Although an affair can disrupt your relationship in almost any area, there are three broad domains that frequently show negative impact from the affair. For some couples, one or more of these areas was already a source of difficulty before the affair. For such couples, the additional stress of an affair often leads to severe dysfunction in that particular domain.
Following a betrayal trauma, nearly all couples need to address the issue of how to regain some sense of equilibrium in one or more of the following areas, which vary on a continuum of vulnerability from instrumental, task-oriented activities to more emotional and intimate activities.
The three broad domain areas are:
Following a betrayal trauma, nearly all couples need to address the issue of how to regain some sense of equilibrium
Disruption of Daily Tasks
Often, after an affair there is a breakdown in daily routines, household chores, and patterns of interaction. This happens for a number of reasons:
Typically, both partners contribute to the relationship and complete various tasks for the wellbeing of the couple but after an affair many individuals, particularly the injured partner, no longer put forth the same effort they had previously. After an affair, motivation to expend extra effort to benefit the other partner is compromised. So, shopping for and preparing meals, doing laundry, cleaning the house, putting gas in the car, along with many other activities are no longer taken care of as usual. If partners are so upset with one another that they can't even talk to each other about the issues, then their lives become more stressful and daily needs are not addressed.
It is important that the aspect of daily, household tasks and responsibilities are addressed.
Disruption of Companionship Activities
An important aspect of most intimate relationships is the partnerships that couples share, engaging in a wide variety of enjoyable activities together.
Every couple has routines for relaxation or play, such as going to the movies together, enjoying a play, exercising together, inviting friends over for the evening, or taking short weekend trips out of town; however these activities are frequently disrupted in the aftermath of an affair.
The injured partner might feel too upset and angry to propose that the couple go to a movie together. Likewise, the participating partner might believe it is too presumptuous to suggest that the couple continue with their previously planned vacation.
On the other hand, both partners may retain a strong wish for these activities. The participating partner might want to show how much he or she wants to be with the injured partner and suggest a lot of “togetherness” activities. Similarly, some injured partners seek reassurance from shared activities or fear that they have not been a “good enough” companion and now try to make up for it by suggesting lots of ways to spend time together.
Often, there is some confusion between partners about what is acceptable, so it’s important to raise the issue. Remember that the desire for companionship with the other person will likely change over the course of recovery and partners might have different desires at various times. Therefore, it’s important to be patient during these interactions and be mindful of the variety of emotional responses that might come up during these interactions. Make a good-faith effort to be positive during these interactions and tell the other person if an activity becomes unpleasant or aversive.
Disruption of Intimate Interactions
While companionship activities might be ones that someone does with a friend, other activities that couples enjoy involve more intimate interactions, typically reserved for a romantic, committed relationship. This category includes:
Moreover, given that the trauma of an affair involves sexual interactions with a third person, sexual interactions between the participating and injured partner may seem meaningless or aversive.
I make no single recommendation to couples regarding intimate or sexual interactions, but these issues need to be raised during therapy. Don’t engage in intimate behaviors that make either person highly uncomfortable. Instead, try to understand that after an affair, there are many decisions to make, including how to interact with each other while assessing whether to maintain the relationship longterm.
Guidelines for Decision-making Discussions
Couples regularly face a wide range of issues requiring joint decisions. For example, these decisions can range from management of couple- and family-focused daily responsibilities, engagement in companionship activities, and consideration about whether or not to engage in more intimate interactions. The general decision-making skills outlined below can be helpful for many couples facing difficult decisions after an affair.
State the issue clearly and specifically.
Clarify why the issue is important and what your needs are.
Discuss possible solutions.
Decide on a solution that is agreeable to both of you.
Decide on a trial period to implement the solution, if it is a situation that will occur more than once.
TJ Walsh, MA LPC NCC
TJ is a licensed professional counselor in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and board certified by NBCC as a National Certified Counselor. His primary clinical focus is trauma, emotional abuse, affairs and betrayal traumas, existential crisis and restoration/deepening of the relationship one has with him/her/their self. He is also an artist and educator in Counseling Psychology at Eastern University in Saint Davids, Pennsylvania.
Loss can take many forms and some loss is more devastating than others.
When our spouse tells us that they want a divorce, when a close friend or family member dies, when we get laid off from a job or when we become disabled by illness or injury, or when there is tragedy in our community—our lives can be sent into a tailspin.
Loss forces us to face several psychological challenges, but by incorporating the arts into our lives, these new challenges can be used as a tool for gaining momentum in the healing process.
As we reconstruct our identity to match our new circumstances, we must at the same time be adjusting our belief systems. As human beings we naturally try to make sense of our experiences in life. Some of us articulate it more clearly than others do, but we each have our own way of understanding how the world works, a unique set of beliefs and assumptions that form the lens through which we view the world and our individual place in it. Loss and grief can challenge these basic assumptions and make us question everything that we thought we knew. We are flooded with doubts and questions; often the simplest question is simply—why? It is our challenge to find ways of making sense of what happened and adjusting our belief systems accordingly.
