The Effectiveness of Truth Telling Toward a Deeper Healing in Relational Betrayal

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Beth had been partnered with Steve for 12 years. She thought they were doing just fine. There were a few scuffles and every now and then she felt some distance but overall she figured it was just what people go through in a relationship. Then she stumbled into a pit of horror one afternoon looking for a phone number for Steve’s brother. She noticed a list of numbers that were foreign to her. She called one and found out it was an escort service. She had no idea. She was numb with shock and even though the evidence of infidelity was clear as a bell she was hoping that there would be a legitimate answer to this horrible reality. 

There wasn’t. At first, Steve lied about the inquiry. Then he finally came clean. It was piecemeal. If Beth asked the right question he gave her an honest response. This went on for a few days until such a point that Beth was unsure she would ever get the truth to the full extent. Now she had a dilemma. Do I leave the relationship? When can I know the last shoe of disclosure has dropped? Do I ask for a polygraph? How do I live with him knowing that he has so prolifically, profoundly lied to me? Who in the hell can possibly understand this crazy-making experience that I feel from being gaslit? There were a ton of other questions that raged within. 

Couples like Beth and Steve who experience infidelity will only heal through truth-telling. While the steps toward healing are not cookie cut, truth-telling must be embraced, particularly when there is compulsive infidelity.  Every stone must be turned over so that there are no secrets. A polygraph can be helpful to establish that a full disclosure has been made. 

When truth is agonizingly piece-mealed it is torture to the offended partner. “I wanna believe, but how can I when details dribble out that break my heart” is a common response.

Truth-telling about secret behaviors is essential but not sufficient. The partner in shock wants to know “Where did this behavior come from”. “This is not who I thought I was partnering with or what I thought I would get!” It is significant for the philandering partner to understand the cycle of offending behavior and disclose what was going on within that led to the hurtful behavior. The behavior did not happen out of the blue. If so, you would have been even yet more unpredictable. Digging in and understanding the mistaken beliefs, build-up behaviors and triggers that precipitated betrayal is a necessary truth-telling step for both the betrayer and the one betrayed. At least the betrayed can begin to grapple with what’s been going on inside their partner who betrayed. 

Truth-telling establishes a ground zero in a relationship pockmarked with infidelity that helps to determine the potential future of the relationship. It does not guarantee that the relationship can be salvaged, but without it, healing doesn’t happen.

Once these two momentous steps in truth-telling have been taken, there will be questions that nag the betrayed. How could my partner pull off this behavior under my very eyes? Why would they do this? What is wrong with me that I ended up screwed over like this? 

A process of clarification is a necessary next step of truth-telling. It is important to understand that when you choose to violate the values of another it is a victimizing behavior. There is an offender in every one of us which expresses itself through a mentality that “wants what I want when I want it”. It is this part that is the core of offending behavior. The offending behavior must be exposed for what it is—the epitome of narcissism. 

What must be cultivated in the heart of the offending person is the capacity to tell on themselves to the offended party. It is one thing for your victim to recognize by his or her own insight that you, as an offender, have victimized. It is a more powerful healing experience to the relationship when the offending party demonstrates awareness of ways in which they have victimized. Clarification is a way to “unbrainwash” your victimized partner so they understand that you “get it” and that they were not responsible for your abusive behavior in any way. 

There are 12 steps:

1. The obvious. Identify the way you offended your partner.

2. Identify 5 memories of special promises that are now spoiled because of your betrayal.

3. Make a list of 3 overt and covert ways your partner would have resisted your behavior had they known.

4. Identify 3 ways you groomed yourself and your partner around your betrayal behavior.

5. Identify 3 lies you told yourself, excuses you made to justify your behavior, and rationales that gave you a sense of entitlement to betray.

6. Describe the “smoke screens” you used to keep your partner off track (moodiness/busyness, etc).

7. Share how dishonesty around relationships occurred before you ever knew your partner in attitude, fantasy, and action.

8. Validate the confusing mixed messages you gave your partner through examples that you own. (secrets you kept)

9. Identify 3 others who would not do what you did, and areas it would not be wise to be trusted without accountability.

10. Give examples of ways you tried to hide your behavior from certain others.

11. Validate your partner’s boundaries and ways they distanced themselves from you after learning of your betrayal.

12. Validate that whatever weaknesses your partner may have, they are inconsequential to your choice of destructive behavior. Also, identify 3 hardships that your behavior has caused for your partner. 

    When you complete these steps, weave your responses into a letter. Share them with your partner. Ask her to have a supportive person (therapist, coach, and/or others) to be with her as she listens. You will be wise to have the same support. 

    There is an offender in us all. It would be wise for the partner who has been offended to consider ways in which they have offended their partner. Likely, betrayal is not your concerned behavior. Of course, you have done nothing to make your partner act out and betray you. Yet, you have contributed to intimacy distance in some way. It will be helpful for you to compose a clarification process for your betrayal partner. You will find healing through common awareness of shortcomings whatever they may be. 

    The steps of truth-telling around betrayal require guidance. Usually, a trained professional is necessary but not always. For sure, truth-telling requires courage and being anchored to your adult self. Yet, those who engage in this courage know the freedom of healing that truth-telling achieves.

    Looking For Truth in Wrong Places

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    “Tough love and brutal truth from strangers are far more valuable than Band-Aids and half-truths from invested friends, who don’t want to see you suffer any more than you have.” ― Shannon L. Alder

    We live in a time when there is significant spreading of misinformation. Each news media has its own bias. Some purposely promote false information to create chaos for the strategy of undermining what is real. It is difficult to identify what is truthful and what is a lie. It is a scary thought that I might be looking for truth in the wrong places.

