Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Emotional Cheating - The Real Betrayal of Trust

He has a 'buddy' at work who turns out to be a hot blonde. They go to lunch everyday and out to drinks at  night. He's never touched her but he often confides to her about his  long term goals, conflicts and family life. One day you pop into his  office and she seems to know all about you but you were only vaguely aware of her. Is he cheating?

He signs up for a website designed for singles. He has a fake name and phony description. He corresponds regularly with  some of the women on line. The talk is non-sexual but he has developed  some 'relationships'. You discover his membership by accident. Is he cheating?

An ex-girlfriend from college contacts him on Facebook. They begin an email  relationship and they text each other often during the day. He has  plans to meet her for coffee without telling you. Is he cheating?

All the above men  are married with children for several years. The husband has been  having extracurricular activities first developed in secret. Sometimes the wives find out by accident; other times the husband reluctantly discloses under duress. When the idea of 'other women' comes out into  the open and the couple finally talks, each gets the same answer. "We're  just friends. I'm not cheating on you."

Yet, these men are going outside the marriage in a way that is far more detrimental than having a one night stand. Why? Because they are forming close relationships with someone  other than you. If you are like the many women who come to me with similar issues, you need to be aware that your marriage could be in danger.

What is Cheating?
Conventional infidelity is called adultery. The definition of adultery according to Webster's Dictionary is simply "unfaithfulness to the marriage bed". Google definitions characterize adultery as "extramarital sex that willfully and maliciously interferes with  marriage relations." In both cases, some kind of sexual activity is needed to claim adultery.

While the cases I cited, and other indiscretions that evoke rage from my female clients do not necessarily  have to do with sex, all carry strong hints of secrets, betrayals and  sexual tension between male and female. Emotional cheating is not about  the act of sex but it is about becoming intimate with a member of the opposite sex. The men focus their energy, attention and daydreams towards someone other than you. You begin to feel deceived, unattended  and discounted. While you are concerned about the possibility of sex, it's the friendship that he's developing with 'her' that leaves you feeling hurt the most:

Why is he talking to her when he should be talking to me?
Why is he focusing thoughts on her when he should be thinking of me and the kids?
What does she have that I don't?

The Excuses
He'll tell you that these are 'harmless' flirtations. He'll say that he and the other woman are 'just friends or buddies'. Don't buy into that answer. While sometimes men and women can be 'friends', a  friendship that is developed without your knowledge is concerning.

He'll say that he didn't tell you because he  didn't want to 'get you upset'. 'You would get the wrong idea'. Don't buy into that excuse. You actually got the right idea. Deep down he  feels guilty. He knows his behavior is out of line. Secrets are never okay in a committed relationship. 

Some guys like to know that they are still desirable and that they 'still have what it takes'. He'll say these relationships are diversions. He'll profess his devotion to you. He'll say that he just enjoys the company other women. He may even say it's  good for him to talk about you in order to get a female 'perspective'. The excuses go on and on. 

At the end of the day, you're correct. Your feelings of fear, anger and hurt are normal and natural. Your husband is engaging in inappropriate behavior and he's been holding a secret.   Married guys who form emotional relationships are acting  inappropriately. A dangerous precedent is being set in your marriage. This time it may be with a woman that is no threat. But next time it may be a woman who really does want your man.

What Can You Do?
First, you need to take inventory of yourself. That means  taking some responsibility for  the root cause of his desire for other  women. Is there truly something that he gets from them that he's not  getting from you? Men thrive on appreciation and attention. I understand that you're busy with work, raising a family and keeping up  with a myriad of household chores. Still, when he walks in the door, do you remember to greet him with a smile? Are you actively listening and  participating in his life? Are you giving him the same kind of love and  attention that you bestowed on him when you first got together? 

In today's world, women definitely have some  real challenges when it comes to balancing their roles as wife, mother  and head of household. Yet, men require a certain amount of attention.  In a perfect world, he understands. In today's world he goes online and  joins Facebook, emails and interacts with many other females all day  long. This does not excuse the emotional ties he forms with other women but it does explain the dilemma. In every relationship, each partner  needs to take some responsibility when things go awry.