To grow, we have to find within ourselves a way to ascribe meaning to the events and discover a new purpose to steer us into our new existence. A helpful exercise for redefining our belief systems is to take a piece of paper and write down everything that we thought that we knew, and all the beliefs that we held on to. Once you have scribed all of these beliefs and assumptions onto the paper, paint over them. Once the paint dries, inscribe your new beliefs and your new perspectives over top of the old ones.
Recovering from grief and loss takes time but the best way to treat our psychological injuries is to take on these challenges at our own pace, confronting and overcoming them one by one.
"I could never do what you do. How do you listen to problems all day?"
This is a question that I get all of the time. But you know what? I don’t see my job as listening to problems at all. Rather, I spend my time being witness to resilience.
I hear painful stories. I see pain. I feel it, too. Sometimes, after I hear a story I need to close my door and cry a little bit.
But, I also see the beauty of life. The strength of human resiliency. The need to find acceptance and offer grace in the unpredictability of it all.
I don't see my job as listening to problems as all. Rather, I spend my time being witness to resilience.
Each day, I get to see how people can change. I get to watch as they recognize unhelpful patterns and shift them. I also see how people in many ways often stay the same. I see them sitting in my office as the sweet child with dreams and where fun and joy can pop up, almost unexpectedly.
In my job, I get to also be a student. I am taught great lessons every day by my clients. I am regularly reminded to count my blessings. But, also, to grieve my losses.
I am offered the beautiful opportunity of my own struggles being normalized. I get to see what life is truly like for most people behind closed doors.
This offers me permission to be human. It also grants me the great reminder to never forget that other people are human, too.
My job is a great honor. And whether we connect in my office or through here, I am inspired by you.
I want to share with you something that I know from getting to know so many people so intimately:
You’re not the only one. Someone else has faced something similar. There are other couples out there that are struggling in the same way you are.
Other individuals feeling similar feelings that you feel.
People all over the world worrying, grieving, and crying, and just trying really really hard. And also surviving and thriving.
You’re not alone in your struggles. And, at the same time, you’re beautifully unique and the world needs you and your experiences, perspectives, and presence.
The term gaslighting originated from the 1944 Ingrid Berman movie Gaslight, where a husband slowly manipulates his wife into thinking she’s gone insane. The term resurged in popularity in 2016 thanks to a viral op-ed in Teen Vogue; it was a runner-up for Oxford dictionary’s 2018 word of the year.
Gaslighting is a real phenomenon—and it has actual consequences for its victims. So what is gaslighting? And what are the signs you’re in a relationship with someone who’s gaslighting you?
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting psychological manipulation of a person, typically through lying, until the victim questions their sanity and begins to accept the other person’s version of reality. It's an abuse of power to dominate another person.
If the gaslighter is good enough, the victim may not even realize that it's happening. Gaslighting undermines a person’s confidence in who they are and what they believe, and it can lead them to do things they don’t want to do.
Sometimes otherwise mentally stable people gaslight in a certain situation—say, to cover up an affair. But people who persistently gaslight tend to be narcissistic (they’re extremely self-centered) and sociopathic (they ignore other’s people’s perspectives and disregard their rights). These people seek to control another person to meet their own needs or desires in a way that’s manipulative or dishonest.
Here are seven signs of gaslighting in a relationship, and what to do if you think you’re being gaslighted.
Gaslighting undermines a person's confidence in who they are and what they believe, and it can lead them to do things they don't want to do.
Signs of gaslighting in a relationship
Some of these signs (lying, making false promises) tend to be more strongly associated with gaslighting than others. But several signs taken together is evidence enough to suspect gaslighting. With some of these signs, the victim doesn’t notice them at first. The person needs to gain evidence that it’s gradually occurring over time and put the pieces together to see the symptoms for what they really are.
They lie—and keep lying even after they've been caught
Does your friend never seem to be wrong? If that's the case, they are definitely lying, because we’re all wrong at some point or another. Lying is a key sign of gaslighting.
Of course people lie for many reasons. But gaslighters lie to change another person’s reality. Whatever the gaslighter wants to get from one person, they'll get one way or another through lying.
Gaslighters typically start with small lies, then build up to bigger ones. When they’re caught, even with proof—like text messages—they refuse to admit the truth. They’ll keep denying and lying until you question your memory and ultimately believe their version of events.
It becomes a real mind-you-know-what if the person who’s lying is so confident and unwavering in their position.
They play on insecurities
A gaslighter gets to know your vulnerabilities. Your vulnerabilities include your insecurities, successes, and beliefs. They’ll consistently critique these things, and make snide comments to hurt and control you. Then they will tell you to "get over it," so you begin to believe your perspective isn’t valid or important.
These comments cut down your sense of self-esteem and over time gives the gaslighter the upper hand. The person who is being gaslit will question their worthiness and identify with the gaslighter’s perspective.
Actions don't match words
Even though the gaslighter says that they care about you, they ultimately flake on plans time and again, then swear that the plans never existed in the first place. They’re telling you what you want to hear, then doing whatever it is they wanted to do in the first place.
When someone says they’re going to do something, you should be able to trust they’ll do it. You should question your trust in a person who gives you lip service—particularly if it’s a pattern.
