NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Friday, April 26, 2024

Relationships: Tips on How to Listen to Your Partner Without Getting Defensive

One of the most difficult things to do is to listen to your partner without getting defensive when they're upset about something you did or didn't do (see my article: How to Build Trust and Connection in Your Relationship).

How to Communicate With Your Partner

Most people have the urge to interrupt their partner to defend themselves, "That's not what I meant!" or "You didn't understand what I said!" But when you interrupt your partner, both of you feel frustrated and neither of you feels heard.  

Dr. John Gottman, relationship and research expert, came up with the acronym ATTUNE to help couples to build trust in each other so they can have a healthier relationship:

A = Awareness
T = Turning Toward
T = Tolerance
U = Understanding
N = Non-defensive
E = Empathetic
  • Awareness: Awareness refers to developing an awareness of your partner's thoughts, feelings and current circumstances. You acknowledge your partner's emotions and you can do this by asking your partner how they're doing and actively listening to what they say.
  • Turning Towards: When you turn towards your partner, you reach out to your partner when you sense they need emotional connection. This means you care enough about your partner to reach out whether what they're going through is positive or negative.
  • Tolerance: Tolerance refers to the ability to listen to your partner's thoughts and feelings even if it's different from your own. This means that if their thoughts and feelings are different, you can temporarily put aside your feelings to accept your partner's reality without interjecting your own feelings, thoughts or beliefs. This doesn't mean that you agree with your partner--it means you respect your partner's experience.
  • Understanding: To understand your partner, you put aside your feelings, thoughts and beliefs temporarily so you can dip into and understand your partner's experience. If their experience is unclear to you, ask for their help, "Can you help me to understand your experience?" Your partner needs to feel you understand their experience before you tell them how you feel.
How to Communicate With Your Partner
  • Non-defensive: Non-defensive listening is an effective way to respond to your partner's experience--even if it feels uncomfortable to you or you don't agree.  As a non-defensive listener, your job is to help your partner to clarify their experience. This means you focus on your partner's experience without getting defensive or attacking your partner. Before you respond to your partner, ask yourself if what you're about to say will clarify your partner's experience or if it will be dismissing or attacking your partner. To ensure you understand your partner's experience, repeat the basic message you heard and wait for your partner's response that you have either understood them or not. If you haven't grasped what they are saying, ask for clarification until your partner tells you that you understand. When you can respond without judgment or an argument, you are encouraging your partner to trust you and open up to you (see my article: Responding Instead of Reacting).
  • Empathetic: Empathetic responding shows your partner that you can dip into and feel their experience. By acknowledging and validating your partner's experience, you show them that you are responding with empathy. 
Defensive vs Non-defensive Listening
The "N" in Dr. Gottman's ATTUNE stands for non-defensive, as mentioned above.

Listening and responding non-defensively is a difficult skills for many people to learn. It's especially hard if what your partner is saying involves a complaint about you or something that triggers an emotional reaction in you.

How to Communicate With Your Partner

For instance, if you and your partner live together and you have agreed to fold the laundry after the dryer stops and you don't do it, your partner might say, "We agreed to fold the clothes when the dryer stops, but you didn't do that and now the clothes are all wrinkled." Your immediate reaction might be, "Don't tell me what to do! You're not my mother!"

Maybe you react this way because you feel your partner is trying to control you. Or, maybe you react this way because you feel embarrassed that you didn't live up to your part of the agreement. 

Either way, you're responding defensively, and you need to learn to calm yourself so you can respond non-defensively.

Learning to Self Soothe to Respond Non-defensively
In the example above, regardless of why you reacted defensively, you need to learn to self soothe by calming yourself before you respond to your partner.

You can do this by:
  • Slowing down: Even though you might want to lash out at your partner by interrupting them or invalidating their experience, take a moment to slow down and calm yourself. Focus on relaxing your body by breathing. If your partner isn't sure what you're doing, explain to them that you're trying to calm yourself so you can respond empathetically.

