While the world is waiting to hear how much of the Ashley Madison leak is real, there are thousands of couples that are squirming in their seats.  Some are tempted to sift through the email addresses just in case there is something they didn’t know about their spouse.  Some have felt the pain of betrayal before and are looking for one more piece of evidence to push them into action.  Some have done the hard work to heal and can’t decide if they should keep looking forward or risk looking a fool.  Some… are wondering if they are finally caught.  Whether they ever got on Ashley’s website or not, they are wondering if their name somehow appeared in the digital “book” of adultery.

It’s amazing to think that people would want to get caught but when that much energy goes into keeping secrets and covering evidence, a person can get sloppy.  I see it all the time.  People don’t usually start off wanting to see their marriage fall apart.  The beginning somehow traces back to one tiny, subtle voice that says something like “I deserve this.”

It doesn’t take much.  Feeling unseen, under-appreciated, taken for granted- it all builds to a point where a person feels entitled to that one look, that private log-in, that lingering conversation.  We should all have a booming alarm in our mind as soon as those thoughts show up.  The Ashley Madison event doesn’t so much concern me that people will be caught, that will eventually happen no matter what.  People may not get caught this time, but they always do.  My thoughts are on those that are wondering if there is hope from the pain of betrayal and the pain of being the betrayer.

I have seen healing come from a broken marriage.  I have seen couples go on to rebuild a marriage that is vulnerable, intimate, and in some cases better than before.  Although they would never recommend it and wish it were never part of their story, couples can and do heal.  Often, though, I am asked by those betrayed, how do I know if it’s worth the energy to rebuild the relationship.  Here are a few variables that must be present.

  1. Both individuals must be open, honest, and ready to do the hard work.  There is no room for second guesses here.  The betrayer must be all in, or they will continue inflict wounding on their spouse.  The betrayed spouse must also be willing to show up.  Most of the time, they are the one that carries the most risk in the beginning.
  2. There can be no time limit put on recovery work.  On average, it takes 3-4 years of weekly or bi-weekly counseling to find a couple back in a better place.  There is no rush to rebuilding the heart.  There will be ups, downs, and re-opening wounds.  Like any other death, grief never goes away, it just changes over time.
  3. Each person will sacrifice much. Just to name a couple, the betrayer must be willing to follow strict rules set up and agreed upon by their spouse.  As much as this feels like a parent-child relationship, it is crucial to rebuilding trust again.  Every marriage needs rules, and when a big one like loyalty has been broken, you must be willing to go back to the beginning and show you can go to the grocery store by yourself without going somewhere else.  The betrayed spouse sacrifices the right to need extra details about the affair that they think would make them feel better.  These details are not productive and lead to obsession and paranoia.

Finally, much like the world of addiction, there is hope found in the broken pieces from hitting bottom.  It is there that we all see ourselves for who we are.  Hope can be found in opening your eyes to see your life unmanageable and you powerless to fix it on your own.  There is maturity is recognizing a need for someone bigger than yourself.  We will all mess up, every time, on our own.  Reach out to someone else for help, or take the bigger step to reach out to a God that loves you despite the number of people you have hurt or failed, including yourself.

Don’t wait to have someone else make your sin public.  Far more couples make it when a dishonest person begins to choose honesty before it is too late. For more, see 12 Steps that lead to an Affair/Protecting Your Marriage From an Affair that also include ways you can begin to protect your marriage today.

So after my failed attempt to lovingly serve my boys a turkey sandwich with acceptance and unconditional positive regard, we cleared off the table for painting.  I personally love painting with kids.  It’s fun, easy to take out and clean up provides great insight through colors.  Colors are powerful and are used to market products to us everyday.  Green (also the color of money) actually makes you hungry.  Blues and greys are calming, typically colors you find in spas.  So naturally, the subconscious can choose a color to reflect a feeling without having to think about it first.  This is excellent when working with kids.  What colors do you think of when you are angry?  Most will say red, or black.  What colors do you associate happiness with?  Most would say yellow, or orange. Pretty easy, huh?  Try not to be too concrete on this.  If your child has a another reason for choosing a color that seems like an odd choice, they could be associating that color with an object they saw that evoked that feeling or may not be at a place where their emotions are congruent (as you will see was Aidan’s case).  For more on what colors can say about feelings, here is a great chart.