They manipulate your relationships
Gaslighters manipulate how you see important people in your life. They tell you that your father doesn’t love you, your friend is talking behind your back, or your sister is lying to you. They also develop relationships with some of these people, then convince them that you’re crazy in order to manipulate them into supporting the gaslighting process.
By convincing everyone around you that they are the only person who can be trusted, a gaslighter becomes the master manipulator. When you’re cut off from people you trust, you don’t have access to other perspectives that might help you to question what’s happening.
They question your sanity
After lying and manipulating you, a gaslighter will question your version of events, telling you that you're paranoid or imagining things. The goal is to make you feel like you’re going insane.
Constantly questioning your reality is a way to make you feel like there’s something really wrong with you. In the end, you’ll believe you actually need the other person’s perspective to get by.
They accuse you of doing the same thing
Known as “projection” in therapy-speak, gaslighters accuse their victims of their own behaviors.
How many partners accuse their partner of cheating because they’re the one who’s cheating? The person who’s cheating sees the world in a distrustful way because they’re distrustful. They’re attempting to wiggle their way out. If their partner doesn’t have a good sense of self, they’ll buy the projection and act it out by actually having an affair.
You feel increasingly unsure of yourself
Over time, a gaslighter’s behaviors cut into the self-confidence of their victim. You might think everything’s your fault and apologize all of the time, then wonder if you’re too sensitive. Maybe you feel anxious and isolated. You may question your impressions, thoughts, and feelings, and have a hard time making decisions.
What should you do if you're being gaslighted?
\\If you think believe that you're being gaslighted, find a person to confide in, a person that you can trust. You need to get out from under the influence of the gaslighter and have your perspective heard and understood.
It’s entirely possible to fall for someone and realize that they’re gaslighting you after a date or two. Get rid of them. If this isn’t the first time you’ve been attracted to a gaslighter, therapy might be in order. Consider how you become attracted to this type of person. Ask yourself if you're playing a subservient role, and was that something that person smelled out? People who control are looking for people they can control.
Things get more complicated if you’re being gaslighted in a long-term relationship.
If gaslighting is linked to specific circumstances, like covering up an affair, there’s hope to salvage the relationship if the person is truly sorry and willing to try couple’s therapy. If the gaslighter recognizes what they are doing and changes, and you determine why the cheating happened and address those issues, there’s a chance you can recover.
Many people who have affairs never thought they would and are grasping for ways to make it go away or pretend like it never happened.
If, however, a person is slowly gaslighting you, and they aren’t remorseful when you confront them, they may have a serious personality disorder. You may also be grappling with insecurity yourself or seeking a strong connection during a vulnerable time of your life.
Changing this type of behavior in a person takes time and a lot of motivation. It’s much more complicated and often never occurs.
So much of my time spent with people is about communication. Why is that? I think it’s because we know that communication is one of those things that all of us can seek to improve.
Communication is also something that when changed, can have immediate and positive benefits on your relationship.The Gottmans are famous for their research on the dynamics of relationships and communication. Their book The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work has become a best-seller because it focuses on many of the practical aspects of relationships that you can begin to make changes in.
One of their most popular couple communication concepts is the idea of the ‘soft start-up’.
What is the soft start-up?Simply put, the soft start-up is about approaching a conversation with your partner in a soft way, so that your partner can better receive what you are saying. Many couples fall into the trap of initiating communication with a harsh start-up such as, “Why didn’t you clean the kitchen?!” [said with a blaming tone].
The Gottmans found out through their research that when you start a conversation with tension or harshness, it’s almost certain that you will end the conversation with tension. Maybe you’ve noticed this yourself?
When you start a conversation with tension or harshness, it's almost certain that you will end the conversation with tension.
So, how do you communicate with a soft start-up?
Here are several tips that can help you start a conversation or bring up an issue in your relationship by utilizing the soft start-up approach.
1. Choose your timing carefully
Before you even think about bringing an issue to the floor or beginning a difficult conversation, make sure you’ve got your timing right.
Don’t choose a time when one or both of you are stressed, rushed or dealing with other matters, and avoid noisy and crowded environments. You want to make sure you’re both relaxed and able to focus on one another without any interruptions.
2. Start with something positive
Starting your conversation with a positive statement can make a gigantic difference to how you are received by your partner. It also sets the tone for your conversation.
For example, saying, “Sweetheart, I want to let you know that I really appreciate how hard you’re working at the moment to save money for our deposit”, before you discuss a financial concern can help you get off to a strong start.
3. Own your feelings and use “I” statements
Another important part of the soft start-up is to own your feelings and use “I” statements.
This has a two-fold effect. First, your partner will be less defensive because you’re sharing your own feelings, not commenting or interpreting the feelings of your partner. Next, using “I” statements helps because when you take ownership of your experience, it’s less likely to be heard by your partner as blame.
For example, “When you left this morning and didn’t turn the dishwasher on, I felt annoyed when I came home” is much more palatable than “You are so lazy and forgetful- why didn’t you remember to turn the dishwasher on like I asked you?” The former is more likely to get you a positive response and the later is more likely to have your partner defend their position and attack back.
4. Watch your tone of voice
Be mindful of your tone of voice, this can help with the soft start-up and establish a positive outcome to your conversation.
