Partner's Workshop: Stage Seven; Lesson Three
Rebuilding Shared Values
Whether or not you intend to rebuild an intimate relationship with your partner, the experiences you have endured will have a destructive influence on your ability to develop intimacy within any relationship. To fully heal, educating yourself — or rather, reaffirming what you already know — in relation to a healthy relationship is an important step in further distancing you from the irrationality of addiction. Such is the purpose of this lesson: to reaffirm the foundation of a healthy relationship.
In assessing the damage from your partner's actions, you will see a list of those issues essential to a healthy relationship: honesty, trust, respect, partnership, intimacy, stability, history (e.g. the memories/milestones you share) and more. In all likelihood, this list will include many of the values that you once believed your relationship shared. When you've experienced such vulnerability with another person, then had that vulnerability taken advantage of (or taken for granted)...well, it is natural for the disillusioned to retreat to the safety of solitude. Or recklessness. Or some other approach that is contrary to the one that seemingly failed them.
Take the Unnatural Approach
Don't allow this to happen. Or, if you recognize such patterns already developing, take immediate action. Why? Because it is your responsibility in the healing process to protect your value system. Allowing the selfish, irrational actions of another to disrupt that value system — to further disrupt that value system — is on you. Your values did not fail you. Valuing trust, valuing honesty, valuing partnership...these are all part of a good, healthy foundation. The failure resulted from the compulsive actions of someone who is no longer guided by such values. They may intellectually have the ability to recite such values, but internally...emotionally...the values have little influence on the actions they take. That is on them.
Take the unnatural road. While it may feel most natural to tuck your tail between your legs and retreat. To take solace in ruminating towards all that went wrong — reliving the deceptions, searching for the missed signs, assessing the questions that have no answers. Don't. Instead, separate yourself from the influence that addiction has had on the relationship and take pride in the role that you played. That you maintained the trust you both willingly assured to one another. That you acted in a manner that was consistent with the goals you both were striving for. That you acted in a manner that was consistent with your shared values. Take pride in everything you did right.
"But I wasn't perfect."
Of course not. Nobody is. Which is why it is so important for you to accurately perceive your role in the actions of your partner. They did not have an affair because you were not able to satisfy them. They did not establish a secret porn collection because you didn't make them feel sexy enough, or because you don't act sexy enough. They did not become involved with online affairs because you didn't show them enough attention at home. They did these things because they lost sight of their values. They lost the ability to rationally comprehend that ten years of memories is not worth two months of heightened emotions. That being in a financial crisis is not justification to take an escape from reality. That leaving the bed unmade, or the clothes on the floor, or not coming home for dinner is not the same thing as lying or keeping secrets from one another. They did these things because they were not managing their lives in a healthy way.
What does this have to do with shared values?
Well, this. You must come out of this experience with the realization that, while you may not have been perfect, you maintained the foundation of a healthy partnership. You stayed true to the main values you shared. Why is this so important? Because the further you retreat into self-deprication, distrust, hopelessness and apprehension, the further damaged and distant that healthy foundation becomes.
Should you stay in the relationship, your ability to role-model healthy values at a time when your partner is actively developing will be significantly stunted. And if you end the relationship, any future relationships will involve you being less than healthy. Less willing to establish shared values or to pursue shared goals. You will become increasingly isolated and selfish...and when you give of yourself, it will not be complete. You deserve better...and you have earned the right to experience better.
What to demand from a partner...
How then, after such a traumatic experience, can you be expected to trust again? To believe again? To love again? These are questions that require a lot of answers. Answers that differ widely depending on whether the person in question is new to your life, is the same person who jeopardized your partnership, or is the same person who has jeopardized your partnership multiple times. The latter scenarios are dealt with through the Couple's Workshop, but for all situations, you will come to learn that such trust is never regained through words, but through action. Consistent, measured, sincere action.
Such trust begins with having a clear foundation of your own values and even clearer boundaries in place to protect those values. It grows further by your partner's clear foundation of their own value system and boundaries. It continues developing through the way your values are respected by your partner. In the way communication is used to develop the relationship, as opposed to isolating the individuals within the relationship. It is developed by the consistent application of the shared values that you both have agreed upon. And, by the willingness to explore any perceived conflicts to those values. Trust is developed through ongoing action.
So, what can you demand from a partner? You can demand that they have a clear understanding of their value system, that they respect the boundaries that protect your value system and that they agree to communicate in such a way as to allow constructive conflict resolution and value identification. With these in place, the foundation for trust — and all things that require trust (intimacy, respect, partnership, etc.) — can be developed. Without even one of these demands in place, the risk for deception — whether intentional or delusional — will be great.
