Relationship Connection: Is it OK to talk with people about my marriage problems?

Finding one safe person is better than broadcasting your story of betrayal to just anyone will will listen, Geoff Steurer advises. In his Relationship Connection column Tuesday, he writes: "Just share and talk and cry and release and cry and let it go where it needs to go. A safe person will track with you and stay with you and let you know you can say whatever you need to." | Photo by LittleBee80 / iStock / Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Question

When we got married, we got advice that we shouldn’t talk to people outside of our marriage about our marital struggles. We both agreed that this was something we would do to strengthen our marriage.

A year ago I discovered my husband was having an affair with a co-worker and now he’s upset at me that I want to talk with my parents and a couple of friends about it. We have talked with our bishop and a marriage counselor, but I still feel like my husband is silencing me from the very people who really understand me.

He is accusing me of betraying him if I tell other people. Is that really the case?

Answer

Keeping marital difficulties between partners is sound counsel that will strengthen any marriage. You were wise to hold to this rule, but in certain situations, it’s also wise to recognize that there need to be exceptions to the rule.

When marriage vows are broken through the serious betrayal of infidelity, it changes the very nature of the marital bond. In many cases of infidelity, one or both of the partners wonder if the marriage will even stay intact. Turning to others can be helpful because trust is so fractured that turning to the unfaithful partner doesn’t bring relief. This is especially true early in the process of affair recovery.

Your formerly secure relationship base became compromised and you now need someone you can count on. Even though you’re both seeking counsel from your bishop and a professional counselor, it’s important for you to turn to people who have been there for you throughout your life. They can remind you of who you are, who your husband is and help you see what’s real and true.

It’s important to seek people who are “friends of the marriage,” affair researcher Shirley Glass wrote in her book, “Not Just Friends.” They will help remove the pressure of having to figure out what to do with the marriage and, instead, allow you to have a space to make sense of your experience.

Please be careful whom you choose for your confidant. Just because you have family who might be wiling to listen, make sure they are healthy and protective of your sensitive information. Sharing with just anyone who will listen is a really bad idea. You don’t want to spend anytime worrying about what happens to your information in the vulnerable process of recovery. You don’t need additional betrayals of people gossiping and criticizing.

Turning to family can also come at a risk because their familial instincts may make it difficult for them to trust your husband again. Once you unload your entire trauma on your parents and siblings (who are naturally going to take your side), they may have difficulty supporting your marriage down the road if you choose to reconcile. You don’t want to spend the rest of your marriage trying to defend your decision to get back together.

However, many families are healthy and provide the best kind of support. Healthy family members know you, care about your marriage and will give you a permanent shoulder to cry on when you’re struggling to put together the shattered pieces of a betrayed life. Just make sure your family is healthy and won’t, as Brene Brown once put it, “become another piece of debris in your tornado.”

You need a witness to your pain so you can know that you’re heard and seen. You need to know that you are a human worthy of love and belonging. You need to know that your pain matters to someone else. Ultimately, you need to know you won’t have to do this alone.

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend wrote a book called “Safe People” that outlines the characteristics of people who are more likely to protect you and your story. They identify safe people by the following characteristics:

  • They value love and connection.
  • They have the ability to trust others.
  • They value responsibility and aren’t overly dependent on others and don’t allow others to be overly dependent on them.
  • They are honest and transparent with their lives.
  • They work on their own issues.
  • They have good track record and have respectfully dealt with yours or other people’s private information.
  • They encourage you to grow individually and in your relationships with other people.

I will also add some qualities I’ve observed in safe and healthy people:

  • They are well acquainted with suffering and have graciously learned important lessons from their trials.
  • They are good listeners and don’t interrupt.
  • They don’t gossip about other people to you.
  • They are fair and work to see the big picture.
  • They keep their promises.
  • They don’t jump to conclusions.

It’s likely there aren’t many people in your life that fit these criteria. It takes time and experience to find safe relationships. You don’t need to have more than one person in your life that fits this description.

Even though it’s good to have multiple people in your life that can support you, recognize that when you are working through the messy and vulnerable early stages of discovery and trauma, it’s not a good idea to broadcast your situation to multiple people. Sharing with too many people will leave you feeling more exposed, scattered and anxious about having to keep everyone updated and in the loop, as things can change quickly.

Recognize that it’s common in the early days of discovering betrayal for word to get out that there has been a crisis in your marriage. Curious people may approach you to find out more details. You do not owe anyone an explanation of any details just because they ask. And, you certainly don’t need to apologize for not sharing your story with them. You can simply tell them that you appreciate their concern, but you already have the support you need.

It’s critical to take a little time to carefully select someone who will hold your story with respect and compassion. Brown also said that we should only share our shame story with someone who has earned the right to know that story. Trust is earned. It’s not something you give someone just because they’re family, you attend church with them or you roomed with them in college. Safe people have passed multiple relationship tests and continue to provide you with the steady reassurance that they can handle your reality.

Instead, start by identifying the safest person you can think of and start sharing with them. I don’t recommend you do this by text message or email. Sometimes phone is the only option you have, but if it’s possible, face-to-face is best. You need the nonverbal reassurance that you’re not crazy, to see them reflect your pain. You need to know that you can be physically held and soothed by someone who cares deeply about you. Even if it’s a tremendous sacrifice to get with this person face to face, I promise you it’s worth it. Perhaps they might even come to you if you ask them.

If you can’t identify anyone in your natural support system that meets the criteria for a safe person, then don’t settle for the next best person. It’s better to stay with your therapist and bishop who can hear your messy story and provide you with a secure space to share. Then, after you feel more grounded and clear about your situation, you can take the time to find other people who are safe.

