-- Question for John --
I have been with my fiance for 6 years. But, for about the past 2 years we have been very unhappy. We have issues or problems that have been going on and yet we have really failed to bring them to each others attention except when we fight. Along with all of this, my fiance has been cheating on me for about a year and a half and has continuously lied to me about it.
I have found all kinds of proof over this time period and each time that I confronted him about this, he said that he was not seeing her. This has been what most of our arguments have been about lately — and during these times is when he throws something in my face about why he is not happy. I finally caught him with this other woman and he is finally being honest about it all.
But the questions that I have are: Where do we go from here? How do we get past something like this? Will the relationship survive if we work on it with some help from an outside perspective? He says that he really wants to work on our relationship and that if whatever we try does not work, then at least we can’t say that we did not go down without fighting! I need some direction here. Thanks!!!
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-- Answer from John --
Couples can move through these kinds of huge challenges if both parties are willing to work with it, learn from it, and grow from it. Getting some good outside help is important. (But be discriminating. Most therapists are not very good at working with couples with these issues).
The fighting, the unhappiness, the lying and the cheating are all interrelated. This is the opportunity to blast through all of that patterning and get to a deeper, more genuine, and more loving level of connection and intimacy. It does take work. But it can be done if you are both ready to face your fears and move through these apparent obstacles.
It is a very good sign that he is motivated to do this. It would be ideal for the two of you to make a clear and committed agreement as to a period of time during which you will pursue the personal and relationship growth you need to do in order to move through these issues, wounds and blocks that have come up. During this period you agree to certain basic things — like being honest, being monogamous, and/or whatever else is vital to motivate you to do this.
Setup a period of time that gives you the best chance to face difficult things and work them through. We certainly are not talking a few weeks of sessions. When I work with couples in your situation, I recommend a minimum of a six month agreement. Better yet, nine months or a year.
Part of the agreement would be the weekly sessions — and that may even include individual session that alternate with joint sessions. You also agree not to come to any conclusion about whether to stay together or not until the period of time is finished.
Then you decide what your next agreement is: to work for a further period of time (assuming you see progress), to quit, or that you have reached a level of workability in the relationship where you are comfortable committing to the relationship.
With that kind of agreement in place, both parties have clearly committed to doing the work for themselves during the agreed period of time.
You might also during this time frame do some more intensive work, like a weekend workshop or a couples retreat. The retreat that I do with a couple has produced pretty dramatic shifts and garnered large jumps in clarity, healing, and positive connection. This is not the right approach for everyone — and it is costly — but weekend workshops are another great way to immerse yourself in doing work intensively.
However you do it, the bottom line is that if you are both open to learning new strategies — and you are both open to whatever it takes to heal the wounds of the cheating — and you are both open to facing your fears that have held you back so far in intimacy — you can get through this. And you will come out far better as a couple for doing it.