Abbreviated excerpts from Chapter 9 of Affair Healing: A Recovery Manual for Betrayed Spouses...
Every person that comes to my counseling office has a different story to tell, but they all have one thing in common: they want change. Sadly, not everyone who wants it actually experiences it. Why do some people, despite their earnest desire for something different, end up returning to the same old patterns while others manage to move in new directions?
That is an important question for you to answer. Too many betrayed spouses get caught up in a cycle of unhealthy behavior in their attempt to accommodate a partner who remains uncertain, uncommitted, or unchanging. They desperately long for satisfying change, but it never seems to come.
Could that happen to you? Yes, because the future of your marriage depends on the choices that two people make. Even if you do everything right, your spouse can sabotage the outcome. If they are unwilling to work toward a healed relationship, then it will remain out of your grasp. You cannot rebuild a marriage alone.
There is one thing you can do alone: you can change yourself.
Before your roll your eyes and skip ahead to the next chapter, consider these two ideas:
1. Your circumstances (where you are) are distinct from your personhood (who you are). In any situation, no matter how extreme, you are capable of making your own choices. Even in unhealthy circumstances, you can make healthy choices.
2. You can experience lasting change as long as your motivation comes from within you (intrinsic motivation) rather than from an outward source (extrinsic motivation).
Let me raise the stakes even higher. Consider these claims:
> You can be with a spouse who seems set on ruining your marriage despite your efforts and still make healthy choices with confidence and assurance.
> You can feel all the pain of betrayal and still experience compassion.
> You can face a divorce and an uncertain future and still find hope.
> You can feel the deep wounds of a partner’s accusations and still believe you are more valuable than that.
> You can stand confidently against the strong opinions of others who are telling you what they think you should do.
Do you believe that? I do. I believe that all those statements, and more, can be true of you. How? By understanding the best process for healthy personal change and starting to work at it. Big change usually requires big effort, but the payoff makes the work worthwhile.
What is the formula for change? What does it mean to be motivated from within?
Consider this: The choices you make are primarily determined by whatever desire you feel most deeply. If you are concerned about making changes, you should consider what motivates you to want a certain thing or to move in a particular direction. You need insight into why you are compelled to make one choice rather than another.
In many instances, your reason for a choice may be more important than the choice itself. I face this often when a betrayed spouse asks me whether they should stay in their marriage or leave it. I cannot answer that question for them, but I can help them focus on understanding the reasoning behind whatever choice they make. That reason will determine whether or not the choice they make is a healthy one for them.
I may sit with three different clients during a single day, all of whom have decided to stay with a cheating partner, and observe that only one of them seems to be making a healthy decision. My assessment is not based on the condition of the relationship, but on the reason for their choice. Motive makes all the difference. To determine which choices are good for you, first consider what compels you to make them.
People tend to be moved by three primary desires: do, get, or be. You experience all of these desires and each of them plays an important role in the decisions you make. There is not one good motive and two bad ones; they are all necessary. Sometimes they are in sync, pushing you toward a common goal for different reasons. Other times, however, each directs you toward a very different outcome.
When you feel tension in the choices you are making, the desire that has been most deeply cultivated will be the one that determines your decision. Which one leads you to healthier change? Can you strengthen the better desire so that it wins out over the others? Start by understanding the difference between each one.
Motivated by the Desire to DO
This desire is driven by the need for approval or appeasement. The source of approval may be parents, family, peers, a partner, church, God, or other outward standards. A doing person’s focus is to maximize praise and minimize disapproval.
Motivated by the Desire to GET
This desire is driven by the need for gratification and pleasure. The person acting out of desire to get believes that satisfaction will be realized by gaining something outside themselves (a fulfilling relationship, a successful career, wealth or possessions, a good reputation, a particular achievement, etc.).
Motivated by the Desire to BE
This desire is driven by the need for meaning and purpose. The person motivated by being has a vision of the kind of person they desire to become (or continue becoming) and finds fulfillment in choices that lead them toward it.
Unlike the other two desires, being is an internal motivation with a primary focus on inward change. A being person is motivated from the inside-out and so is less affected by outward obstacles (others’ opinions, discouraging circumstances, etc.). Throughout their lifetime, they can steadily move toward their primary goal regardless of shifts in the people or events around them. They demonstrate a level of inner stability and vulnerability that encourages more intimate connection with others. They tend to report greater satisfaction at the end of life.
Bronnie Ware wrote a best-selling memoir, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, in which she chronicled her work with dying patients. For years, she shared the final three to twelve months of life of many people and talked to them about the joys and regrets of life. Consider the five regrets most often expressed and what each teaches us about the value of doing, getting, or being.
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I didn’t work so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish I had let myself be happier.
Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who suffered through unjust conditions and witnessed the dark side of humanity. His wife, mother, and brother all died in concentration camps. He later wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning in which he described the life of a camp inmate and observations regarding what gives purpose to life. He wrote: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
The best choices are not those that are made from a focus on the value others place on us (doing) or from a reaction to our circumstances (getting), but from a clear perspective of who we are and the story we want to tell with our lives (being).
The following expressions are examples of thoughts or actions motivated by being:
- “I want you to come back. I’m willing to work at making our marriage great, but if you are not willing to join me in this, I’ll work at moving on without you.”
- “You’ve hurt me and I’ll admit I’m afraid of what might happen next, but I’m willing to take the risk because I love you and hope you’ll be part of the life I’ve got left to live.”
- “I love you and always expected we’d go through life together. I don’t even know what life without you looks like, but I am leaving you because I cannot be healthy with you.”
- “The life I thought I would live is no longer a possibility. Things have changed forever, but I still have a good story to tell. Do you want to tell it with me?”
Okay, I tried editing down, but there is still a lot more... more than I can cut/paste in here. But the point is this: if you let someone else take your story away, you are giving away power you don't need to release. Before you make a decision, think carefully about what defines you: personal values, passions, character, gifts & interests, etc. Let those things (not pain, fear, or anger) drive the choice you make.