Although I prefer to focus on the positives—what to do—rather than the negatives of what not to do, sometimes those negatives need to be addressed directly. So if you are advising other Standers or if you are the friend or family member of a Stander, from the Stander’s point of view here are some things that we don’t like to hear and that are not beneficial–at least not if we are Standing. Though it is true that we sometimes need to be asked the tough questions, these are not appropriate, though I will address exceptions.
- He doesn’t deserve you.
I wanted to be married to Sweetheart and though not highly insulting, this comment was directed negatively at the man I love and loved.
Though true, his actions were not deserving, love–the agapé type, not eros–is not something we earn.
- You deserve better.
This is especially terrible to say when the implication is that the person should get a divorce. Divorce is not better and they don’t deserve it.
- Since you want him back, you don’t respect your Self.
This is really saying I can’t respect you for wanting your spouse back. Self-respect is more important than external respect from others.
- Since your spouse is in a sexual relationship with someone else it proves there was something wrong in your marriage.
This implies it is the betrayed spouse’s fault.
Infidelity has many causes and reasons and many have only to do with the betrayer and not their spouse. No spouse is perfect, but infidelity is often evidence of something wrong with the betrayer, not with either the marriage or the betrayed.
- Your spouse is clearly in-love with this new person, so reconciliation is hopeless.
Men and women caught in the addictive cycle of in-fatuation believe these things, but they cycle and those are not solid feelings; some cycle constantly.
- Obviously there was something wrong with your marriage; people don’t cheat unless there are serious problems.
Not only is this ignorant, it unintentionally assigns a level of blame on the betrayed spouse for their partner’s choosing to step outside the marriage. Infidelity has many causes and reasons and many have only to do with the betrayer and not their spouse.
- Don’t insult their spouse.
Yes, that person is committing adultery, but your friend loves that person. Your friend chose to marry and create a life with that person. When you insult their spouse you are indirectly insulting your friend.
It’s not your job to love their spouse or understand why they love that person; just be their friend.
Exceptions & Gray Areas
In my time coaching on forums I have only seen 2 situations where I was familiar enough and felt that divorce would be better. In both situations the Standing spouse (unknowingly) described their spouse’s as Narcissists. MLCers often display a higher than typical level of Narcissistic attributes during the crisis, but the histories described in each situation implied long-standing emotional and verbal abuse that sounded like Narcissism. I’m not a Psychotherapist and I did not meet the MLCers, so my judgment was based only on the words from the Standers and I did not tell either of them they should not Stand; that was and remains their decision.
What if this is a marriage with a long-standing history of domestic violence? Often such victims do not think they deserve better and to hear that they deserve better can help them to believe it. There is also a gray area. I have stated that I am more concerned for the Stander—the person to whom I am giving direct advice—than their spouse. Others have said the same thing. Some say it more boldly; I don’t care about him; I care about you. So how do you approach these exceptions and gray areas while maintaining compassion for the person you are trying to help? How do you ask and say these tough things without scaring away the wounded bird?
Wrap them in validations, exceptions and statements of concern for the individual you are addressing and use a soft tone. When I suggest scripts I may overwrap them because my tone isnot coming through the text, sometimes the words I add may be implied with your tone. What you want to avoid is sounding harsh, sarcastic, or though there is a correct answer to your question. These statements are not meant to be facts but ideas to stimulate thinking and thus introduce them as such.
Instead of I don’t care about your MLCer, I care about you…
I know you love your husband and so when I say this I am not trying to insult him and I’m not trying to imply I feel he is worthless. But right now I care about you, not him. That doesn’t mean I’m not concerned for him. But he’s out there—away from my direct influence. I can only see him through you. But I can see more directly that you are hurting and reaching out and I have been where you are now.
Instead of you deserve better.
I’m concerned about you. I know things have recently become worse, but from what you have said [or if you are a personal friend with history: I’ve been watching you two for a long time and] this situation is not new. There are new pieces, but the mistreatment is long-standing. You deserve better and I don’t know of you are aware of that. You’ve been accepting this abuse for so long that it seems like it’s become acceptable or normal. It’s not. It’s dangerous.
Instead of are you sure you want to Stand?
I’m not trying to imply whether you should or shouldn’t by asking this, but it’s still important to ask because this is going to be part of your mirror-work. Are you sure you want to Stand? Maybe you are not ready to ask that yet, but someday you need to look in the mirror and ask the person looking back if this is still what they want. So I’m not asking you because I want to know or because I think there is a right answer, I’m recommending that when the time is right that you ask yourself.
Soften the Approach
People have know-it-all radar. You don’t know there situations, you only know how they seem to you—which may be how the situation also seems to other detached and external observers. But to avoid sounding as though you know things with certainty and the other person is some poor misguided idiot, add maybe-language that leaves room for error or wrap the difficult portion in I-statements that clarify them as only your opinion or point of view, thus acknowleding you could be wrong.
- It seems like…
- Maybe it could be…
- I don’t know, but…
- Do you think that maybe…
- To others it looks…
- I don’t mean to…but…
- I’m sorry but…
- Sometimes I just don’t think he…
I know some of you may want to be blunt. Great, but that is not always going to enable the wounded bird to trust you. Earn trust first. Study the person you are addressing—read their story threads—so you can determine if they are a person who responds better to bluntness versus a softer approach.