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Section 9
Track #9 - Five Effective Growth Experiences that Keep Couples Together

Question 9 | Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Printable Page

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On the last track, we discussed helping couples recovering from infidelity assess their reasons for staying together as a couple. We will specifically discuss four reasons based upon insecurities partners may choose to stay in a relationship. These reasons based upon insecurities for staying together are “I can’t make it on my own”, “my religion says my marriage vow cannot be broken”, “the idea of separating is too overwhelming”, and “I’m responsible for taking care of my partner”.

On this track, we will discuss the impact of five essential growth experiences that can influence the way a couple handles an infidelity crisis. The five essential growth experiences we will discuss are being safe and secure, functioning independently, having solid emotional connections, being able to value yourself, and living with realistic limitations.

Remember Jules and Elicia from Track 7? Jules stated, “I know Elicia is displaying affection when she picks on me. But it hurts! Even though I know she finds me attractive, when she shines my bald spot it feels like she’s reminding me how inadequate I am!” I explained to Jules that as children interact with parents, siblings, and other significant persons, they develop certain dominant ways of feeling, thinking, and behaving.

As children become adults, these patterns become hardened and integrated into the sense of self. These patterns also influence how people relate to each other. I have found that identifying these patterns can be helpful when choosing appropriate cognitive behavioral techniques for the hurt and unfaithful partner.

5 Essential Growth Experiences

Growth Experience # 1 - Feeling Safe & Secure
The first essential growth experience I discussed with Jules and Elicia is being able to feel safe and secure.

I stated, “there can be two common ways children experience an insecure home environment. The first involves physical or emotional abandonment. In adult relationships, children who are physically or emotionally abandoned grow up to feel rejection too easily and too often, and believe that people who love them will leave them. The second way children experience an insecure home environment is through physical or emotional abuse. In adult relationships, these children perceive control and subjugation in their relationships. Children who have been abused often grow up to believe that people who love them will hurt them.”

An unfaithful partner who is unable to feel safe and secure may find that an affair reduces his or her fear of being emotionally dependent on someone who will inevitably reject them. An unfaithful partner may also be unconsciously seeking to ‘even the score’ of their childhood by gaining power and control through their affair.  A hurt partner respond to being unable to feel safe and secure by becoming clingy in intimate relationships. A hurt partner may also respond by mirroring the abuse he or she once experienced by becoming overbearing and manipulative, unable to respond to his or her partner’s needs.

Growth Experience # 2 - Functioning Independently
A second essential growth experience is being able to function independently. Children who are discouraged from forming their own identity often feel dependent, vulnerable, and incompetent in adult intimate relationships. I have observed that children who do not learn to function independently often feel controlled by the needs of other, and feel guilty or fearful when considering independent actions. An unfaithful partner who is unable to function independently may see an affair as an act of rebellion against a relationship which feels too engulfing.

Ian, 43, grew up with an overprotective mother. Ian stated, “my dad died in a hit-and-run when I was young, and Mom grew up terrified that she’d lose me too. Even when I was in high school, she walked me to and from school every day. My wife, Rachel, was very similar. She needed me because she was frightened all the time. And I was scared to be alone. But the more I tried to meet her needs, the more I felt cramped. It was only with prostitutes that I felt I could get my needs met.”

A hurt partner who is unable to function independently may envy their partner’s separateness, and expect their partner to be responsible for enriching their life. A hurt partner who is unable to function independently may also become fiercely independent in response, and create tension by never permitting their partner to support them.

Growth Experience # 3 - Connecting Emotionally to Others
In addition to being able to feel safe and being able to function independently, a third essential growth experience is being able to connect emotionally to others. I explained to Jules and Elicia that if a child’s parents fail to interact with him or her in a warm, nurturing way, the child will feel lonely and uncared for.

I stated, “a child who has experienced this emotional vacuum often experiences others as disinterested or cold. As an adult, this child may remain aloof, drift from relationship to relationship, or desperately seek attention from people who let him or her down. Adults who cannot connect emotionally to others feel that no one is there for them, and cannot grasp the importance of intimacy.”