As humans, we are wired to be sensitive to threat, and threat can be perceived through the voice and it's tone. There can be fine line between assertive communication and aggressive communication.
Check in on your tone as you start to speak. Is there an edge to it? Is there a harshness? If so, see if you can soften your tone. If it helps, notice any tension in your voice and consciously relax your throat and vocal cords.
As humans, we are wired to be sensitive to threat, and threat can be perceived through the voice and it's tone. There can be a fine line between assertive communication and aggressive communication.
5. Share a complaint, but don’t criticize
It’s normal to have complaints of our partners. In fact, a complaint can be healthy for partners if you make it clear what outcome you want to achieve.
The problem starts when complaints turn into criticisms. Any attack on the character of your partner, including global statements of their failings (“you never” or “you always”) can railroad any productive conversation very quickly.
Focus on specific behaviors and make it clear what you dislike, how you feel and how you would like them to change.
6. Make requests for change
Furthermore, complaints without any requests for change are also unhelpful. If you just share your feelings and complaints, your partner may not understand what it is you want.
Let your partner know the specific change you’re wanting. For example, “When you leave your clothes on the floor I feel irritated because I have a need for a clean house, so I’m asking you to please put your clothes in the basket”.
You might have noticed that in this example, the speaker also expressed their need. An expression of your greater need—like a need for cleanliness and organization—can help your partner understand where your irritation is coming from. This understanding can help them be more mindful of your values in the relationship and what will please and displease them.
The soft start-up can be a very effective tool to use when you have to have a difficult conversation. Try it out and see what happens to the communication the next time you need to raise an issue. You might be surprised by the results.
Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son. (1668), Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg
Rembrandt's “Return of the Prodigal Son,” painted in 1668 toward the end of his life, and now hanging in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, is a truly astounding work of sacred art. I haven't seen the original (it is a large painting 8” by 6”), but even the prints convey that which is almost inexpressible.
Others have painted this gospel parable that appears in Luke, chapter 15 many times. Rembrandt’s version stands out, however, from all the others (including James Tisor’s The prodigal son in modern life: the return, painted around 1882, which portrays the son as a wayward sailor returned to his father’s arms on a dock somewhere).
In Rembrandt's version, the father and prodigal son are in that ever-so-soft-and-delicate light of Rembrandt (not the highly intensified and focused light like Caravaggio) against the backdrop of a black surface. The ragged, dirty robes of the son contrast with the father’s ochre tinged with gold robe.
One can move downward from the light on the father’s face to the son’s feet, filthy, with one sandal lying on the floor. The son is almost bald and repellant: he has squandered his inheritance and has even descended so far into degradation that he lived with the pigs.
In another painting of this biblical story Rembrandt caught the prodigal son in the tavern. He painted himself and his wife, Saskia, into the merry-making of wine and song in a raucous pub (of course, Rembrandt as prodigal is wearing a sassy Dutch hat of black felt, with sword dangling at his side).
There are sketches, too, of scenes from the story. Albrecht Durer sketched The prodigal son among the pigs in 1496. This sketch sets the prodigal son smack in the middle of a pig’s trough. These pigs, and their piglets, have the largest snouts I have ever seen. Durer is a matchless wood-cut artist and crafter of sketches.
But it is the father’s features that keep my eyes fixated on the Rembrandt painting, perhaps the way Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa still strikes silent awe in our hearts. How could he paint such an enigmatic smile? Rembrandt’s solemn scene of reconciliation paints the father’s look with such utter tenderness, compassion and love.
Part of the way he does this is by the contrasting light on the old man’s eyes: his left shaded with black, the right eye full of light, the head tilted to the left, the arms extending out of the scarlet robe (revealing extraordinarily beautiful undergarments) and hands placed with utmost tenderness on the son’s back (his head, though turned, is resting on his father’s chest).
Rembrandt has caught the moment when the father has just so, so carefully placed his hands on the son. One can almost imagine that this dirty wayward prodigal had just walked in, and the father moves to meet him, with the son falling at his father’s feet. The psychological depth of this painting is remarkable. The son has come home, the feast is about to begin.
But Rembrandt does not forget the elder brother. He is the “good son” who stands at the side to his father’s left, with two figures, barely visible, in between (another stands behind the father). The light is on the elder son’s face. Unlike his brother, he is standing, hands folded, a walking cane in his front. A red cape drapes his shoulders. He doesn’t seem particularly overjoyed.
The universal meaning of this unsurpassable painting is that light flows into the darkness and sin-weariness of the world though compassion that accepted the wounded and humiliated with total encompassing. The father embraces the wayward one without question. In his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son: a story of homecoming (1994), Henri Nouwen, the contemplative priest and spiritual director, discusses his encounter with Rembrandt’s painting. His story began in the fall of 1983 in the village of Trosly, where he had been spending time at L’Arche, the community founded by Jean Vanier for mentally handicapped people.
Henri had been traveling around the United States lecturing and protesting the war in Central America. He was exhausted, restless, and needy. One day he went over to visit Simone Landrien in the community’s documentation centre. He says, “As we spoke, my eyes fell on a large poster pinned on her door. I saw a man in a great red cloak tenderly touching the shoulders of disheveled boy kneeling before him. I could not take my eyes away.
