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Dr. Kenner: This is a woman who has been betrayed. “Dear Dr. Kenner. I have experienced infidelity, as the betrayed one. It is one of the deepest emotional pains that I’ve ever experienced. The loss of trust is worse in my opinion than the death of a loved one. In my opinion, it is nearly impossible to forgive one who has betrayed you. If there is to be any possible way to save the relationship, I think these six Rs need to happen first,” and here they are. I think this is very good, which is why I’m passing it along. “Two rational people reason, a deep commitment to rational resolution by – “ and here come the other five. One is reason and the second is reflection. “A deep analysis of the causes of the betrayal. The second is responsibility, owning the harms committed. The third is remorse, sincere, contrite, expressional apology backed with demonstrable action,” meaning really feeling the pain that you caused somebody and feeling remorseful for it, not just saying I’m sorry for whatever I did, which is called a cheap apology. “The fourth one is repair. Immediately correcting the behavior to begin the re-trust road and the fifth one is rebuild, allowing plenty of time if you feel it’s worth the time to heal and prove good intention. My romantic relationship was not salvageable and I think most are not able to regain real romance.” That’s a good observation. “I think some couples mostly stay together for other reasons. I would appreciate your input to my thoughts. My best to you, Gayle.”
Gayle, thank you. That was a pleasure to read because I think that you hit on key points. I think you’re right on. I think it takes a lot of mental effort, psychological effort, emotional effort, to see if you want to continue with the person who betrayed you. Do you still love them? Is it mendable? What are the alternatives? Would you rather leave? Is it easy to leave? Do you have a family? Can you, as the person willing to mend the relationship, collaboratively to your satisfaction? Are you partly responsible for the betrayal? For example, if you never wanted sex, maybe he was just at wit’s end. I don’t think that’s the case, or maybe there are other problems in the relationship that were never resolved. But really being willing to understand and face what’s going on openly. There will always be scarring, you’re right. I think that the biggest problem is that sometimes when someone has been betrayed, they’re always feeling that someone will betray them in the future. That, I think, is the most damaging. If you think that romance is impossible because you will always be betrayed, I think that’s more damaging than even the betrayal itself, because you’re destroying the premise that romance is possible. So you want to repair that for yourself, even if you don’t end up staying with the person.
You made a point, the loss of trust is worse in my opinion than the death of a loved one. I would recommend the book for anybody else – you’ve already been through this, and for you too if you want it – but Janis A. Spring’s book called After the Affair. She starts the whole book with some quotes, and I’ll read two of them because I think they’re poignant. She’s not talking about herself here. “When I was 15, I was raped. That was nothing compared to your affair. The rapist was a stranger. You I thought were my best friend.” And here’s the second quote, “When I first uncovered your secret, I stopped feeling special to you. But on a deeper level, I lost trust in the world and in myself.” You never want that to happen to yourself. When you go through a betrayal, you definitely want some emotional support, people in your life who love you and who haven’t betrayed you, and you need to be your own best friend too.
You made one third point that I want to address, and that’s that you think most couples stay together for other reasons. In our book that Dr. Ed Locke and I wrote, The Selfish Path to Romance, how to love with passion and reason and selfish means self-valuing, self esteem, self nurturing, not mean and rotten, we talk about in the appendix, we have how to part ways and start over if you cease being soul mates. And we discuss reasons people stay together that have nothing to do with being romantically in love with one another. Maybe they feel guilty about breaking their vows or maybe they feel guilty about leaving the partner. Maybe they’re afraid of change or there’s too much emotional stress to deal with in divorcing. They could be afraid of being alone. They could be afraid of finances – I won’t be able to make it on my own or what will be do? We have to live together because we can’t make it as solo, either one of us? They may be afraid of upsetting their family and friends. “Oh my God, you’re going through a divorce, what am I going to say to the people at church?” or something. There may be regrets. You might just be looking through old photo albums and say, “How can I leave this relationship?” and then the one that I think is the most powerful is, “Oh my God, what will this do to our kids?” If you do have kids, I highly recommend the book by Florence Bienenfeld which is Helping Your Child Through Your Divorce, because it shows the world through the child’s eyes and I think it’s very helpful for parents to see that they’re not the only ones feeling damaged and betrayed. The kids are going through major trauma and that needs to be tended to.
My show, as you know, is The Rational Basis of Happiness, and what does that mean? That means you use your mind to guide your life in a way that helps you achieve the wonderful things that you want in life, whether it’s friendships or maybe a good career or a romantic relationship or maybe some fun hobbies that you would love. Those are the things that make your life rich. And it may not even be financially, but just rich in terms of it being your life, not your parents’ life, not what they wanted for you unless those coincide and are the same things, but your unique life. And that’s what you want to pursue. You can’t do it just by gut feeling. You’ve tried it before, you know where it leads you. You can’t do it just by wishing. You can wish all you want, but if you don’t get off the couch and go out and look for a job, you’re not going to get it. If you don’t get off the couch and look for a romantic partner or try that hobby you’re thinking of or make friends, they’re not going to just materialize in your life. The whole point of thinking is to guide your action to achieve your goals. Of course we can use thinking to destroy our lives too, and that’s not rational thinking.