If you are one hundred percent honest, I bet you'll find some room for improvement in your behavior. Don't beat yourself up. I understand. Your life is busy and even overwhelming. Who  has the time to comb your hair when you have a 2 year old who's wetting  his pants and poking his 6 month old  sister all at the same moment? Who has the time to cook a real meal when you have a deadline and have to stay late at the office. Still, your man is the core of your family. Take your feelings of rage and direct them towards making some change.  Anger is a driving force so put that energy to use!

Oftentimes a little adjustment, will go a long way. Put your anger aside and make some minor adjustments. Dress up in something he likes, cook his favorite meal and give him some quality attention. You just might see a change quicker than you anticipate.

Sometimes it may also come down to the fact that you did not choose wisely. Many men do not have good impulse control. While I believe it's in the nature of the male species to be  multiply attracted to many females, a married man understands the  commitment he made when he made his vows. If he does not respond to your  change, he may need some intervention to teach him basic management  skills. Boundary setting is a good place to start.

Setting Boundaries
Recently I was counseling a newly wed couple. They were exceptionally good looking, intelligent and both had high powered  careers which put them in the middle of Hollywood's A List. This couple  wasn't married for more than three months when they stepped into my office.  One of the major issues was how to handle former lovers who didn't respect their new marital status. Both were besieged by texts, emails and Facebook messages from former lovers who wanted to 'stay in touch'. He was not happy about his wife corresponding with an ex boyfriend. She was not thrilled that he was talking to women without her knowledge.  When she found out about his online correspondences she became extremely angry and felt very betrayed.

Marriage counseling opened up the lines of communication. This couple lived such a high powered lifestyle that they didn't even have the skills to talk intimately with each other. A few  sessions with me really helped them learn how to speak directly to each  other. Correct communication means that they learned how to listen and  make sure each interpreted the others statement accurately. Next we  brainstormed ways that they could combat the intrusion of the 'ex's'  together as a team. That meant no holding of secrets, sharing the emails  and collectively coming up with a strategy that worked. Realistically, some of the people were also business contacts so each communication had to be handled on a case by case basis. The most important aspect of the counseling was getting the couple to unite and share.

More established couples need to figure out how they feel about friendships and relationships with the opposite sex. As a general rule of thumb, secrets can not be tolerated. No matter how much it might hurt to know that your husband wants to befriend someone  else or spend time with a coworker, you have got to listen to him like an adult and not a pouty child. Men are direct problem solvers. They don't handle your emotions as well as they can respond to a concrete set of rules. 

One couple and I came to the agreement that neither party would talk to a member of the opposite sex unless the  other was present. If there was a female friend, both would befriend her  and both would go out to dinner with her. Other couples may decide that lunches with female coworkers are OK as long as the lunch is held  within a group setting. In other words, it's a bunch of people going to  the restaurant.

Boundary setting is something that the two  of you need to get behind. You need to think of every possible situation that has all ready happened as well as situations that may occur. Set a game plan of how you will handle every encounter that may happen. This includes flirtatious behavior from members of the opposite sex, contacts from past lovers on-line, sexually aggressive co-workers, chance  encounters, etc. It's like drilling for an earthquake or hurricane. We hope that it doesn't happen but it's best to be prepared.

What About 'The Nature of the Male Sexual Beast'?
I understand that men are different than us. Their sexual appetite is something that we women don't get. Most of us are 'one women men' as long as we are cared for, loved and protected. In general, most women in committed relationships don't get the itch to look or  fantasize like the guys. Emotional cheating is far different than looking at a 'girly magazine' or checking out some adult websites. There's no possibility of having a true relationship with a photographic  image. Emotional cheating has potential to destroy a marriage. The  occasional glance at another woman is natural to the male species. Having an emotional relationship outside the marriage is not.

© 2009 Jackie A. Castro, MA, LMFT

Monday, February 25, 2008

You'll Never Guess What Turns Me On: Understanding Your Sexual Fetish

Like many men, Bob's favorite part of the Miss America Pageant is the swimsuit competition. Unlike other men, he's not checking out what's on top. Instead Bob is intently focused on the  contestant's stiletto heels. Bob is a heterosexual man with a foot fetish.