“I felt drawn by the intimacy between the three figures (one, very, very faint), the war red of the man’s cloak, the golden yellow of the boy’s tunic, and the mysterious light engulfing them both. But, most of all, it was the hands—the old man’s hands—as they touched the boy’s shoulders that reached me in a place where I had never been reached before.”
Immediately Nouwen wanted to get a copy—at Simone’s insistence. The picture stayed with him over the years. There is little doubt that for Nouwen, the coming home to a secure and safe place swelled up from his spiritual depths. Three years later, Henri had opportunity to visit the Hermitage in St. Petersburg where he saw the original painting for the first time.
“I was stunned by its majestic beauty. Its size, larger than life; its abundant reds, browns, and yellow, its shadowy recesses and bright foreground, but most of all the light-enveloped embrace of father and son surrounded by four mysterious bystanders, all of this gripped me with an intensity far beyond my anticipation. There had been moments in which I had wondered whether the real painting might disappoint me. The opportunity was true. Its grandeur and splendour made everything recede into the background and held me completely. Coming here was indeed a homecoming.”
Dive deeper into the painting
The painting revealed to Nouwen the deepest yearning of his heart. The story of the prodigal son is the story of a God who goes searching for us and who doesn’t rest until he has found us.
3 phases of the spiritual journey:
1. The younger son.
Practical tips & things to pray about
Recently I posted a video by Esther Perel where she provides a brief guide about communicating about love in this day and age. In the video, Esther discusses the phenomena of ghosting, icing, and simmering. In this post, we’re going to look at these terms, why to stop engaging with them if you’re a culprit, and how to deal with the emotions of being ghosted, iced or simmered.
Rejection has always been a part of the relationship landscape. But are the new trends of ghosting, icing and simmering increasing our acceptance of ambiguous ends? These tactics of maintaining unclear relationships and prolonging break-ups all produce what I refer to as stable ambiguity. When we are stably ambiguous, we're too afraid to be alone, but unwilling to fully engage in building intimacy. This behavior creates a holding pattern that affirms the undefined nature of the relationship, which has a mix of comforting consistency AND the freedom of blurred lines.
Esther says that "we want to have our cake and eat it too. We want to have someone available to cozy-up with when it’s snowing, but if something better comes along, we want the freedom to explore."
In this relationship culture, expectations and trust are constantly questioned. The state of stable ambiguity will undoubtedly create an atmosphere where at least one person experiences a constant cloud of uncertainty, and neither individual feels truly appreciated or nurtured. We do this at the expense of our emotional health, and the emotional health of others.
"Ghosting, icing, and simmering are manifestations of the decline of empathy in our society — the promoting of one’s selfishness, without regard for the consequences of others," says Esther. There is a person on the other end of our text messages (or lack thereof), and the ability to communicate virtually doesn’t give us the right to treat others poorly.
So what is ghosting, icing, and simmering really? Let's take a look.
Ghosting is simple. The other party simply becomes a ghost. They stop responding to calls, texts, or DMs. Typically, ghosting happens once you’ve already met the other person.
If someone just stops responding to your messages within an online dating site and you haven’t met yet, it's probably one of three things:
Do you ghost?
People who are “into you” don’t “just get the hint” when you stop responding. In some cases, they actually worry. If you’re someone that ghosts others, consider stepping up a little and treating people with a bit more respect. Everyone wants to be respected. You’re not going to be respected if you don’t respect to others. That’s just the way the world works.
Have you been ghosted?
Being the victim of a ghoul sucks. Plain and simple. Many ghostees live in within the gray area between anger and worry. Particularly if they really liked the ghost.
But, it’s not you. That didn’t help, did it? But the reality is, is that someone who can’t send you a message letting you down isn’t someone you want to be with in the first place. How far do you want to go with someone unable to take responsibility for their own decisions?
A client of mine recently came in to their session in tears because the person that they had been seeing for last two months finally reached out to them a week after they left them a voicemail, saying they'd gotten busy. My client hadn't been ghosted. They'd been iced.
Icing is when someone suddenly behaves very cool towards you. Their responses become sporadic and will become increasingly more generic than specific. Trying to make plans will yield responses like “let me get back to you.”
Do you put people on ice?
Stop. Really, people are not toys. It’s OK to call it like it is. Keep a good friend vs. just being a jerk.
If you're prone to icing people, try; this instead: So, here’s the thing: I like you. I like that you _____, and you would probably be great to be friends with.
Warning: If they agree to be friends, make the next four or five connections be group interactions. Test that friendship is going to work. Constant advances aren’t OK. Maintain your agreed upon boundaries.
Have you been put on ice?
I guess the good news with icing is that the other person is kinda into you. They do like you. Otherwise, they’d ghost. But chances are, they aren’t so sure whether the like you like you. That’s worth a little bit of effort, right? So that's why you're on ice.
Icing is weird. People do get busy. But if someone wants to spend time with you, they make the time. At very least, an “I wish I could see you, but I’m booked” text will fill the space and help take the edge off.
