Monday, June 6, 2016

Healing from Betrayal: How to Counter Counter-Moves

My daughter is frustrated. She has a friend who routinely suggests grabbing something to eat after school but who inevitably turns out to be broke and unable to pay for her part of the snack. 
A third friend, whose parents keep her well supplied with money, will usually step in and pay for friend #2. This drives my daughter, who works hard for her money, crazy. 
"She taking advantage of [Friend #3]," my daughter wails. "And it makes me look cheap when I won't also chip in to cover [Friend #2's] meal."
I try to remind my daughter that she can only control her own actions, not those of her friends. And to pay for a friend and then resent having to pay isn't respecting her own boundaries now is it really respecting the friendship. 
Thing is, my daughter has choices in this situation. She just doesn't like them. 
And who can blame her? Drawing that clear line around our boundaries is really uncomfortable. We want people to like us. We want people to think good things about us. 
Besides, counter-moves are almost inevitable whenever we make our boundaries clear.
Counter-moves are the responses we get from people who far prefer our boundaries to be fuzzy and easily manipulated.
We see them most transparently with kids. Think of the last time you told a child he/she couldn't do something – watch TV, have a cookie before dinner, stay up late. Did the child respond with, "I understand. And I appreciate you even considering my request."
Uh...don't think so.
More likely you heard something like "You're the meanest person in the world. Jeremy's mother lets him [fill-in-the-blank-here] any time he wants. I hate you." Or maybe you heard: "You're not the boss of me. I can do whatever I want." Or perhaps it was something like: "Fine. I don't care. I didn't want that anyway." There's usually some eye-rolling, or arm crossing, or stomping involved.
Depending on our own personalities and understanding of boundaries and counter-moves, we're likely to get hooked into one type of counter-move more than others. For me, it's anger. The minute someone in my family gets angry at me, I'm hooked and I'll match them holler for holler. 
With my kids, it became easier to see when they were delivering counter-moves. Sometimes they were quite hilarious, like the time my then-five-year-old daughter packed her bags to leave home because we had said "no" to something and she had no choice but to leave a home in which she wasn't treated well (ie. given whatever she wanted). We said we would miss her very much and that if she ever changed her mind and felt that she could live with our rules, then she was always welcome back. After testing our resolve, she harrumphed and went upstairs to unpack. 
The adults in our lives aren't always so transparent. 
Do any of these sound familiar?
"You're just like your mother."
"You only think of yourself."
"You're so controlling."
"You're acting crazy."
"Stop being jealous."
"Nothing makes you happy." 
Every single one of those statements is about getting you to back down. And they often work. The last thing we want is to sound like our mother. Or feel selfish. Or controlling. Or crazy. And so we insist that we're not doing that at all...are we? And in that instant, our boundaries get fuzzy. We soften things a bit. "It's just that, I can't sleep until I know you're home..." or "I just need to know that you're not in touch with her...." Those "just"s or "I only..."s weaken your boundaries. 
Barbara Coloroso, who's a parenting expert but whose advice works with anyone in our lives, calls these typical counter-moves "cons": 
Con 1 is weeping, wailing, begging, bribing, gnashing of teeth ("Please don't check my texts. I promise there's nothing there. You have to trust me. I would never ever hurt you again...") 
Con 2 is anger and aggression. ("How dare you check my phone! You violated my privacy. If you won't trust me then there's no point in staying married.")
Con 3 is sulking/pouting. ("Fine. Do whatever you want. I don't care....")
Cons are powerful. They hook us and, if we're not good boundary-enforcers, next thing we know, we've backed down. 
But when we back down, we poison the relationship with our own negative feelings. Resentment. Frustration. Anger. Hurt. Fear. 
We might have kept the peace for the moment but we've paid for it by contributing to the dysfunction.

What does this look like after betrayal? Well, let's continue with the example above – to have total transparency around your partner's phone or computer. We want passwords and access to all records and accounts. 