    This is no less true in the world of recovery. Addicts live in a world of make-believe and lies. Facing the truth about addiction is far too painful. Addicts can be unwilling to stop the compromise, the promotion of half-truths, the blaming of others for their own unhappiness, self-sabotage, and otherwise bullshitting themselves and everyone around them. They often give themselves a pep talk about why they cannot quit, but deep down they know that it’s all bullshit. When they have to circulate around sober friends and family they don’t ask questions, not because they are fearful someone will lie to them, rather because they fear someone will tell them the truth. 

    Not unlike others, addicts guard and keep their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be. They don’t want to be told any different. In uncanny fashion, people try to convince themselves that they are in total control at the very moment they are losing it. Everything that can be said about ducking and diving truth by a user, not in recovery can fit for one in recovery and to the rest of us who don’t identify as an addict. 

    People often tell themselves lies, in order to reach what they consider acceptance in difficult situations. In reality, they fool themselves into believing they are healed until that lie is corrected by time, further information, or their own personal growth. True healing comes when we learn to not avoid truth but face it. Only then will we be set free.

    Here are some observations about seeking truth in recovery:

    1. Hiding from the truth will prevent you from experiencing vitality and serenity in your recovery program. Facing the truth will lead you back to the pulse of what is sacred in your recovery journey. 

    2. Many in recovery ask program buddies questions they already know the answer in their hearts. They put the question out to the group because they don’t want to face changing their system of reality.

    3. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. (James Baldwin) Seeking truth is this way. If you are seeking new truth via a new therapist, new treatment modality, new sponsor, psychedelics, etc. but you are not willing to face the truth that you already know, it is like hiking around the entire base of a mountain looking for a shortcut to the top and ending up where you began. 

    4. When all the dust settles, the most difficult truth for an addict to face is to let go of what you cannot control. Letting go and surrendering what you cannot control is the common thread that weaves addicts together and creates a tapestry of serenity. 

    5. When I won’t let go and surrender, I say I want compassion when I really want others to feel sorry for me. Indicators that I am stuck in this place are resentment and feeling stuck. This space is a common watering hole for addicts who seek control. Other common traits are whining, complaining, and bitching about other people. 

    6. Unwillingness to grieve what you cannot control blocks truth from restoring freedom. Grieving is painful. No one wants to sign up for pain. Maybe you would, if you could, know how long you have to hurt. Grieving takes as long as it takes. You want more clarity about how long it takes. The universe refuses to tell you. So you remain stuck and willfully hang on to trying to control what you cannot. The truth about this is that you have put yourself in an emotional prison. 

    7. When you are stuck in unwillingness to let go, find someone else who is also stuck in their unwillingness to let go of control and look for yourself in them. Together you will find a way out. Bill W and Dr. Bob (Alcoholics Anonymous) famously told the story that once when they were under siege of craving for a drink. They decided that what they needed was to find another alcoholic and listen to their story. In doing so, they saw themselves in the other alcoholic and found the answer to their craving that satisfied their craving to drink. 

    8. In the end, the Tibetan monks have it right. There are three things that matter: (1.) How well did you love; (2.) How fully did you live; (3.) How deeply did you let go? 

    To that end, it resonates that the truth will set you free but most likely it will hurt before you experience release. 

    Hanging on to What You Can’t Keep

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    The most difficult experience in recovery life for addicts is letting go of control. Addicts want to control everything. Ultimately, the creme de la creme in control for an addict is the high that comes from their drug of choice. That experience of control has been described as feeling like a cozy warm blanket.

    The need for control is pervasive. It impacts many who do not identify with addiction as a problem. People try to control their money, their safety, their sense of belonging, their dignity, relationships with family members, their pets, on and on it goes.

    When people grow up in a dysfunctional family laced with insecurity and unpredictability because of neglect and abandonment from abuse, the white-knuckle grip of control becomes embedded deep within behavior. It’s the only way they know how to live! People become hyper-vigilant with their need to control. It drives them and others crazy.

    I grew up in a religious cult. I learned to fear the end of the world being triggered by a ball of fire. I was taught that communists were coming and that my friends who were unsaved would be cast in a lake of fire! I cannot remember ever knowing differently as a small child. Imagine how that would impact a young boy!

    To control this awful outcome I tried to pass out leaflets to tell my friends that they needed to get “saved” to avoid perishing in fire! I was careful not to step on cracks in a sidewalk, believing it was a mistake and would trigger something bad. I once raced out of a baseball stadium thinking it was going to blow up! I was less than 10 years old when these behaviors happened! My parents sent me to a psychiatrist because I thought I could hear my friends who had been killed screaming from hell! My parents thought I was crazy! They took me to a child psychiatrist to get me fixed. No one figured that I was the wrong patient to be in the shrink’s chair. No one seems to wonder why my parents would take me three times a week to the terrors of a cult worship service! No one even labeled the church a cult. Wouldn’t you question a parent who would insist that their impressionable child watch horror movies three times a week?

    As a result of growing up in this kind of environment, I became very controlling. It has been fueled by sex addiction, work addiction, and my need to control others all around me. It sabotaged my entire life from true intimacy with others until I learned to live differently.

    I learned to live differently through working a 12-step program. Of the many lessons I have learned by working the 12-steps, one of the most important is detachment. This lesson shows up every day in my life. It is ever-present.

    Step 3 of the twelve steps is “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him”. Working this step has been key to my recovery toward the initiation of detachment. Many people struggle with the concept of the word “God”. When it is implied that you interpret “God” as you understand, insinuates that you interpret the concept. Many people just don’t believe that the idea exists. For those, I suggest that you remove the belief and insert whatever concept helps you surrender control. What is necessary is to detach!

    Detachment is about letting go and surrendering control which is an illusion! Upon your best efforts, the only thing you can control is your own capacity to make choices about what you face in your own life.

    However, this capacity becomes skewed with the illusion that if you do certain things the ultimate outcome will be in your control. This is a problem. Control becomes an obsession. It becomes so big that you cannot imagine living any other way even though you drive yourself bat-shit crazy trying to control what you cannot.