Dealing with icing takes a bit of commitment. Give yourself a strategy and stick to it. Set boundaries and limits. A strategy that I teach my clients is 2/4. I recommend that they reach out twice, four days apart. So, if my client reaches out to someone – phone, text, email, DM – and they don’t respond in four days AND they really like them, call and ask a hard “when can we get together again?” But, that’s it.
If my client is truly being put on ice, their second call is going to go to VM. If their crush answers, chances are icing isn’t what’s going on – something else is.
If that second call is met with something other than a “let’s get together x,” most likely it's not worth continued pursuit.
Simmering is the worst. It is literally putting a relationship on the back burner and letting it sit there. And you're in the pot. You're plan B. They're really looking for x but, if the can't find it, maybe they'll settle for you.
Do you let people simmer?
If you’re a simmerer, just say you’re not interested. Maybe you kind of are, but do everyone a favor, just say you’re not. If you’re not interested right now and have the courage to state it, you might have the chance with the person later if you become interested, because you were honest before. But, if you simmer someone, you’re just being a jerk. Even if you believe you have good intentions.
Are you on the back burner?
When you’re being simmered, you have to be the strong one. That puts you in the awful position of having to bail on someone you actually like.
But, here’s the thing: you’re only around for their ego. Even if things would escalate to a relationship, chances are, you’re only arm candy for their ego.
Don’t tell the simmerer, but the reality is quite simple: they’re just not ready for an adult relationship. In an adult relationship, you like someone and you want to give it a shot… or you’re not willing to give it a shot. For some reason or another, simmerers just aren’t willing or ready to give it a shot. And that's okay, but you don't need to stick around until they are ready.
Ghosting, icing, and simmering are manifestations of the decline of empathy in our society — the promoting of one’s selfishness, without regard for the consequences of others. There is a person on the other end of our text messages (or lack thereof), and the ability to communicate virtually doesn’t give us the right to treat others poorly. (Esther Perel)
I encourage you to end relationships respectfully and conclusively, however brief they may be. Act with kindness and integrity. This gives both people the chance to enter into their next relationship with more experience and a clear head, rather than filled with disappointment and insecurity.
Ideas to incorporate into a final conversation:
Of course, couples living in the realm of stable ambiguity don’t always end in a breakup. Sometimes this state is the training wheels period needed for one or both parties to realize they want something more. This is normal for a brief, beginning phase, but not as the defining mode of a relationship.
Many people stay in self-defeating relationships too long because they are they are afraid that they'll be alone or that they are responsible for the happiness of their partner. They may say they want out—but they end up staying. Other people may actually be successful in leaving the relationship but inevitably repeat the same or similar self-destructive pattern in a new relationship. The adrenaline rush that they experience when they feel passionate toward someone can be addictive. For many people, the reason behind excessive emotional reliance on a partner is co-dependency—a tendency to put other's needs before their own.
Recently, I asked a client this question: "What is it that stops you from getting what you want out of a relationship?" Her answer was: "It's too hard to go through a breakup and to be alone." My response went something like this: "Maybe it's time to examine your fears and the ways you might be self-sabotaging." I often realize that my clients aren't always aware that they may be excessively dependent on their partner to feel good about themselves.
So what can you do if you are paralyzed by fear or unable to risk leaving a relationship that is unhealthy for you? The first thing that you need to do is acknowledge it. Fear doesn't go away by itself—you must stare it in the face—it tends to morph into something else. If you sometimes find that you sabotage your own needs in relationships, there could be many reasons. However, codependency symptoms are common for people who grew up in a dysfunctional home—especially if you took on the role of a caretaker.
According to codependency expert Darlene Lancer, most American families are dysfunctional—so you're in the majority if you grew up in one. She writes, "Researchers also found that codependent symptoms got worse if left untreated. The good news is that they're reversible."
Fear doesn't go away by itself—you must stare it in the face—it tends to morph into something else.
As strange as it may sound, for many of us, conflict in relationships is comfortable because pain is what we know. For those people for whom this is true, the fear of getting hurt emotionally may cause them to flee a healthy relationship or engage in some form of self-protective behavior by staying in an unhealthy one. Dealing with an unavailable, distant, or inappropriate partner is their wheelhouse. A partner who wants nothing more than to be with them and make them a top priority is a foreign concept.
Do you find yourself falling into one or more of these codependent relationship patterns?
Nothing erodes self-esteem quicker than an unhealthy relationship. Many [people] remain in dysfunctional marriages because they are convinced that this is what they deserve.
Many of the people with whom I work describe themselves as independent, loyal and conscientious. These individuals are hardworking, trustworthy, and self-reliant—and pride themselves on these traits. They often feel self-assured and autonomous—confident they can take care of themselves while others can't. The truth is that in spite of these wonderful characteristics, many of these people find themselves being attracted to troubled, distant, or moody partners at some point in their lives.