Slow Down and Breathe to Calm Yourself

  • Don't Take Your Partner's Comments Personally: Even though your partner is annoyed and might be angry with you, try not to take their comments personally. Try to understand that they're trying to communicate what is making them unhappy and what they want to change. If you see it from that perspective, you're less likely to get triggered and respond defensively.
  • Ask For Clarification: If you're not understanding what your partner is trying to tell you, ask for clarification so you don't jump to conclusions about what they're saying.
  • Take a Break: If you're having a hard time calming yourself, tell your partner you want to take a break so you can regroup and come back to discuss the issue calmly. Before you take a break, make sure you both agree on the timeframe to come back to talk (Will it be in 10 minutes? or 30 minutes?) and then return at the appointed time in a calmer state. 
Getting Help in Therapy
Most of us were not taught how to communicate in a non-defensive way with a partner.

Get Help in Therapy to Improve Your Relationship

A skilled psychotherapist, who works with couples, can help you to develop non-defensive communication skills.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a qualified mental health practitioner so you can have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Why Do People in Relationships Keep Secrets From Each Other?

In a prior article, I discussed the difference between privacy and secrecy in a relationship (see my article: Privacy vs Secrecy in a Relationship).

What's the Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Secrets in a Relationship?
Aside from maintaining your own privacy in a healthy way, there can be other healthy reasons for maintaining certain secrets.

Discovering Secrets in a Relationship

Healthy Secrets
An example of a healthy secret would be a surprise. For instance, if one of the partners is planning to propose, they would probably want to surprise and delight their partner by taking them to their favorite restaurant and proposing with an engagement ring.

Similarly, one of the partners might want to surprise the other with a gift, a birthday party or a much desired vacation.

In both cases, these secrets were temporary and would add to the partner's pleasure.

Unhealthy Secrets
Unhealthy secrets include but are not limited to:
  • Hiding Deceitful Behavior: Using a secret to hide deceit; manipulation; betrayal, lying, including lies of omission, often leads to mistrust and can ruin a relationship.  An example of this would be infidelity, including emotional infidelity.
  • Hiding Serious Issues: Hiding serious issues, like serious medical problems; financial issues, including financial infidelity; an addiction, among other issues, can weaken or destroy a relationship. 
Why Do People in Relationships Keep Secrets From Their Partner?
There can be many reasons why people keep secrets from their partner, including:
  • Maintaining Power and Control: The partner who is keeping a secret to maintain power and control over their partner is engaging in an unhealthy dynamic. Maintaining this dynamic can lead to a decrease in emotional intimacy, emotional distancing, resentment and the potential demise of the relationship.
  • Feeling Shame and Guilt: Someone who feels ashamed or guilty about something they did will often keep it a secret because they fear their partner will reject or leave them.
  • Feeling Fear of Criticism and Judgment: Even if a partner doesn't leave, they might be critical or judgmental about what their partner did, so the partner keeps it a secret so they don't have to deal with the criticism or judgment.
Keeping a Secret Due to Fear of Criticism
  • Avoidance: Related to the above, someone might want to tell their partner about their secret, but they fear how their partner might react, so they procrastinate. The procrastination might be short term or it can be indefinite.
  • Experiencing Lack of Trust in the Partner: When someone doesn't trust their partner, they might not want to be vulnerable by revealing what they did, so they keep it a secret.
  • Having Poor Communication Skills: Someone who doesn't have good communication skills might not know how to reveal something negative to their partner, so they keep it a secret.
  • Having Poor Interpersonal Skills: Someone who has poor interpersonal skills might not know how to approach their partner about something they did, so they keep it a secret.
  • Having Poor Relationship Skills: Similar to poor interpersonal skills, someone who has poor relationship skills might not understand the importance of being open and honest with their partner. In many cases, they grew up in a household where good relationship skills weren't modeled for them, so they never developed these skills. There might also have been toxic family secrets.
  • Not Wanting to Be Accountable to a Partner: Similar to poor relationship skills, someone might not want to be held accountable by their partner for their actions.
  • Being Selfish/Self Centered: Someone who is self centered and selfish might only think of themself and not how their secret might affect their partner.
  • Wanting Revenge Against Their Partner/Payback: If someone is angry about something their partner did, they might intentionally keep a secret as a way of getting back. This often happens with infidelity where one partner finds out the other partner cheated and the first partner cheats too as a form of revenge--even though they keep the infidelity a secret.
  • Wanting to Be the Betraying Partner After Having Been the Betrayed Partner in a  Current or Prior Relationship: When someone was betrayed in a prior relationship, they might want to gain power in the next relationship by being the betraying partner.
How Can Secrets Ruin a Relationship?
  • Secrets Are Stressful: Keeping a secret often involves a lot mental and emotional energy on the secret keeper's part, which creates stress.  The partner who is keeping the secret might also feel stressed because they fear their partner will find out their secret. If someone is keeping a secret from their partner, they might are not be open and honest about other issues in the relationship.  
Secrets Are Stressful
  • Secrets Create Mistrust and Resentment: When someone finds out their partner is keeping a secret, they can feel mistrustful of their partner as well as hurt and resentful. 
  • Secrets Hurt Both Partners: Keeping a secret hurts both people. The secret becomes burdensome for the secret keeper. Snt,ecrets also create emotional distance between the two partners, which can result in loneliness for both people (see my article: Are Toxic Secrets Ruining Your Relationship?).