Susan is in her 40's and married to the same man for 16 years. To date, she has never told her husband that at the moment of orgasm she imagines herself as a schoolgirl being spanked over her teacher's knee. Susan is a heterosexual female with a fetish for spanking.

Jim goes to the lingerie shop and sifts through the panties. He holds up a pair of pink panties marked extra large. Jim's wife wears size small and Jim is not having an affair. The panties are for Jim. Jim is a heterosexual man who enjoys wearing women's lingerie.

In her excitement, Karen almost forgot to pack the essential rubber bathing caps. She and her husband Bill are not headed to the beach. Instead, they are going to a small gathering of  people who enjoy wearing rubber. The feel, touch and scent of rubber are erotic for Bill and Karen. This heterosexual couple has a fetish for latex and rubber.

When it comes to sexuality, most of us were not  brought up with many options. Men are supposed to be attracted to women and women attracted to men. Kissing, touching and intercourse are acceptable forms of sexual expression between a man and a woman. 

Until recently homosexuals were considered outcasts and persecuted. Happily, our society is becoming more and more accepting of homosexuality. But what about those of us who are 'straight' with sexual proclivities out of the norm? What about people  like Bob, Susan, Jim, Bill and Karen? How do they deal with feeling sexually different? How can they function and feel good about themselves in our close-minded society?


What Is a Sexual Fetish?

Sexual fetish describes people who are aroused by unusual parts of the body, activities, or objects that are generally not associated with conventional sex. The fetish is strong and is deep seated in the subconscious mind. People can have sex without actually participating in the fetish activity. However, 99% of people with a fetish are like Susan. They cannot have an orgasm unless they think about the fetish at the moment of explosion.

There are all kinds of sexual fetishes. Sexuality is something that is as unique as each individual. Some people fixate on parts of the body: shoes, feet, legs, bottoms, hair or  armpits. Others enjoy acting out certain kinds of scenarios including Dominant/submissive role-playing, spanking, bondage, cross-dressing and  trampling. Still others find certain articles of clothing or fabric stimulating such as leather, latex, rubber and even angora sweaters. The acts and scenarios attached to these fetishes are many and variable. 


People With Fetishes Are Ashamed

It's no wonder. Our society labels anything sexually different as deviant or perverted. These labels hurt deeply to those whose sexual make-up is out of the norm. Fetishists feel weird, ashamed and guilty for their desires. While the fetish provides pleasure and relief, all these people have feelings of shame about being sexually different. 

Fetishists are afraid of sharing their secret with a lover. They fear rejection, ridicule or abandonment. Unfortunately their fears are not unfounded. Oftentimes, people who disclose to their wives or husbands wish they hadn't. Their partners react with shock or embarrassment promoting even more feels of shame and regret. 

The general public is uneducated about  sexuality out of the norm. Most people (even in this day and age) resort to perfunctory sex. We are not schooled in the joys of playing and  acting out fantasies. Fetishes often require special costuming, effects, verbiage and creativity. We are not trained to indulge in sexual  desires. We just don't understand. 

People with a fetish generally think they are the only one. It's a secret that they carry to the grave or possibly a paid professional (prostitute or Dominatrix). Sexual fetish is a  misunderstood confusing topic. Why can't my partner or I just enjoy and experience sex in the moment? Is it abnormal to have strong sexual feelings or thoughts, which I can't control? Is there a 'cure' for  fetish? Is it OK to act on the fetish?

Where Does The Fetish Come From?

There's no definitive answer as to why someone is or isn't precluded to having a fetish. Most remember having some kind of early childhood memory connected to the fetish. 

Fear, excitement, curiosity, pleasure are powerful emotions that are felt in the body. The body remembers the  charge physiologically and for some of us those moments become  eroticized on a subconscious level. Even scary childhood moments. We  protected ourselves by sexualizing the powerful feelings. Generally the  feelings lay dormant until we become sexually active. Then out of  nowhere, we connect our original moment of excitement and experience to a  powerful erotic charge. This feeling is so strong that our sexuality is  linked to that early sexual/excitement/fear moment.