So, this past week, Matt and I introduced to our boys that a move in the winter time was highly likely.  We wanted to give them plenty of time to process it and talk about it with us, especially if anything changes.  I figured this was a great topic to start with.

After setting out the supplies, I gave them a couple of rules:  “Paint stays on the newspaper, here’s how you clean your brush, and we will have several opportunities to paint.  One painting will be on a topic, the other can be whatever you want!  Which would you like to do first?”

When it was time, I gave them the topic “I would love to see you paint a picture of how you feel about the upcoming move this summer.  I’m sure you have many feelings when you think of it.  You can use any colors you like, and paint any picture you would like about that.  You can also tell me about it while you are painting, or wait until you are done.”

I gave them a few options as well on how they could do it, just to open their minds to other possibilities.  “You can paint one of what you will miss here, or what you are looking forward to there, or even draw a line down the middle and paint both. If you have another idea, that’s okay too!”

Jack, who is almost six and still in a stage of fantasy immediately picks up yellow.  He is looking forward to a positive fantasy of change.  Even though I see a big smiley face on his page, I ask why he chose yellow.  He states because he is happy.  As he paints and talks, I find out that he is excited about going to a new school and meeting new friends.  He is my extrovert and can make friends quickly on a playground anywhere.  Within minutes he is following a game someone else started, or leads out on his own asking others to join along.  His heart is usually only pricked with the pain of hurt in well established relationships.  When I ask him if he will be missing anything here, he only says he will not miss Bullies.  He had a girl that he didn’t like in class last year and he chose blue because he was happy to be leaving her and an giant red “x” to show “it’s over.”

Aidan’s what a bit more intriguing.  He is older, now coming out of the fantasy stage of development.  He is shifting his focus more towards peers, playing with others, and developing who he is as he relates to peers.  Of course this will peak as he gets into adolescence.  Being that he is also interested in details, he wanted to make a list rather than a picture.  I encouraged him to be creative and do his best to put a picture to his feelings rather than list words.  This was a good challenge to him as he normally pushes down his feelings until something emotionally pricks him hard enough.

He opted for the split page of what he would miss and what he is looking forward to.  When I asked about color choices, he told me he chose blue for the side he would miss.  “When you sing the blues, blue is a good color for sad.”  He then painted his “list” of friends he would be saying good-bye to and wrote “school” under that side as well.  Interesting, he chose the color red for what he was looking forward to.  When I asked him why red (Red usually shows a less positive emotion), he said he thought red was an exciting color.  I wasn’t going to doubt his choice- especially after our turkey sandwich episode, howeverit felt in-congruent to me. Knowing what he would be facing in a move (he has a memory of leaving Colorado and making friends here), “exciting” didn’t seem what he was expressing, even in his voice.  Without making leading statements, I said that many people choose red for other emotions and asked what else he might be feeling.  It was then he came to describe nervousness as a better description.  He was unsure of how he would feel trying to make new friends.  Under that though, he decided to mask over or re-write that feeling that came up by drawing an image of the house he was looking forward to.  Green was certainly a more confident, happy color for him.  Perhaps having a new house that is still our home will bring him great comfort.  Maybe I’ll have Italian bread for him and be ready to make it “his way.”

Finally, here is one of my favorite paintings from a 5 year old client I worked with for a year.  She gave me permission to take a picture of it and keep it. She lost her father tragically and spent a majority of that year coming to terms with him being gone.  Our goal was for her to see him as “with her” but okay with him not physically being here.  After months of angry and sad paintings with red and black and grey reflecting all of them together with sad faces, this was her final picture.  Here she shows her with her siblings and mother all together without him.  Notice how they all have smiles on their faces!  All happy colors and green grass. She is moving to a new house in this picture and her father is right where he needs to be, always with them, but in heaven (he also has a yellow smile that is hard to see).


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