Getting Help in Therapy
Whether you're the secret keeper or you're in a relationship where you have discovered your partner has been keeping a secret, you don't have to struggle alone. You could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional (see my article: Coping With Secrets and Lies in Your Relationship).

Getting Help in Therapy

If you're the one who is keeping a secret, being able to let go of a burdensome secret can free you from guilt and shame.  You can also work with a skilled therapist to how you want to deal with the issue.

If you're the one who has discovered a secret, you might feel overwhelmed with emotions that a licensed mental health professional can help you to work through.

Couples therapy can help you to work through a betrayal and strengthen your relationship, if you choose to stay together, or end your relationship in an amicable way, if you choose to end the relationship, so you don't bring issues from the current relationship to the next relationship (see my article: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples?).

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up an appointment, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Getting Help For Premature Ejaculation

As a sex therapist in New York City, I help individual clients and couples who are having problems with premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction and other sexual related problems. 

Problems With Premature Ejaculation

What is Premature Ejaculation?
Premature ejaculation is a common problem. It's estimated that as many as 1 in 3 men suffer from premature ejaculation at any given time.  

Premature ejaculation is a treatable condition, so if you have been avoiding getting help, please reconsider this because you don't need to continue to suffer with this condition.

If you have premature ejaculation occasionally, it's usually not a cause for concern. However, you might be diagnosed by your doctor with premature ejaculation if:
  • You always or almost always ejaculate within 1 to 3 minutes of penetration
  • You're unable to delay ejaculation beyond 1 to 3 minutes after penetration
  • You avoid having sex because you feel frustrated and ashamed of ejaculating too soon
What Are the Symptoms of Premature Ejaculation?
The main symptom of premature ejaculation is not being able to delay ejaculation beyond 3 minutes during partnered sex or during masturbation.

There are two types of premature ejaculation:
  • Lifelong: Lifelong premature ejaculation occurs all the time or nearly all the time since the first sexual encounter.
  • Acquired: Acquired premature ejaculation occurs after a period of not having this problem.
What Causes Premature Ejaculation?
Premature ejaculation is often a combination of physical and psychological problems so each person needs to be assessed and diagnosed individually.

What Are the Psychological Factor That Can Contribute to Premature Ejaculation?

