Wednesday, July 31, 2013

10 Ways To Reconnect: How To Fix Your Marriage If You Feel Numb

One of the most common relationship problems is that of feeling disconnected. This feeling is often expressed as “we just aren’t close anymore” or “I feel like we’re roommates” or “it feels like the spark between us is gone.” If you can relate to any of these sentiments, don’t worry, there are lots of ways to repair that connection and help you get those close, connected feelings back. Here are 10 ideas to get you started…

1. Spend more alone time together.
Increase the amount of quality time you spend alone with your spouse. You don’t need to be talking the whole time, in fact, it might be better for the two of you to just do an activity together. If you’ve been disconnected for a while, it’s hard to start talking again. Start doing whatever feels comfortable to you; add conversation in when and where you can. Make sure your conversation is not about relationship problems or disappointments, focus on what is good and what is positive at first.

2. Get out of the house and do something fun together.
When our relationship has gotten lackluster, we either tend to stay home and do our own things or we start spending time without our spouses away from home. To reconnect, do more together outside of the house. Go hiking, kayaking, try paddleboarding or photography. If you prefer, do other things for fun – go to the movies, have dinner with friends, take a wine appreciation class together. The point is to do something together that you will both enjoy.

3. Start a project together.
Working on something together will bring you closer. The project should be something meaningful and valuable to you both, like building a doghouse, turning family pictures into a video, planting a vegetable garden. Whatever the two of you like and care about. Some couples find that they enjoy working on projects so much together that they decide to start a small business; this can be great! You spend more quality time together, you have a shared vision and purpose, and you make money. I love it. If you need ideas for projects, explore for DIY projects and much more.

4. Volunteer with a charity.
Close couples have shared values and missions. Talk to your spouse about a cause that really matters to you and see if you can find a mission that matters to you both. If you can, wonderful, look for a local group where you can volunteer together. If you have different passions, agree to each spend a certain amount of time helping the other advance a group that champions your causes. You can look online at for local charities that have volunteer opportunities in your area.

5. Create a “Happy Memories” box.
As we are trying to repair our relationships, it is easy to get discouraged when we hit a rough patch. I’d like you to think of healing your relationship as a process where you’re climbing up a mountain: just because you fall back a step or two doesn’t mean you’re all the way back at the bottom of the mountain. Sometimes, we have to take a step back to learn something new or gain a new perspective. Failures are often just as important, if not more important, than successes. To help you cope with rocky spots, create a “Happy Memories” box, where you put letters, photos, fortune cookie notes, matchboxes, or anything you like in a box to remind you of good moments between the two of you. You can create this box together or each make your own.

6. Research your genealogy and create a shared family tree.
All of us tend to be excited by learning more about our family history. I encourage you and your partner to help each other research your genealogy and create a shared family tree. This research can be done online, using tools at or, and you can have great conversations as you talk about what you’ve found and what you’re seeing online. You might also decide to plan a trip to one of the places that’s meaningful to your history. Being helpful, sharing in important events, and talking about memories is a great way to reconnect.

7. Practice relationship enhancing thoughts every day.
A relationship enhancing thought (RET) is a thought about a happy time, a good feeling, an important moment that makes you feel closer to your spouse. I’d like you to spend 2 minutes a day thinking about RETs and trying to reconnect with good, loving feelings about your partner. To generate some RETs, try asking yourself some questions, like: (1) what did she do yesterday that was nice, (2) what did he say on your last anniversary, (3) what physical trait are you most attracted to, (4) what compliments have people given you about your spouse? If you’re struggling to come up with RETs, just google “relationship affirmations.”

8. Have more Hallmark moments.
I ask nearly all of my clients to end each session with a Hallmark moment. What I mean by this is that I’d like them to imagine a romantic, mushy Hallmark card and to say out loud to their spouse what they would write inside. For example, I might “give” Chris a Hallmark card that says, “Don’t worry, you’re safe with me” on the cover, then I’ll ask Chris what he would tell Karen on the inside of the card. Chris might say, “Don’t’ worry, you’re safe with me, I really love you and I’ll never let you down.” These words are likely to be very meaningful to Karen and something she’ll think about for several days. I encourage you to do these Hallmark moments on your own, what we say to the other is very powerful.