    The most painful part of recovery I have ever experienced is that of detachment. Simply letting go of what I cannot control—people, financial outcomes, the well-being of the world—and sit with the feelings of insecurity, anxiety, stress, and vulnerability. To tell you the truth, it sucks!

    However, the truth is that no one can control others! What I have discovered is that when I let go, it feels almost like free falling into the abyss of unfulfillment. However, I have learned that I can go down, detach from what I cannot control, and come up again controlling what I can—my choice to live my destiny. This surrender gives me unconditional confidence to fulfill my intentions by controlling my choices of living—not yours! My concept of Higher Power helps me do this! You will need to figure out yours.

    Self Empowerment — Making Things Enough

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    Addicts in recovery often struggle with knowing how to meet their needs in healthy ways. As a child, many developmental needs were left unmet because parents who never had their needs met when they were young and vulnerable failed to meet their children’s needs. They pass along the same dysfunctional patterns they learned from their parents. This is one way dysfunctional patterns of behavior are intergenerationally transferred. 

    As a child, they learn to compensate in order to survive. They become very good at improvising—doing what pleases their parents and gets their attention. They learn to do and perform because the value of being is de-emphasized. Children learn to do anything to avoid neglect and abandonment which are terrifying experiences. This is when a child loses a sense of identity. Children mistakenly believe that whatever they do to get noticed is who they are. So they lose themselves in family roles (hero, scapegoat, lost child, etc) or in taking care of others. Sometimes they act out with negative behavior or through personal accomplishments to get attention. They hope to be noticed by caregivers. The result is that they are never able to do enough outside behavior to fill the empty space inside. That is when they create a cocktail of life experience to avoid the feelings of neglect and abandonment. 

    The mistaken beliefs that come with abandonment are, I am not worthy, not enough, or don’t measure up to matter to those you most want to be noticed by. So they learn to numb out and avoid the extreme emotional pain and fear associated with neglect and abandonment. Addiction doesn’t take away the pain but it does give what it promises. It is like a warm blanket on a cold night that offers temporary relief and escape from the harsh reality of a world full of winter experiences. 

    Every addict must stop the run-away train going down the track in order to get at the root cause of their destructive behavior. They learn to identify and express their feelings, which they were disconnected from in addiction. They have to be taught how to recognize needs represented in personal affect. They must learn how to assert meeting the needs housed within the emotions expressed. This journey requires education and a lot of practice. Ultimately, they must face their fears of neglect and abandonment. Most people are afraid to express what they feel or need because they fear they will be abandoned. As children, they have been abandoned emotionally, physically, or both. They learn to avoid this fear by the thoughts they embrace and the things they do. They compartmentalize what happened or did not happen as children. They protect those who have abandoned them with staunch family loyalty. They forgive prematurely, minimize results, and deny the impact of abandonment. They do everything possible to avoid facing the fear of abandonment. They learn to regulate themselves emotionally by trying to regulate everyone around them.

    In my book, Dare to Be Average—Finding Your Brilliance in the Commonplace, I told the story about a little boy who loved PBJ (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). He would go to the pantry, take the jar of peanut butter, and spread it on his bread. Then he would slap the jelly and peanut butter together and enjoy his PBJ. When there was daylight at the bottom of the jar of peanut butter, he would pitch it in the trash and reach for a new jar. All was good until one day there was no backup jar in the pantry. So with disappointment, he resigned to do without. As he walked away, his father noticed and asked him to come back to the kitchen. He took the jar of peanut butter that was thrown in the trash, made sure there was no gunk on it, and then scraped the sides of the jar which provided for 1/2” thick of peanut butter rather than the normal 1” thickness. He then noted to his son that he was willing to go without when he could take what was and spread it around and make it enough. 

    This story points to a skill set that many addicts fail to incorporate in their recovery program. When faced with the fear of abandonment in a relationship, they panic. Some insist that their partner fix the fear. They focus on their partner’s shortcomings. This is a subtle way to make the partner the identified problem. 

    Others run from the relationship through an approved replacement addiction like work etc. Many refuse to face their fear of abandonment and resolve the pain. They look outside themselves to medicate their fear. If not through acting out with their drug of choice, they utilize schemes of manipulation and overcontrol impression management or a myriad of caretaking strategies to avoid facing their fear of abandonment. They perceive their relationships through the view of a terrorized disempowered child. Consequently, they look for others to fix what they can only fix from within themselves. It renders them ineffective to take what is in a relationship and do their part to make it enough. Paralyzed in neediness, addicts look to others outside to fix their fear of abandonment.

    Managing the fear of abandonment requires empowering an adult perspective in the following areas:

    1. Recognizing your fear. In reactivity, we can cover our fear of abandonment by focusing on the injustice behavior of a partner. Since we cannot fix our partner when he or she complains or is unhappy, we become defensive and become embroiled in a circular argument trying to fix the blame. What gets lost in the skirmish around who is at fault is the reality that you fear abandonment from your partner at some level.

    2. Address the childhood fear of abandonment. This requires taking time to identify ways that you were abandoned in childhood. You will need to dismantle family loyalty by taking your parents off the pedestal in order to perceive the ways you were abandoned. You will know you have your parents on a pedestal by the feelings of guilt you experience when you speak to the times they abandoned you physically, emotionally, or both. You will need to grieve for the young impressionable part of you that was abandoned. In your grief work, you will need to move the energy of what you feared from your parents to the issue of abandonment. You will then need to transfer this energy to the empowered adult self to provide the safety you need in the here and now. This is not a one-and-done life experience. Rather, it is an adult skill set that must be honed and practiced throughout life.

    3. Make amends when you fail to empower the adult. Insight does not create perfection. You will backslide into giving the reins to the child within to negotiate decisions that require an adult mindset with your partner. When you recognize this to be true, take a deep breath, step back, gather yourself, and make amends. Then request a do-over. Practice will not make perfect. Yet, the combination of practice and a willingness to make amends will provide the incremental progress necessary to grow intimacy and reduce the fear of abandonment. 

