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The value of knowing where the walls and windows are (DW#363)

We have been talking about protecting our relationships by knowing and recognizing the difference between friendships and marriage so that we can keep our commitments strong.

Hopefully you have recognized how easy it is, especially in modern times, to slide into the danger zone of infidelity and why we need to be mindful of the boundaries in our marriage. 

The wall and windows metaphor that we have been exploring can help us
 
·  Assess the overall health of the relationship.
 
·  Determine whether an outside relationship has moved from a friendship to an affair.
 
·  If you are recovering from an affair, it can help determine a partner’s level of commitment. Or for example, does your partner say he or she is committed, but then allow a wall to remain between you? If a window is still open for the affair partner, that’s a sign that the appropriate level of commitment isn’t there for the marriage....
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Boundary walls are necessary but not sufficient (DW#361)

We spent all of last week talking about the importance of boundaries and walls around your relationship to keep it protected.

Walls around the relationship, however, are not enough. In a healthy relationship, spouses have what Shirley Glass calls "large open windows" of intimacy between themselves.

On the safe side of the wall, a couple looks at each other through this clear, large, open window. This is where there is an open and honest exchange of ideas and feelings. The couple communicates well through this large opening between them.

In this healthy situation, the couple may also have close meaningful relationships outside of their connection. However, the windows between partners and their other relationships are much smaller and not as transparent.

How do we keep these "windows of intimacy" clear and transparent?

By connecting with each other by asking questions, telling stories, being honest and vulnerable, and committing to regular and reliable periods of connection. 

If...

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The kinds of walls we need (DW#357)

Yesterday we started exploring the metaphor of building walls around our relationship to keep it secure. Now let’s take this concept a little deeper and discover the different kinds of walls that we need.

Mental walls

Keeping a mental boundary means that we become aware of where our attention is. While our thoughts can wander into danger zones, we need not let them dwell there. If we become masters of our attention, we can protect our relationship by not letting our fantasies run away with our better judgment. A stray thought can be quashed right at the beginning which will prevent repeated thoughts turning into actions. 

Mental boundaries can also involve intentionally thinking positive thoughts about our spouses when we are away from them and reminding ourselves of our commitment, especially when we encounter temptation.

Physical walls

These involve practical ways in which you can avoid slipping. Physical boundaries come in many different forms.

Being alone
Avoiding spending...

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Build walls (DW#356)

Not "Just Friends": Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity by Shirley Glass is a classic and very helpful resource for couples attempting recovery from the ravages of infidelity.

In this book, Shirley Glass uses the metaphor of "walls and windows" to explain how a marriage slides from security to vulnerability. Let us stay with this metaphor for a few days to try and understand what puts a relationship at risk.

When we get married and form a new family, it is creating a new entity, an entity which needs to be safeguarded from outside influences and threats to the relationship. 

 
Healthy couples therefore create boundaries by constructing a metaphorical "wall" between them and the many forces that could damage the relationship. It’s not a wall that shuts the world out, but a necessary safety buffer. On one side, protected, is "us" and what is sacred between "us", and on the other side of the wall is anything that could hurt "us."
 
...
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Four kinds of marriage which are particularly vulnerable (DW#354)

As we have been discussing this week, infidelity can happen in any marriage, even strong and happy relationships are not immune from temptations.

According to research, there are some kinds of marriages which are more vulnerable to infidelity than others.

1) The intimacy-avoidant marriage.

In this kind of relationship, couples don’t talk about anything personal. Intimacy feels too vulnerable for one or both spouses so a lot of areas of internal life, thoughts and emotions are not shared with each other.

Conversation is all about external events and issues, because sharing something personal feels too risky.

On the hand, confiding of fears, sharing of hopes, and encouraging each other’s dreams builds a bond of emotional intimacy between couples that makes them less vulnerable to look outside the relationship to meet these core human needs.

2) The conflict-avoidant marriage (also called the "Dial-Tone Marriage")

This is similar to the first one. In this relationship, there...