9. Increase your affection.
Affection can take many forms: sometimes it is a kind word, sometimes it’s a compliment or helping someone with a chore. Others prefer physical touch or a little gift. Think about how your spouse shows affection and try to give them affection in their preferred way. For example, if your wife always sends long, loving cards to friends on their birthdays, she probably loves words of affection. Give her some words of affection by verbally thanking her for something nice she’s done for you or by leaving a loving post-it note on the mirror in the morning. If your husband likes to give people gifts, pick up a little token gift for him, like his favorite snack, and have it at home. Make little gestures often, rather than one sweeping gesture once a year.  If it’s been a long time since you had any physical closeness, start slowly and remember that physical affection should happen after emotional closeness is achieved. Focus on feeling closer before you try to initiate too much physical touch. It’s good to start with holding hands, a hug, a touch on the shoulder; then proceed slowly from there.

10. Talk about what matters, share your deeper, inner thoughts.
The single most important thing you can do to feel closer to your spouse is to open up and talk about what’s really on your mind or in your heart. If you’re just starting to reconnect, talk about more superficial things: your day, what’s happening at work, what would be fun to do this weekend. As you get closer over time, push yourself to go deeper: share what you’re excited about, what you’re worried about, what sore spots you have that need healing, what scares you, what you’re dreaming about. Close partners feel comfortable sharing anything and everything with their spouse and knowing they’ll be safe sharing that information. Work hard to make your partner feel understood, safe (i.e., not judged or criticized), and supported in each conversation. With time, lots of conversations, and much love, you will find your way back to each other. 

Copyright 2013 - Kathleen Nickerson, PhD -

Dr Kathy Nickerson is an expert marriage counselor in Orange County, California. Her practice focuses on preventing divorce, helping marriages thrive, improving communication in couples, and affair recovery. You can learn more at

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

15 Techniques To Help You Stop Fighting & Start Talking

If you and your spouse have been locked in combat mode for a while, it's time to make some changes! Few things are more damaging to your mood, health, and relationship than being in constant conflict. Fighting actually changes our neurochemistry and physiology, which means that the effects of a fight last far longer than the fight itself. Frequent fighting means your body stays in this altered state for longer periods of time and with each fight, the stress chemicals get higher and higher, which ironically, makes another fight more likely.

To break this fighting cycle, I'd like you to think of yourself like a scientist. I want you to think of each fight as an experiment, where you need to change only one thing each time. Each fight, change just one thing and note the results. Keep experimenting, keep observing. Pretty soon, you'll realize the "secret formula" for you and your spouse

To help you find this secret formula, here are 15 different techniques to experiment with. Please try each one and make notes about which ones work best for you. Keep what works, discard what doesn't. Share and discuss your observations with your spouse so the two of you can fine tune your approach.

1. Soften up. Be warmer, be friendlier, acknowledge what you hear that makes sense to you. People want to work with and listen to someone who acts like a teddy bear, not a prickly cactus.

2. Describe how you are feeling. Explain your perspective without judging or blaming the other person. Use emotional language and talk about feelings where appropriate. For example, say "I am hurt because I feel like I am not a priority for you."

3. Stop listening like a lawyer and preparing your defense. Instead, flip a coin (pick a number or play rock/scissors/paper) to determine who will speak first and who will listen; then switch roles after 2 minutes. While you're listening like a lawyer, you're not really listening at all. You're thinking about what argument you're going to present when it's your turn to talk. So, force yourself out of this pattern, push yourself to really listen to your spouse and try to understand his/her perspective. Listen for where you can bend and offer compromises.

4. Take frequent breaks. During each break, do something to calm yourself down. Go for a walk, listen to your favorite song, do 5 minutes of yoga, watch a relaxation video, re-read a love letter from your spouse. Do anything you like that calms you down and soothes you.

