Spiritual bypassing

One of the more annoying aspects of my wife’s affair is that she is using her spiritual practice as a rational excuse for her behavior. She is connected to an Asian tradition from her homeland, and it would seem that she either misunderstands that tradition, or willfully is misappropriating it. This has already earned the opprobrium of someone connected to the shrine that represents that tradition in our area: the affair itself was not criticized, but rather its spiritual justification. This was also done in public via an internet forum. I believe this did have the effect of serving a wake-up call of sorts, introducing tension and unease into the relationship, requiring it to go further underground.

So, what is “spiritual bypassing”? This morning, I saw a quote from Reggie Ray, a scholar and teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, that was posted in a most timely way insofar as my circumstances are concerned:

?”Particularly in our culture, there’s been a lot of discussion of what’s called spiritual bypassing, which is using spiritual practices as a way to not relate to this world. Now, ‘Not relate to it’ doesn’t mean that we’re not in the world and we’re not working, because we might be.

‘Not relating’ means that we don’t take it as the path – not really. For us, the path is actually getting away from it into this other ‘big’ space. And you could be sitting in a meeting and it’s very painful and you just put your mind into the big Mahamudra space and you kind of ignore what’s going on – That means, ‘not relating’. Or, you’re in a relationship that’s very dysfunctional and you’re not actually taking seriously the need to do something about it because you do your meditation in the morning and it’s very comforting, it’s very soothing and it’s very freeing, and you’re not relating. You’re not taking the relative reality as something sacred.”

How does this manifest in my case? My wife has a small altar at which she offers daily prayers; this is not unusual in her culture. Her prayers these days, I believe, revolve around supplications to encourage the affair as the expression of some sort of divine will. There is further talk and communication (not with me, of course) of the divine provenance of the affair: they were connected in a previous life, they have heard or received communication from the unseen world that encourages and validates the affair, their guardian spirits are in fact married to one another, and so on. I even heard her mention on the phone the names of these guardian spirits, and that a friend could “see” from a picture that the lover was under the protection of the consort (to unfortunately misappropriate that term, I think) of her guardian spirit.

All of this extensive rationalization is to be expected. The affair partners enter a mode of intellectual overdrive to justify behavior that they know is wrong. They do research, talk to people, find Internet “experts” of dubious credibility, and then selectively appropriate little nuggets of information that would seem to support their agenda. After all, if someone else says something that would seem to support what they’re doing, then their behavior can’t be wrong, right?

The problem, however, is that they do know that what they’re doing is wrong. Rationalizations are a temporary fix for an unwinnable situation. At some point, reality begins to intrude, and the situation blows up.

Using the spiritual domain as a rationalization can cut both ways. Her parents are relatively spiritual people. They don’t have an actual spiritual practice per se, but they do believe in such things and will consult the advice of spiritual mediums, fortunes tellers, and so forth. To my knowledge, at least two such people have been consulted thus far, and that would be consistent for how they’ve conducted themselves in their past regarding important events. I certainly don’t fault them for that at all. In fact, in some ways I find it admirable. The counsel they have covered thus far might be at times dubious in terms of marital advice, but it has been unequivocal in condemning the affair. Largely because of this, I don’t see the pressure from the parents waning at any point. They give credence to this type of advice, and will likely continue to push until the affair is ended.

In the meantime, my wife seems to be determined to dig her heels in and fight back. She cannot win this battle, and she probably knows it, but her pride is so high that she simply will not admit defeat until her situation totally explodes and she’s left only with the shards.

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Then again…

Late breaking news. My wife’s friend, the person whom she has been planning on moving in with for the month to facilitate a separation with me and a path toward living with her lover, is stopping by tomorrow morning to drop off boxes. Unbeknownst to me, my wife had ordered some boxes and packing materials online, so I guess she’s going to try to commit herself to the path of craziness. She is already guilt-ridden as it is, and my presence during her packing fiasco will probably compound that. Not only that, I will be home when this friend drops by, and that will probably make the situation for both of them very awkward.

Cheating spouses are crazy. The do not have rational thought processes. They can seem totally normal, and at the same time maintain a fairy tale (i.e. the affair) and various narratives that make you out to be the villain, and which justify their unjustifiable behavior. Adultery is a form of temporary insanity. I’m pretty certain of this. Every case of adultery I have ever heard of includes a wayward spouse that will not listen to reason from anyone; fast forward a few months when the affair has ended, and that same person sits there and says, “What on earth was I thinking? What kind of person did I become?” Oh, how I eagerly await that day.