An unfaithful partner who is unable to connect emotionally to others may experience enduring relationships as predictable and disillusioning. He or she may become compulsively sexual, craving the excitement of short-term encounters. A hurt partner who is unable to connect emotionally to others may compensate by withholding love, or by demanding more than anyone can give. Clearly, both of these coping mechanisms can drive a partner away.

Growth Experience # 4 - Valuing Yourself
A fourth essential growth experience is being able to value yourself. Jules stated, “my dad and all my brothers went into medicine. But I’ve always been the disappointment. Dad doted on my brothers, but he hardly paid attention to me at all. When he did, it was to tease me. It wasn’t affectionate teasing, either. Most of it really hurt and let me know how much I had let him down. I think that’s why Elicia’s teasing hurt so much. It made me feel inferior, so I went looking for someone who would idolize me.”

A hurt partner who is unable to value his or herself may push his or her partners away with negativity. A hurt partner who is unable to value his or herself may also feel continually unwanted, and as a result drive his or her partner away by being needy.

Growth Experience Inventory Technique
I recommended the Growth Experiences Inventory technique to Jules and Elicia to further expand their discussion of their needs in their relationship.  I stated, “In this technique, I will ask you both seven questions. Using your journals, write the answer to these questions as if you were writing to your partner. After you have both finished writing, we can discuss your answers.”

The seven questions in the Growth Experiences Inventory are:
-- 1. What feelings or emotions were most dominant to me growing up?
-- 2. What was missing from the way each parent treated me? What was my greatest unmet need? How did this affect me?
-- 3. What did I like best about the way each parent treated me. How did this influence who I am today?
-- 4. What did I learn about love from watching how the significant people in my life treated each other?
-- 5. In what ways have I blamed my partner for making me feel the way I’ve always felt? In what ways does he or she blame me?
-- 6. How do we hurt each other in ways that we’re already vulnerable?
-- 7. What does my partner give that I value the most? What does he or she need from me to feel safe and secure?

Growth Experience # 5 - Setting or Accepting Realistic Limits
The fifth essential growth experience is being able to set or accept realistic limits. I explained to Jules and Elicia that a child whose parents did too much  may lack self discipline. Children whose parents taught them to feel superior to others may also be unable to set realistic limits. These children may grow up to expect special consideration, and may take offense when restrictions are placed on them. 

An unfaithful  partner who is unable to set or accept realistic limits may have grown up without a model of mature reciprocity. He or she may demand much more of his or her partner than of him or herself. As a result, the unfaithful partner may be able to easily justify his or her dissatisfaction at home and his or her affairs. A hurt partner who is unable to set or accept realistic limits may expect to be taken care of.

Janine, 26, stated, “my mother raised my sisters and I to be totally carefree. We never had chores, or bedtimes, summer jobs, or responsibilities. She’d say, ‘life’s short, so enjoy it’.  When I married Phil, I didn’t have a problem with him bringing all the money in. It never occurred to me that he’d have a problem with it. But then he started sleeping with my best friend… and I realized I was totally replaceable.”

Have you treated a client... like Janine, whose inability to set or accept realistic limits has made it difficult for him or her to engage in a mutually reciprocal intimate relationship? Would he or she benefit from listening to this track in your next session?

On this track, we have discussed the impact of five essential growth experiences that can influence the way a couple handles an infidelity crisis. The five essential growth experiences we will discuss are being safe and secure, functioning independently, having solid emotional connections, being able to value yourself, and living with realistic limitations.

On the next track we will discuss how understanding the ‘flip flop factor’ can help couples working through an infidelity crisis address the disenchantment process. We will also discuss a specific technique to help couples analyze how the flip flop factor may be affecting their feelings of disenchantment towards their partner.

QUESTION 9
What are five essential growth experiences that can influence the way a couple handles an infidelity crisis? To select and enter your answer go to Answer Booklet.


Answer Booklet for this course
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