5. Try adding some structure to your arguments. Try the 5-5-3-3-2-2 + Hallmark approach. Person 1 talks for 5 minutes, while the other person listens. Then person 2, while person 1 listens, for 5 minutes. Then person 1 responds for 3 minutes, followed by person 2 for 3 minutes. Then person 1 wraps up for 2 minutes, followed by person 2 for 2 minutes. To conclude, each of you should say something loving and emotional, like something you'd write in a Hallmark card. Emotional "Hallmark" moments help soothe your partner and encourage positive changes to take place.

6. Play Let's Make A Deal. Ask for something you need in exchange for something your partner wants. For example, you might say, "Honey, I really want to go to my Mom's house for Thanskgiving this year. Let's make a deal: I'll do something you'd like if you'll come with me to Mom's. What can I do for you that will make this a good deal for both of us?" Deals should be fair and be acceptable to both partners. Don't agree to do something you'll resent.

7. Respond to anger with soothing and compassion. Have you noticed what happens when you respond to anger with anger? That's right, the situation gets even worse and uglier. So, try the opposite. try getting softer, calmer, cuddlier, warmer and offer some compassion. If your spouse is upset and yelling, get quiet and say something like, "You know, I am so sorry, I must have really hurt you....I never want to do that. How can I help you now?"

8. Take responsibility; promise improvement. Everyone has the right to their feelings, even if you don't agree or think they're seeing it wrong, they have the right to feel what they feel. So instead of trying to talk someone out of their feelings, instead, take responsibility for what you can and promise change. Maybe you disagree with 99% of what your partner is feeling, that's ok...focus on what you do agree with and take responsibility for that piece of it.

9. Actively try to soothe yourself during a fight. Earlier, I mentioned taking a break and doing something relaxing. Now, let's try to soothe ourselves during the fight without leaving the discussion. What I'd like you to do is tell yourself good things, things that soothe you and make you feel better, while you're in the argument. Think about the loving things your spouse said during your last anniversary dinner, think about the moment you knew you were in love with your spouse, assume your spouse loves you and has good intentions and isn't trying to hurt you. It's hard, I know, but you can do it....practice, practice.

10. Just listen. Take a break from talking back and just focus on listening. Let the other person vent and when he/she pauses or stops, say, "Ok, I heard you, The most important thing I heard you say was ______. How can I help make that better for you?"

11. Begin softly, act with compassion. How you start a conversation is typically how you end a conversation. If you start calmly and gently, odds are, you'll end the conversation well. Start with anger and aggression, you'll end up with a hot mess. Assume that everyone does something for a reason. Assume your partner has good intentions. Strive to express empathy and compassion as often as you can in an argument.

12. Focus on yourself. When we're arguing, we tend to think our partner is being ridiculous and unreasonable and if only they'd change, things would be fine. This really isn't the case. You can't control your partner, but you can completely control yourself. Focus on changing your thoughts, your behavior, your actions, your words...not your spouse's.

13. Wave a caution flag. Often, when we are fighting, we don't realize that we've pushed someone's buttons and are making them very upset. So, help your partner know when he's triggered you by waving a caution flag, i.e., saying, "Hey, you know, you're really pushing my buttons. If you want this to be productive, I need you to not do that....."

14. Throw in "ice cubes." When the argument is getting heated, cool it down with a few "ice cubes." Ice cubes are just a few words of love, some praise or a compliment. For example, you might say, "Honey, I really do love you. We'll figure it out." Everyone responds well to genuine emotion; toss a loving ice cube into the conversation and watch it work wonders.