The psychological factors might include:
  • Early sexual experiences
  • A history of sexual abuse or trauma
  • Depression
  • Poor body image
  • Worry or anxiety about premature ejaculation
  • Guilt or shame that cause you to rush through sex
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • General anxiety
  • Relationship problems
The biological factors might include:
  • Irregular hormone levels or brain chemicals
  • Swelling or infection of the prostate gland or urethra
  • Inherited factors
What Are the Risk Factors for Premature Ejaculation?
The risk factors might include:
How Can Premature Ejaculation Impact Your Life?
Premature ejaculation can create complications in your personal life including:
  • Stress
  • Relationship problems
  • Fertility issues
When Should You Seek Help From a Medical Doctor?
Problems with premature ejaculation can occur from time to time, but you should seek help from a urologist or a sexual health medical doctor if you always or nearly have problems with premature ejaculation.

Help from a Medical Doctor For Premature Ejaculation

You might feel embarrassed to talk to a doctor about your problem, but urologists and sexual health medical doctors have experience with this common problem, so don't allow embarrassment to keep you from getting help.

When Should You Seek Help From a Sex Therapist?
Since premature ejaculation is often caused by psychological issues, you could benefit from seeking help from a sex therapist to deal with these issues (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

Help From a Sex Therapist For Premature Ejaculation

A skilled sex therapist can help you to overcome the psychological problems that prevent you from having a satisfying sex life (see my article: What Are Common Issues Discussed in Sex Therapy?).

Rather than suffering on your own, seek help from a qualified medical doctor to rule out any physical problems and get help from a sex therapist for the psychological issues that might be contributing to your problem (see my article: What Are Common Misconceptions About Sex Therapy?).

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.


How to Heal From the Pain of Being an Affair Partner (the "Other Woman" or "Other Man")

 In my prior articles  Being in the Role of the Affair Partner (the "Other Woman" or the "Other Man"), I discussed some of the common dynamics involved with being the affair partner with information from a podcast called "Reigniting Love" (see my article: How the "Other Woman" or "Other Man" in an Affair Can Keep the Primary Relationship Together).

Healing the Pain of Being an Affair Partner

In the current article, I'm focusing on how an affair partner can heal from the painful experience of being in an affair, which is also inspired by a "Reimagining Love" podcast with Dr. Alexandra Solomon.

What About the Betrayed Partner?
Before discussing how an affair partner can heal, I want to address the pain of the betrayed partner, which I have also done in earlier posts.  

There's no doubt that being the betrayed partner, the partner in the primary relationship who is being cheated on, is tremendously painful (see my article: Coping With Infidelity).

Many couples break up when an affair is discovered, but many others stay together to try to repair their relationship, as discussed by relationship and sex therapist Dr. Esther Perel in her book The State of Affairs (see my article: Learning to Trust Again After the Affair).

Discovering your partner is cheating on you is a heartbreaking and traumatic experience filled with sadness, anger, feelings of betrayal and hurt, which I have addressed in prior articles.

So, I just want to emphasize that by focusing on the affair partner in this article, I'm in no way minimizing the pain of the person who was cheated on.  

How the Affair Partner is Affected in an Affair
In addition to addressing the pain of the betrayed partner, it's also important for the person who is the affair partner to heal from an affair that left them feeling lost and confused (see my article: Leading a Double Life as the "Other Woman" or the "Other Man" in an Affair).

The affair partner often experiences many potential painful and confusing emotions, including: 
  • The pain of being silent about the affair because the affair is a secret
  • Not having anyone to talk to about it, so they must bear their pain alone
  • Anxiety and hypervigilance about the possibility of getting caught
  • The potential stigma of being labeled a "homewrecker" if the affair is discovered
  • A rollercoaster of emotions from highs to lows
  • Feeling not good enough or unlovable
  • Feeling disempowered because the betraying partner makes the decisions about the affair
  • Feeling lonely and sad on birthdays and holidays when the betraying partner is with their spouse or partner 
  • Re-experiencing old childhood emotional wounds that get triggered by the affair
How to Heal From the Pain of Being the Affair Partner
  • Stepping away from the affair, as hard as it might be, is essential to the affair partner figuring out what they want in terms of a relationship. This will also give the betraying partner time to decide what to do about their primary relationship and, if they leave, give them time to grieve and heal before resuming the relationship with the affair partner.
  • This will allow the affair partner time to heal and get back into alignment with their values.
  • This will also allow the affair partner to feel whole and not stand in the shadows of an affair.
  • When the affair partner steps away, this should not be used as an ultimatum to get the betraying partner to leave their relationship.

