Episode 37: Q&A: Answering Some of Your Greatest Relationship Challenges

by | Last updated: Oct 14, 2023 | Podcast

You’ve seen those TV or radio shows with experts taking calls, right? They answer questions from people about their financial issues, parenting problems, and other topics.

Today, for the first time, I’m doing my own version of that and taking calls to answer your questions about your greatest relationship challenges. In this episode of The Loving Truth podcast, you’ll learn the answers to the following questions from Betsy, Karen, and Julie:

After a betrayal, when can you feel like you’ve asked enough questions of him and feel well enough to move forward? Why can you have a hard time accepting your husband’s love (after unfaithfulness on your part), and how can you fix the situation? How do you get past the guilt of moving on from a relationship (even if it was a toxic, abusive one)?

Listen to the Full Episode:

What You’ll Learn In This Episode:

1:57 – The difference between helpful and unhelpful questions to ask after infidelity

3:56 – Why the “why” question is so important for you to understand

7:59 – Why moving on from an affair takes longer than you think

11:13 – Why an affair is like a drug

14:45 – How do your thoughts create your feelings about your marriage

19:29 – Why you might find it difficult to move past the guilt of leaving a long-term relationship

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Welcome to The Loving Truth Podcast where it's all about finding clarity, confidence, and peace in the face of marriage challenges. And now your host, relationship expert, and certified master life coach, Sharon Pope.

Sharon Pope: Hello, loves. This is Sharon Pope, and this is The Loving Truth. Now today we are going to do something brand new that I've never done before which is I'm going to take your calls. I'm going to take your calls and questions so that I can answer some of your greatest relationship challenges.

If you want to be able to do this for yourself, all you have to do is call 727-537-0359 and leave me a message. You can give me just your first name, you can make up a name, you can say, “This is anonymous,” it doesn't matter. I don't have to know who you are to be able to give you some wisdom when it comes to your relationship challenges and I want to be able to do that.

We have three ladies who we are going to address their questions on our podcast today on The Loving Truth. First, we're going to hear from Betsy.

Betsy: This is Betsy. My question is at what point after betrayal can you feel like you've asked enough questions? You don't want details but you want to know how your spouse is feeling or what was going through their mind and how you can prevent it in the future, but at what point can you ever feel like you've asked enough questions and at what point do you stop talking about it? You have to stop talking about it for yourself, for your own well-being but if they never understand the hurt, how do you reconcile stopping talking about it and asking enough questions? Do you feel good about where you are moving forward? Thank you.

Sharon Pope: Okay, Betsy. I hear you. When there has been infidelity and a betrayal inside of a relationship, you're going to have a lot of questions. You're going to have a lot of questions and that's okay. Now there are some questions that are healthy and helpful and then there are some that are not healthy and not helpful.

What you're trying to do with your questions is to make sense of what was happening because you're trying to reach for some degree of healing and/or maybe even some degree of trust again. There are questions that are not helpful.

Those questions sound like, “Where did you have sex? How many times did you have sex and in what positions did you have sex? Was the sex better than the sex with me?” All of those types of questions, I'm just going to tell you, be very careful what you ask for because you think you want those answers, you think you need those answers but you actually don't. You don't need the answers to those questions to be able to move forward.

Actually, many times what I have found is it causes much more harm than helpfulness because once you hear that or once you see that, because sometimes it comes in the form of visuals, you can't unsee that, you can't unhear it.

You can't unring that bell and now you have the responsibility to live with that for the rest of your life, to live with that memory and that imprint on your brain. It's not helpful and it's unnecessary in order to be able to move forward. But that's almost instantly where our mind goes.

Now the healthy, productive, what I would call generative questions that give context to what was happening, these are questions like, “How long was the affair? How serious was the affair? Were you in love with her or him? What was your frame of mind when you got involved in the affair? How are you feeling about our marriage at the time that you met this person? Why did it happen? Why do you think you had an affair?”

The why question is a really important one so don't move forward without understanding the why. Many times, they don't want to answer the why because they don't want to get introspective. In order to answer the why, you have to go within, you have to understand yourself.

Many times, what we want to do is we just want to move forward, just forget about the past, forget about that betrayal, and we'll just move forward together as a couple and never address it. That's not healthy. The why is really important to you rebuilding trust, then it's not going to happen again. The why question is a really big one.

