Category Archives: Affairs

Why The Affair?

Affairs are in the air.

Whether its ~

  • the long winter
  • the hint of spring
  • February’s “Snow Moon”
  • the endless disarray of our electoral process . . .

I’m not sure, but more clients than usual are coming to me upon the discovery of an affair.

After I listen to the story – which the betrayed partner absolutely needs to feel welcome to tell in as much or little detail as they wish – I say (more or less) two things.

1. An affair is either a wake-up-call or a death knell;

2. Understanding what happened, what contributed to the cheating partner’s choice to betray, will significantly impact which of the above two options plays out.

And this is tough.

However, yesterday I came upon  a helpful article by a former-cheater-turned-clinical psychologist and optimal performance coach named Jay Kent-Ferraro. He writes very clearly about what he’s determined are the four types or categories of affairs.

I’m re-posting it here because these distinctions can help ~

  1. the Cheater to begin to get some perspective on what just happened;
  2. the Betrayed partner to feel less alone, and to likewise begin to see this behavior in a larger context;
  3. the Therapist – because an accurate diagnosis of what’s going on is vital if a therapist is invited in to co-create a treatment plan with the individuals involved.

For the betrayed partner, I also encourage you to read Before You Trust Again – an article I wrote which gently invites you to become curious about how you may have unwittingly contributed to this situation.


 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

How can I ever trust them again? If they cheated once won’t they do it again?

“Once a cheater, always a cheater” is an understandable response from anyone who has been betrayed; it offers you the certainty to dismiss an unfaithful partner’s pleas for “I can change and won’t ever do this again”, removing the potential for getting hurt because it allows you to never trust them, and sometimes anyone, ever again.

 The problem is it’s too simple and fails to appreciate the complexity of why people cheat in the first place, let alone predicting whether or not they are capable of betraying you again – an important question to ask if you are a victim of infidelity.

 The psychology of infidelity is actually quite complex, much more than the current moralistic conversation about it where people are “good”, “bad” or “flawed”, therefore dismissed as damaged goods. Pundits and gurus abound offering their take on “can I ever trust him again” or “how to affair proof your relationship”, but too often good intentioned advice misses the real issue.

 You see the question is not “Can I ever trust him again”? but rather, “What contributed to this person’s choice to betray me – why did they choose infidelity”? The first question is an unanswerable one as trusting your partner following an affair has more to do with YOU and how YOU choose to respond to being betrayed. The second question is much more interesting, and if answered correctly, more likely to keep you safe if you decide to heal and evolve together following an affair.

 Every affair tells a story and although it is true that the story has something to do with the state of a relationship where betrayal takes place, what’s more true is that infidelity tells an important story about who the unfaithful partner is – the state of their own psyche and soul; whether they are even suitable for a real relationship with anyone with the bandwidth to actually love.

 Infidelity always has a purpose to it, although most often that purpose is not known or understood, and must be, in order to really answer the questions around “Once a cheater, always a cheater”. All behavior is purposeful and people don’t do anything without a reason for doing it. Your task is to become your own “personal psychologist” and ask the right questions about the right issues to arrive at your own truth about keeping yourself safe in a relationship with someone who has betrayed you.

 I’m here to help you do that because I am uniquely qualified. I’m an adulterer who happens to be a licensed clinician and willing to tell the truth about why I chose to have an affair. I have an expertise in the “psychology of infidelity”, not from a text book or social media platform, but from living the excruciating pain of having an affair that resulted in a divorce, growing up and searching my own soul for the answers to “why I did it”, and earning the trust and affections of the woman I betrayed again resulting in a magical reconciliation where we just celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary.

 I am going to tell you the “reasons” that contributed to my choice to be unfaithful, and then offer you a context to help you decide for yourself what motivates people to have an affair. My goal is to empower you with choices you may not know you have as you chart your own relationship path.

 For me, there were six factors that contributed to a series of choices to have an affair:

  1. I believed that the rules didn’t apply to me: Being a licensed clinician gave me more excuses and rationalizations to hide behind. The arrogance of having answers for everyone else allowed me to hide from the truth that if you don’t show up and ask for what you want in a relationship, you give up the right to expect having it. I expected a lot and didn’t show up by being emotionally absent which set the marriage up to be unfulfilling and fail.
  1. I confused significance and self-worth with certainty and success: I became a workaholic believing that Julie loved me only because of what I could provide her with allowing anger and entitlement, a dangerous alchemy fueling my acting out, to justify the erosion of boundaries and values giving rise to my affair. Without boundaries and a value base to live from, anyone is capable of having an affair.
  1. I made up that my wife was the cause of my unhappiness and disappointment in our marriage: I felt sorry for myself and blamed Julie for why I was so unfulfilled; once you convince yourself you’re a victim of something, you can justify anything. That belief alone allowed me to have an affair with impunity, almost a right, to find happiness with another – after all, “I had done so much and got back so little from my marriage”. Affair psychology is delusional!
  1. I was an accomplished liar: Men have an uncanny and dangerous ability to compartmentalize their lives such that one part doesn’t recognize the other. In this split, dissociative state, I rationalized everything including the creation of the two worlds I relished in calling it “complexity”, convinced myself I was being taken advantage of by Julie, and therefore had the right to find happiness “as long as no one knows so no one gets hurt”. So I did, under the self-deception of protecting her failing to see that the deception in an affair is where most of the pain is. Without integrity life simply doesn’t work.
  1. I confused sexual attraction and fantasy for love: Early in life, I learned to use sex as a drug and means of escape where I could nurture myself and soothe the chaos of an abusive childhood. When confronted with parallel lives, a child-focused marriage and the perceived neglect and lack of appreciation I felt in our marriage, I turned to strip clubs and pornography as a cure that only made things worse. A real relationship can never compete with a fantasy, and sexual attraction isn’t love. I confused an experience of excitement and novelty with a person I called my “soul mate” and chased that person as if they were the source of feeling alive. They weren’t. Affairs are not real relationships; they’re fantasies on speed built on deception that cannot stand the light of day.
  1. I didn’t take responsibility for my mental health. To love someone requires that we grow up, rise above our wounds, and take responsibility for what we need as adults. I failed to manage my depression, something I struggled with since childhood, evolve beyond my family of origin ghosts, and attend to my mental health needs. By not doing the necessary work to grow and heal, I never matured into someone capable of giving and receiving mature love. Intimacy, what I claimed to want and crave, was actually not something I was capable of, yet I blamed the marriage and Julie for “denying it to me”, further reinforcing my sense of entitlement to get that need met somewhere else.