15. Get deep. A little secret for you: what we fight about is almost never what we're fighting about. We fight about the toothpaste, but what we're really fighting for is what the toothpaste means to us. Next time you're arguing, try asking your spouse, "Help me understand, what's really behind this for you? What does this really mean to you?" You'll be surprised by the answers! You'll learn that your leaving the toothpaste on the counter really tells your spouse that you don't care about how hard she works to keep things looking nice and clean and that you take her for granted. Going deep and asking "What does this really mean?" gets you some very interesting information.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Speaking The Language of Love: Finding Your Love Language

In his groundbreaking book, The Five Love Languages, Dr. Gary Chapman defines five different love styles. Each style is the way someone likes to be loved and feels most appreciated. Learning your own love style, as well as that of your partner, is the best way to love and be loved. It’s quite likely that your love style and your partner’s love style will be different. If so, you may need to do a little work and practice acting in the way your partner wants to be loved. Then do a little education—determine your love style and ask for your spouse to do more of what makes you feel truly valued. If you do both of these things, you’re bound to see and feel more love in your everyday life.

Chapman’s Five Emotional Love Languages:

Words of Affirmation
People who value verbal compliments, such as “Wow, you look beautiful in that dress,” and those who desire encouragement are Words of Affirmation types. Loving comments and statements of appreciation, like “You’re an incredible photographer, thank you so much for these pictures!” are what this type craves most.

Quality Time Spouses who are Quality Time types would like to spend alone time together, focusing only on each other (i.e., not on the football game on TV), while sharing inner feelings, thoughts, and emotions. People who treasure conversation about hopes and dreams while sharing a drink at a local coffee shop are most likely Quality Time types.

Gifts Most of us love to receive gifts, but this alone does not make someone a Gift type. Gift types look for visual signs of love, such that any gift—big or small, expensive or casual—is likely to be saved, treasured and adored. People of this type often feel that a lack of gifts reflects a lack of love from their spouse.

Acts of Service Partners who are Acts of Service types feel loved when their spouse does little, everyday things, such as taking out the trash, paying household bills, picking the kids up from soccer practice, and the like. In order to feel loved, an Acts of Service type would like to see their partner go out of their way to care for them: to put in the planning, time, effort, and energy to make daily life a bit easier.

Physical Touch Physical Touch types are perhaps the easiest types to spot. These partners thrive on physical contact and crave all of the hugs, kisses, and physical attention you can bestow upon them. People of this type are most want to be in close physical proximity to their partner and want to be touched or held with some frequency.

Determining Your Style

Answer these questions to determine your love style:
1. How do you show your love to others?
2. Think back to the moments when you felt most loved, what made them so memorable?
3. What do you really wish your partner knew about how to do things differently?
4. What do you complain about most often?
5. What do you save, keep, treasure, or hold on to most?

From your answers, look for a pattern: do you value physical closeness most? If so, your love style is
likely the physical touch style. Do you crave more alone time? If so, your love style is probably the
quality time style. Do you secretly desire a new wedding band for Valentine’s day? Perhaps you are
the gift style type.

Determining Your Partner’s Style

To determine your partner’s love style, which one of these statements would your spouse most agree with?

1. I feel most loved when my partner expresses feelings for me through physical contact, such as a hug or kiss.
2. I feel most loved when my partner shows affection by taking care of errands, doing household chores, and doing favors for me.
3. I feel most loved when my spouse brings me a very special gift.
4. I feel most loved when my partner pays attention to me, focuses on what I am saying, and plans to spend alone time with me.
5. I feel most loved when my partner tells me how grateful they are for me and talks about how much all the little things I do are appreciated.

Statement 5 = Words of Affirmation style
Statement 4 = Quality Time style
Statement 3 = Gift style
Statement 2 = Acts of Service style
Statement 1 = Physical Touch style
Speaking Your Partner’s Love Language

After identifying your love style and your partner’s love style, communicate what you’ve learned in
their love style. If you’re married to a Words of affirmation type, tell them “I am so lucky to be married to you, you’re the most caring man in the world.” Then go on to tell your partner what you’ve learned and how you think it could help you both, make sure to tell them about your love style and how you’d really like to be loved. If you partner is a Quality Time type, invite them for a romantic dinner and share your new knowledge. Perhaps you’re dating a Gift type? If so, write a loving statement inside a silver fortune cookie and present this gift along with a copy of The Five Love Languages.

By learning your love language and actively communicating in the love style of your partner, you’ll experience a deeper connection than you ever thought possible. Having this knowledge and
practicing it daily will be a Valentine’s gift that gets better every year!