    Don’t forget the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Always remember that as the adult in charge, you will have the power to take what is in a relationship spread it around, and make it enough. You do not have to be dominated by the fear of abandonment. 

    When You Know to Let Go But You Can’t

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    If you are an addict you know to let go of your drug of choice but you can’t. The junkie worm tells you just one more time! When you are an entrepreneur giving birth to your dream service or product, there comes a time when you know you need to let go of the reins. You need to empower others so that you can do what only you can do for this business, but you don’t let go. You think others won’t do it the way you do it. 

    Workaholics live life with their knickers twisted way too tight. They get stuck doing more to keep from being less. Mothers struggle to let go of the care of their children to others fearing they will not do it as effectively or that the needed bonding will be incomplete or broken. They know to let go but they can’t. 

    Adult children enmeshed with parents who are no longer able to care for themselves, know to reach out for assisted living but don’t because they cannot handle the perceived hurt and painful harm the move would create. So they remain stuck, trying to care for them alone, unable to let them go to a professional care that is better.

    Kids go away to college and create empty nests at home while parents struggle and often don’t let go of the past but hang on to yesterday’s experiences.

    Families faced with the tragedy of a loved one who suffered irreparable harm from an accident or physical illness know to let go and turn off the ventilator but they can’t.

    Seniors faced with retirement knowing it’s time to turn the page and shut it down, but cannot. Partners of addicts facing betrayal and who know the relationship is over and need to pull the plug but they can’t.

    Everyday life presents a menagerie of possibilities that insist on choices to let go. But, what do you do when you cannot?

    Here is a list of tools to help you let go of what you cannot control:

    1. Look at yourself in the mirror to face reality. The mirror may be that of another trusted friend who clearly sees what you do not want to look at or are simply blind to. Sometimes you need several mirrors. As the old saying applies, if eight friends tell you that you have a tail, at least look at your posterior in the mirror!

    2. First, face the result that you would least like to experience, then return to the present reality. In your mind’s eye, lean into the dreaded result that you fear. Sit with this possibility. See yourself accepting and experiencing the loss, the disappointment, and possible failed results. Practice knowing that whatever happens, your better self can face it with the strength of the universe. Then return to the here and now with the presence of calm in face of uncertainty. 

    3. Surrendering control is a daily practice that cultivates acceptance. Letting go is seldom a one-and-done life experience. Surrender requires ongoing conditioning. When the stakes are high, surrender must be a lifestyle. Most people who lose precious relationships and positions must think in terms of days or months or even years to let go of what they cannot control. For addicts, it’s a lifetime practice of letting go of their drug of choice.

    4. Letting go requires a disciplined action step without hovering around that which no longer is. A National Geographic nature show presented a mother wolf who died surrounded by it’s pups in the winter. The pups continued to hover around the carcass hoping to get the sustenance of milk from the dead mother. Finally, the pups gave up and left as the moderator declared they will never come back again. The hovering was over. For you to let go, it will require eliminating the aspect of hovering. You will have to act and forge ahead, leaving behind what no longer is real. 

    5. Letting go will require a new declaration of reality with accountability. Once you recognize what you cannot control and must let go, you must declare your commitment to surrender to your community of support. You might be wanting to let go of excess weight, a bad habit, old digs, or a difficult relationship, but, it will help you to declare your intentions and practice accountability with others who believe in you and who will not shade your actions but inspire your follow through.

    6. “Yesterday ended last night”— This is a healthy mantra to adopt around letting go of what you can’t. Perfection is never part of the plan for surrender. Some days and situations are more difficult to let go than others. There are days that are a battle and you just don’t. But, each morning is a new day with new opportunities to surrender and experience acceptance. Practice living in 24-hour tight compartments. Release, surrender, let go, and experience serenity. Each day of conditioning provides the necessary acceptance that enables you to let go of what you can’t. 

    Ten Components That Cultivate Cherish in the Presence of Relational Betrayal

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    Cherish is a dynamic in relationship life that adds richness and protects the integrity of love between two people. Cherish promotes protecting and caring for something or someone in a very loving way. You hear about athletes who cherish an old coach who has long since retired. The athlete now cherishes the memories and lessons learned. Memories of old mentors who have passed away are cherished by all of us. Cherish means that we hold something or someone dear to our hearts. Historians cherish the Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence, and other valued historic documents. Olympic athletes cherish the opportunity to participate with great hope for success. The word cherish represents magic that adds meaningfulness to romantic relationships. It is an important characteristic and life dynamic.

    Cherish can be drained from the experience of life. Disappointment can stop the flow of cherish in a promising job when you are overlooked. Selfish living can kill the cherish that exists in a community. Abandonment and neglect can choke the cherish from the dynamic of any relationship. Yet, nothing destroys cherish in a relationship like betrayal. 

    Gone is the protection and the care for the integrity of love in a relationship. Past memories of cherish are now sullied with deceit and lies. Meaningfulness in a betrayed relationship is demolished with chaos and confusion from gaslighting. Hope is destroyed with dupe and double cross.

    Relational betrayal is a societal travesty. The basics of how men learn to treat women begin with role-modeling in the home between mother and father. When dad treats mom as if she were a utility (responsible for all the domestic duties and for providing good sex) then it carries forward in the lives of the boys into adulthood. The seed for sexual objectification are planted in the minds of children by the way dad objectifies mom and how mom colludes with being a utility. 

    Objectification eradicates cherish. When one partner betrays another, objectification is the culprit that permeates the thoughts and behavior of the betrayer. The grass seems greener somewhere else. 

    When betrayal is exposed through disclosure, the betrayer most often will want to fix the problem with an apology and move on. Yet, broken hearts don’t heal this way. It becomes a feeble attempt to restore cherish in the relationship.