While there is never a sufficient “explanation” excusing why someone is unfaithful, there is always a reason with a purpose for why affairs happen. Failing to understand what those reasons are robs you of the opportunity to learn from the experience, your best response to it, and can remove the chance to save a marriage ravaged from its effects.

I told you that the psychology of infidelity is complex and now I will tell you why:

The purpose of every affair is often as unique as the personality, life history, beliefs, values, needs and relationship dynamics of the person being unfaithful, and for that reason, I dismiss pithy overly simplistic explanations that try to answer complex questions through 3-step programs. The answer to “why they did it”? And “will they do it again”? can be answered, if you know what “type” of affair it is and the “purpose” of that specific affair.  All affairs are not equal although all are devastating. 

 After searching my own soul for several years, and now walking that same journey with people trying to answer their own questions about being unfaithful with people around the world, here’s what I’ve learned about “why people have affairs” and the truth about misguided advice like “Once a cheater, always a cheater”.

Type I: Fantasy & Flight Affairs

After hearing hundreds of personal accounts of clients struggling to discover, “why I did it”, I am convinced the vast majority of infidelity falls into the Fantasy & Flight category. Here, the “purpose” of an affair is romanticism gone awry where the need erroneously being met is to feel something you convince yourself is missing in your primary relationship assuming it now exists exclusively in your affair partner, the most unlikely place for it.

I call this affair pattern the “Soul-Mate Trap” where people confuse an “object” (the affair partner), with an “experience” (the feelings you get from being with a new person), collapsing them into a narrow reality they call “a soul mate”, based on a fantasy made up of fiction and emotions on speed.

The pursuit of a “soul mate”, as justification for choosing to have an affair, is the desperate attempt to find what is incomplete and missing in you. It is a plea for connection, wholeness, and getting “that loving feeling” again using the fantasy you create with an affair partner to bring you back to life.

Here are some patterns of Fantasy & Flight Affairs:

  • Accidental Affairs – An “unconscious” person not in touch with their feelings or needs, not honest about what’s missing in their marriage and vulnerable because they wrongly believe – “I’d never be unfaithful” – find themselves in a perfect storm situation where too much alcohol, too much enjoyment and not enough boundaries blow their life open when they find themselves in a place with a person they never imagined they would.
  • Soul Mate Affairs – Confusing a feeling for a truth that’s based on a fantasy that never will be, you convince yourself and anyone else who will buy it, that you’ve “found your soul mate” and do whatever it takes to legitimize the affair.
  • Flying Boys & Girls – A large group of “purposes” can be found here to include the proverbial mid-life crisis and feeling alive through the attention of someone 20 years younger, pursuing the fountain of youth, White Knight rescue missions, alleviating the panic of pending mortality or simply the commitment phobic amongst us. Here, the combination of refusing to grow up fuses with ‘time’s running out’ on the existential clock and “I got to do what I got to do” to feel relevant and vibrant so might as well use an affair to fix that problem.

Advice: While damaging and hurtful, these affairs are often the most responsive to good help, great boundaries and sincere healing efforts. Once they “wake up” assuming they decide to grow up, the prognosis is good that you get an evolved partner who is much more aware and awake to themselves and their relationship, as well as motivated to keep those relationships healthy from ever going there again. Stick with it, work with a competent therapist and do your homework to grow and design a new relationship with more transparency and higher standards for both partners.

Type II: Pathology & Deviance Affairs:

If you’re trying to make sense of being betrayed and/or sorting through the pieces of an affair remember this: All affairs are not created equal and not all people can be faithful. Fortunately, this next affair type is typically the minority of actual affairs that occur in marriages, yet they are the ones that get the most attention because of the press celebrity infidelity garners in our society.

The “purpose” of Pathology & Deviance affairs is straightforward: Serving needs that are skewed, distorted, and often unconscious rooted in family of origin wounds never dealt with. These affairs have everything to do with the unfaithful partner and little to do with those they betray.

In other words, you can be in what by all accounts is a “great relationship” (e.g. Ask Maria Shriver about Arnold) and the affair will still happen leaving betrayed partners very confused and blaming themselves or their relationships for failing to meet the needs of people who are really “black holes” where nothing real will ever suffice to meet their needs.