It would be lovely if our partner responds that he understands that this is part of rebuilding trust. Many, however, give us countermoves. You're never going to trust me again, are you? No matter what I do, you find fault with it. I can't win with you. 
Or: I refuse to live like a prisoner in my own home. I told you I wouldn't cheat again. I've learned my lesson. If you can't believe me, that's your problem.
Or: You need to just trust me. Let's put this in the past and move forward. It's unhealthy to keep hashing it out.
What's more, some of it is probably true. You likely are hard to please right now (uh, duh. Wonder why?). You are also doubting you'll ever trust him again. But that doesn't make the counter-moves less toxic. And it doesn't change the fact that you are making a reasonable request under the circumstances. You're making clear boundaries in order to respect yourself within the relationship. 
You can commiserate if you'd like ("I'm sure it does seem humiliating to have to show me your phone messages but I need to see them in order to silence my fears that you're still cheating on me."). You can murmur sympathetically that, "yes, it does seem as though I'm hard to please right now." But that doesn't change the fact that you're respecting yourself and what you need within the relationship.
Recognizing and responding to counter-moves gets easier with practice. 

I asked my daughter what might happen if she began to ask her always-broke friend if she had any money before agreeing with her to go out for food. My daughter admitted she'd feel really uncomfortable asking and that her friend might only hang out with the other friend who paid. Or she might tell people my daughter was a cheapskate. And then, before I could even respond, my daughter said, "I know, I know. Counter-moves."

At a certain point, when we consistently refuse to back down, the people in our lives realize that the counter-moves aren't going to work.
And they either stop...or find others with whom the unhealthy dance can continue.
Either way, we win. 


  1. I have to admit my boundaries are weak when it comes to my h, I am learning from this site and your info on how to stand firm on what I believe is right for me... I sometimes think he should know right from wrong ... Why should I have to teach him I have to children for that but then these men need boundaries .. Or at least mine does he's been left to his own devices and made bad decisions ... I've still not decided whether I want my marriage to work or not as yet... I'm gonna hold of deciding till I'm in a better place. I suppose his actions untill then will give me a clearer picture xx

    1. Sam A, as much as i hate to admit it, but my h is a kid-a tantruming midlife child. I hate, hate that i have had to deal with him the way i would deal with my kids-"yes, honey. I know that you really want to go surfing every morning but i do am not okay with that. Yes honey, i know that makes me a mean mommy.No sweetheart, i am bot trying to ruin all your fun. yes, i want you to be accountable for your actions and i know that you feel like i am saying that it is all your fault." I really want an equal and adult partner but that is not what I have. He is a really nice and friendly guy. But an equal partner? No. A man with good boundaries? Nope. I think there is the part of my crisis is that ther is the husband in my imagination, and then there is the real one. Everytime he shows me who he really is, i am shocked because in my head, he has the qualities that make him an equal mate. He is just not there,....and may never be--i am not sure how long I can put up with this.

    2. Sam A,
      Unfortunately, boundaries aren't something that comes with puberty. We either learn them from our families or by life experiences...or we don't. Most of us, frankly, don't. My daughter, who's had the benefit of two parents who are present and sober and pretty good at parenting, still struggles with setting healthy boundaries with her friends. My youngest, on the other hand, finds it easy. But she's not the "pleaser" that my eldest tends to be.
      In any case, by setting clear healthy boundaries with your husband, you're teaching him. We teach everyone around us how to treat us by what we will/won't tolerate. So whether you plan to stay in the marriage or not, you still want to make it clear to him (as a co-parent) what behaviour you will or won't tolerate from him. You expect him to fulfill his responsibilities, you expect him to honour his commitments, you expect him to treat you and the children with respect and kindness...those are all boundaries.

    3. MBS

      I share your feelings so much. My H is in his mid 40s and still has so many adolescent emotions and behaviors going on. In some areas he is an equal partner and others he is 15 years old and I feel like a parent. I have talk about this with my psychologist often and my hope that he will fully grow up..... My psychologist said 40 percent of men never fully mature..... And I thought are you $&@@ing me!!!! I guess on the bright side the odds are slightly to the positive, but so many days I think.... I'm your wife not your mother!