    At the moment of disclosure, both partners are unable to move forward toward rebuilding trust with a simple apology. Trauma ignites a systems failure. Unpacking broken trust and gaslighting truth requires a detailed healing process. Honesty moving forward from disclosure about every behavior is necessary. It is important for the partner to experience this reality from the betrayer.

    When both parties in a relationship ignore this understanding the efforts made by the betrayer to fix the problem will most likely be unsuccessful. A betrayed partner can heal when their experience is validated and their truth is respected and supported. Those who betray must offer this support toward healing. Betrayers who rigorously commit to honesty in all aspects of life in recovery create a healing environment toward rebuilding trust with their wounded partner. Working with an experienced therapist who has been trained in working with betrayal can be helpful. Partners who attend a self-help group for betrayed partners will steady their journey toward healing. Addicts who try to avoid their partner’s pain will slow the healing process in relational recovery.

    Here are ten suggestions to consider around healing betrayal in a relationship and restoring cherish:

    1. Accelerate your own commitment to your own healing. Whether you are an addict or a partner stay in your own lane. An addict must focus on doing everything possible to heal themselves, getting clear about why they cheated, with a commitment to radical interventions to prevent betrayal behavior in the future. Many betrayers get lost in finger-pointing, doing whatever their partner wants them to do, while avoiding what is necessary for their healing. So, take your eyes off your injured partner and concentrate on restoring your values.

    2. Practice telling on yourself. To heal betrayed trust, each person in the relationship must understand that they will not be perfect in recovery. Mistakes will be made by both parties. It doesn’t mean that addictive relapse is automatic or inevitable but it does mean that both parties are human and backsliding on commitments made will exist along the journey toward healing. It will be important to tell on yourself and commit to making amends. Any time you hurt your partner, make amends. It all begins when you tell on yourself. Avoid being defensive or explaining your behavior and actions. You do not need to clarify your intentions. Simply acknowledge and admit that your partner is hurting. Tell on yourself when you have done something that hurts the other person. 

    3. Practice not making assumptions. Making assumptions involves human error. You cannot know what you don’t know. Insecurity and shame accelerate the temptation to make assumptions. You can assume that your partner only sees you as disgusting. You can build an entire system of sabotage behaviors based on false assumptions you make about what your partner thinks of you. Intervene by stopping to check things out with an honest inquiry. Don’t bait your partner with hurtful behavior to repeat your false assumptions.

    4. Don’t personalize your partner’s behavior. Your partner’s response to healing is not about you. This may be hard to wrap your arms around but true nonetheless. Their behavior is about them and their pain. You may have hurt your partner with betrayal action, but, your partner will only heal when they are guided to embrace their pain and walk down that path toward healing. If you are the one who has betrayed, you will need to establish internal boundaries that help you detach from your partner’s healing. It’s not about you. What is about you is offering support and validation to your partner for your betrayal behavior. If the partner who has been betrayed becomes verbally, physically, and/or emotionally abusive, external boundaries will need to be established. Boundaries must have consequences to provide care for the person setting them, not to punish the other party. The strategy for healing is not that you become a pin cushion for your partner’s pain.

    5. Stop saying you’re sorry and validate. Sorry is a hollow word around betrayal behavior. So stop! Validation is about supporting your partner in pain with agreement and affirmation. “You are right, I was selfish, inconsiderate, and insensitive!” “I didn’t think of you and you have every right to be angry and hurt!” “I know you are hurting. How can I best support you right now?” These are compassionate and caring examples of validation that will require you to anchor yourself in the powerful adult that you are and can operate from in your relationship.

    6. Stop looking for a pat on the back from your partner as you work hard to maintain sobriety. If you are an addict, providing sobriety is a ground-zero expectation. Your partner did not commit to you thinking fidelity would be an added benefit. It’s assumed that you would preserve faithfulness. When you break your partner’s heart you cannot expect them to be your cheerleader. Your 12-step community and others must provide support at this level. 

    7. Know your partner’s love language and zero in on that behavior. Focus on being sensitive to what your betrayed partner needs from you. Making promises and giving your partner what you would want for comfort usually is not healing. However, when you focus on what is considerate and caring from their perspective, it can create emotional pain relief and soothing support.

    8. Ask for permission to express love to your partner in non-sexual ways. Taking the initiative to do nice things for your partner without first asking is often seen as inconsiderate when healing betrayal and building cherish. Doing what you think your partner needs without checking in with him or her is another way of taking up too much space. Asking for permission and framing it as “Would this be helpful to you” is a way of practicing dignity and respect that ultimately leads to healing.

    9. Pay attention to codependent responses while navigating through relational betrayal. Understandably, you want to please your hurting partner while both of you attempt to heal from betrayal behavior. However, when the primary motivation to do recovery is to satisfy your partner, it seldom works for the long haul. It is not sustainable. Sometimes the partner who was betrayed by an addict’s behavior wants to determine the particulars of an addict’s behavioral contract for sober living. This seldom works well. Oftentimes an addict will codependently abandon his or her truth in order to appease their betrayed partner. When this happens an addict often loses his or her way in recovery which ultimately leads to a relapse. Both addict and partner must cultivate healthy self-assertion regarding wants, needs, and expectations in the relationship. When this is not done a shallow recovery life is pockmarked with unhealthy codependent response. 

    10. Subconsciously, don’t make your partner your parent while recovering from destructive betrayal behavior. When betrayal is uncovered in a relationship, it is easy for the betrayed partner to put the betrayer in the basement of the relationship. Shame accelerates negative images and messages about the betrayer. This frequently triggers old pattern behaviors that resemble trying to gain approval from a parent early in life. A partner cannot be the other’s parent. Pleasing your partner from this framework of thought and behavior will never restore healthy intimacy. Recovery may trigger awareness that unresolved family-of-origin issues need to be addressed. When this is true, address it so that you can anchor healing that fosters equal loving care for yourself and your hurting partner.