Here are some patterns of Pathology & Deviance Affairs:

  • Narcissistic Affairs – These are the proverbial “black holes” where entitlement and a mind-blowing lack of empathy make intimacy near impossible for these sad souls. Plagued by a diminished capacity to love or emotionally connect, flagrant disregard for others, hedonistically self-indulgent and feeling justified in doing so, these folks don’t have a core or solid sense of Self. They use relationship as a means for filling up a deep psychological void created by either the absence of nurturing and love in childhood for which they are compensating in adulthood, or were objectified themselves as children, and sometimes adults (celebrities, politicians, pro atheletes) highly indulged and given special privileges and treatment in exchange for the worship of family, friends and caregivers.
  • Sociopathic Affairs – Stay away from these people once you know this is what you’re dealing with! The most damaged souls amongst us can also be the most charming, however, their lack of remorse (cannot take responsibility) alongside their inability to see, understand or recognize the pain they cause the betrayed (no empathy) is a tell-tale sign you are dealing with an antisocial personality disorder or “sociopath”. The purpose of an affair here is simple: “It is always and will always be about me” and you can expect compulsive lies, gross irresponsibility, blame of the betrayed, lots of drama and a confusing absence of “normal” emotion when caught or confronted about their infidelity. Run don’t walk!
  • Sexual Compulsivity/Addiction & Philandering – Sex and Love addictions are real, and although similar in how they operate, each has a different purpose. Philanderers are love addicts who have such low self-esteem they need the attention and constant experience of “new love” to feel alive and worthwhile, whereas Sex Addicts do not feel much of anything unless an orgasm is involved so they confuse sexual attraction for real love engaging in compulsive rituals that often involve infidelity in desperate attempts to jump start their numb existence.

Advice: This affair “type” only gets better with a lot of commitment to recovery and lots of therapy which many in this category refuse to subject themselves to. Absent treatment by qualified mental health professionals, a robust accountability system and serious commitment to heal, grow and evolve, these “types” are unfit for relationship with anyone except maybe a gold fish!

Type III: Poor Strategies & Bad Intent Affairs:

Let’s face it… relationships are hard and most of us simply suck at them. Many have had poor relationship role models and examples, have acquired lousy coping skills, and despite the Oprah effect, are pretty ill equipped to succeed in proportion to what we expect to receive from love and relationships.

Sometimes, it isn’t bad people with bad morals, but rather, just people overwhelmed and under-resourced to such a degree they do really stupid things like have affairs doing more damage than if they simply dealt with the negative feelings fueling their poor choices.

Here are some patterns of Poor Strategies & Bad Intent Affairs:

  • Passive Aggressive Affairs – The purpose here is the expression of anger in the form of contempt and the ultimate form of criticism through the ultimate invalidation – sleeping with someone else. The message: “kiss my ass you worthless partner; you haven’t been there for me in years so I’ll do whatever the hell I want to meet my needs; if you find out so be it – you deserve it” – nasty stuff!
  • Sabotage Affairs – These are “coward affairs” where the unfaithful partner is not willing to take responsibility for their dissatisfaction in the marriage by doing something proactive about it. Instead, they live on a precarious edge where they feel both emboldened and justified to engage in the affair ‘in hopes’ that the infidelity will be found out and usher in the separation or divorce they fantasize about, but are unwilling to assume accountability for.
  • Revenge Affairs – Driven by irrational rage in relationships with a history of stored up resentment and hostilities which lie dormant and underground, the purpose of the affair coalesces into a grand finale in the form of a pay-back affair where the intent is to injure and hurt the self esteem of the betrayed partner who is made wrong and killed off thus allowing the unfaithful to justify any action to ‘pay them back’ for the hurt they believe they’ve been a victim of.

Advice: These are immature, un-evolved people who blame others instinctively and tend to see the source of their troubles originating in things outside of them, versus where they are – in how they think about and relate to the world around them. That said, people can learn and grow up, therefore change, and with the right support and new strategies, more adaptive ways to be with a partner can happen leading to healthier relationships if both are willing to work at it.

Type IV: Benevolent Neglect Affairs

The “common cold” of modern marriage is de-vitalization where the friendship tanks, both people take each other for granted, one person focuses on the kids, the other the career, parallel lives ensue and you stop meeting one another’s needs slowly euthanizing the soul of the relationship leaving both partner’s numb and dead to one another.

The “purpose” of Benevolent Neglect Affairs is to feel alive again, but in the wrong place; trying to find fulfillment with an affair partner (not happening because they’re based on fantasies and fantasies don’t last!) by bringing your best to someone else – what would actually vitalize the marriage that you’re fleeing from!

Here, you typically find good people who are “staying for the kids” or some other seemingly “good” motive who are using an affair as a very maladaptive way of coping with very real dissatisfaction in their marriage.

Here are some patterns of Benevolent Neglect Affairs:

  • Parallel Lives Affairs – The roles and responsibilities you create and design your lives around leave little to no space, time or energy for either of you to meet your deeper needs for closeness, connection, nurturing, attention or fun. You choke on tasks and are overwhelmed by responsibilities you feel alone and unappreciated for doing. You attend to each of your respective lanes with diligence and discipline giving you the experience of being responsible and ‘serving’ the other. The problem is you live in a state of perpetual disconnect – while you are doing many of the right things you become “roommates”, not passionate lovers, and the thought of existing this way the rest of your days especially if you’re over 40 scares the hell out of you making you a prime candidate for an affair!
  • Just Friends Affairs – A common affair pattern is that women are more likely to have affairs for love and companionship, while men are more often content with sex alone confusing it with love and companionship. Women are likely to believe that their infidelity is justified if it’s for love; men are likely to believe their infidelity is justified if it’s NOT for love. In both cases, needs not met in the primary relationship that is neglected are being met through an emotional affair (eventually sexual) almost always justified on the basis of “we’re just friends”. People have affairs to experience an emotional connection that they feel is lacking in their primary relationship. They stray in search of someone who pays attention to their feelings and encourages meaningful contact be it “emotional” (female pattern) or “sexual” (male pattern) citing a need for “friendship” as the culprit.
  • Child-Focused Marriage – Child focused marriages where the needs of the children or “family” take precedence over the needs of the adults in the marriage are both sad and ironic affair types. Sad, in that there is typically a lot of love in these relationships and ironic that it is so misdirected that it often leads to unnecessary divorces after being ravaged by an affair. Inverse priorities are the problem here where the sexual and emotional needs of the adults are relegated to last place and where the focus of time, energy and attention goes exclusively to the kids or “family”. The purpose of the affair is a misguided attempt to satisfy legitimate longings in very illegitimate ways undermining everything really important to both partners.