I sat down for a session with Jessica* one afternoon. An outgoing and lively twenty-something, she has found herself in an on and off again relationship for seven years with a guy she just can't seem to successfully break away from. Over the course of my time working with her, I have learned that Jessica never wants to be responsible for a relationship ending. And when her partner, Jackson*, doesn't treat her well, or devalues her love, she wonders why she wasn't worth fighting for. Jessica dreams of a boyfriend who offers her love, security, and respect. But she says whenever she runs across a man who could potentially give her those things, she isn't attracted to him. All she knows is the cycle of inadequacy and mistrust.
Author Allison Pescosolido writes, "Nothing erodes self-esteem quicker than an unhealthy relationship. Many [people] remain in dysfunctional marriages because they are convinced that this is what they deserve." In some cases, there is no need to end the relationship. In my work and life, I have learned that relationships can heal if people change. But in order to heal from an unhealthy pattern of codependency, it's important to regain control of your thoughts and make your needs a priority.
Steps to reclaiming healthy love in your life:
Take a moment to consider that you might be attached to the feeling that being in love brings pain. If so, you might be self-sabotaging your chances of having a healthy relationship where you can get your needs met. Your fear of being alone or taking a risk, for example, may be preventing you from finding the love and happiness you deserve. Maybe you're blocking out the opportunity to love someone who can meet you half way. Author Karen McMahon writes, "By focusing on your healing and personal growth you will energetically transform your life and begin to attract others (friends, bosses, companions) who are your emotional equals."
*Names have been changed to protect privacy
Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to a talk given by Mark McMinn on the subject of integrating the concept of grace into his counseling sessions and the impact of its message on the clients with whom we work in relationship. Listening to this message by McMinn helped me reconnect with grace in my own life. Here are a few of my reflections.
I have identified as a Christian for nearly all of my life, but I'm not sure if I always truly understood what the concept of grace means. I’m certain that I heard sermons about it, read about it in the Bible, and heard other people talk about their experience of grace, but for the most part, I was ignorant as to how it affected me. It wasn’t until I read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning that the true message of grace sunk in. I learned that no matter what I did, no matter what mistakes I made, no matter how many times I failed, I could rest in the love that God had for me and know that it was enough.
McMinn talked about grace in this way: Grace is a free gift of love, forgiveness, and God’s favor with no strings attached. It is above and beyond all we could ever want or need. There is no hidden agenda or any way we could pay God back for the grace we receive. It isn’t contingent on how we respond. It is unconditional and is given to us before we decide to receive it. It doesn’t make sense. It changes us.
Grace is a free gift of love, forgiveness, and God's favor with no strings attached.
Grace is believing that I am enough.
I often struggle with what I call my "enoughness." "Am I enough" is a common question we face, and we often answer this question one way or the other based on what we see in our lives. But grace shows us that our actions cannot add to or detract from our fundamental worth and value. If I am going to experience grace for myself and extend it to my clients, I must rest in the truth that we each have individual and inherent worth and value, and that because of that, we are enough.
With grace, we can practice acceptance.
If you were to speak with any number of my clients, they would tell you that I often talk to them about the surprising freedom that comes as we take stock of our circumstances and give ourselves grace for how we are handling them. Often we are plagued by the “tyranny of the shoulds,” where we wonder about how we “should” be facing a certain circumstance, or we worry over how our circumstances are not working out as they “should.” However, the energy spent on “shoulding” all over ourselves :) and others simply increases our distress. As a therapist, one of my goals is accept and love you in the middle of your circumstance, offering you grace when you aren’t able to offer it to yourself, with the hope that you will learn the path to offering grace to yourself.
Our values are important.
Just because we are able to accept our circumstance, it doesn't mean that we are waving a white flag in defeat. Accepting our circumstances doesn’t magically fix them. What it does is provide clarity on what actions we can take to move toward our values. In the urgency of the day-to-day, we can lose sight of the things most important to us. If you make a list of all the things you value and compare it to your current schedule, you would likely find inconsistencies. Identifying and reminding yourself of your values and choosing to act in accordance to them even amidst chaotic circumstances allows you to experience peace.
Accepting our circumstances doesn't magically fix them.
Treatment is very different with a grace mindset.
Manning, the author of the Ragamuffin Gospel, suffered from a lifelong pull toward alcoholism. Alcoholism and addictions of any kind are driven by shame: as the addict feels shame in their life, they will choose to medicate or run away from that shame with addictive behaviors. However, addressing shame with grace removes the fuel for the fire of addiction.
Resist shame by befriending the thoughts that are plaguing you. Accept them, normalize them, and allow them to be there while also making decisions based on your values. Imagine a sex addict feeling the urge to view pornography. In the moment when he or she feels that urge, they may experience shame and “should” all over themselves, which will lead to medicating that shame with the most effective tool that is available to them – acting out their addiction. With an approach of grace, however, the person can choose to normalize their urges (“Of course I’m wanting to view pornography, I’m an addict and there’s a chemical imbalance in my brain.”) and then choose to act in a way that is in alignment with their values (“Sobriety is important to me, so I’m going to choose to call my sponsor instead.”)
Grace is humbling.
Grace offers us the opportunity to admit that we really don't have it all together. Over the years, McMinn named that he had adapted his counseling style from one focused more on concrete thoughts and emotions (cognitive behavioral therapy) to a method that involved more mindful awareness and acceptance of the present state of circumstances (acceptance and commitment therapy). He even wrote a book about the first style of therapy that he admitted to his audience was not in alignment with what he currently practices. Grace gives us the humility to adapt and change our response.