The Five Love Languages, How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Dr. Gary Chapman is available online at and at bookstores everywhere.

Should I stay or should I go?

Many people have come in lately asking me if their relationship can be saved. They report that their relationship has been bad for years, that they’re pretty sure they want to leave, and they want to know if I think they should get a divorce.

So here’s where I have to admit some bias….I am always on the side of marriages staying together.

However, here’s what I would say to someone wondering if they should stay or leave their marriage:

I’d always encourage you to act in ways that make you feel good about yourself and your life. If this relationship has reached a point where it can no longer be saved, that’s a decision for you to make. I always believe there is hope and that any marriage can be made better, but as to whether or not we should keep trying, that’s something I cannot tell you. Any decision needs to be yours because you know yourself and your feelings better than I ever will. I am always on the side of trying to make things work, but if you do not feel that’s in your best interest or that it can work, I will certainly understand and support you. You deserve to be happy and to be in a relationship that brings you joy.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and to think about:
-Can you say that you have done all you can to make this work?
-Have you taken responsibility for the things you have done that have caused the relationship to be in this state?
-Is anyone else a factor in this relationship?
-Do you have realistic expectations of what things would be like if you left?
-Can you feel comfortable looking at your kids 5-10 years from now explaining the decision you might make?

Your answers to these will be so telling….

It would be easy for me to tell you to stay or go, but in so doing, I am “playing God” – I can’t know what’s right for you, I can only say that I trust that you to know what’s right for you, that you have the answer inside of you, and that the best I can do is help bring that answer to the surface.

But to run with it a little more – how would you feel if I told you to throw in the towel? If you're answer is "Phew, I'd be relieved," then that may tell you that you've been trying for a long time and it's time to consider a change. Act in ways that make you feel good, honest, genuine, and true to yourself.

If I can help you, feel free to drop me a line.

All my best,
Dr Kathy

Dr Kathy Nickerson is an expert marriage counselor in Orange County, California. Her practice focuses on preventing divorce, helping marriages thrive, improving communication in couples, and affair recovery. You can learn more at

Monday, May 27, 2013

When you don't know what to do, choose the path with fewest regrets

 I had a nice visit from an longtime client the other day; it was great to catch up. She detailed the challenges she is facing now, lots of complicated factors and issues. As we talked, she eventually asked me, "Ok, so what should I do?" Turns out, this is one of the harder questions to answer in therapy.

I really believe that the best therapists help you make the decision that's right for you, instead of making the decision for you. It's your life, you should always be empowered to make your own choices. It's easy for me to give you my answer, but much better for me to help you make your own.

What I ultimately told her was that in a situation where you don't know what to do, where both choices seem bad or complicated, choose the one with the fewest regrets. None of us can know exactly how a situation will play out in the future, but I believe that you'll feel best if you can stand back in the future and look at the outcome and say, "I did everything I possibly could to make this work."

I hope this helps you make the choices you're struggling with. We should all be so lucky to lead a life with few regrets.

Dr Kathy

Monday, May 6, 2013

How You Can Spot An Abductor

How You Can Spot An Abductor
What you can do to recognize child predators like Ariel Castro, the man who held Amanda Berry, Gina De Jesus, and Michelle Knight captive for over 10 years in Cleveland, Ohio.

Today's great news is that Amanda Berry, Gina De Jesus, and Michelle Knight have been rescued. I'm thrilled to hear this; I wish all of these brave, strong, triumphant women a full and speedy recovery.

As we listen to the details of this case unfold, one of the most significant questions we can ask is how we can prevent this? And further, how we can recognize and report suspicions of abductions?

It's hard to create a specific psychological profile for people who kidnap and abuse children. The group of people who commit this type of crime is diverse; they do so for a variety of reasons. Given this, one of the best things we can do is be look-outs. We can all be on the watch for certain behaviors that may suggest someone is an abductor.