      Love and support


    4. MBS

      I share your feelings so much. My H is in his mid 40s and still has so many adolescent emotions and behaviors going on. In some areas he is an equal partner and others he is 15 years old and I feel like a parent. I have talk about this with my psychologist often and my hope that he will fully grow up..... My psychologist said 40 percent of men never fully mature..... And I thought are you $&@@ing me!!!! I guess on the bright side the odds are slightly to the positive, but so many days I think.... I'm your wife not your mother!

      Love and support


  2. This resonates so much with me. Wow I heard all those counter moves over and over. I always felt as if the tables were being turned on me. I would bring up something as simple as we should plan some date nights and make an effort for time for the two of us. Well I got all kinds of counter moves for that. And it intensified if I brought up a more sensitive or serious topic. I will say after dday the biggest relief was it gave me answers to the dynamic that was created through the years of our marriage. I never understood it. It was not horrible all the time but would resurface and it was so hard to understand, one week I was an amazing mother, cook, so much fun and the a couple months later I would hear all of these odd excuses. My husband now has told me when he was in contact with the ow it was hard for him but when time would pass he would start to feel closer and not as bad about what he had done. And I have told him that no matter how bad it is what he did I am thankful I have the answers now and it was liberating and freeing to know what was going on and that I was not "the crazy one".

    And as far as boundaries and expectations it took a while for me to work those out in my mind and what I wanted. I has a hard time as to what was enough and too much and how would the evolve if at all. My therapist was great at giving me some guidance and he said honestly whatever I needed at first was most likely ok and that when he did what he did he lost all freedom. That is the price he has to pay now whether it is passwords, not playing golf, not going out with friends, not going on a trip. And it might not be forever but until we move forward there is a price to pay. On the flip side I am not naive enough to think that if he wanted to find a way to cheat he could. I can never have access to his work email and phone calls. He could get a fake phone. I mean anything is possible, but we talk a lot and I am free to ask him anytime about any of this. He has said to me if he was cheating in any way he would pull way there would be distance between us. And he has said if I do not want him doing something or need to talk to he would agree, talk to me. So he is working at it but I am still aware and vigilant.

    Also in a way I am glad we are working this out as our kids enter the teen years. Relationships are starting to get more complicated for them and this experience is beneficial. I agree the one thing I say over and over you can only control your action and decisions. Surround yourself with good people you enjoy and want to spend time with.

    1. Hopeful 30, I think so many of us have experienced that bizarre relief that, as it turns out, we're NOT crazy. We were right to be feeling suspicious or off-balance or whatever.
      And yes, so much of what I've learned has come in so handy as I'm raising three (!!) teenagers right now. If anyone knows how to push boundaries, it's teenagers. My husband will often come to me, incredulous, because one of our kids said something outrageous or tried to do something in direct violation of our family rules. It's interesting to me that he still needs "permission" to respond by reiterating boundaries. He expects kids to simply not challenge them. When the reality is that we need to reinforce them, over and over and over and over....

  3. THIS is exactly what I need to hear. My husband pulls all these expert countermoves--"you want to control me/everything/this situation"; "Nothing I do is good enough"...sob, sob, sob. I have spent alot of energy trying to convince him of my good intentions, that I don't want to ruin his life. His mid life crisis runs deep- after the affair, he has spent the last 3 years trying to start his rockstar life, captain of his work dragon boat team, and take up surfing.... yep, he can't even see the cliche in all this. Anyway, tonight it hit me that this is his problem not mine. We just finished arguing about how he can't go surfing every morning--in addition to the other hobbies, adventures and activities he wants to do... And he kept tossing back to me how I can't compromise, I don't care about his self care, he can't live like this, and he is doing everything I ask.... poor me. Pretty much his response to everything, infidelity etc. I finally had enough. I just kept to me boundary. Much easier to do when I don't care if he thinks I am the witch. He just wants permission to be a selfish child. I won't do it anymore. I am ready to pull the trigger on this relationship-- next session I will begin setting up expectations for an in home separation. I still love him and still hope the best for him. But I will not take care of him and be taken advantage of.