You might ask, “Were you on your way out of the marriage or are you on your way out of the marriage?” Particularly if there have been multiple infidelities. If you're in such a hurry to not be in this marriage and be with other people, then do you want to be in this marriage? If so, why? Because your actions aren't aligning with what you're saying you want, so that's something that I would want to really understand.

Then is she still in your life and how do you feel about the fact that she's not still in your life if the answer is no? If the answer is yes, you got to ask, “Why is she still in your life?” if he wanted to make the marriage work.

Now to get at your real question, which is at what point have you asked enough questions and you feel like you're actually able to move forward? Now the biggest piece is you need trust that it's not going to happen again, that you're not going to get hurt like this again.

I have questions which are: what are you seeing him do that is different? For instance, his reason why is, “Well, because I was super stressed at work and I didn't know how to handle that stress and I didn't feel like I could turn to you because your mother had just died and you had a lot on your plate,” maybe that was what was going on.

Well, the next time you get stressed and I have a lot on my plate too, what are you going to do? If he's not working on himself in some way, if he's not trying to create new habits to be able to handle stress, then how can you ever trust that it's not going to happen again? Because now you can't just take him at his word. It's not worth as much as it might have been a year ago.

Is he bringing it up so that you don't have to? Here's what I mean by that. If he's bringing it up, if he sees you struggling one morning and he says to you, “Darling, how are you doing? Is there anything that we need to talk about? Are we okay? What do you need from me right now?” That's him bringing it up and giving you the opportunity to talk about it when he sees you struggling with something.

But if he never brings it up and you're always having to bring it up, then you're having to carry the weight of this hurt and trying to reach for rebuilding trust while he's sitting back and doing nothing. Nope, not healthy, not even going to work. You said that he doesn't fully understand the hurt that was caused.

That validation of the hurt, now whether or not he regrets the affair, that is a different question, but if he doesn't validate the hurt that his choices caused, then I don't know how you can move forward from that. There are some deal breakers in here and when those things have been answered, that's when you can go, “Okay, I've asked this. I may not like the answer but that is in fact the answer, so to keep asking the question and never moving forward in any direction is not helpful or healthy to me or to our relationship.”

Getting over an affair and being able to move forward after an affair is always longer than what you think it's going to be. It's definitely longer than what your partner thinks it's going to be. He's probably thinking, “Oh, a few weeks, maybe a few months and she'll be better, she'll be fine. We'll just move forward,” no, it's always longer.

The more we avoid these questions and not answering these questions, the longer it draws out because you're not able to emotionally move forward with this person because there's no trust. The more engaged and aware we are of actively rebuilding trust in the relationship, the quicker that will happen.

But it's definitely going to be a year, it shouldn't be three or four years. There's no magic number in terms of like, “Oh, in one year and two months, you're magically going to be able to move forward and not feel any residue from your husband's affair,” that doesn't happen that way. But give yourself some time and space and know that it's going to be longer than what you think it's going to be.

The more you actively try to wrap your mind around this and the more he's engaged in rebuilding trust between the two of you, the quicker you're going to get through this. Somewhere between a year and three years, how about that? I hope that's helpful, Betsy.

Karen: This is Karen. My question is based on, a little background, I have been unfaithful in my marriage and lately, I've grown back to seeing my husband as a good guy. He's made some changes. I think I love him but my feelings when we are intimate or kissing are still very tentative. I can't maybe accept his love back. Do you have any explanation for that or any ideas how to help fix that problem? Thank you.

Sharon Pope: Karen, I have what I think is some good news for you because it sounds like you would genuinely like to be able to open your heart again to your husband to be able to receive the love that he is offering to you. It's just not going to look the way you think it's going to look because right now I can tell from the way that you worded your question that you think that this is something that you can't control, that your ability to be able to accept and receive the love that your husband is offering after your affair, you're just not feeling it and you're thinking that that feeling is coming from outside of you and something that you have no control over.

I'm here to tell you that you do, and this is good news. I promise. It may not sound like it at first but it is good news because you are in control of your experience. You get to choose how you feel and how you think about your marriage.

Now let me give you an example. The circumstance is you had an affair and the thought you're having about your marriage is, “This isn't as exciting. It's kind of boring. I don't feel the same way,” and that leads to an emotion of boredom or discontent, maybe a little irritation, I don't know. But it is your thoughts about the circumstance that create how you feel.