Advice: The good news, if there can be any in this territory, is that Benevolent Neglect Affairs have more to do with bad priorities than bad character. Misdirected energy can be leveraged and focused in the direction of an anemic relationship in need of care, nurturance and being first for a change making survivability of a marriage after an affair quite possible in these situations.


So, “Once a cheater always a cheater” is really a defense mechanism and it too has a purpose: To protect you from getting hurt by never trusting anyone again. Don’t do that! Instead, get smart by understanding what drives someone to betray and determining the “purpose” of the affair. For Julie and I, it was in the ashes of our marriage where that purpose was discovered, and together, we made new meaning and determined to grow together from it



Before You Trust Again

Before you trust again, hit the pause button.

For some, the experience of losing trust in a loved one is a defining moment. Like those falling dreams where you are tumbling through space fearing there will be nothing beneath to catch you. And then you awake with a start. You’ve landed. You’re alive. The world has tilted on it’s axis. Your question might be ~

Now what? How can I survive in a world turned upside down?

For some, trust is a pretty disposable commodity. We give it and lose it and suck it up and do it again. The self-help industry is testimony to our human desire to rise again once we fall. The second, third and fourth marriage stats are a testimony to folks willing to risk the vulnerability of commitment again, and again, and even again. Your question might be ~

So what! Are there any safeguards against betrayal?”

I hope there are helpful things here for anyone who has ever felt the sting of lost trust. And, I realize I have a particular soft spot for people like my mother – who discovered my father was having an affair in the 1960s’ and had to just carry on. As a Catholic stay-at-home Mum she felt she had no options. Maybe I wish I could have shared these ideas with her back then. Maybe maybe she might have been able to guide her marriage into a more healthy harbor.

So indeed, loosing trust can be one of those moments we choose to gloss over. You know, go all British and bellow with false bravado “I say old chap, let’s . . .”

Screen shot 2015-09-30 at 10.35.38 AM

Which, while it worked well enough for Britain’s Shadow Ministry of Information to rally morale and tamp down hysteria during World War II, is really not a workable operating instruction for great relationships.

Instead, I’d offer this as your rallying cry when it comes to rebuilding trust.

Screen shot 2015-09-30 at 10.50.37 AM


Great question!

Well, it’s interesting isn’t it  What we want is the depth of trust Piglet has in Pooh.Screen shot 2015-09-30 at 12.09.22 PMWhat we’ve got is doubt, anger and uncertainty. And right there, when you are feeling so sad, betrayed, worried, frightened and alone I’m going to invite you to be curious in three particular ways.


As in, find out all you can about what just happened, from at least 2 points of view.

Think of yourself as the doctor, initially for your own case of pain and breach of trust, and then for the person whose actions have caused this for you.

Get curious about these six things below, for you and for this other person. You are seeking to reduce your uncertainty and confusion by understanding as much as you can about the situation. You are doing the opposite of KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. You’re investigating with eyes wide open and a determination to understand as much as you can. For each person, let yourself ponder these questions:

  1. ANTECEDENTS – what was happening just before this breach of trust?
  2. BEHAVIORS – what exactly happened? What did each of you do / not do?
  3. COGNITION – what are you thinking? How are you scripting this event? How is the other person scripting this?
  4. DURATION – how long has this been going on… for each of you?
  5. EFFECT – what are some of the outcomes of these actions and reactions?
  6. FEELINGS – what range of emotions have you been through? Have they?

When your trust has been broken, you initially may feel shocked, angry, disappointed. All so understandable. But you’ll also feel frustrated, helpless and uncertain. Letting yourself wrap your head around the initial facts of the situation can really help. There will be a time to go beyond the raw facts, but grasping these things can feel empowering, and even a little hopeful.


OK – so now you know the basics of the who / what / when  & where, and it’s time to reach out for some specific help. It could be your child you’ve lost trust with, in which case I’d suggest reading Option A (see below in gold). If it’s your partner you’ve lost trust with, scroll on down to Option B, also in gold.

A)  If it’s your child who’s challenging your trust in them by ~

  • Taking your car without asking
  • Getting a speeding ticket
  • Skipping school
  • Getting into drugs
  • Getting pregnant
  • Hurting or bullying someone else
  • Self-destructing and refusing to accept your (or anyone’s) help

Please do seek help. Here are 3 types of resources to begin with.


Yes – books are a powerful source of comfort and help so letting yourself do some research up front can make a difference.

Type “Defiant Child” or “Suicidal Teenager” or whatever your particular concern is into your favorite search engine. You’ll see heaps of articles and books.

One caution. Before you read anything (book, blog or article) figure out the credentials of the author. Can you trust this person to be helpful to you? Do they have an obvious bias? Faith tradition? Parenting philosophy” Just be aware that not everything on line or in print is good. That’s why I suggest looking at lots of things. The ones that seem to make sense to you will rise above the others.

Go to the library and search through the books you read about . Stagger out of the place with shopping bags full of books.

Skim the titles, the back cover, the inside jacket. Look at the chapter titles. Dip in and out of whatever catches your eye. Notice the biases of the authors, but hopefully you’ll begin to find some helpful information.

Again, there really is a plethora of good material out there.  I am particularly fond of:


Just because your trust in your child has been challenged or broken, does not mean one of you is “right” and one “wrong.” There’s lots going on with teens and deepening your understanding of what’s happening for them is vital. If the trust challenge has to do with one of the issues below you’ll certainly benefit from the appropriate resource.