    1. Mbs, this is all so hard. At first I really struggled with it. Maybe fear of what might happen who knows. But as time has gone by I am more able to say you can do what you want but this is what I think or I do not appreciate this. I had such a hard time though feeling like I was dealing with another child and I knew I did not want to continue like that forever. I told my husband I am not going to be a detective or your mother. This is not healthy or a the relationship I want. And it really helped me when my therapist said that too bad for him these are the consequences and he needs to hear that if he balks at it. I struggled too thinking is he going to be okay, he sees his friends so much less now. He has pulled back from a lot of their get togethers. Or if he sees them he comes home early etc. not going out of town too. I told my therapist I was worried how that would affect him. And my therapist told me to stop worrying about that. He said my husband needs to focus on himself and our family and our marriage. He said what he is doing now golfing, going to watch games, going to a bbq is normal vs his old habits. It was all hard for me since we had created patterns or my husband had. For now my husband is on board and really focused on us as priority number one but I am still thinking about it. I wonder if there will be a greater ease that will develop or if this is our new normal. We have redefined our marriage which has helped but I almost feel like I am holding my breath.

    2. MBS .. Our life's are so similar... It's all or nothing with these guys, my h can't just go to the gym twice, three times a week oh no 5 times a week, not just that he goes at 5pm when I'm getting the kids sorted from school. Cooking tea etc etc, such a selfish basterd ... That's fine be a selfish basterd just not whilst I'm married to you. I just wish he would use that ffffing brain he was born with, or in his case without. Like you I can't be asked worrying about his stuff anymore it's his stuff. I'm gonna concentrate on me!!!!

      Good luck mbs let me know how you get on, I so know how you are feeling right now... Chin up xxxxx

    3. I had the world' best therapist for this stuff. She always ALWAYS reminded me not to over-explain. To not get "hooked" into reassuring or reminding or defending myself. It's sooooooo hard. But it gets easier. When you recognize a counter-move (and it might help to make a list of your partners go-to counter-moves), just reiterate your boundary and then...nothing more.
      What's interesting to me is that all three of you are dealing with men who seem to feel that what they want is more important than what the family/you want/need. There's nothing wrong with a guy wanting to go to the gym, or golf, or channel his inner rock star. The problem arises when everyone around him must accommodate him or inconvenience themselves. So...can you sit down with your husbands and say that you support their desire to be fit/de-stress/whatever but that there are times when you need him present at home. Could we find a time that works for you that doesn't leave me with the kids alone? Or doesn't interfere with dinner? Or whatever? Marriage is so often a negotiation between competing needs. And while, certainly in the wake of D-Day, I think his needs fall WAY at the bottom of the list, the time comes when, to have a healthy marriage, you both need to be able to feel as though your wants/needs are considered.

    4. Ladies
      I'm married to a similar selfish man who sometimes still chooses the selfish path but what he has changed and is within the boundaries we are working on, he changed his gym membership and it now includes me! His other gym was tainted due to his having taken ow there in the past and the knowledge of that created a trigger for me every time I saw him packing his gym bag before work. Now we go together and he gets his way to work out and I walk my mile. In the past he would call and say I'm playing golf after work and go without asking if I had other plans. Now he's teaching me to play golf and regardless of how bad I am he's still trying, not that I play every time he does because I realize that just like I need me time and girlfriend time, men also need the time to bond with their guys. Finding the right balance has been difficult for both of us but we both realize that in order to repair the damage done to our relationship, we have had to strip it bare and begin to find a relationship that is more honest and satisfying to both of us! I'm still finding new triggers without warning because until they happen I don't know that they are triggers. However, my h has become more aware of my body language and most of the time can help me get through them with out me becoming a complete emotional wreck. Still a work in progress but when we agreed to rebuild and restore our marriage, we agreed we were both in for the long haul and will do what ever it takes! Not always easy for either one of us but each day it becomes easier for us to compromise. Thinking of all the stories here that are so different but yet so much the same!