UPDATE: She had second thoughts about the timing of this, and called her friend to see if she instead could drop by this evening when I won’t be home. Yes, this is cowardly behavior, but then adulterers are moral cowards. That’s just how it works with them.

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Is the fog starting to lift?

That’s the question everyone wants to know. I recall asking my counselor how long it takes for the fog to lift. He said that it’s different for everybody. (I do get occasional counseling: it’s difficult to reconcile a marriage without support.) According to him, for men, it often lifts fairly quickly, and for women, it tends to be more of a gradual process. The general timeline would be anywhere from a few months to a year. You can’t so much speed up the lifting of the fog as you can spoil the affair by being the best version of yourself, and by manifesting unconditional love at every turn.

I have some sneaking suspicions that my wife’s affair fog might slowly be starting to lift. First of all, I hear things. Since she has gone public to so many people about her affair in a futile attempt to make it seem like a normal relationship, word does get back to me. Also, we live in a fairly small house, so if there is a phone call in another room, I’ll tend to overhear without trying, even if the door is closed. So what have I heard?

First, that there is frustration that her original timeline was never met. She planned on divorcing me, moving out and starting a new life with her lover by the beginning of this year. We’re 4 days deep into 2012, and she’s still at home. Not only that, but her secondary plan to move in with friends to provide a transitional period hasn’t taken yet, and might not do so until next week. Second, her family disapproves of what she’s doing and continues to express this. They’re generally getting relatively unsound marriage advice, except for the fact that everyone they speak to disapproves of the affair. Third, the grapevine tells me that the lover is starting to show his true colors: there are communication problems, and he is defensive. He puts his career before his personal relationships. He can’t deal with having her move in anytime soon. There’s just pressure everywhere.

This is predictable, folks. Of course there is pressure. Society does not support adultery. What also is predictable is my wife’s reaction, which is to become despondent, to look fatigued and stressed out, and to cling hopelessly to the shards of a fairy-tale dream gone wrong. Adulterers live in a state of continual self-deception, and that self-deception tends to get more acute as the rationalizations and narratives become less capable of holding water.

The saddest part of it all, though, is how needless it all is. When my wife and I last had a long chat a few days ago, just before she ditched me on our anniversary, I told her that I could see right through her situation. I could tell she was in immense pain, and was suffering greatly. I also told her that, by this point, her pain had virtually nothing to do with me or my actions, but rather was almost completely self-produced. Her pain is nothing other than guilt, and that’s just the reaction of the conscience to the knowledge that one’s actions are, in fact, wrong. She even told me that she felt guilty.

I did not comment upon this, but my general idea about guilt in this kind of situation is pretty simple: Guilt is good. Guilt is healthy. Guilt provides the path to healing. Guilt shows you what actions to stop. My advice to the adulterer would be, “Please feel guilty. It’s good for you. It’s a sign of moral health.” To the betrayed spouse, I would say, “Don’t stop any actions that you suspect make your spouse feel guilty. You cannot control their feelings of guilt. Your spouse’s conscience is your greatest ally.” This does not mean that you should deliberately lay guilt trips on your spouse or anything like that; that would be counterproductive. But it does mean that one needs to recognize that proper, moral actions are likely to induce feelings of guilt in the wayward spouse.

In any case, the one thing we can be assured of is that the fog eventually will lift.

Expressions of gratitude

As part of my reconciliation program, I received the assignment to write a thank you letter to express my gratitude for things my wife had done for me during the course of our marriage. I had the sense that my delivery of this letter would be well timed: I had written it the night before she came home, made a list of at least a dozen things she had done for me, and explained the emotions that those acts had engendered in me, as well as in other people that had been impacted. Remember that, in our last conversation before she left, she tried to redefine our whole relationship by asserting she’d never had true love with me. This is par for the course for a wayward spouse: they have to do it to clear their conscience. My letter cut right through that nonsense by explaining the feelings of love that I’d felt through her actions.

I had originally intended to give her this letter before going to work, but forgot, and so I left it on her pillow last night. This morning she thanked me for the message – twice. Now, I honestly have no idea of what the impact of this letter is likely to be. It’s likely just another gentle flame that will continue to melt away the ice around her heart by rewriting the story she has been creating for herself over the past few months.