For example, someone who likes spanking might have heard someone else get a spanked or they were spanked themselves. While the event wasn't necessarily enjoyable at the time, it  made great impact. It was charged moment that later became sexualized. How does that happen? Spanking is done behind closed doors, undergarments are taken down and there is a certain degree of intimacy about the act. Hence, powerful emotions are evoked. 

These powerful emotions linked to the fetish are stored in the subconscious mind. They are connected to a part of our brain that produces sexual stimulation. When puberty strikes these thoughts and feelings may re-emerge. Before we realize what's happening  we are associating our childhood fear/excitement to adult sexual feelings. 

Do You Have A Sexual Fetish?

Chances are good that if you were attracted to this article you have a sexual fetish or a penchant for sexuality out of the norm. You may or may not have told anyone or acted upon it. Perhaps you have see professional women who specialize in exotic forms of adult  entertainment. The visits to these adult workers are satisfying in the moment but ultimately leave you feeling alone and ashamed. 

You may have shared your secret desire with your significant other only to be shunned and rejected. People who have sexual fetishes are often left feeling very alone. It's just not  something we feel comfortable bringing up with a friend over lunch. It's  even hard to tell a therapist we've seen for ages. 

Does Your Mate Have a Sexual Fetish?

Most partners don't find out about this until way into the marriage. Your initial response is probably shock, followed by anger. How could my partner nave kept such a secret from me? What am I supposed  to do now? You feel alone and betrayed. My partner isn't the person I  thought they were. There's a sense that you don't even know them. Finding this out can have a negative distancing effect. However, if you choose to understand and participate in this fetish, you will develop a deep bond in your marriage. It's up to you to learn as much as you can  by yourself and with your partner's help and guidance.


Can A Sexual Fetish Be Cured?

A sexual fetish is something ingrained. Many experts now think it could be genetic. Whatever the origin, one thing I can tell you unequivocally: It will not go away. The connection between early body sensation and erotic emotion is too powerful to break. Many have tried  to will themselves to not like or think about the fetish. They push their desire deep down and try and tell it to go away. But just like a homosexual cannot go straight, (despite some religious zealots who claim otherwise) neither can a sexual fetish leave. It is simply too embedded into the subconscious.

I have worked with many fetishists. The desire is definitely stronger at some times than other times but it never completely dissipates. Many have told me they have spent years  squelching their desire and then finally give in. It feels better to 'eat' than walk around feeling hungry or starved. 

Do I Need Help?

You don't need help because you have a fetish. You may need assistance in handling the feelings you have about yourself in relation to the fetish. How do you handle these feelings of being different? What about the guilt and shame? How can you function in a sexual  relationship regardless of whether your partner is involved in your fetish? Therapy provides a save haven to finally talk about your sexuality instead of keeping it bundled inside. It feels good to be heard.

I have worked with people with all kinds of sexual fetishes. Initially, there's a great deal of relief in talking to an accepting open-minded person in a non-judgmental environment. Once  safety is established, we explore how the fetish impacts your relationship, self-esteem and general well being. We explore in depth your feelings of guilt, shame and anger at being sexually different. You  also get in touch with the gratification and benefits you receive from  your own individual form of sexual expression.

After we have a thorough understanding of the present, we back up and explore the past. Many but not all people with a fetish have experienced some kind of childhood abuse and trauma. The work then deepens and takes on the role of traditional psychodynamic therapy. The goal is never to get rid of the fetish but to normalize it, accept it and incorporate it into your life with a feeling of acceptance and happiness.


Some Closure

Fetish belongs to you and you alone. It is unique and  reflective of your personal sexual being. A fetish forms early in life. We are generally unaware of the fetish until adolescence when it  reappears as part of our developing sexuality. It is something that  happens subconsciously and without premeditation. 

Guilt in and of itself implies purposefulness. Since no one purposely chose his or her fetish are we then guilty of mindfully choosing this fetish as part of our sexual  repertoire? Not at all. Shame is a feeling that we are doing something wrong. Is it really incorrect to engage in something that provides pleasure and fulfillment? Again, the answer is no. 