When you reach the limit of your own ability to educate yourself with on-line resources, consulting a professional is enormously helpful.

Two great places to start in terms of finding a qualified professional in your area, with the particular expertise you need, are:

  1. AAMFT (The American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy) Therapist Locator
  2. Psychology Today’s Find A Therapist.

B)  If it’s your spouse who’s challenging your trust in them by ~

  • Not keeping their commitments
  • Being unavailable emotionally or physically
  • Squandering your joint funds
  • Not seeking help for their addictions
  • Having an emotional affair
  • Having a sexual affair
  • Leading a secret life

Please do seek help. Here are 3 types of resources to begin with.


Yes – books are balm and letting yourself do some research up front is super helpful.

Type “Best resources for rebuilding trust” into your favorite search engine. You’ll see heaps of books. Review some of them that catch your eye. Read the reviews.

One caution. Before you read anything (book, blog or article) review the credentials of the author. Can you trust this person to be helpful to you? Do they have an obvious bias? Faith tradition? Axe to grind? Just be aware that not everything on line or in print is good. That’s why I suggest looking at lots of things. The ones that seem to make sense to you will rise above the others.

Go to the library and search through the books you read about . Stagger out of the place with shopping bags full of books.

Skim the titles, the back cover, the inside jacket. Look at the chapter titles. Dip in and out of whatever catches your eye. Notice the biases of the authors, but hopefully you’ll begin to find some helpful information.

Again, there really is a plethora of good material out there and so much depends upon the nature of the breach of trust.


Just because your trust in your spouse has been challenged or broken, does not mean one of you is 100% “right” and one 100% “wrong.” Life is messy and complex and there are demons within each of us who sometimes take over. If your trust challenge has to do with one of the issues below, learning more about the specifics of the problem is very important.


If or when you reach the limit of your own ability to educate yourself with on-line resources, consulting a professional is enormously helpful.

Two great places to start in terms of finding a qualified professional in your area, with the particular expertise you need, are:

  1. AAMFT (The American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy) Therapist Locator
  2. Psychology Today’s Find A Therapist.


Ask yourself, and really answer, these seven questions.

  1. If there was one thing I was trying NOT to know about my relationship before I lost my trust, what might it have been?
  2. If there was one conversation I ought to have had much sooner, long before trust was broken, what might it have been?
  3. If there was one thing I silently judged about this person, what was it?
  4. If, looking back, there was one change in the way I related to this person who broke my trust – what might it have been?
  5. If, looking forward, there is one change I could initiate now in the way I relate, what do I wish it could be?
  6. If there was one positive outcome almost too good to hope for, that might possibly come about as we heal and move through this breach of trust – what is my most daring wish?
  7. If there was one aspect of my own character I would love to bring more conscious awareness to, what might it be?

So, dear reader, before you trust again, hit that pause button.

Love yourself enough to recognize no matter how powerless and broken you may feel, there is SO much you can do to understand, learn, support and be supported through this journey toward an ever expanding capacity for love, trust, understanding, wisdom, self compassion and that dash of curiosity that will allow you to indeed, after all of this . . .

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This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality


SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

Worse Than Infideilty…

A re-post today. From The Huffington Post

Thought this was interesting, and I quote:

“Infidelity is to blame for fewer divorces today than it was in the past, according to new research.”

To connect to this whole article, click here.

Narcissism~Now What?

If you read my last post and find yourself wondering whether you are in a relationship with (or related to) someone suffering from (NPD) Narcissistic Personality Disorder, I have to start off by saying, ‘I’m so sorry.”

This is a tough situation. However, despite all the oncoming tumult, if you’ll allow yourself to open your eyes, move forward and come out the other side,  you can count on 3 things:

  1. You will survive
  2. You will need support.
  3. Time does heal.

WHY this fuss?

If you’ve connected the dots correctly, reading further will have you beginning to realize that your life will never be the same again. Your (formerly?) beloved husband / wife / partner / father / mother / sibling cannot simply “decide to get better.”  You are now the adult in charge. You will need to do all the research, clear thinking, decision-making, due-diligence, self-protection, possible exit planning and face all the consequences by yourself.

You will be alone. Worse than alone – you may be actively undermined.

WHAT are you telling me?

If indeed you are discovering that you are married to / living with / being parented by someone whose symptoms are highly correlated to NPD, and if they are pretty far along (because this is a spectrum disorder – the person you are worried about may have only a few of these traits, or they may be text-book classics) you will experience ~

  • Only They Matter

You are peripheral. The narcissist orbits his/her own sun. You matter only to the extent you have what the narcissist wants. Be honest – after spending how long with this person – do they know you, cherish you, love you, help you, care for you. Do you matter just because you are you?

  • Constant Tension

In an effort to avoid feeling the emptiness inside, a narcissist depends upon external factors for their inner life. There is no stable, predictable place. In any moment this person may spin from a hyper-inflated sense of brilliance after a moment of praise, to outrage and loathing after a perceived snub. While their modus operandi is “It’s all about me” in fact the narcissist lives in a frightening smoke and mirrors reality with a capricious Oz pulling the strings.

  • Ineffective Communication

To avoid feeling vulnerable, the narcissist will come out with guns blazing. Think a large two-year-old having a tantrum. They’re prone to attack, blame, criticize, banter rudely or accuse in public. This makes having genuine friends almost impossible.

  • Being Controlled

Understanding the narcissist is reliant on the external world for their internal reality, you’ll see why they need to control everything – timing, events, people, and finances. Any breach in the choreographed plan is devastating for the narcissist, who will employ any means to prevent it.