If you have the thought that this is not as exciting, of course, the emotion is going to be boredom. However, since no one can think for you but you, you can change the thought without changing the circumstance. The circumstance remains the same. The circumstance is “I had an affair and I am married.” Same circumstance, new thought.

What if the new thought, and it could be anything but I'm going to throw something out here just as a point of example, the new thought could be, “Of course, it's not as exciting. That was me being in an affair was wrapped with mystery, danger, risk, newness, and adventure. I was drawn to it.” It was like a drug because when you're falling in love and when you're involved in an affair, it literally is like your brain is on drugs. That's physiologically what's happening.

There's a podcast I did, it's number 26, it's called Your Brain on Drugs (oops…I mean Affairs), that's what the title of it is because they have mapped out what's happening in the brain when you're falling in love, for instance. When they do a brain scan on someone falling in love and someone on opioids, it looks the exact same way. It's literally been a scientific brain state now of falling in love is the equivalent of you being on drugs.

Understand that all that excitement, risk, adventure, and newness, your partner at home with the mortgage, the electric bill, the kids, the responsibilities, the work, and the years and years of struggle and some really good times, those two things are incomparable. Your partner cannot compete with all that because the context of affairs matters and everything that comes with an affair is very sparkly and we get very drawn to it.

It feels like a drug. It feels like something that we're pulled towards where home life feels really boring because that's the nature of it. I promise you, even if you left your marriage and you got involved, you got married with your affair partner, 5 years from now, 10 years from now you're going to feel the exact same way because that is the nature of it. That is what our stable relationships grow into is much more stability and less excitement, where inside of an affair, there's no stability and tons of excitement.

You could have the circumstance, let's go back to the circumstance, you creating your thoughts about the circumstance and then you creating your feelings, circumstance: I had an affair; thought: that was my brain on drugs. Of course, this isn't exciting because I'm not on drugs anymore. That can create an emotion of feeling more open and receptive to your partner.

Your thoughts are what's creating your feelings. That is good news because no one can think for you and you are in complete control of the perspective you want to place on it. You've just gotten a little lazy in the thought process not realizing that it's your thoughts that create your emotions. Don't get lazy. Get really intentional, “How do I want to think about this?” because it's really important.

It's really important that you put the right wrapper on it because whatever you focus on is going to expand. Do you know how I know that? Let's say you were going to go buy a red Lexus and you thought that hardly anyone has red, they all have black or they have white but nobody has a red one. Then you're driving around after you bought your red Lexus and all you see are red Lexus cars driving everywhere. It's not that there are more of them.

This is how the brain works. What you're focused on is going to grow bigger in your experience. It's the same way here. If you focus on, “This isn't as exciting. I don't feel the same way. This is never going to work,” that is going to get bigger in your experience.

But if you focus on, “Of course, it doesn't feel the same way. I'm involved in a 20-year marriage with this man where we're doing life together. This affair was not that so I shouldn't expect that an apple is going to taste like a watermelon, it's not. Those are two different fruits so I'm going to enjoy what this is as opposed to trying to create all that mystery, newness, adventure, and risk that just doesn't exist in my marriage. But I can understand what feelings I got that are translatable and see how to cultivate that,” because there are many ways to cultivate feelings, and it begins with our thoughts.

I want you, Karen, to become much more intentional about what you think. Choose your thoughts about this wisely and your feelings will follow. Good luck.

Now I want to go to Julie.

Julie: My question is after 33 years of a very, very stressful, tough, at the same time super codependent and attached to my husband, how do you get past the emotion of feeling so guilty when you want to move on? It's really, really painful to see my husband be in so much pain. The marriage was very volatile, both physical and mental abuse, I finally got the nerve to do something after 33 years after my mother passed away.

Now I'm just plagued with so much guilt that I'm going to ruin my husband's life. He just had a kidney transplant so there's just so much guilt and it's hard for me to get around it. I've always, always been there for everybody. I always put myself last emotionally. The abuse has gotten only worse. That's my question. How do you move on and move out and feel good about it when you can see that this is really hurting the other person? Thank you. Bye-bye.

Sharon Pope: Julie, I can hear the pain in your voice. I will answer your question but I want to start with just saying good for you. Good for you for getting out of a toxic and abusive relationship. Good for you for finally saying, “I matter and I'm no longer willing to live like this.” Because nobody deserves that nobody deserves physical, mental, and emotional abuse.