    5. Thanks for the good advice Elle. I have been paying more attention to the countermoves, and have set an intention to not get "hooked." When I get defensive and angry, even if I am right, just gives him more ammo to feel sorry for himself. So my goal is to reiterate the boundary and use the phrase that Hopeful 30 suggested: "I do not appreciate this." Unfortunately, my husband cannot remember negotiations. We might have an agreement then he completely forgets (you know, like monogamy) when he descends in into his self pity and self absorption. He starts to feel as if the world owes him something better and that his pain and suffering are because of others. That is when he directs much of his resentment about life towards me. The thing is, he has another side that can tune in with compassion and consideration--its just like a switch that comes on and off. His father has narcissitic personality disorder and while my H doesn't, he grew up in a family where his father demanded that everyone accomodate him and his convenience and needs were paramount (he was a performer). And his mother was willing to sacrifice herself to look after him (she functioned as her husbands manager). I think that model still subconsciously has a hold on my husband. I know he wants to do and be better at relationships but much of the time he just doesnt know what he doesn't know.

    6. MBS,
      I think most of us don't know what we don't know. Relationships are hard work and so many of us have only had experience with dysfunctional ones. But...we learn.
      I learned this great line from a friend of my daughter's. This friend is in his early 20s and he overheard my son complaining to me that he needed something washed but he hadn't put it in the laundry and somehow this was all my fault. "Sounds like a personal problem," this friend remarked. It was like a lightbulb that went off. This friend explained that, whenever he was blaming someone else (usually his mother) for whatever was wrong in his life, she would casually respond with "sounds like a personal problem." And that was that. He came to realize that she wasn't going to get hooked into his blaming and that he'd darn well better figure out his own solution. Or ask respectfully for help.

  4. Sometimes the countermoves sneak up on you. I am 5 years out from D-day and still have to watch out for them being tossed in to the discussion. I do need some advice and hope some of you may have had a similar experience and can offer opinions.

    One of my boundaries with his family (and they know what he did) is that they stop referring to him as a "boy". He has a brother who is one year older and they took a trip to visit their parents last week. All the facebook posts and messages talked about "the boys" My brother-in-law's wife sent me a text saying that "the boys" looked like they were having a good time and refers to my husband as "Tommy" and he hasn't used that name since he was 10 years old. She sends texts to me to ask a question for her husband to mine. I've asked her many times to stop, let them communicate to one another directly and not through us. But still, she persists. He's acted like a child his entire life and I think it's important to stop referring to him as a child. He is a 56 year old professional man for heaven's sake.

    My question I being too sensitive? I can't remember if this got under my skin so before D-day. I don't think it will do much good to keep reminding his family that he's not a boy. I don't know if I should just deep breathe my way through these things or say something.

    1. Simply no. Are you sensitive after suffering and surviving his infidelity? Certainly and justifiably. Are you too sensitive because you want to see your husband as a man in everybody's eyes? No. You can't make them respect your feelings, but you can disengage when they do what is probably habitual and not intentionally hurtful, but if this is one small way you can stake a fence around your boundaries, do it. Ignore texts. Refuse to be part of the party when the party, figuratively speaking, includes "the boys." No need to come off as a hyper sensitive shrew; be the strong, stubborn, confident adult in the room.

    2. Susan Grace,
      I'm wondering if there isn't more to it than that. Do you, in some way, hold their infantilizing of your husband somehow responsible for his cheating? (ie. he behaved like a child?) Do you feel disrespected by them in other ways?
      To be honest, while I can imagine that it's annoying, it seems like a small mountain to be willing to die on. Which makes me wonder if there's more to it. And I think the bigger question is: does your husband have a problem with it? Are you staking boundaries because he's too wimpy? If not, ie. he doesn't care, then I think you have to remember that he has a relationship with his family independent of you. And it's really about what HE wants to be called/not called. noted, I think there's more to it than this and it might be worth exploring. I suspect you're feeling dismissed/invisible/disregarded in other ways but this is something you can point to.