  • Lack of Responsibility

If you believe the world revolves around you (as a narcissist does) then common, shared morality is meaningless.  The narcissist typically suffers no guilt; can’t be shamed into behaving; they’ll see no point in accepting responsibility for anything that has gone badly. In fact, because the narcissist must see themselves as superior and blameless in all situations, this trait will possibly uncover a whole heap of lies.

  • Zero Empathy

Since his or her own emotions are too painful for the narcissist to experience, they are certainly not good at empathizing with others. While you may have been told that you need to attend to the narcissist’s feelings, you’ll not get any reciprocity here.  He/she is neither interested nor capable of attending to your emotional realm. This includes never having to say they are sorry.

  • Spontaneous Rages

Living with an ugly void where a healthy self should reside, the narcissist’s inner realm is a painful mess. This means they are highly unstable. A waiter, hotel clerk, teacher, you – might trigger a violent outburst totally disproportionate to the “issue” at hand.

  • Being Exploited

Remember #1 – Only They Matter? You’ll be used. You’re a finite resource that will be mined, polluted, depleted, and possibly destroyed. All your resources – your time, expertise, help, connections, income are up for grabs.

Thanks to Clinton Power for some of this ideas.


I am running a 5 part mini series ( 25-29 March 2013) on Narcissism. I am seeing more and more clients impacted by living with someone who suffers from NPD and the first step in the healing process is to learn as much as you can about this disorder.  I’ll print a list of helpful resources in Part 5.

  1. Narcissism – Symptoms                                
  2. Narcissism – Now What?
  3. Narcissist – Living with one
  4. Narcissist – Leaving one
  5. Narcissist – Healing from life with one            

FREE~Attitude Adjustment

Dear Reader,

Do you, like me, swing from gripe to gratitude throughout the day? Today’s gripe? A costly sewer repair. Today’s gratitude, I have not lost any family members to war ~ see BBC World News.

I call this my BBC News Therapy.  I just have to listen to a story about rape in India, some new Gaza bomb, brutality anywhere, anything that hurts animals or children and my gripes (even about expensive sewer replacements) seem utterly trivial.

Clients have agreed with me – there is something very helpful about getting perspective on your life this way.  My friend Julia asked me once, “Gemma, if you could dump your problems into a big pot and pick out someone else’s problems instead, would you?”

Yipes – dump my expensive sewer for my friend’s recent diagnosis of a brain tumor, or the sudden death of a beautiful 21 year old daughter, or a failed pregnancy, or a Tsunami divorce or or or…no way!

So – in this spirit of gratitude and abundance I was drawn to an interesting challenge from Chris Guillebeau, whose quirky project and Blog The Art of Non-Conformity Dispatch   I’ve been following for several months. Chris is inviting us to participate in a social experiment by offering something of what we have or do for free.

Well – I’m not long on stuff. But time? I have 86,400 seconds a day, remember?

So, might some of these seconds be useful to someone who has never met me, as a free gift? Someone who normally can’t afford good counseling? Someone who could use someone on thier team for a bit, to listen and help sort an issue out?  Here’s what I do:

  • I listen deeply
  • I ask questions
  • I listen to your answer
  • I listen to your answer so deeply that I can perhaps discern before you can the tendrils of solutions to your problems
  • I work with you to co-create a plan forward
  • And to create some accountability
  • And follow-up.

So, here’s my FREE Attitude Adjustment OFFER

I am giving away two FREE two-hour counseling sessions  (we’ll meet twice, each time for one hour) to two NEW people ( sorry existing clients, but you can offer this to a friend )  who contact me at with FREE ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT in the subject line.

In the body of the email, I’d like you to tell me 3 things:

  1. Who is the counseling for (you or someone you know)
  2. How do you hope it will benefit you (or someone you know)
  3. How will this benefit to you (or someone you know) also benefit others?

If you are new to this blog, visit my web site to learn more. Then, pop me that email.  I’ll even pay for your long distance phone call too – I live in Auckland New Zealand – using skype.  If you too have skype – all the easier!

I’m going to be reading responses through the month of March. On April 1st I’ll write to everyone who wrote to me and let you know whether or not you’ve “won” the two free sessions.

I’m a relationship expert, so don’t limit yourself (or someone you think might benefit). Think how two hour-long sessions, focused on your ~

  • Spouse
  • Parent
  • Child
  • Friend
  • Lover
  • Boss
  • Co-worker

might make a world of difference.

Can’t wait to hear from you,



PS: Three people have asked for this already and I’m too much of a softie to say no. But this offer does need to be officially closed as of today – March 21st 2013. Thanks to those three for inviting me to share! Excited to work with each of you.

Can I Trust Again?

Would you let an elephant stand over you?

If you’ve never met Tara and Bella their love and trust are inspiring. Tara & Bella

For someone whose spouse has been unfaithful, it can seem easier to imagine a huge elephant foot hovering over their ribcage than it can be to imagine offering their heart to this person again.

What IS trust?

How do we earn it in the first place, and is it possible to restore trust once it’s broken?

Trust is earned as we run 3 criteria* through our emotional and logical filters.

  • INTENTION – an emotional evaluation ~ does this person mean to do me good?
  • CAPABILITY – a logical assessment ~ is this person capable of doing what they say?
  • HISTORY – a logical proof ~ in the past, has this person been predictable and reliable?

We probably all know folks who seem to trust way too easily, becoming vulnerable with no logical input. Conversely, too much logic and we’ll never allow ourselves to be vulnerable . That’s the “magic” if you will, of trust.  It’s that Goldilocks place where we are “advisedly vulnerable.”

So – how did Bella come to trust Tara, and visa versa? How can we begin to rebuild trust with someone who has hurt us badly?

