We are in the middle of a series where I am sharing with you the key lessons I learned as I earned my way out of my relationship with my sexually addicted spouse. The first lesson I presented was how to step out of the cheater’s gaslighting game. Our second lesson is learning to stop talking and start observing.
When you stop talking and start observing, you can change your behavior patterns and grow in emotional and relational health. And with that change, you can participate in your relationship in a much healthier way.
As you do this work, your partner will either join you in it and the two of you will create a new relationship together, or your partner will not join you and you will have decisions to make about staying in or leaving the relationship. Whether you ultimately choose to stay or leave, when you do the work and change your behavior patterns, you earn your way into a new relationship – regardless of what your partner does.
Once I found my therapist and started working on my recovery, I came to a place where I realized that I needed to stop talking in my relationship. I needed to quiet myself so I could take a breath and sort out what was actually happening. I had been activated and confused for so long that I was caught in a pattern of reaction. I was not able to clearly assess what was happening, think through my responses, and choose the best course. Instead, I reacted to my situation in a state of hypervigilant fear. What I mean by that is that I reacted to my situation from outside my window of tolerance, from outside the emotional space where I was able to connect to my best self and make good choices.
When I realized that I needed to back away and find some solid ground from which I could view the reality of my situation more clearly, I decided to stop talking and start observing. When I say I stopped talking, I mean exactly that. I stopped talking. Not in a hostile way. Not in a way where I gave my spouse the silent treatment. In fact, my spouse didn’t even notice. When I say I stopped talking, what I mean is that I stopped filling the void in the relationship with my words.
This took some discipline, my friends. I had to make a conscious decision to not jump in over and over again, to not fill the space between my partner and me with my ideas, opinions, and thoughts. When I did this, I was able to emotionally settle myself in a way that allowed me to observe what was happening in my relationship.
What I discovered was painful and sad, and it became very clear to me why I had been filling the space with words. When I went quiet and started watching, what I found was a gaping void of absence, dissociation, distraction, and distance between me and my significant other.
I remember sitting at meals with my spouse where there was no conversation and he did not notice there was no conversation. He was so lost down the rabbit hole of his addiction that he looked like a drug user – bloodshot eyes, vacant stare, body there but mind gone. Over time, as I realized how disconnected and dissociated my significant other was, I also realized that I had been talking, arguing, and fighting all as a way to try to get him to come back.
I did not know how to sit in the aching fear and loneliness of being married to an active addict. I did not know how to handle the feelings of abandonment that this canyon of absence evoked within me. So I had been filling up the space, making noise and distracting myself from the painful reality of being alone in my relationship. It was only when I stopped talking and started observing that this became clear to me. And it was only when this became clear to me that I was able to take the actions that I needed to take to heal and to earn my way into a new relationship.
This discussion will continue in my next post, on what to expect when you stop talking and start observing.
About the Author:
Michelle Mays, LPC, CSAT-S is the Founder of PartnerHope.com and the Center for Relational Recovery, an outpatient treatment center located in Northern Virginia. She has helped hundreds of betrayed partners and sexually addicted clients transform their lives and relationships. Michelle is the author of The Aftermath of Betrayal and When It All Breaks Bad and leads the field in identifying and crafting effective treatment strategies for betrayed partners.
Braving Hope is a ground-breaking coaching intensive for betrayed partners around the world. Working with Michelle will help you to move out of the devastation of betrayal, relieve your trauma symptoms and reclaim your life.