Don’t worry about how your story is shared. If they’re a safe person, you won’t have to edit your information in a way that makes it easy for them to hear. Just share and talk and cry and release and cry and let it go where it needs to go. A safe person will track with you and stay with you and let you know you can say whatever you need to. This is not a time to worry about protecting them. It’s a time for you to organize your shattered reality. So, put all the pieces out there to your safe person, in whatever order they appear, and trust that over time it will all come together.

After you spend time sharing your story with this safe person, you will feel a bit more organized and clear. As you move forward in your life, continue to share with them as things become clearer. The experience of sharing your story with safe people allows you to reaffirm you worth, see your progress and even open up more support to others who are struggling.

In my experience, when you share your story with the right people and in the right way, it can support the healing of your marriage, which benefits your husband if he really wants complete healing for you and your marriage. You didn’t get to have say about him having an affair, so I don’t believe his fear of others knowing is something that gets to direct your healing.

Ultimately, everyone wins when sharing is done in a respectful, compassionate, and safe environment.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Instagram: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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10 Comments

  • ladybugavenger August 30, 2017 at 8:27 am

    He’s accusing you of betraying him? Oh no lady. Divorce him

  • Sapphire August 30, 2017 at 9:20 am

    Sounds like she doesn’t want to be married anymore. She just wants to complain and wants to embarrass him. He was a jerk and now she wants permission to get even and share her one-sided woes. She might not have been the wife she should have been, we don’t know his side of the story. If there are children involved then a divorce opens them up to multiple new relationships that they have to deal, custodial and placement issues, as well as not having their real family anymore. You can’t rebuild a relationship by tearing it down. One way or the other it is time to move on in a positive, not whiny direction.

  • DRT August 30, 2017 at 9:22 am

    You have got to be kidding! So your husband cheated on you, and is now accusing you of being unfaithful? You need to dump this manipulative dirt bag, and do it now. If there are kids in the marriage you need to keep them with you.
    What other stinking little habits does this idiot have? You are the victim of abuse, whether it is physical or mental! Get away from him one way or another.

  • comments August 30, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Well, I’ll tell you: once a cheater always a cheater. If you actually want to stay married then don’t go blabbing to everyone and the kitchen sink about his infidelities. It accomplishes nothing but you gossiping and blabbing for no reason. The guy is highly likely to cheat on you again tho. I tend to think you want to “talk to your parents” because you want advice on divorce. First thing: stop talking to your bishop! The bishop clown has no place in a marriage and isn’t any kind of trained counselor in such things–his first priority it to keep you married and paying tithing. NOW IS THE TIME TO CONSIDER DIVORCE, and if this is the case then yes, IT IS TIME TO TALK ABOUT TO PARENTS, FAMILY, ETC. The kids will be the victims here (if there is any), BUT DON’T STAY IN A HATEFUL MARRIAGE JUST FOR KIDS. The sooner you divorce and go your separate ways the better it’ll be for you (and the kids)

    • mctrialsguy August 30, 2017 at 1:29 pm

      Comments, you are 100% correct on this one! Once a cheater, always a cheater! Save yourself future pain by dealing with the issue now and head-on! Talk to only your parents, and establish a plan.

      • ladybugavenger August 30, 2017 at 5:25 pm

        Bob is the relationship expert-no joke- Bob has learned much more than any other marriage counselor that read books to get a degree. 👍

        • comments August 30, 2017 at 7:31 pm

          hahaha, hardly an expert, but learned by trial and error (the hard way, lol). I just wanted to add a couple things after reading Geoff’s very very long reply here.

          1-if there’s no kids involved it’s time to cut this marriage loose 100%. BAIL! IMMEDIATELY!

          2-We have very few detail, but if there are kids now’s the time to seriously evaluate if the setup is worth saving. How are u gonna react the next time to find out he has sex with other women? or even worse, real romantic attachment to other women? You already know he’s capable of hiding such an affair. That broken trust is likely never fixable.

          3-option 3 is the “open relationship” option where you’re both free to have sex with other people but you stay married. It’s a disaster to even think about and it’s gonna mess up the children. I guess this is something a lot of “millennials” are into … just yuck!

  • comments August 30, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    “A year ago I discovered my husband was having an affair with a co-worker”

    Oh, and here I am assuming the coworker is a woman. If it isn’t, well…

    😉

  • darkgoddess August 31, 2017 at 6:44 am

    I agree with the others. Get a divorce – even if there are kids involved. Children aren’t stupid, and they know when things aren’t right between their parents. It’s a disservice to the kids to stay together sniping at each other with them watching it all. Besides, @comments is right – once a cheater, always a cheater. Cut and run, sweetheart.

  • Redbud August 31, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    I am LDS so I will tell you this, it’s nice having support from the bishop, and the VERY best way he can support you at this moment in your life, is to get a divorce. If he won’t support this decision, then ignore any further advice he gives you. It has already been stated enough, but I will say it again, once a cheater, always a cheater!!! Divorces suck, they can be painful, but that all heals with time. Quickly make a plan, and then get out as fast as you can!

    By the way, people who think their marriage is bullet-proof, just because they’ve been married in the temple, are dead WRONG and many of them get a rude-awakening. I am all for marriage, and I truly hope everyone’s marriage lasts, but sorry to say I know MANY couples who married in the temple and had HUGE issues, including cheating. Again, want to emphasize I hope this never happens to anyone, but sad to say, that sometimes it does. Congrats to anyone who has made their marriage work!

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