For Tara and Bella – they sensed their mutual “Lets-be-friends” intentions; they were both capable of bringing joy through play and loyalty; and historically, day by day, they built up evidence to support these truths. Bingo – massive trust such that Bella can lie on her back and know the vast foot rubbing her tummy will be comforting, not crushing.

I have found that even when two partners both want their relationship to heal after a breach of trust, the process is confounded by ~

  • Lack of a clear goal (how will we know when trust is regained?)
  • Paralysis over the first step  (is it forgiving, forgetting, penance, transparency – what?)
  • Aftershocks (waves of loss, betrayal and hopelessness undermine honest effort)
  • Foggy Progress (no clear feedback loop for either partner).

Try this.

Both partners focus on the unfaithful partner’s 3 compromised Trust Tanks ~


Considering these three tanks, the hurt partner gets to answer the question:

“When you hear your partner tell you they want to do whatever it takes to win your love and trust back, how full is each of their tanks?”

Trust Tanks

This is a more-or-less typical response.

INTENTION is at 97%  ~ The hurt partner believes their unfaithful partner genuinely wants to repair the damage. This tank will notch up to 100% as the unfaithful partner keeps reassuring the hurt partner that this is exactly what they want – their intention is to keep doing everything they possibly can to win back the trust.

CAPABILITY is at 65% ~ The hurt partner is somewhat encouraged. He/she has noticed that in the effort to re-build trust, their partner has done everything asked of them: made their phones and computer fully transparent; switched departments at work; put a block on the affair partner’s number; worked extra hard to be there for the kids, etc. This tank will slowly fill as the couple discusses the twists and turns of what the hurt partner needs that the unfaithful partner is capable of delivering. E.g., “I realize I need us to have a plan for what happens if we bump into your affair partner one day together.”

HISTORY is at 2% ~ It sounds like bad news to be at only 2%. However, the good news is that this tank can fill one faithful day at a time as history is re-written. The couple can decide if one year is enough to have this tank refilled, or if it will never go above say, 90% in recognition of this event.

Now you have ~

  • A clear goal ~ filling each of the tanks
  • A step by step path ~ as the partners identify what is both needed and possible to fill the tanks
  • Infrastructure ~ to counter the aftershocks, now understandable in the face of low History levels
  • A feedback mechanism ~ by using these percentage estimates to talk about how each tank is filling.

May your journey toward “advised vulnerability” bring you to a place of safety so, like Bella and Tara, you can walk in the woods and wag your tails together.

* I heard these distinctions of trust at a Family Therapy conference ages ago. Long since lost my notes and can’t remember whom to credit. If you know – do write me. I’d love to be able to give credit and read more by who-ever-wrote about this first.


Dating Again, Post Divorce

OK friends, last in a 5 part series on how to be a friend when your friends have affairs, separate and divorce.  This one’s about what to do when they are ready to get back on the dating scene.

Part 5 of 5  HOW TO HELP WHEN ~ They Are Dating Again

1. Invite your single friends over. Yes, you miss the good old times when you and your sweetie hung out with your friend and his or her “ex.” However, this can be a refreshing shift for your friendship. After divorce, most people shake loose some old behaviours and beliefs: Who is this person now? Invite your newly single friends over with other couples. It’s good for them to cross that hurdle of “odd one out amongst couples ” with someone they know and trust.  When possible, try to connect with both sides more or less evenly. Maybe play sports with one, but have dinners with the other. It’s all good.

2. Be careful with the matchmaking already. Sure it’s tempting! Especially if you’ve watched the death of your friends’ love over the past years and have longed for their happiness. 2 good reasons to slow this down:

  1. If your friends are to avoid a rebound disaster, they’ll need time to figure out who they are now, post divorce. Rather than urging more coupling, try championing some single time. Some “getting to love and enjoy my own company” time. This might be a long overdue developmental stage for your friend – support it!
  2. If you are friends to both, think how it will seem to the friend whom you do not “fix up” with a match? What’s she then – chopped liver?

3. Ask if and how your friends want your “feedback.” Talk to your friend about what they want next. Some self-discovery single time? Great – support that. Some dating-as-self-discovery? Great – support that too. But, have a conversation with your friend about what to do if you see warning signs. What if you don’t like the new friend, after genuinely trying? What if you see behaviors that look dangerous to you? Maybe your friend’s new partner strikes you as controlling, vindictive, or insincere? If your friend asks for your honest opinion, clarify some ground rules. Having an upfront conversation increases the odds these tough chats later will be possible and useful.

4. Watch and Learn – my friend. You may be surprised at your feelings when your divorced friend finally falls in love again with someone wonderful, and their romance, wedding, new home and fresh start make your 15+ year relationship seem dowdy and stale. Even the horror off sharing kids with the “ex” now has a bright side; alternating kid-free weekends! If you feel more jealousy than relief at all this newness, it’s time to clean up your own house.  What do you and your partner need to stay new, alive and in love?

Your Friend’s Divorce

How friends and relations react in the face of a couple’s troubles can make a huge difference, often for the worse.  I am dedicating this week’s blog space to addressing the five types of couple distress I see most regularly, with tips for how family and friends can help, not harm, the hurting couple

Part 3 of 5 HOW TO HELP WHEN ~ They Divorce

1. Don’t be afraid to mess up. There are no rules for how to divorce with élan. No common divorce rituals, rites of passage, no playbook for those of us left with loyalty issues and sore hearts for our friends’ broken love.  It’s understandable to be a bit nervous around divorce – it’s a death and there’ll be grief and loss. Do your best to keep the lines of communication open with your friends. This is particularly important if there are children (see Post 4).  But in any case stay connected, however imperfectly, so your friends know they are not alone.