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Recognize the risk (DW#352)

It is sad when I meet couples who are in committed and stable relationships but have been blindsided by infidelity because they never ever considered the possibility that it could happen to them.

So the first step to protecting your relationship is to recognize that no marriage is immune from the risk. Infidelity happens in every social circle and even amongst strongly practicing religious families.

We live in a society where we spend much of the time outside the home and away from families, ether at work, volunteering or studying. We may come across temptation when we least expect it and are not prepared.

A casual conversation that starts out innocently enough can slide into an inappropriate relationship unless we take intentional steps to set personal and relationship boundaries.

And we can only prepare and set boundaries if we are aware that temptation exists. And that we need to take proactive steps to guard our relationships.

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Invest your attention and affection wisely (DW#351)

Over the last several days, we have been discovering how simple it is to grow love in small and seemingly insignificant ways. Hopefully you have added some of these rituals to your own relationships and have been enjoying the results.

There is, however, one important and possibly uncomfortable conversation that we still need to have about the easiness with which love can grow.

The micro-moments of positivity resonance, as we have discovered, happen when two or more people share a positive moment of emotional connection together. The "biology of love", however, does not discriminate between committed and casual relationships.

To put it another way, it is almost as easy (and sometimes easier) to share these moments with strangers than with our own loved ones. This is because strangers don’t come with the baggage that accompanies the challenges of sharing daily life with another human being.

This is why we need to be on guard and recognize that we need to be intentional about...

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Counterattack instead of responding to a complaint (how to start and continue a fight) (DW#300)

When the husband complained about the mess, the wife instead of responding to the complained, counter-attacked by saying: I don’t see you lifting a finger to help".

She also said: Your mother spoiled you rotten, but I don’t have to take your [nonsense]

A statement such as this does two things: firstly, it escalates the conflict.

Secondly, it diverts the conversation and introduces a new area for potential conflict.

As we can imagine (and may have experienced), when we try to "kitchen-sink" an argument by complaining and cross-complaining about other issues, we cannot get a resolution on any of the issues.

Also, by introducing many areas of conflict into a single argument, we start feeling discouraged about the state of the relationship in general. The problems start appearing larger than our resources to handle it.

Given such an exchange, how could the couple have handled it differently?

1. He could have taken responsibility

He: [Knows the subject is charged, so he takes...

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Blame the other for how you feel (how to start and continue a fight) (DW#299)

It is sooo tempting to blame the other person for how frustrated or upset we are feeling. After all, we are feeling awful and it must be someone’s fault, right?

The husband in the example blamed this wife for driving him crazy:
You’re so messy it drives me crazy.

This is a very common pattern in couple interactions. We link our feelings directly to someone else’s actions. And then we let them know. In not-so-kind language. Usually by attacking.

Here’s the thing: when we attack someone, they are biologically hardwired to defend themselves or to exit the conversation. (Ever heard of the fight or flee response?)

Without a significant level of self-awareness and self-development training, it is extremely challenging to bear the brunt of an attack without defending or counter-attacking.

Blaming also assumes that the listener is the cause of the speaker’s actions or experience, and that is simply not accurate.

The issues that trigger us generally belong to...

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Exaggerate the negative (how to start and continue a fight) (DW#298)

The second issue with the conversation between the couple is that of "Over-statement" (There you go, always criticizing when you first get home.)

When we say things like "always" or "never", the other person’s brain is gets too busy finding exceptions to "always" or "never" to hear our concerns, even if they are legitimate.

Moreover, nothing (almost nothing!!) ever happens ALL THE TIME or NONE OF THE TIME. We can safely say that this husband has come home on many occasions and not criticized when he first got home. And when he hears this statement from his wife, his brain is scrambling to remember all those occasions.

What could the wife have done instead?
She could speak with accuracy and restraint in response to his complaint about the mess.

This is what it would sound like:

She: [Warily, but with a touch of humor] You’re doing pretty well, this is the first time you’ve complained about that this week.

If we take our time to pause before speaking and avoid...

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