Healing the Pain of Being the Affair Partner

  • The affair partner needs to stand firm with their boundaries. The dynamics of the primary relationship will change once the affair partner is no longer providing the betraying partner with whatever they found missing in their relationship. This will interrupt the homeostasis that the affair partner provided to the primary relationship.  The change could occur either way--either the couple in the primary relationship will work on making their relationship stronger (most couples who experience infidelity opt to repair the relationship because they have invested so much in the relationship) or they will break up.
  • The affair partner needs to be aware they don't have a role in the betraying partner's healing. The betraying partner needs to heal without the affair partner.
  • The affair partner can write a letter to themself about what happened. This can help them to make sense of what happened and also to serve as a reminder if they're tempted to go back to the betraying partner before the situation in the primary relationship is resolved and the betraying partner has time to heal.  This letter could include:
    • What might have happened in the affair partner's early family history that contributed to being in the affair?
    • Why did they step away from the affair?
    • Express self compassion in the letter to themself with the understanding they might not have had the necessary skills to do anything different when they entered into the affair. Self compassion will allow the affair partner to grieve, which is essential to healing. Shame, defiance and minimization will get in the way of grieving and healing.
  • Get help in therapy to heal from the affair and work through whatever unresolved childhood emotional trauma remain.

Get Help in Therapy to Heal
Being an affair partner can be a lonely and traumatizing struggle.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who is a trauma therapist.

Healing from the pain of being an affair partner can help you to lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples and one of my specialties is helping clients to overcome trauma (see my article:  What is a Trauma Therapist?).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Jospehine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Being in the Role of the Affair Partner (Also Known As the "Other Woman" or the "Other Man")

On a recent "Reimagining Love" podcast called "When You're the Affair Partner," podcast host Dr. Alexandra Solomon focused on affair partners, also known as the "other woman" or the "other man" (see my articles: How the "Other Woman" or "Other Man" in an Affair Can Keep the Primary Relationship Together and Leading a Double Life as the "Other Woman" or the "Other Man" in an Affair).

The Role of the Affair Partner

In her discussion she distinguished these nonconsensual nonmonogamous relationships from consensual nonmonogamous relationships where all parties involved know about and consent to nonmonogamy.

This was a compassionate discussion about being in the role of the affair partner, how being in this role affects the affair partner as well as the betraying partner (the person cheating) and the betrayed partner (the person being cheated on).

How Does the Affair Partner Make Sense of Their Role in the Affair?
She explained the role of cognitive dissonance in getting into, remaining and making sense of being part of an affair by providing examples of internal messages the affair partner might give themselves.

The Affair Partner and Cognitive Dissonance

As I discussed in a prior article, cognitive dissonance is the psychological discomfort you feel when you hold contradictory thoughts, beliefs values, or attitudes as it relates to your decisions and behavior.

The internal messages an affair partner might give themself to make sense of being part of an affair and assuage guilt might be:
  • "I'm single. I'm not cheating." or
  • "I'm not responsible for their unhappy marriage."
Dr. Solomon addressed these internal messages in a nonjudgmental way by saying that although the affair partner isn't responsible for the couple's marriage, they're still participating in it and, even if the betrayed partner doesn't know the affair partner, the affair partner is part of the primary couple's triangle so, in that sense, the affair partner is in a relationship with both the betraying and betrayed partners.