It’s clear to me that she is still enveloped by the so-called affair fog, which is just the infatuation process that eventually wears off, spelling the end of the illicit relationship. But, so long as that infatuation is there, it’s a force to be reckoned with. A recent study done at Johns Hopkins University showed that the biochemical response in the brain of an adulterer is nearly identical to that of the cocaine addict. It’s an addictive behavior, plain and simple. However, the brain just simply cannot keep producing dopamines in this amount forever, and as their levels declines, the fog recedes and the affair begins to fall apart. The defects of the affair partner become apparent, and, as they say, lust becomes disgust. This pretty much always happens. That’s what I’m waiting for. I don’t know ho long it will take, but I do know that their time is limited. Her family disapproves, her friends are uncomfortable with it, and society at large condemns her behavior. The chips are always stacked against the adulterer, no matter what they say.

Anyway, time will tell. She has a number of documents on her desk that suggest to me that she is looking for “auspicious” dates to move out. These do not exist: there Is no amount of appeal to augurs of auspiciousness that could turn immoral behavior into acts of morality. That just isn’t possible. Furthermore, there were also papers that waffled on about the virtues of selfishness: how appropriate it is to look out only for your narrow self interest, how there is no sense in trying to placate others if you are sure off your choices, and even how hardening oneself against outside criticism and even hurting others can help them to “move on”. This is craziness. There is a lot of bad information out there, and a much of this kind of stuff is written by people who themselves are plagued with self-deception.

One thing to me seems certain: in the not too distant future, she will look back upon her present actions with disbelief, wondering what kind of person she had become. That is also par for the course. The fairy tale shatters, and all they are left with is the shards of their life, which they have worked overtime to destroy. If they are lucky, there will be a committed spouse who remains to help clean up the debris, bandage the wounds, and help the wayward spouse to reconcile and move forward.

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A foggy day

My wife did indeed return home this morning, as previously mentioned. She seemed in good spirits, but after I got back from work her mood had turned more reserved. She had the door shut to her office as I came in the house, and I could hear her talking to a friend on the phone. Since our house is small, it’s easy to overhear things without really trying, and I know this was the friend she was planning to move in with for the coming month. She was telling this friend about how her parents are very negative and disapprove of what she’s doing, and how they’d like her to just cut ties with everyone and everything and return home. Of course they are worried, but that’s pretty terrible advice, at least in terms of reconciling a marriage.

One thing I should mention about this friend is that she lives about 2 blocks from here, and is married, about our age, and no kids. So their marital situation is similar to ours, except that they have been together for at least twice as long and don’t appear to be in any sort of crisis. The both know of my wife’s affair and somehow do not feel uncomfortable aiding and abetting an adulteress. That I just do not understand. It is possible that they have been lied to or given extensive rationalizations. This friend is going out of her way to help my wife destroy her marriage, and is offering to pick up boxes to help her pack. Incidentally, this friend is also a colleague of mine whom I work with on a weekly basis. I will see her in a few days, and I don’t know how she’s going to repress her guilty conscience.

The affair seems to show no signs of crumbling, unfortunately. A few days together seems to have revived their confidence in the utter superficial banality of their relationship. She did not bring any gifts home, and the ones that are already here are extremely cheesy: an Eckhardt Tolle calendar, and a quasi-spiritual self-help book. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no truck with Eckhardt Tolle, but these kinds of gifts are things my wife would just never go for under normal circumstances. Not at all. I know the kinds of things she likes, and those aren’t it. I’ve become a sort of Santa Claus, a master of giving, and I give daily in all sorts of ways. The power of giving is that, while words or actions might be rejected, it’s hard to rationalize a reason to reject an inanimate object. (People do, though!)

I had left an anniversary card in my wife’s purse before I left for work the day she left a few days ago. She never mentioned it, but I had put a short piece of music I’d written (I do that as part of my living) inside the card for her, and she thanked me for it. I had also put a bound copy of that piece in her office, so it could have been that she was thanking me about as well. But, I did see the opened card in her purse, and I assume she found and opened it while she was with her lover. That’s a big plus for me, I’d think, and a big minus for him. I doubt she shared it with him — how could she? — and that would be a good thing, as it would mean she’d need to keep secrets from him. You see, the mentality of an adulterer survives only in a secretive and deceptive environment, so any situations that reinforce that usually end up being productive in bringing down the affair. Unless the adulterer is a sociopath, sooner or later their conscience is going to break under the weight of all the lies and deceptions that are told in the service of maintaining the affair.

