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

Monday, April 22, 2013

Want To Improve Your Marriage? Make Small Changes, Often.
Many of the couples who come to my office want to "fix" their relationship and report that they have "a lot of work to do." Wonderful, I say! But what I also say is: the secret to truly changing anything in our lives is to make small changes often, not one huge sweeping change.

Think about it like this: have you ever tried to go on a really restrictive diet? One where you had to stop eating everything you love? Ok, remember that feeling of deprivation and misery? That's how making giant changes all at once feels: foreign and painful. We never want relationship repair to feel that way. Rather, we want to make little changes, one at a time, that will add up to a big change overall.

I look at the process of healing a relationship like a ladder. Imagine yourself starting near the bottom, then conceptualize what is on the next step. Focus on doing something small to get the two of you to the next step. Once you've mastered that, then focus on the next step. And so on.

Often it's hard to know what that first step should be. To determine that, I'd suggest asking your spouse this: what's one thing I can do to make you feel calmer, safer or better about us? If the answer is vague, ask for specifics. Then try that one thing; truly, doing one small thing often can add up to a lot of improvement in the long run!

I wish you well!

-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, April 15, 2013

Fake it 'til you make it: Good advice or bad strategy?

For a long time, therapists have encouraged clients to just hang in there and fake their feelings or mood until that mood actually started to manifest itself. This is not terrible advice, especially when it comes to anxiety or depression treatment, if you're feeling down and have no desire to go out and spend time with friends, it is a good idea to push yourself to get out and pretend that you're having a good time. Truth is, if you do this enough, your depression will usually start to get better and you won't be faking enjoyment very long.

However, when it comes to relationship problems, faking it can be very problematic. When we force ourselves to fake a feeling, especially love or admiration, we often become very resentful. It's very hard to lie to yourself and make something that bothers you seem ok.

A classic example of this is trying to fake loving feelings when your spouse has had an affair. If one were to pretend that everything was fine and just go ahead and fake good feelings throughout the day, hurt would quickly turn into anger and anger would turn into deep resentment. The bottom line is that you can't lie to yourself and just fake it when you're really hurt. You have to be honest with yourself and try to work through those feelings.

Instead of trying to fake it, try to talk about it and find a way to normalize it. Let's say that you're feeling like your spouse is a bad, gross, vulgar, awful person because you found out they've been cheating. This is a really normal initial thought. Don't like to yourself and say, "Oh well, it's no big deal." It is a big deal. Instead, try to turn down the intensity of the thought by looking at the behaviors in a less critical way. You could think, "Ok, he had an affair. That behavior is totally wrong and not acceptable. That behavior was wrong, that choice was wrong and I don't like that he did it, but he as a person is not completely horrible."

If you can find a way to be honest yet gentle with yourself and try to find a way to think about things that makes them more acceptable, you'll do far better than trying to fake anything.

I'd love to hear how this strategy works for you. Please feel free to drop me a note. :)

Dr Kathy

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Words That Hurt: "Just get over it already!"

When we think about words that hurt people, we often think of very harsh or critical comments. While such comments are indeed hurtful, some of the most damaging remarks are often the most innocuous. One example of these subtle, but deadly, phrases is: Just get over it!

The truth is that if someone is having trouble getting over something, there is a reason. Telling them to get over it already or to hurry up and let it go basically tells them that you are tired of listening to them and their feelings don't really matter to you. Not good!

Instead, validate their feelings and ask what they need to feel better. You might say something like, "Honey, I see how upset you are about this and I understand. It makes sense to me that you feel _________. What can I do to help make this better for you?"

Experiment with this technique and let me know how it works for you. I'd love to hear about your success!

-Dr Kathy

Thursday, April 4, 2013

When it comes to relationships, is good the enemy of great?

A few years ago, a wise client said to me, "Kathy, you know, maybe it's time I just let this relationship go. Good is the enemy of great, after all." I recall saying that I didn't agree, that I thought good could be made into great. We tried, for a long time, to transform his relationship from good to great and ultimately, he decided it just wasn't good enough. Since that time, I've thought about this sentiment - good being the enemy of great - many times and I've concluded, it is true.

Good is not bad, but let's be honest, good isn't great. What makes good the enemy of great is that good is usually just good enough to keep us from taking the action we know we need to take. Good keeps us satisfied, but not thrilled. Good keeps us content, but not elated. Good keeps us coasting, but not soaring. So good is really not bad, but it isn't nearly great.

So maybe you're asking: Should we always expect great? Is great even realistic in a relationship? Yes, great is realistic and something we should expect, just not in every aspect of our relationships. If I was asked to rate my marriage, would I say it's perfect in every way? No, it's not, and that's OK because it is great in the ways that matter to me the most. We shouldn't strive for perfection, rather we should strive to make the good as great as we can and to realize that expecting some greatness in a relationship is appropriate.

What do you think? Do you ever find yourself settling for good? How do you know when it is good enough?

I look forward to reading your thoughts.

-Dr Kathy