Regarding this lesson's exercise: the following is one person's effort. The level of thought and balance that went into it should serve as an excellent example in your own work:
A. Make a list of values/goals relating to your existing relationship (or future relationship) that you can use to help guide you. Ensure that you limit this list to what is absolutely necessary in establishing/maintaining the relationship.
B. For each value listed, what boundaries do you have in place that will ensure that this value remains protected?
That honest, open communication is essential to a trusting, healthy, loving relationship.
When we communicate, all questions will be answered in specifics and not in generalizations. we will make every effort to offer all relevant information without having to be asked for it. An omission of information will be treated the same as a lie. We will each subscribe to a policy of absolute honesty towards each other.
If there is an attempt to communication in a non-honest and open manner, then mutual understanding will not have been achieved and all communication will then cease until such time as my partner accepts the responsibility to initiate speaking in specifics.
That “owning our own feelings” or being responsible for our own emotions is an essential ingredient for healthy and effective communications.
The need to communicate what we are feeling when we are experiencing them is healthier than holding in our true feelings and then expressing them inappropriately. Snapping or yelling at a small irritation or annoyance which happens is not acceptable. Rather, calmly confronting each other when something is not feeling right is expected. We will “own our own feelings” thereby being responsible for our own feelings. No “you” statements which serve to accuse or blame the other for our own negative feelings.
If we do not “own our own feelings” but rather attempt to "dump them" on the other through accusations or blame that the other is somehow responsible for the negative feeling, then we will “call each other on it” immediately. If my partner does not immediately recognize that he/she has not shared a true feeling then the other will disengage from any further discussion; walk away / retreat and before doing so, offer a simple, clear explanation why. This disengagement will continue until such time as the other is able to effectively share his/her true feelings without placing “blame”.
That respecting each other’s individuality is essential to a healthy, loving relationship.
We will treat each other with respect and consideration by accepting that, although we are a couple, we are also separate human beings - each with our own thoughts, feelings, opinions, and interests. Our core values as a couple must always be respected as our mutual-needs, wants and beliefs, yet we will still recognize and accept that differences do exist and we will respect those differences in each other. By embracing this value, we will ensure to always be free to continue our own self-growth and free to always express, experience and enjoy who we are as separate individuals.
If there is a “conflict” while needing to express our individuality, (and such conflict does not threaten our foundation of shared values in the relationship) then a suitable, possible compromise should be explored together. If there is an attempt to “change" the other through emotional manipulation or pressure, then this will be interpreted as non-acceptance of each other as separate persons. Mutual-respect will then not exist and all communication between us will cease until such time as respect and acceptance for the other's individuality is once more established.
That respectful communication does not include uncontrolled anger.
The emotion of anger will be expressed it in a respectful manner: no yelling / venting / raging outbursts will be tolerated.
If the emotion of anger is expressed in an uncontrolled fashion, this must be taken outside, out of ear-shot from all family members and the partner not return until such time as he/she has calmed down and is ready to address the negative impact such behavior has had on him/her self and others. If my partner does not “take it outside” then the other will immediately disengage, walk away, remove themselves from their presence. All communication between us will then cease until such time as the "angry" partner is able to recognize his/her unacceptable behavior and effectively communicate his/her true feelings, including ownership of his/her true feelings and do so in an honest and respectful manner.
MY PERSONAL (ongoing):
That a life without pornography is essential for a healthy, loving relationship.
Should he choose to engage in pornographic materials, my husband will inform me of this behavior immediately. By choosing to share the truth of this behavior, my husband will be respecting our value for mutual trust and we may then have the opportunity to effectively explore, both together and with our marriage therapist, why a slip has occurred.
If my husband does not immediately inform me when he engages in pornographic behaviors but rather chooses to return to past patterns of hiding and protecting this, then it will be his decision to have deceived and betrayed both me and our shared values once again. My husband will immediately loose my commitment to give my love, support, compassion and understanding through a complete and total “emotional disengagement” on my part. I will ask and expect my husband to loose the current weekend arrangement of living in the family home.
That re-building trust is essential to a future reconciliation.
In order for our marriage to heal from the many years of husband’s pornography use, husband’s current “recovery tools” must continue on an ongoing basis at least into the foreseeable future.
Action: If husband stops utilizing his current “recovery tools” and particularly that of attending the weekly 12-Step SAA Program, and my intuition tells me he is no longer "in recovery", then I will ask and expect my husband to loose the current weekend arrangement of living in the family home.
C. For each goal, what will be your initial response at the first sign of action contrary to that goal?
My initial response would be to share with my husband that I feel that a boundary is not being respected/honored (i.e. “call him on it”) and would seek to engage him to explore this with me - striving to do so in a non-threatening manner. If his response afterwards is clearly one which does not focus on acknowledging / honoring the boundary being crossed, then I will immediately respond myself through the respective “actions” noted.