2. Don’t rush back to “normal.” Just because the death of a marriage doesn’t end with a funeral doesn’t mean your divorcing friends are not in a state of grief and loss.  Most likely the divorced couple will have lost their home, savings, shared past, future hopes, family unit, in-laws, photo albums, lifestyle, trust in the permanency of love, and often a huge helping of self-respect. It takes time to come back from all this. The divorced partners are now off on separate journeys of recovery and it won’t help to rush them. It may take years before your friend becomes the old familiar playful, funny, unselfish character you once knew. Allow your friendship to evolve – as it will.

3. Do remind them of “normal.” Sometimes the last thing your friend wants is to discuss the divorce. Great – provide them with the distractions they seek. This is a good time for you to complain, seek their advice, ask for their help, take up Hot Yoga, start a diet, and generally show them that life is big and wide and has a place for them even when they’re not quite ready to engage 100%.

4. Sort out your own feelings. Remember, this is not your divorce. While it might seem as though your friend/relative wants you to dislike (hate?) their ex as much as he or she does, you may not.  It might be this “ex” is the mother or father of your grandchildren; how can you hate them? It might be you have loved this person and are sad to be losing them from the family or friendship circle. How you negotiate your relationship with someone who is divorcing out of your community is up to you.  You can stay in touch and love them as before. You may just have to do this separately for a while.

Your Friend’s Separation

How friends and relations react in the face of a couple’s troubles makes a huge difference, often for the worse.  I am dedicating this week’s blog space to addressing the five types of couple distress I see most regularly, with tips for how family and friends can help, not harm, the hurting couple

Part 2 of 5  HOW TO HELP WHEN ~ They Separate

1. Be a neutral-zone. Even if you feel strongly in favour of one partner over the other it’s not helpful to act this out as prosecutor or defense. Just listen and try to be supportive by telling your friend how sorry you are that he or she is having this experience.  Don’t badmouth one person to the other – not only is it unhelpful, but there’s always the chance they might get back together again. Don’t ever volunteer to be the “go-between.”  While it might seem neutral, this perpetuates dreadful behaviour and fosters jealousy.  If the separated partners want to talk, they can do so directly, or in therapy.

2. Offer tangible, practical help. If your friends are separating, one, other or both of them will be living with less stuff. Does someone need bedding, kitchen ware, extension cords or a lamp?  If your friend used to rely on his or her spouse to help with dry cleaning, car troubles, elderly parents or the pets, can you step in instead?  Sleuth out which day or night is toughest on your friend and show up with dinner. Be willing to talk about anything, e.g,(“Can I survive on this budget?” or “Shall I shave my head, drop 10 kg, and  re-do my wardrobe?” Listen. Ask questions. See if you can get them laughing at their predicament – occasionally.

3. Stay alert for severe reactions. Whatever the cause of a separation, this is a massively unstable time. Feelings and behaviour will be all over the map and you may be frightened by your friends’ oscillating mood swings. Just show up. Love your friend unconditionally even if they are making poor choices. If you suspect your friend is severely depressed be willing to discuss suicidal thoughts. If she / he has a concrete plan (I’ll take an overdose) and has the means for completing this plan (I’ve been hoarding my pills for two years and have more than enough) ask  “On a scale of 1 – 10 with 10 being you don’t want to make it through the night, where are you?” If your friend has the means to carry out a suicide and is over a 3 or 4, get professional help.

4. Get your friend helping others. A pity-party is a lonely affair. If your friend is wallowing, get them thinking of someone else. You need them to walk your dog; the neighbour needs house-plants watered; animal rescue needs someone to love the kittens. Obviously, if there are children involved, this will look very different.  See Part 4.

Your Friend’s Affair

While the number of couples getting divorced (or ending their civil or de facto unions) is down a bit in New Zealand from over 12 per 1000 married couples in the late 1990s to below 9.8 per 1000 married couples in 2011,  most of us are touched at some point by the divorce, separation or infidelity of a friend or relative.

How friends and relations react when a couple is in crisis makes a huge difference, often for the worse.  I am dedicating this week’s blog space to addressing the five types of couple distress I see most regularly, with tips for how family and friends can help, not harm, the hurting couple

Part 1 of 5 HOW TO HELP WHEN ~ An Affair Strikes

While it can make a difference to how you feel about your friend if you know whether they are the unfaithful or the hurt partner in an affair, the following tips apply to both scenarios.

  1. Resist the urge to judge. Not all affairs are all bad. As I tell couples who come to me, affairs can be the death knell of a relationship, or the wake up call. When affairs are first discovered it is hard to know which way things will go and certainly there are two sides to every story. If you, as a dear friend or relative, sit in vocal judgment you may well interfere with the genuine insight, growth and healing that can come out of an affair.
  2. Be their friend, not their shrink . By all means be a good friend and listen, empathise, ask clarifying questions and be non-judgmentally supportive, but seeing your friend through the aftermath of an affair – no matter what role your friend played – goes over and above the bounds of friendship.  Hug them, cry with them, then help them find a good professional – you’ll both be glad of it in the end.
  3. Don’t succumb to gossip.  Betraying trust and trafficking in endless opinions about what’s happening, who’s right, who’s wrong and what “should” be done, does not help anyone.  Let your friends know you trust the couple is getting help and change the conversation by discussing ways to support both of them.
  4. Extend invitations to your friend… repeatedly. Often a therapist will suggest the couple touched by an affair take some time apart. This does not indicate divorce any more than going to bed with the flu indicates death, so don’t treat your friends as though they were highly contagious.  It can be a lifeline to know that friends are still reaching out, still care, and are willing to choose human decency over judgmental ostracism. Even if your friend turns you down repeatedly, keep asking. Whether you invite him or her for dinner next week or a cup of tea right now, even if the answer is “No thanks!”  they will see you care.