How Can the Affair Partner Get Curious About Their Cognitive Dissonance?
Throughout the podcast, Dr. Solomon recommended that, in order to understand their cognitive dissonance, the affair partner can go beyond thinking about the affair in terms of right and wrong by getting curious about it and asking themselves:
  • What set me up to be okay with the affair?
  • What am I continuing to do to make it okay for myself?
  • Where can I go from here?
What is the Affair Partner Ignoring or Overriding Internally?
These might include internal messages such as:
  • It's not a big deal.
  • I'm not doing anything wrong.
What the Affair Partner Already Knows But Might Be Ignoring
  • Keeping a Narrow Focus: This is a coping mechanism that keeps the affair partner from seeing the whole picture. By keeping the focus narrow, the affair partner keeps the focus on the affair and not on the primary relationship/marriage. This helps to reduce guilt and shame, but it comes as the expense of being aware of the entire situation.
  • Having a Wide Focus Instead: Instead of having a narrow focus, Dr. Solomon recommends widening the lens to take in the whole situation, which is essential for a healthy relationship.
How Does the Affair Partner Reduce Empathy?
By reducing empathy for the betrayed partner, the affair partner cuts off their awareness of how the affair is affecting the betrayed partner.

Dr. Solomon suggests that the affair partner asks the following questions:
  • What am I telling myself about the betrayed partner to maintain cognitive dissonance?
  • Do I tell myself that the betrayed partner is mean? Checked out? Or a sucker?
According to Dr. Solomon, by reducing empathy, the affair partner is shrinking the betrayed partner.  She suggests that the affair partner ask themself: What price am I paying for reducing empathy?

What is the Emotional Impact of Participating in a Relationship That is Duplicitous?

Questions to Consider:
  • Can I stand in my integrity while being in a duplicitous relationship?
The Role of the Affair Partner
  • What am I telling myself about my integrity?
  • Am I compromising my experience of wholeness?
  • How is duplicity creeping into other areas of my life?
What is the Internal Message Regarding Self Worth?

Questions to Consider:
  • Am I telling myself I only deserve crumbs and not a full relationship?
  • What am I telling myself about my own worthiness?
  • Is this related to my early personal history in my family of origin? (more about this below)
  • How might being in an affair reinforce the belief that I only deserve crumbs?
What Drew the Affair Partner to the Affair?
Dr. Solomon names three factors which will be explained below:
  • 1. Goodness of Fit
  • 2. Object of Desire Self Consciousness
  • 3. Redoing a Childhood Wound
1. Goodness of Fit
Goodness of fit refers to what the affair partner was available for at the point in their life when they started the affair.

This might include:
  • Boundary Issues: Micro-boundary crossings at the beginning of the affair
  • Past Relationship: Coming out of a past relationship where there was infidelity and the current affair partner was the betrayed partner in the prior relationship.  This could involve what Freud termed "repetition compulsion" where this person is now repeating the infidelity but this time they're the affair partner instead of the betrayed partner.  This choice, which is often unconscious, is an attempt to master the past affair which was confusing and upsetting.
  • Romantic or Erotic Connection: An affair has what Dr. Jack Morin, Ph.D., sex therapist and resarcher, called the Erotic Equation which is made up of attraction plus obstacles. The erotic attraction is super-charged in an affair.  The erotic connection is also paired with danger (i.e., the danger of getting caught). 
  • At a Particular Point in the Affair Partner's Life: The affair partner might not be ready for a relationship that requires a commitment and responsibilities at the point in their life when they're having an affair.
2. Object of Desire Self-Consciousness: This term was discussed by Dr. Anthony Bogaert and Dr. Lori Brotto in their paper, "Object of Desire Self-Consciousness" (ODSC) in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy:
  • ODSC is the perception that someone is romantically and sexually desirable in another person's eyes.  
  • This is a gendered construct of a cisgender heterosexual man and a cisgender heterosexual woman with the woman being the ODSC. But it can apply to any gender or sexual orientation, This is usually a part of the woman's erotic template. 
  • The idea is that the man, who is in a primary relationship with a spouse or romantic partner, wants the other woman so badly that he's willing to risk his relationship, his reputation and everything else that's at stake to be with the woman who is the affair partner. 
  • This risky behavior on the part of the betraying partner spikes the libido for the affair partner because she feels so desirable. 
  • The affair partner only knows the story of the primary relationship from the betraying partner's perspective. 
  • The story provided by the betraying partner usually serves to help reduce the betraying partner's cognitive dissonance so they will feel less guilty about the affair. 
  • This is often a skewed or false version compared to the real story. 
  • The betraying partner might also provide no story and act as if he's not in an affair, which would make it confusing for the affair partner in terms of the affair partner trying to make meaning of the affair.
3. Redoing a Childhood Wound
The affair partner might have unresolved childhood wounds where one or both parents had extramarital affairs. The affair partner might have been the one who held a parent's secret about infidelity so that:
  • A younger internal part of the affair partner might be unconsciously trying to heal their wounds by engaging in repetition compulsion, which would mean having an affair in an effort to master the old wounds that were so painful by being the desired one in an affair.
The Role of the Affair Partner
  • To understand this dynamic, the affair partner would need to be willing to look at their family history regarding infidelity, duplicity and family secrets to see if there are unresolved issues that are getting played out in the current affair.
  • As a child, if the affair partner played second fiddle to another sibling or to a parent's career or to a parent's addiction, they might unconsciously crave feeling special with a partner who is willing to risk everything to be with them. 
  • In addition, accepting crumbs offered by the betraying partner, although painful, would also be paradoxically familiar and comfortable to the affair partner due to their family history of feeling unimportant.
In my next article, I'll discuss how to heal from the pain of being the affair partner:

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist,

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Understanding the Negative Impact of Cognitive Dissonance For You and Your Loved Ones

What is Cognitive Dissonance?
Cognitive dissonance is the psychological discomfort you feel when you hold contradictory thoughts, beliefs values, or attitudes as it relates to your decisions and behavior (see my article: Living Authentically Aligned With Your Values).

What is Cognitive Dissonance?

When there's discomfort due to inconsistencies in what you believe and how you behave, you tend to do whatever you can to minimize your discomfort.

You might attempt to relieve your discomfort by avoiding, rejecting, minimizing or explaining away any information that highlights the fact that your behavior and your beliefs aren't in alignment (see my article: Understanding Internal and External Defense Mechanisms - Part 1 and Part 2.

What Are the Telltale Signs of Cognitive Dissonance?
  • You feel uncomfortable before you make a decision or take action which goes against your values and beliefs.
  • You try to rationalize a decision or an action you have taken (this includes rationalizing to yourself as well as others).
Telltale Signs of Cognitive Dissonance
  • You feel embarrassed or ashamed of a decision you have made or an action you have taken so you try not to think about it and you also try to hide it from others.
  • You feel regret, guilt or shame about something you have done in the past.
  • You do things that are against your values and beliefs due of social pressure and because you don't want to feel left out.
What Are Examples of Cognitive Dissonance?
The following are examples of cognitive dissonance, which you might recognize in yourself:
  • You know that smoking cigarettes (or vaping) is harmful to your health, but you rationalize continuing to smoke (or vape) by telling yourself that you're experiencing a lot of stress and you'll give up tobacco tomorrow.
  • Your doctor told you that you need to stop drinking because you have liver damage, but you find ways to justify continuing to drink by telling yourself you'll give up drinking as part of your New Year's resolutions. But you don't stop by the deadline you've given yourself.  Despite the fact you haven't stopped, you tell yourself (and others) you can stop at any time.
Cognitive Dissonance Related to Your Health and Well-Being
  • You want to lose weight, but you consistently overeat and tell yourself you'll start the diet next week. 
  • You value your personal integrity, but you're having an extramarital affair and you're lying to your spouse about what you're doing when you're with your affair partner (see my article: The Allure of the Extramarital Affair).
  • You made a commitment to your spouse to tackle a task at home, but while your spouse is out, you spend the day on your computer. When your spouse gets home, you say you'll get started on the project tomorrow, but you keep finding ways to put off doing it. You also get annoyed when your spouse wants you to be accountable.
  • You make a commitment to yourself that you'll save a certain amount of money by a specified date, but you spend any extra cash you get before you save it.
What Kinds of Situations Can Lead to Cognitive Dissonance?
  • External Pressure and Expectations: You might feel forced to comply with external expectations from your work, school or in a social situation that go against your beliefs, values or attitudes. Here are examples:
    • Your boss says you must lie to a client you value and put your relationship with the client in jeopardy in order to increase your sales (see my article: Coping With a Difficult Boss).
Cognitive Dissonance and External Pressure
    • You're with friends who are engaging in racial slurs and, even though you feel uncomfortable because racism is against your values, you don't say anything because you fear being ostracized from the group, but you also feel ashamed of yourself.