Amanda, Gina, and Michelle were all rescued because one man decided to pay attention to something he saw and act on it. I'd like to encourage you to do the same. Be a look-out and if you know someone exhibiting many of the behaviors below, call law enforcement and make a report. Many people don't report suspicious behavior because they're afraid of falsely accusing an innocent person. I understand this, but I really think it's better to be wrong and slightly embarrassed than to be right and not have saved a child.

 Characteristics associated with abductors:

1. Selfish, self-centered behavior. An abductor will feel like he has the right to have what he wants, when he wants it. This may not manifest itself in every situation, but I would expect to see an abductor display poor impulse control at times and act out in ways we'd categorize as inappropriately selfish.

2. Feelings of entitlement. An abductor will display narcissistic tendencies, where they act in ways that take advantage of other people and put themselves at the center of attention. They will also feel entitled to having their way, putting themselves in advantageous situations or having an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

3. Craves control, power, and significance. Almost all abusers want to be in control and thrive off of dominating someone else. Abductors crave this control and power over someone else; possibly because they feel emotionally safe by keeping another person in an inferior position, possibly because they get some psychological satisfaction from demeaning someone else. Interestingly, abductors often crave significance. We see this in the Amanda Berry case; Ariel Castro wrote in to the local paper about her abduction and how it had changed the neighborhood. Abductors want to be seen as rare, valuable, experts.

4. Lack of empathy. The most significant sign to look for when trying to recognize someone who could be an abuser or abductor is a lack of empathy. Empathy is the ability to imagine and relate to what someone else is feeling. Abusers either cannot recognize the emotions of another person or they do not care. In some sad cases, abusers and abductors can recognize the emotions of another, but enjoy tormenting their victims. People who lack empathy seem unaware when they are hurting others, cannot/do not relate to fear and worry felt by others, and they do not feel compelled to help someone who is suffering. Many abusers begin to show lack of empathy as young children, when they hurt other children or animals and feel little to no remorse.

5. Inappropriate secrecy or boundaries. A person who has something to hide will often maintain rigid rules, have an excessive need for secrecy, or hold firm boundaries that don't seem to make sense. If you're a neighbor, I'd be suspicious if you encounter someone who will never let you in their house (even if it's an urgent situation, like you're locked out of your place and need to use the phone). I'd also be suspicious if your neighbor has rules that seem excessive, like "We don't go in the garage, no one is allowed in the garage." I'd also worry if you see what seems like extreme physical boundaries, such as excessive gating or locks around a section of their yard. These boundaries might also be hard and fast rules that your neighbor insists on following: like being home at a particular time, only opening 1 window at a time, or anything else that seems odd.

There is a mountain of research on what factors contribute to and characterize an abuser/abductor and if you'd like to know more, I suggest this article:

I certainly hope that you will never be in a situation where you need to make a report of suspected abuse or abduction, but if you are, please do. Much better to be right and a little embarrassed, than wrong and miss out on saving a life.

-Dr Kathy

Dr Kathy Nickerson is an expert marriage counselor in Orange County, California. Her practice focuses on preventing divorce, helping marriages thrive, improving communication in couples, and affair recovery. You can learn more at

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What To Do NOW If Your Spouse Just Found Out About Your Affair

If your wife or husband just found out about your affair, I'm so sorry for both of you. Your spouse is now in a world of shock and pain, you are probably in a world of regret and shame. A terrible spot for each of you, I truly understand.

What you do right away can make a tremendous difference in how quickly the two of you heal from this trauma. I'd like to give you some suggestions on how you can immediately make it better and encourage you to do as much of the following as you can.


1. Offer to talk, but don't push.
Your spouse may or may not want to talk. Don't push, allow them to do what feels right to them. If they want to yell and scream, that is ok, but hitting and any physical violence is not. If physical violence is happening, tell your spouse that you want to help, but can't be in a dangerous place, so you will be going out for a little while and will be back in a couple of hours. If necessary, take any children or pets with you. Physical violence like this is not the norm, but just in case, I want to make sure you know what to do.