I know you're not here for the congratulations on stepping up for yourself but we teach others how to treat us. Until we hold ourselves with a certain level of self-respect and honor, nobody else is going to so I just want to acknowledge that for you because this may be the first time that you've done that and I'd love for it to not be the last.

Now, you've asked a bunch of questions, how do you get past the guilt? The codependency that you talk about is the reason why you feel guilty. The other thing you said is “I've always put myself last emotionally.” Those two things, that's your work. That's the thing that is causing all this guilt that is to the point of paralyzing you.

Now I think a little bit of guilt can be healthy, a little bit of guilt. When you make a decision or you do something that causes hurt to someone else, I think that it's healthy to feel something from that. If you don't, you're just cut off from all of your emotions, you don't care about humanity, and you don't have any empathy. The fact that you have empathy is a healthy thing.

However, where it crosses the line into unhealth is where you are overtaking responsibility for someone else's feelings and not taking responsibility for your feelings. You've been over here in his business for so long in this codependent relationship doing all the things so he can feel better and abandoning and betraying yourself in the meantime.

You got to get out of his business and back in your business. That is your work. Because until you solve that part, until you solve that your emotions, your feelings, and your experience in this life are just as important as anybody else's, then you're never going to solve this, you're always going to put everyone else before you, and you're going to live a life that feels far less than it could be, should be, or that you would desire for yourself.

Now, you said something like, “I'm afraid this is going to ruin his life.” My darling, you are not that powerful. I promise you. You are not that powerful that you can ruin someone else's life.

Think about it like this, as an adult, every adult gets to do whatever they want to do. It's the only benefit really to being an adult. Otherwise, being a kid is way better. But we get to live with the outcome of our choices so you, Julie, did not do this. He did this. He made those choices, choices on how he was going to show up to the relationship, choices on how he was going to react and respond when things got difficult for him. He made those choices, you're just making a decision based upon his choices.

This is the most important piece: when a relationship requires me to abandon or betray myself in order to be with you or in order to love you, that's where you gotta know that it's gone really unhealthy. That's where you have to draw that line. You have to draw that personal boundary for yourself.

Me telling you that you matter, while it might feel good for a few seconds, it's not the same as you knowing that, you internalizing that. We don't have to wait until there's the death of a loved one for us to go, “Damn it, I matter too.” This is your work and there are a lot of ways to solve it but you have to solve it because you're taking yourself with you.

Think about it like this, this is really important, we come together in relationship like puzzle pieces and so if he is an abusive person, if he's going to be in relationship with someone, he has to be in relationship with someone who's willing to be abused. Fits together like puzzle pieces.

You have to get to a point where you are not willing to be abused in any way, shape, or form because it might come across your plate but look or smell a little different than this one and you'll trust that it won't hurt. But if you have not healed this, you will continue to abandon yourself, you will continue to overtake responsibility for other people's feelings, you will continue to put everybody else before you and quietly resent it.

Get with a therapist, get with a coach, someone that can help you really heal this for yourself so that you can have a healthy relationship. This is not your fault but it is now your responsibility to figure out, “How am I going to integrate this experience and how am I going to move forward to create the life that I want?” You've already taken the first big step, which is saying, “No more. I'm not doing this anymore.”

But now you've got to let go of trying to manage other people's feelings. He gets to do what he wants. He gets to live with the outcome of his choices. You get to choose what to do with those choices and you get to live with the outcome of your choices. I just want you to be proud of them. I think you've got enough to a good start.

Alright, I hope you loved this question and answer where you get to ask me anything. If you have a question for me, I would love for you to call in and leave me a voicemail. You can call 727-537-0359 and leave me a short message. It can be completely anonymous, and let me know what your biggest relationship challenges are and maybe I will cover it next month on our next Q&A call. Until next time. Take really good care.

Love, if you're questioning whether you can recover the feelings you've lost for your spouse and you're serious about putting an end to feeling stuck, lost, and alone, I've written a book just for you. It's called “Stay or Go? How to Find Confidence and Clarity So You Can Fix Your Marriage or Move Forward Without Regret.”

The approach I share in this best-selling book has already worked for thousands of women struggling in lonely disconnected marriages and I'm confident that it will work for you too. If you don't want to spend another day stuck in indecision, go to sharonpopebook.com to get your copy of “Stay or Go?” now.

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