    • You're in a monogamous relationship and being faithful to your partner is an important value to you. But you're at a bar with your buddies, they pressure you to pick up a woman at the bar and take her home. Initially, you refuse and they respond by calling you "whipped" and a "wuss." So, you go along with taking a woman home and cheating on your partner because you can't handle your friends' pressure and derogatory comments. Afterwards, you feel ashamed, but you justify your decision by telling yourself that you're not married so you can sleep with other women--even though you promised your partner to be faithful (see my article: Are Toxic Secrets Ruining Your Relationship?)
  • Decisions: You're in conflict about two options when you're trying to make a decision. You can only choose one option, which makes you feel uncomfortable.  After you make a choice, you realize you made the wrong decision. You try to make yourself feel better about the conflict by justifying why you made a particular choice.
  • New Information: You receive new information about a decision you made that reveals you didn't take into account all the information relevant to your decision. To ward off feelings of discomfort, you either discredit the information or find other ways to justify your behavior--even though you know the choice you made was harmful to you and others.
What is the Impact of Cognitive Dissonance?
Cognitive dissonance makes you feel uncomfortable, and the greater discrepancy between your behavior and your attitudes, beliefs and values, the more uncomfortable you're likely to feel.

Your discomfort can include the following:
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Embarrassment
  • Sadness
  • Regret
  • Anger towards yourself
  • Disappointment in yourself
  • Stress
Over time, cognitive dissonance can erode your sense of self and impair your self esteem.

You might try maladaptive ways to reduce your discomfort by:
  • Engaging in denial by convincing yourself you didn't behave in a way that was against your values or beliefs
  • Maintaining toxic secrets and hiding your behavior from your partner, your family and other significant people in your life
  • Seeking only information that conforms to your behavior, which is called confirmation bias, and which has a negative impact on your ability to think critically.
Coping With Cognitive Dissonance in a Healthy Way
So far, I've provided maladaptive examples of how you might be trying to deal with cognitive dissonance.

Here are more adaptive ways of coping:
  • Slow Down and Develop Greater Self Awareness: Instead of finding ways to deny your internal conflicts, become aware of these conflicts and the negative impact they have on you and your loved ones. You can try doing this through a mindfulness meditationjournaling or seeking emotional support from a trusted friend who can be compassionate and objective.
Coping with Cognitive Dissonance in a Healthy Way
  • Clarify Your Beliefs, Attitudes and Values: Take time to think carefully and make a list about what's important to you in terms of your beliefs, attitudes and values.
  • Practice Self Compassion: Instead of beating yourself up, practice self compassion, which is essential for emotional healing.
  • Make a Plan For Real Change: After you have clarified what's most important to you, make a plan for real change. For example, if you want to stop smoking (or vaping), make a plan to get help that will be effective and one that you can maintain.
  • Engage in Self Care: Reflect on what you need to do to take care of yourself without making excuses and then stick with your plan.
  • Get Help in Therapy: Coming to terms with the conflicts between your behavior and your values can be difficult, especially if you're in the habit of making excuses, deceiving yourself and others or finding loopholes for your behavior.  A skilled therapist can help you to:
    • Discover the underlying issues that have created this problem
Get Help in Therapy

    • Develop a plan to make changes
    • Help you to stick with your plan and avoid the pitfalls and obstacles from the past
About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFTSomatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.