Of course, there’s another very curious thing that happens along the way: the adulterer tries to come clean about the affair. Either they bring this to you, or they go to their friends, family, co-workers, or some combination or all of the above. My wife started to come clean with a select group of people she felt she could trust immediately after I discovered the affair, but otherwise she kept it under wraps. She would not discuss it with me, as I simply would shut down any such conversation. In the past week or so, however, she began to actively try to go public with it. Again, she won’t breathe a word of it to me, as I won’t hear it. But she has come out to friends, family, and pretty much anyone who might listen. She even brought this person to a church social event, which I would find mortifying in and of itself, except that she then went on to introduce him to the pastor. What’s even worse is that she knows this pastor suffered a similar fate as me: his first wife cheated on him, and then divorced him. The reason adulterers go public is simple: the weight of their conscience gets so heavy that the adulterer needs to try to get as many people as possible to buy into the relationship as they can, so that they can pretend that somehow it’s normal.

The problem is that it’s not normal, and everyone knows that. While it might be possible that extensive lies and rationalizations are told to encourage others to feel comfortable around the adulterer’s lover, people typically just aren’t comfortable with this situation. I’ve known people who had gotten themselves involved in adulterous situations in the past, and they all came out with this information eventually. There usually was some sort of explanation: things aren’t going well with my spouse, we’re separating, s/he agrees with this idea, and so on. Who knows if any of it is true. Even if this is a person you like a lot and generally respect, it still makes you feel uncomfortable. Sure, you might be a bit accepting if the person tells you that their marriage is basically over, their spouse has assented or at least accepted this fate, and that the affair is a necessity. (It’s never described as an affair, by the way, it would simply be called a “relationship” or some other fairly neutral term.) But still you feel uneasy inside because that person is still married.

There is empirical evidence for these reactions, by the way. A recent (2010) Gallup poll showed that 92% of Americans consider adultery to be morally wrong. What’s interesting here is that this is a pretty universal opinion: the moral acceptability of adultery is in the single digits regardless of gender or political affiliation. This is pretty astounding. It’s not surprising then, that virtually all affairs end: the ignominy is just too much to bear, and the pressure of disapproval from society is just too great.

So how do I cope with it all? Well, for one thing, I have a well defined regimen of reconciliation strategies that I’ve been employing for two months now. They’ve become positive behavioral habits, and I just keep doing them. For example, I’ve been making my wife’s bed every night for the past two months, as she has elected to sleep in the living room to save herself the burden of sharing our bed. I usually leave some sort of goodies — a chocolate, a cup of tea, etc. — alongside the bed for her, and usually turn on her aromatherapy diffuser and do a few other little things. Tonight, I left a thank-you letter that I had been encouraged to write. In it I expressed gratitude for the many things she has done, both large and small, for me and our marriage over the past 7 years we’ve been married. Not only that, but I explained the emotions that these actions provoked in me, and sometimes in others (e.g. where they positively affected relatives or friends). You can imagine the impact this might have: my wife is planning on moving out, probably sometime this week, and has rationalized things to the point that she has rewritten the history of our marriage such that she believes she never experienced “real love” with me. Her rationalization was that she was “dependent,” and that in order to experience “true love,” one must first become independent (read: selfish) and assure one’s own happiness first (read: selfishness). My recounting of these various experiences shows to her that her version of our marriage is just a fiction. How would you feel if you were trying to write a narrative of your marriage in which your spouse was the villain, yet at every turn he was actively rewriting that story for you, so that it actually comes in line with reality?

Well, one thing that might happen is you’d try to escape. You might try to run away. This could happen mentally, emotionally, or physically, or all of the above. That’s what she seems to be doing; she’s been doing it for three months now, and it’s finally getting critical. The problem is that wherever you try to run away to, you’re still there. You bring yourself, all your problems, all your neuroses, and all your guilt for your past actions to wherever you run. You just cannot escape your conscience no matter how hard you try.

