self care

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.

Chronic Relapse

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Over time I have observed addicts who have miraculously transformed and changed their lives. The changes have been like night and day. They are the ones who make 12-step meetings seem powerful and therapists look good. When you listen to their recovery program and see their results, you walk away wondering why doesn’t every addict do their program like that. 

Then you find some who do a similar program but don’t have the same results. Many times it is obvious that those who fail in their program do not “go to any length” to maintain sobriety and cultivate recovery growth. For those, the issue is whether or not they are willing to up the ante in their program to make it work, do more meetings, do a deep dive with 12-step work, increase therapy to resolve underlying issues of trauma and emotional pain, etc. In this mix, there are those in recovery who mean well and do well, but somehow don’t get the necessary traction to establish long-term sobriety. Essentially, they engage chronic relapse. 

Some “chronic relapsers” struggle to maintain 24 hours without their addiction. Others can go a week, month, or several months and not relapse. Some get to the outer limits of time in their sobriety and almost as if an alarm goes off and they tell themselves “It’s time to act out” and relapse occurs. Others can establish long-term sobriety in one addiction, like drugs or alcohol, but experience chronic relapse in other areas like sexual addiction. 

In discussing this pattern of relapse in recovery with a pioneer researcher and therapist around sexual addiction, the seasoned veteran stated that while partners of sex addicts demand absolute sobriety from their sexually-addicted partner, seldom does this prove the reality for the addict. 

There have been many attempts to address chronic relapse in 12-step programs such as moving the chronic behavioral failure from a bottom-line category of acting out to middle-circle behavior. However, there is no hiding from the problematic behavior, regardless of category placement. The behavior that is against values continues to progress and linger. People who truly shift their value system to include the behavior that was once considered relapse and is now considered high risk, usually are at peace with themselves regarding the behavior. However, if the experience of chronic failure is addiction behavior, it doesn’t matter what category you put the behavior, relapse and destructive behavior will continue to progress and intensify emotional pain. It’s a lot like trying to get a new look in your house by taking the old furniture and rearranging it but in the end, you still have old furniture with a different look.

Coming to terms with failure is an age-old problem for the addicted and non-addicted as well. I don’t have an answer as to why some addicts struggle more than others in establishing long-term sobriety. For sure there are many factors to consider. A key to addressing chronic failure in relapse is to focus on the task of self-care. For an addict, self-care is counterintuitive in the presence of relapse. When you have just acted out and screwed yourself in so many ways, the first thing you need to do is the last thing you are prone to do. Treating yourself with gentleness and being your own best friend seems preposterous when you simply want to scream and beat yourself up. Why? Because you failed. It’s common for some to scream and self-destruct in a cloud of smoke while others more subtly self-sabotage. 

In life, people work so hard to avoid facing failure. Yet failure is a part of every aspect of being human. We fear the judgment, the perceived ridicule, and the alienation that happens when we fail. In addiction, what is more important than a continued day count is the capacity to employ resilience when you fail to maintain sobriety. It’s the capacity to bring yourself back to the center of your values when you drift or act out. Knowing your resources and how to bring yourself back to your values is most important. Being able to stem self-criticism and re-focus on the next right thing is invaluable. Many addicts who work a strong program and some who white knuckle their way through the day, hang on without a protocol to bring themselves back to center when they act out. When this happens, they free fall toward oblivion in addiction. It’s been shown that those who free fall in this way have a much greater struggle with re-centering. Repeated failure with sobriety is the result.

Here is a suggested protocol for chronic relapse.

1. Admit your failure, do the next right thing which is always to take yourself out of harm’s way. Simply get away from your addiction. Destroy the substance, get away from the relationship, turn off the computer, etc. If you are sitting in the middle of a busy intersection and you just got run over by a bus, the first thing you need to do is to get out of the intersection.  Most likely you will need to reach out to a support person to get this done. 

2. As the Buddhists say “put yourself in the cradle of loving kindness.” Addicts live in self-deprivation even when they are sober. It is by grit and determination that many addicts stay sober. So when there is a failure, the energy of grit and determination is funneled into beating the hell out of yourself. Simply, it doesn’t work. It’s like dumping kerosene onto a fire. Yet, somehow addicts and other people who fail who are not addicts, think they have to continue eating the poison. So they abuse themselves with hurtful remarks and treat themselves with ongoing deprivation. They deprive themselves of gentleness, and support from others and covertly become mean to themselves embracing mistaken beliefs that spiral into repeated addictive or other destructive behavior. The slippery slope of relapse becomes black ice when an addict eats the poison and tells themselves they are a failure, a piece of shit who cannot do what others do to maintain sobriety. Depriving yourself of care and kindness leads to entitlement toward acting out in addiction. Sometimes you must take yourself by the nap of your neck and be kind to yourself even while kicking and screaming against it.

3. Affirm yourself. You say well “If I just shit all over myself, it’s pretty hard to tell myself to feel clean.” In 12-step work, there is talk about “fake it till you make it”. Overcoming chronic relapse means that I must treat myself in the way in which I aspire to be. I must act the way in the present that I hope to be in the future. To do this I must not allow feelings to dominate my actions. I affirm myself even when I feel like shit. I act my way into a new way of being. I cannot feel my way into this experience in recovery. When I am discouraged, I can afford the time to feel it but not when I am lying in the middle the intersection of addictive act out. I have to pick myself up, drag myself out of the intersection, and affirm myself when all I feel like doing is giving up. Affirmations are beliefs that must be practiced and conditioned regularly in my life, particularly when faced with failure. They are intended acts of self-care that are conditioned in unspectacular moments, often in the presence of despair and discouragement of chronic relapse.

4. Separate your sense of self from the relapse behavior. When you introduce yourself as an addict to a 12-step group, you are describing your behavior, not your sense of self. In truth, the behavior represents a small part of your life, albeit, a most destructive piece.  Relapse is always about behavior and never about who you are. Yet, shame says that relapse is about who you are. Your behavior and your sense of self are the same. Separating behavior from personhood is an art form that can only be curated through conditioning.  Experiential therapies can help create breakthrough experiences of release and relief, but you must do the unspectacular conditioning of separating behavior from self. This will require a lifetime commitment and a willingness to fail forward. It demands that you practice affirmations as a regular lifestyle. In all my years of recovery, I don’t know any other way. The benefit is self-acceptance in the presence of human failure. There’s a deep satisfaction of living in your own skin. There is an abiding awareness that I can go down and face failure and come back up. Some identify this experience as unconditional confidence. No matter what the result may be, I can accept and love myself. This requires daily practice not perfection. 

Chronic relapse can become a great teacher of spirituality in life. Some have suggested that spirituality is discovered by embracing the wounds in life. Wounds reveal vulnerability, weakness, and the capacity to recognize limitations. Chronic relapse is a wound that deepens authenticity when you accept that the wound contains the same common shared brokenness that everyone else in the world experiences. Self-acceptance in the presence of chronic relapse is the essence of human brilliance.