We develop empathy as we connect with our personal brokenness. Accepting grace requires us to admit that we are human, that we’ve failed or done wrong or made a mistake. It makes it easier to forgive others when we see how broken we are ourselves. Imagine the difference this could make in marriage if couples extended grace to themselves and to one another. Imagine the effect this forgiveness could have.
Grace gives us the humility to adapt and change our response.
Most of my work as a psychotherapist consists of helping individuals and couples work through very difficult relationship challenges, and nearly everyday, I have a person sitting across from me in tears expressing frustration, hurt and anger. They often say something like: "He said I am sorry, but it’s at least the tenth time! I don’t know what to do. I am told that it’s my Christian duty to forgive, and the Lord knows I’ve tried. But each time I forgive him, he changes for a little while and then returns to the same behavior. I have a gut feeling I am handling things the wrong way. He never really changes, and I just get angrier. What should I do? Sometimes we hesitate to forgive because we think it must automatically include reconciliation, but in reality these are two separate processes, and one does not always lead to the other.
One person can forgive; it takes two to reconcile
The capacity to forgive does not depend on anyone else's behavior or permission. The person who is being forgiven can continue to be cruel, thoughtless, and relentlessly set agains the person who is trying to forgive. But he or she cannot for me to offer or withhold forgiveness.
The reality is, each of us have the power to forgive anything but that doesn’t mean that a person is willing to forgive anything or that the act of forgiveness will be easy. And sometimes a wrong is so heinous that it can take the rest of one's life to forgive completely. But the possibility is there. The capacity to forgive does not depend on anyone else’s behavior or permission. The person who is being forgiven can continue to be cruel, thoughtless, and relentlessly set against the person who is trying to forgive. But he or she cannot force me to offer or withhold forgiveness. From my perspective, forgiveness is a spiritual act, which means that, ultimately, I rely on God’s grace to accomplish it. In fact, my own faults and weaknesses will get in the way of my ability to forgive, especially in some situations. But whatever I’m lacking, God can supply. At times my need for God’s assistance is acute, but when I choose to forgive, my effort does not rely on any other person.
Reconciliation is a multiple-person process. When one person reconciles with another person, both of them must first ask and/or offer forgiveness. But it has to go further than that. Both people have to choose to do whatever it takes to restore the relationship. One person might be completely willing, but if the other person is not willing, reconciliation isn't possible. This means that I can forgive someone for damaging our friendship, but maybe I don’t feel safe enough to resume the friendship. Reconciliation might happen later, but for now I will forgive and leave it at that. Or I might forgive and be ready to reconcile, but the other person no longer desires the relationship. Or the other person can forgive me but not want to reconcile; or the other person forgives me but I don’t want to reconcile. It’s worth recognizing here that some damage occurs in relationships that are out of balance to begin with, such as the friendship in which one person is needy and the other one always comes to the rescue. In these cases, reconciliation—if it should happen at all—will require a complete reconstruction and that only after one or both people have dealt with their individual issues. Reconciliation can be long and painful and messy, but it can also be well worth all the strife if the relationship is truly restored. Sometimes restored relationships are stronger than they were before they fell apart.
Forgiveness is an interior discipline; reconciliation is an outward process
Forgiveness is a private and ongoing discipline of mind, heart, and soul. Actually, forgiveness is one aspect of an overall posture toward others and life itself. If I am judgmental and vindictive in general, forgiveness will be an awkward and difficult change of direction for me. If I hope to forgive specific wrongs others commit against me, then I should be practicing everyday to look at others with openness and compassion, to be slow to place blame and to resist seeking revenge. And I can even practice forgiveness without anyone else knowing what is happening inside me. I may be super hurt at something another person said, and I know that before I confront that person in any way, I need to choose forgiveness. I might silently work on forgiveness—in my prayer, meditation, talks with a counselor —for days or weeks without talking directly to the person whose words hurt me. In some cases, I might go through that private process, realize that the wrong wasn’t as blatant or as intentional as I first thought, and then get over it completely without the other person ever knowing about my struggle.
Forgiveness is a private and ongoing discipline of mind, heart, and soul.
Reconciliation, on the other hand, is not private because it must include at least one other person. When I’m working on reconciliation, of course I do my own interior work, but I must also cooperate with the larger work that involves others’ personal difficulties and needs. I may feel a burning desire to have a discussion immediately and try to restore the relationship, but the other person has a lot going on—dealing with her teenager, pressures at work, or health problems—and she simply cannot enter such a heavy conversation yet. My loved one may want to reconcile now and move back home, but I know that until she has received professional help for her substance abuse or mental-health problems, such a move would be a mistake and likely result not in reconciliation but a bigger mess. Reconciliation is as complicated as the people involved, and it can require more time and patience than forgiveness because of all the moving pieces. Another big factor in reconciliation is the inclusion—or, intrusion—of other friends and family members. Additional people can provide strength, encouragement, and wisdom. They can also provide more opportunities for argument, miscommunication, and flawed strategies.