Many people, when they find their spouse abandoning them, just give up. This is the wrong thing to do. If you want to reconcile your marriage, you need to keep applying the gentle and steady pressure of unconditional love, regardless of the physical, mental, or emotional distance of the spouse. They will protest, because they want you to give up. But if you persist, sooner or later you’ll break through, and reconciliation will be possible.

That’s my vision, friends. My future holds the reconciliation of my marriage. She won’t give it to me without a fight. That fight is all about holding on to the fairy tale affair and its never-present happy ending. But eventually that affair will crumble and her situation will spiral out of control. When that happens, I’ll still be here, the door will be open, and I will have nurtured her soul with consistent acts of unconditional love that allow the roots of marriage renewal to grow.

Fog in the harbor

My wife has returned from her New Year’s weekend jaunt with her lover. Since I know quite a lot about this man, I know exactly where she was most of this time, as well as what she was likely to have been doing. She seemed happy to be home and to see me, but it seems the affair fog still has not lifted. She has yet to broach a word to me of her plans. As I may have stated in an earlier post, her original plan was to divorce me, move out, and start a “new life” with this lover from January 1st. Well, that date came and went. She has not filed, and might never do so. She also has not moved out yet, and has not even really packed anything. I have no sense for what her plans are, although I suspect I’ll hear about them soon. Stay posted, friends…

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The New Year Has Arrived

This will be the first of my real-time updates on my reconciliation efforts.

My wife has been gone for three days now, and I don’t expect to see her until tomorrow. She left the night before our anniversary to be with her lover. I called her on our anniversary day to wish her well, but did not explicitly refer to that date by its name, but rather said it was an “important day.” I am pretty certain that she spent that evening and the following day — New Year’s Day — with her lover at the shrine. She feels a very strong connection to that place and its traditions; unfortunately that connection has been thoroughly tarnished with an adulterous affair. As mentioned in an earlier post, disapproval of this affair was expressed from someone higher up in the shrine hierarchy and this certainly caused some tension, although I don’t really have a sense for how this is going to play out.

I have been a member of the so-called Marriage Fitness community for two months now; this is a marriage reconciliation and renewal program with a very high success rate — greater than 90%. The more successful programs out there, such as the Marriage Sherpa program of Frank Gunzburg and the Save the Marriage program of Lee Baucom likewise have success rates of 85-90%. You cannot save every marriage, but it is safe to say that most marriages progress to divorce far too soon, and long before any true attempt at reconciliation has been made.

A few words about the reconciliation process itself: My impression is that most people struggle with this and do end up separating and/or getting divorced because they do not know what to do, or because they adopt the wrong approach. Traditional marriage counseling simply is not effective in most cases: at least 70% of couples report being worse off a year later, and 50% report being divorce. So, you’ve got a 20-30% success rate for something that is time consuming and expensive. Why is this so?

Well, a typical counseling session has the couple sit with the counselor and talk about their problems. While it might be useful to get these out on the table at some point, when a marriage is distressed, there is little help that talking things through will solve. I have seen this with my own eyes: on one of our early attempts to talk through our problems, my wife and I actually ended up having a fight in which things were thrown around and broken. If your marriage is in that state, then there is no reason for you to talk about your problems at all. It is far better to just set them aside for a while, and to change your behavior.

That is what my reconciliation process has been all about. I have changed my behavior such that I am continuously manifesting acts of unconditional love and kindness. The interesting thing about doing this over time is that, while it can initially be very difficult, eventually it takes on an energy of its own and becomes sort of a habit. But, since it’s a positive behavioral change, it actually feels good and makes you feel better about yourself and your marriage, even regardless of what state it might be in. For me, this has engendered a true sense of confidence and strength that lets me see above the storm. My wife is caught in the tumult of that storm, but being obstinate, she swears up and down that there is no storm. I on the other hand can see the storm for what it is — temporary — and have the patience to weather the storm and the skills to successfully negotiate it.

What lies just ahead is completely uncertain. I am at home alone, and don’t expect my wife to return before tomorrow morning. When she does return, she’ll probably let me know that she’s planning on moving out for the month. I have no sense of the details, but have seen little evidence of her having packed anything at all. Somehow I have the sense that her affair is seriously stressed, and that it could be over in the next few weeks. At least that is my hope. Time will tell. Stay posted, folks.

Moving Forward with Marriage, One Step at a Time.

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