    Rebuilding cherish in the appalling presence of infidelity and betrayal is a difficult undertaking. These ten suggestions are among many that can help make a healing difference as you navigate the treacherous waters of mending betrayal behavior.

    Hate Management

    READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.

    “There are only two ways: either we love–and love in action is service–or we put hatred into action and destroy.” —Mother Teresa

    When I was a junior in high school, a classmate, Chuck Fuller, shot and killed five members of the Cox family who lived in a country house a little ways from town. All the victims were children ranging from ages 5 to 16. He had been dating Edna Cox at the time. The motive for Chuck’s tragic behavior was unknown. Some thought he was upset because Edna’s parents denied his request to marry her. Others thought it to be because Chuck believed that Edna’s parents demanded that she work too hard with domestic duties around the house. I suppose only Chuck knows for sure. A couple of summers after the tragedy I worked at a summer job with one of the surviving Cox children, Tim, who was my age. Of course, he was still reeling from the tragedy with grief, anger, and hate. 

    Throughout my life, I have reflected upon the tragedies that seem to happen all around us every day. I have wondered how long a person should wallow in the extreme pain of grief and hate when faced with the sheer tragic results of loved ones killed from senseless mass murder, childhood sexual abuse, or any of a number of tragic endings of life.  I have often thought that religion and its emphasis upon a relationship with God would insure and insulate people from  extreme feelings like hate. Certainly, religious communities encourage people to avoid hate and in some cases to run from its presence. Christians admonish believers to forgive just like Jesus forgave. Yet, it doesn’t seem to work. Maybe, because you and I are not Jesus! All world religions encourage believers to quash and eradicate hate from their lives. However, who doesn’t hate? None of us would be so cruel to suggest to Tim Cox that he not hate the perpetrator of mass murder of his siblings. Be that as it may, what are you supposed to do with this bitter and biting experience of hate that at some level we all experience?

    Here are a few suggestions to consider:

    1. Lean into hate. I know it is counterintuitive to suggest that someone embrace hate. However, over the years I have learned better to embrace hate because for sure it will embrace you when you face senseless loss, deep disappointment, and dominating oppression. Hate is an energy that cannot be ignored or avoided when facing a serious crisis that alters your way of living. It is a powerful feeling that must be reckoned with. It is uncomfortable, even suffocating in its impact. 

    I once met with a man who walked into his bedroom with his partner being sexual with two men he did not know. Everywhere he goes in his mind, the image of relational betrayal stalks him like bloodhound tracking dogs. He simply cannot get away from the vile hate he felt. I suggest that you make an about-face from running away to facing the reality that an awful experience has happened and that you need to embrace the actuality that you hate the person, the experience, and the results that exist. Don’t minimize or get lost in trying to explain away your feeling of hate.

    2. Direct the hate to the person and the oppressive system that promoted the hurtful behavior. Many people are fearful and hesitant to admit what and who they hate. So they don’t. They walk through their lives with a chip on their shoulder, allowing the venom of hate to spew onto anyone and everyone they encounter. This approach to hate keeps you stuck in what hurts and leaves a venomous footprint of hate wherever you go. 

    Some people live out the mantra  “don’t worry, be happy”. They live the life described by the late John Prine in his song the “The Other Side of Town” and “A clown puts his make-up on upside down—so he wears a smile even when he wears a frown”.  These people live a life of self-sabotage. No one really understands what their frown is about because they are always smiling, hiding what hurts. People and systems can be oppressive. Naming the hurtful person and the hurtful behavior is a must if hate is to be addressed. Further, you must identify and call out the oppressive system that allowed the hurtful behavior.

    So, for the unfortunate client who walked in on his partner’s infidelity, he must name the infidelity and call out his partner who betrayed him. Further, he will need to draw critical attention to the dysfunctional system in the relationship that allowed for the oppressive behavior of infidelity to exist. At some point, he will need to unearth the way in which he embraced the improbable–the partner relationship is solid–and ignored the obvious–we are in deep trouble. You may need help to see where you were blind to the relational distance that was present and growing over time. Hate is an energy that enables you to address wrongful and hurtful behaviors perpetrated by others toward you.

    3. Transfer the hate to what you love. There is a fine line between hate and love. You can only shift from hate to love when you become indelibly clear about what you hate. The experience of hate is an energy that requires responsible adult administration. If you become stuck with who or what you hate, bitterness and resentment will take over your existence. Martin Luther King once said that “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Yet,  love is not operational by ignoring what is hate-worthy–unfair treatment, domination, and injustice. It requires an adult to transfer the energy of hate by embracing what you love.

    Some people say they love others but have not addressed their own self-hate. There is an African saying, “Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” Maya Angelou once said, “I do not trust people who don’t love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ “ When you do not learn to transfer the energy of self-hate to self-love it becomes very difficult to overcome hate with loving acts. 

    Talkin’ Trash

    READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.

    “Here I am – Do You See Me.”


    Blown by the wind without notice

    Others just like me become my blanket

    Gathered in a desolate corner

    Invisible until we become so many

    Scorned with disgust from others

    Would someone please rid me of this filth?