2. Be very soft, gentle and apologetic.
Focus on listening and let your spouse vent their frustration, anger, and hurt. Where you can, be soft, apologetic, genuine, and empathetic. Say things like, "I can only imagine how hurt you are," or "It makes sense that you'd feel that way." Your spouse is craving validation and support, give that to them. Now is not the time to explain why you did what you did or what it meant to you. It's all about your spouse at first.

3. Take frequent breaks, but don't leave.
If things are getting very heated, ask for a break, but don't leave the house. Leaving sends the message that when the going gets tough, you get going. Your spouse needs to know that's not what you will do, they need to know you're going to stay with them, even when it's hard.


4. Become as transparent as possible.
Once the initial shock has passed, you can start to offer more information to your spouse. I'd like you to become an open book, where you become as transparent as you possibly can. Share your email, your passwords, your facebook account, twitter, linked in, your phone, anything and everything you use to communicate. This may seem like an invasion of privacy, and candidly, it is. If you acted in a way that broke the trust in the relationship, you must take some drastic steps to show that there are no more secrets and that you're willing to do whatever it takes to be trusted again.

5. Encourage questions.
Encourage your spouse to sit down and write out as many questions as they have for you. Some people want to know every detail of the affair, some want less detail. Please let your spouse ask you every question they have. Answer those questions as painfully honestly as you can. Holding anything back will create major problems in the future. You may think you're protecting your spouse by sparing a painful detail, but what usually happens is that the truth will come out later and your spouse will assign tremendous value to the details, so please, don't skip or whitewash anything. If you don't know, it's ok to say you don't know, but do try to offer a rough idea. If the conversation is getting too hard or too much, ask for a break and agree on a time when you'll come back and continue.

6. Be friendly and kind, but not over the top.
Sometimes we have the instinct to go over the top and start sending flowers, candy, new cars and other goodies to the loved one after the affair. In my experience, this usually creates more hurt, so resist doing this. Your spouse is likely to think, "Oh great, you didn't think to send me flowers while you were hooking up with that woman from the office, but now you can think of're a jerk!" So really, resist. Much better to be "normal," be kind and friendly and offer to help, but nothing over the top. Make yourself available to listen and talk whenever your spouse wants to.


7. Recognize that healing is a process, not an event.
It takes most couples about 9 months to heal from an affair. This is an average, not a hard rule. Some couples take longer, some shorter. How you responded in the beginning will usually determine how quickly you heal. The healing process is much like the grieving process after someone has died, so try to keep supporting your spouse and empathizing with their feelings.

8. Think about the why question.
The thing that most spouses really want to know after an affair is why you did it. I'd like you to really dig deep and think about this. Your initial answer is not going to be the most complete one, so please let yourself contemplate why for a while. Ask yourself how you felt before the affair, what the affair meant to you, what you got out of it, what you were missing, and what you feel now. Talk about this when your spouse asks.

9. Don't be defensive or justify it.
One of the worst things you can do at any point is to say, "Well, I had the affair because you were such a b**ch and you completely ignored me for years." Even if this is partially true, it's the wrong thing to say. You need to take responsibility for your choice: you had an affair and that was wrong. Your spouse might have done some wrong things to, but you should focus on you. At some point in your conversations, you can say, "I remember feeling really lonely and unimportant. It got so bad that I was just craving any attention and I was vulnerable that night and I gave in to a moment where I thought I could feel better. That was the wrong choice; I should have found a way to talk about it and get you to understand how bad it was for me."

10. Get some further help.
I'd love for you and your spouse to work with someone like me to guide you through the healing process. If that's not possible, I highly recommend Dr. John Gottman's book - What Makes Love Last and Janis Spring's book - After The Affair. Both are excellent and offer practical advice to help you heal.

Finally, let me reassure you: you can heal your relationship after an affair. Affairs are quite common and nearly every couple that I've taken care of in a situation like yours has stayed together and built a stronger marriage. I think you can too and if I can help you, just give me a call.

Wishing you the best!
Dr Kathy

Dr Kathy Nickerson is an expert marriage counselor in Orange County, California. Her practice focuses on preventing divorce, helping marriages thrive, improving communication in couples, and affair recovery. You can learn more at