Normalization is the key to helping you overcome shame and guilt about sexual fetish. Your thoughts and sexuality belong to you and you alone. It's time to let yourself embrace all aspects of your being.

© 2008 Jackie A. Castro, MA, LMFT

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sadness vs. Depression: Either Way, Therapy Helps!

Sometimes we say we feel depressed when we really mean we are feeling sad or angry. Maybe someone close to us has died or a long-term relationship has ended. Perhaps we feel unfulfilled at work or we're having difficulty coping with our spouse, children or friends. These  kind of situations are labeled as depression but actually they are all situational. By situational I mean that we have some idea about where the feeling of pain is coming from. The sadness has a source. It's not a mystery.

When you feel unhappy over something specific, it seems like it might be an easy fix. We think about making a change. Get a divorce, change jobs, make new friends. We've all been taught that  the way to get over hurt is to make an alteration or get a replacement. In reality, that doesn't work. More times than not, these situational  occurrences display patterns that are detrimental to our well-being. 

Therapy can help you discover your original  model and re-shape your individual mold. We figure out what is  representative of who you are today and make distinct and poignant changes to your core personal belief system. You might be stuck in that  job because underneath it all you feel that's all your worth. You might allow yourself to engage with someone who emotionally starves you  because you don't know what it's like to be nourished. Situational  depression is almost always symptomatic of an irrational belief that no  longer serves you. My therapy helps you get over the sadness of today and learn what to do when other painful situations come up in the future.

Clinical Depression
When real feelings are left unexpressed, they fester and multiply. The sadness or anger does not go away. Instead, it get stored  inside our bodies and left unacknowledged. Many of us grew up in families that did not encourage or even allow us to express any kind of overt feelings. We learned to suppress our normal natural childlike feelings of anger, depression and even joy. Experience proved the old adage 'better to be seen than heard' and we learned to repress in order to survive. 

True depression is all about the stuffing of feelings. It is a pervasive low feeling of knowing that something feels  wrong but we just don't know what. Life feels like a day in and day out  drudge. There's nothing to look forward to. Nothing that brings us  happiness. We go through the motions and keep up appearances. Some days are easier than others. Most days we just don't care.

Sometimes the feelings are stored so deeply  that we just feel numb. By the time we reach adulthood we don't even  know what a feeling is or how to label one. Many people think that all a  therapist says is, "How do you feel about that?" Early on in my career, I learned that for many people, the question of "how do you feel?" is  honestly impossible. Simply put, deep depression means you are so detached that you really don't know how you feel. You have long ago, drowned in your own sorrow. 

Luckily we live in a day and age where you can be 'saved'. If you are in living like a human zombie feeling totally crushed, empty and overwhelmingly sad, there is real help. I always see anti-depressants as a useful tool but I also see it as only one of many tools to help you get on with your life. Medication alone is never enough. Real depression requires real human  contact and unconditional positive regard. More often than not, the lack of true support is the root cause of depression. A solid trusting therapeutic relationship is essential for recovery. It's most effective  when someone who is depressed is given the power to set the pace. 

The healing comes when we unlock and release those stored up feelings. We do this a little bit at a time so that  it's not overwhelming. Sometimes it hurts a bit when we clean out the  wounds. That sting is necessary in order to make sure we get it totally  clean. The goal is to eventually form scar tissue that will not be  painful to the touch. The old hurts become a part of your past. 

You can feel alive again. As soon as you arrive you've take the first step towards acknowledging that you're worth it. From there we'll schedule regular work-outs so we can exercise  that part of you that wants to join the world. 

When you think about getting help, you are tuning into the part of you that still has hope. That's the part of you  that's still alive. No matter how small, we can take this tiny hopeful  part and develop it together. It's like working out. We've got to start  slow so that we can effect change that you can internalize. Healing occurs when we unlock and release stored up feelings. From there we develop new thoughts and ways to approach life. Usually we discover that  the person you originally thought you were has little to do with the  person you are in reality.

© 2008 Jackie A. Castro, MA, LMFT