    There’s a trash can—put me there

    Make me out of sight

    Make me invisible like the night

    But you can’t, cause I’m here just like you

    I’m the reality of  your imagination

    I’m dog shit

    People shit

    The wrappers of dreams to make me disappear

    Straws for smack and blow to get you to forget

    But here I am—

    You can’t forget me, you must do something about me

    I’m the writer who paints your park benches

    Your trains, your overpass bridges

    Got stuff you don’t get in carts on permanent loan

    Sleep in places that scare the hell out of you and me too

    Others just like me—in the heat and cold, moan and groan

    Wash away the crust 

    I’m just like you

    Broken family, broken dreams

    Close your eyes and listen 

    It’s all the same—so it seems

    Just talkin’ trash

    Just talkin’ trash

    No one wants to be invisible or forgotten. Being unwanted and uncared for is worse than being hungry with nothing to eat. When people are objectified their essential self is invisibilized.  People objectify others as sexual body parts to be pursued and conquered or as sources to achieve power, fame, or fortune.  People who are takers and not givers reduce relationships to what’s in it for me.  Solutions to social dilemmas require a giver mentality. Objectification is about taking. It’s about wanting what you want when you want it.  It’s about going through the world seeing only what you want to experience and ignoring the suffering that challenges others.

    From Martin Buber’s book, I and Thou, it can be emphasized that when you engage others and the world around you as an “it” you organize and manipulate the world only as you want to see it.  Human suffering, social dilemmas, and environmental challenges become obstacles to ignore while material and relational pleasures become objectified. An “it” mentality is a pathway to becoming alienated from the world around you as it is. Buber wrote, “To look away from the world or to stare at it, does not help a man to reach God; but he who sees the world in Him stands in His presence.” There is a sense of spiritual connection that occurs when what you see and experience in the world around you connects with what is in you. It becomes a source for “thou” relationships which holds great respect for others problems and challenges in life.

    Everyone needs a safe and trusting community to be seen. Here, vulnerability and trust are serendipitously expressed through our grief, joy, and challenge. I don’t know anyone who exemplifies this truth more than Sally, a client I once had. 

    Sally had every reason to isolate and avoid the community when she first came to see me in my office. Emotionally, she was fragmented. She suffered horrendous physical, ritual, and sexual abuse from her parents who were involved in a cult. Her parents solicited her to other members of the family and cult. She experienced everything that would make a family unsafe. She fled from this frightful gruesome family to a life on the streets. 

    While learning plenty of street savvy, she also learned to stuff her sorrows and the sadism she’d experienced throughout her childhood with a cocktail of addictions. When she initially sought professional counsel, she experienced more abuse and betrayal from those who were supposed to be healing and safe. She learned to deaden herself to the world at large and to disconnect from the community. Eventually, she decided to attend our intensive outpatient program, which involves sixty-five hours of therapy in 8 days. 

    When she began her plunge experience, there was no trust, only desperation. However, as the days unfolded, her barriers began to come down. Maybe it was the intensity of one session after another beginning at 7:00 a.m. and continuing until 8:30 p.m. It could have been the many different approaches that her relentless counselors used. Whatever it was, she reached a watershed point where she decided to open her heart to the possibility of healing. As she progressed throughout the week, she decided that this would be her last attempt to find hope. She decided that she would do whatever it took to get healthy.

    As she became committed to healing herself, she committed to integrating her fragmented inner self. She embraced the emotional pain that dominated her life, rather than medicate it with addiction. She resolved to attend 12-Step meetings to address her compulsive behaviors. Though dominated with fear and full of anxiety, slowly she shifted and allowed her 12-Step community to become a touchstone and signpost for reality in her recovery. Sharing her brokenness in the community provided relational safety for Sally. 

    When there is relational safety in the community, anything and everything can be explored and sifted and sorted through. Pain becomes the fellowship’s touchstone and signpost indicating an imbalance in life. The community provides a sound studio to listen to pain’s message. Common shared brokenness is its draw, not common likeness or interest. Becoming emotionally naked by sharing our deepest feelings and secrets is commonplace and expected. It’s a space where we can fit in and be accepted as we are. It is a sanctuary in which to learn how we can wear our own skin well. It’s a space to accept our own acceptance while staring at imperfection. It is a place to grow ourselves into adult maturity and discover inner brilliance. 

    Today, after many years of recovery and therapy, Sally has carved out a commitment to a 12-step community based on a shared brokenness that has proven supportive and sustaining. Today, though she continues to work out her emotional brokenness, she has become an inspiration to those who work with her professionally. She has become a leader in her field of expertise. Her husband and children continue to benefit from her resilience and commitment to her healing journey. 

    Recently, she told me her recovery life has rendered her 1,000 percent improved. She echoed that without a community to share her deepest feelings of brokenness, in concert with therapeutic intervention, her road to recovery would have led to a dead end. 

    There are thousands of Sally’s in the world around you including the homeless. My wife Eileen and I have chosen to live in a neighborhood where homeless people live all around us. Each morning we walk our dog through our neighborhood streets. We pick up trash and dog poop with our sanitary gloves as we make our way. Along the canal that we walk there is graffiti painted on park benches and backyard walls. There is trash all around including dog and human feces. At first, it was disgusting. Over time, I have learned that the trash has a voice that represents the many unfortunate ones. The trash is their voice to tell me and you that  “I am here. Don’t forget me. Please see me!” 

    Do you know someone you would describe as forgotten? When you drive to work, worship, or play, do you notice the street people in your community? Not knowing what to do with misfortune, many look away from the homeless, choosing to deal with discomfort by distancing themselves from it. What about the person at the grocery store who shuffles by with a blank stare on his face? Do you think of him as invisible? 

    Today every piece of trash I pick up, I hear the voices of so many on the streets and elsewhere saying please treat me as a “Thou.” Just talkin’ trash!

    Step 2: The Step That Creates Humility in the Presence of Willful Self Destruction

    READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.

    “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” 

    “It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite.” Soren Kierkegaard

    In 12-step addiction recovery, the phrase “self will run riot” is cataloged and documented in our first step focuses on the out-of-control and unmanaged behavior that dominates our lives. Step 2 is an invitation to step back, take a deep breath, and examine the carnage that you created through the eyes of your spirit. 

