
In general, the smaller the offense, the less time it will take to rebuild trust.
In other words, if you just burned a few branches of the trust tree, it can grow back pretty quickly.
But, if you chopped that thing down and burned it through multiple affairs, it’s going to take longer for it to grow back.
Scott started to be more patient, and to have faith that he could get Jill’s trust back.
Jill was able to forgive Scott, establish procedures to verify Scott’s promises, and started to have faith that Scott could be a man that she could trust and love again one day.
Step 3 After the Affair – Let Yourself Grieve
An affair is a major loss, and it’s normal to go through what’s called a grieving process after the affair.
We’ll start with Jill’s grieving.
When Scott finally told Jill about the affair, he actually felt relieved. He was “getting it off his chest.”
Jill, however, felt like she had been hit by a truck. This is when her grieving process really began.
The grieving process has 5 typical steps: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
You can read more about the physical symptoms of the grieving process here.
Jill’s Grieving in Affair Recovery
At first, Jill didn’t want to believe that something so terrible had happened. She told herself “this can’t be real.”
Jill also felt angry. Very angry. Scott had betrayed her. Had betrayed her trust. Had put her at physical risk through the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases.
Jill was mad, and rightfully so.
But, at times she would also blame herself. She would say thing like “if only I would have appreciated him more, maybe he wouldn’t have had an affair.”
She was also depressed at times. It was hard to get out of bed and face her husband. She didn’t want to face people at work or church after the affair.
Jill wondered why God hadn’t protected her from something like this. She had been the faithful one. Didn’t she deserve better?
Jill also had nightmares about Scott being with other women. She became paranoid at times, wondering where he was and what he was doing. She found herself constantly wanting to check on him and his whereabouts.
Jill would sometimes beat herself up for feeling all of these things. But, she learned that all of these feelings were normal. That they would come and they would go.
Eventually she got to a place where she could accept that the affair had happened, and start looking for a new normal. A place of peace.
Understanding this process helped Jill forgive Scott and have faith for him to start earning back trust again.
Scott’s Grieving After the Affair
Sometimes we forget that the person who had the affair has some grieving to do.
Scott felt very guilty about his affair. He felt the loss of the love and trust of his wife and his children.
But, Scott also had to grieve the loss of his “affair person.”
Sometimes, the person person having the affair, like Scott, feels more alive than ever during the affair.
Scott felt more attractive than he had in years.
Scott felt alive. He felt energized. He knew it was wrong, but it was also very exciting.
Scott had lived in denial for some time. He thought that he could have both a loving and stable relationship with his wife, and an exciting sexual relationship with someone else.
Scott felt angry with himself for having the affair. But, he also felt angry at Jill when she didn’t seem to trust him fast enough.
In his mind, Scott was never going to have an affair again. It was over between him and the other women. He was committed to this and felt it very deeply.
So, he was frustrated when Jill wanted to check his emails and calls.
But, he remembered that the tree of trust had to grow back, and they worked out a system that worked for them.
Scott sometimes went to a place where he blamed his wife for his affair. But, we worked on helping him recognize that no one forced him to be unfaithful.
He recognized that it was childish to blame his wife for his actions, and eventually stopped doing this and took responsibility (part of having integrity).
Scott definitely went into bargaining mode with Jill, the kids and with God. He wanted to try to win back everyone’s trust as fast as possible. He was willing to “do anything” to get his relationship “back to where it was.”
Eventually, Scott had to realize that the tree of trust had to grow back over time. There were no quick fixes.
Scott’s Turning Point
One day, Scott said to Jill “I am going to be trustworthy whether you trust me or not.”
That was the attitude and comment that started to earn Jill’s trust back more than anything else.
Scott realized he couldn’t just change for Jill. If he was only changing for her, once she was “back” or trusting him again, Jill knew he might just go back to his old ways.
He had to change for something bigger. Something deeper. For Scott, it was a commitment to be the type of man that he, his wife and his kids could be proud of.
Scott felt depressed sometimes. It was hard work trying to win back his wife and children.
But, his deep commitment to being a better man kept him going through the tough times of earning back Jill’s (and the kids’) trust.
Over time, Scott and Jill were able to trust each other again. In fact, they were able to develop a better, more intimate connection than ever.
And, it wasn’t all hard work.
Affair Recovery Step 4 – Start Playing Again
After an affair, it’s normal to think that you don’t really know your spouse.
And, that’s probably true.
Scott had been hiding his affair, but also much more of his life from Jill.
Jill had suspected something had been wrong for quite a while. But, she decided not to say anything about it.
Here’s the thing.
Affairs rarely happen when husband and wife are deeply connected to each other mentally, emotionally, spiritually and sexually.
So, while Scott and Jill did quite a bit of hard work to rebuild trust after the affair, they also made time for play.
They both enjoyed cooking, so they started to cook together once a week.
Jill had always wanted to learn to dance, so they took a dance class together.
They both liked Steve Carrell, so they would watch his movies and shows together.
They started to hold hands and touch again.
And, they made time for each other each day to just talk and catch up for the day.
They let each other know the ups and downs of work, child care, traffic and other “small talk” things.
They started to be friends again.
Once a week, they also took time to have a date together.
This gave them more time to talk.
At first, they didn’t really know what to talk about.
I gave them a few questions to get started. They were able to take it from there.
So, while affair recovery does take work, it also takes play.
Don’t forget to have fun with your spouse!
Step 5 in Affair Recovery – Get Mentoring
After the affair, Scott and Jill were both, well, a mess.
They didn’t know what to do or where to turn.
They got some advice from friends and family.
Some of it was good, some of it wasn’t.
What finally helped Scott and Jill reach affair recovery and turn things around was getting help.
And not just any help. The right help.
Mentoring provides new ideas and accountability.
After reading this article, you probably have some new ideas that you didn’t have before!
But, you’ve probably read a lot of things in the past that you haven’t really acted on.
Or, you acted on them, but in a way that didn’t get you the results that you wanted.
Besides new ideas, mentoring provides accountability and guidance in how to apply the principles that work in affair recovery.
When looking for a mentor, you want someone who:
Cares deeply about you and your marriage
Has experience helping people in affair recovery
Is able to offer you support in a way that works for you
I work with a select number of male clients to help them save their marriage, avoid divorce, and become a hero to their wife and children.
I work with men who are currently in couples therapy, as well as men whose wives do not want to do couples therapy.
I help married men become spiritually, mentally, emotionally and sexually strong.
Strong in a way that you respect yourself and your wife equally. That you are a man who is on a mission in his life. A man who is master of his thoughts and emotions. Who uses sex as a way to connect deeply with his wife.
This strength is what gives you confidence in yourself.
That confidence and strength is what can attract your wife back to you, even after an affair.