    In recovery, spirituality is a very difficult concept to embrace. It asks of you to consider opposites. So, in order to win it encourages you to lose; to be in control, it asks that you let go, to know is to humbly embrace what you don’t know. At times, it seems like trying to nail jelly to a tree. You talk about your spiritual experience in a support community. At the time, it seems so meaningful and then later it seems so difficult to make sense from what was then helpful. The worthwhile dialogue gets fuzzy in your head. Wisdom and learning can be this way.

    Examining what I need to relinquish in order to gain sobriety and serenity requires introspection and deep honesty with self. Letting go of what I cannot control demands courage and integrity to the values that go deeper than the grip of what I am afraid to lose. Embracing what you do not know requires that you be willing to sit with uncertainty and the insecurity that comes from things around you being impermanent. There are no cookbook recipes or formulas that are universal for you or anyone else to do in life. You have to figure it out yourself. Kurtz and Ketcham in their book, The Spirituality of Imperfection, compared spirituality to the mortar that holds a fireplace together. The metaphor invokes that you consider what it is that you are truly counting on to hold your life together. Upon reflection, as a Christian, I knew the appropriate response would be Jesus. Yet, spirituality required me to go deeper with honesty. Careful examination revealed that what I really depended upon when cornered by life’s demands, is that I would work my ass off. Then I would dress it up with religious words. Nothing wrong with working hard. Nonetheless, spirituality beckoned me, to be honest with self. This is the heart of spirituality. 

    Spirituality can be unnerving. Some identify their spirituality with a relationship with God. Others think it to be Jesus. Some even re-work the steps and put Jesus’ name in many of the steps. Others think spirituality centers around Buddha, Allah, Jehovah, the Great Spirit, Pachamama, Mother Nature, higher power, higher self, unknown creative force, life force energy of the universe, and even the tree in the backyard. Annie Parisse said, “One man’s cult is another man’s religion.” Spirituality wraps around and through all of these concepts. Even, the word itself is limited. It is just a vocabulary word which does rankle some. Atheists do not believe in God and many are bothered by the very word spirituality. Surely, with the thousands of words in our vocabulary, there can be another word to embrace this dynamic. Spirituality does require vulnerability—looking at yourself from the inside/out. It implores you to become emotionally naked to yourself and amazingly expands when you share this with others. Why others? Others mirror back to you your own bullshit. Seeing your own bullshit in others becomes an invite to a deeper, more clear spirituality within.

    Spirituality is found in the wound of human failure. Entangled with the wound is the powerful shackle of shame that wraps itself around the spirit like an infectious worm. Defeat and desolation from addictive acts become compost for cultivating humility, a cardinal component of spirituality. It is by fertilizing Step 2 and nourishing your spirit that later in Step 9 we make amends from the compassion for others spawned from Step 2. Spirituality is the ingredient that forms an antibiotic for conceit and arrogance. It combats self-sufficiency, self-centeredness, and the pride that denies need which is the root of all our struggles. In a strange turn of events, the Step 2 process takes the broken condition of addiction and connects it to every other human tribulation. We are all one. Through this epiphany, we look to a greater spiritual dynamic to address the limiting “crack” so common to us all. I have often queried addicts about which part of their destructive behavior is the most difficult to face—the consequences, the realness of a loved one’s painful screams, etc. Once identified, I suggest this to be the place to set up shop and cultivate spirituality—in the wound. It is in the scrubbing of shame (the wound) in this most painful place that spirituality is fostered and nourished.

    Spirituality is about oneness and unity. It is about a relationship between equals. It is about recognizing the shared life force within all living things. We are one: Catholic, Jew, Pentecostal, fundamentalist, atheist, animal and plant—we are all one. Differences for sure. Yet, connected with like-kindness so often obscured. Spirituality creates compassion for yourself in the midst of destructive behavior which cultivates compassion for the weakness of others. You become one with every “sinner”.  So the victim of destructive addictive behavior is one with the perpetrator because we are all one in common shared weakness. Essentially, we all offend and this common thread of paradox creates spirituality. Spirituality becomes a necessary ingredient for accountability. If we all offend, not just the addict, then it stands to reason that holding each other accountable is necessary to create safety in community. It becomes the glue that holds the parts of recovery together.

    Spirituality is a pilgrimage, not a destination. It always encompasses the terrain of personal struggle and failure. Spirituality does not travel the same line that a crow flies. It takes a very circuitous journey. It includes winding, up and down, backtracking, getting lost, criss crossed paths and starting all over. Spirituality looks like a picture of a labyrinth that a kindergartener has scribbled all over. Spirituality finds meaningfulness in the experiences of each day versus the amount of growth or “distance” gained. Joseph Campbell states “When you’re on a journey, and the end keeps getting further and further away, then you realize that the real end is the journey”. In recovery, it is not the days counted as “success” or those experienced as “failure” but rather it is the journey that we take that is underscored as being spiritual, not the desired destination. 

    Spirituality is about community. St. John of the Cross, a mystic, said that the soul who exists outside of community is like a lone coal away from the fire which soon grows cold. You are a social creature that needs connection for spirituality to thrive. Spirituality helps to adapt and to learn flexibility. You will learn to hold fast to what is in the “now” for you never know where your spirituality might take you. In your recovery life, you will notice that it is not a pilgrimage that marches straight ahead because we always have many twists and turns, ups and downs. Those who seek to do it perfectly either fail miserably or become so wound tight that eventually, they explode. Learning to accept your own recovery failure and get up and keep going is the perspective that anchors spirituality. How far you have come pales in comparison to how far you have yet to go. Spirituality gives birth to hope when you face the unknown in that you know that you are not alone in this struggle or in facing your human failure. Your struggle is exactly what someone else will need to do the next right thing and their failure is exactly what you will need to give you hope in knowing that you are not alone. This is reality spirituality.

    In truth, spirituality does not lead to all the answers. It helps to embrace and engage the questions with genuine honesty. It promotes a beginner’s mind and will help you to become teachable. Step 2 fosters spirituality through the embrace of paradox in the contest of everyday common places of life.