  5. I struggle so much with the idea of boundaries. One, because it seems unbelievable that I need to have them for my husband in the first place, and two, because he never respects them. I don't know what consequences there should be or how to enforce them. For example, no unnecessary communication with female coworkers was one of my rules after D-Day. Two weeks ago, in looking through his phone, I discover he broke that one. What do I do? He's no having another affair so leaving is to drastic a consequence. But other than yelling at him and sleeping separately for one night, there were no consequences.

    1. Grace,
      Boundaries aren't the same as rules, which is what, I think, trips us up when we imagine having boundaries with our spouses. We all have boundaries with every person in our lives, we just aren't always aware of them or very good at enforcing them.
      A boundary might be your refusal to have people in your life who are dishonest with you. A rule, especially after infidelity, is that your husband must not have unnecessary contact with female co-workers. But there's no point in having boundaries or rules if you don't enforce them. They're simply suggestions if there are no consequences for violating them.
      So...what feels like a reasonable consequence for your husband's violation of your reasonable insistence that there be no contact? He's not a child, of course. It might be enough to remind him that when he violates these "rules", it makes you feel disrespected and hurt. If he continues to violate your "rules", will you insist he sleep in the guest room? File for separation? Leave him to handle his own meals/laundry/etc. around the house? It's important to be clear that this isn't about punishment, it's about logical consequences for violations of agreed upon rules. If he doesn't want the rules, then now's the time to tell you so that you can make a choice about whether you want to be in the marriage. If he's willing to abide by them, then why did he violate them? I think a deeper conversation will help.

    2. Thanks for saying that so clearly Elle. I think it has taken me awhile to have the strength to enforce my boundaries. Now that I feel able to, he is super resentful and angry. When people are so used to pushing over your boundaries, they have a hard time with the turn around.

    3. MBS,
      His resentment/anger is simply a countermove. It's a way, subconsciously or not, to get you to back down. And it's likely worked in the past and is confusing that it's not working now. Don't respond with anger. Don't respond with over-explaining. You can commiserate -- "it must be humiliating to have to check in with me", for instance -- but that's it. Don't back down. Don't let it go. Don't give him a break for "good behaviour." Just stick with what you need to feel safe and not feel resentful.

  6. Grace,
    What does "no unnecessary communication mean? I didn't clearly explain what I meant with examples about one of my boundaries. And we didn't agree that boundary was reasonable for both of us. What did he say on his phone? Is this a gray area? I'm not saying don't have boundaries or you have a right to set them. Maybe he doesn't understand why it is important to you to respect them. Maybe he is thinking one is unreasonable so no matter hard he tries he can meet it? I learned to express my expectations, listen to his then come up with a plan together. Just a thought.

    1. LLP,
      I think that's a really good point. WE think we're being clear...but if our husband's had clear boundaries, they likely wouldn't have cheated. We might need to spell it out for them.

    2. So in this case, we had previously talked abut ALL the women he worked with after DDay. I wanted names and it he was attracted to any of them. There was only one he mentioned thinking was cute "Kaitlyn", but assured me that they worked in different areas and never had reason to interact at work for work-related purposes. Fast forward to checking his work e-mails on his phone and I see two e-mails to her in his sent folder. Nothing sexual, but even though they are words only, I could tell they were kind-of flirty. Congratulating her on a project she worked on. Teasing her about being wrong about something when they were setting up for a big event a few weeks ago and interacted for the first time. I just felt like he was opening a door of communication and starting down a path exactly as he had when he first starting talking to the OW. I understand there are women he has to talk to at work, but why did he need to e-mail the ONE woman he admitted to finding attractive when he didn't actually need to? This has completely blown my trust with him. Made me want to use protection every time we have sex because I don't trust him to keep me safe in that way either. (Telling him that really upset him and he hasn't initiated in a week). I feel like he has no boundaries. He pretends to have changed, but sees no problem in tiny little actions which would potentially snowball into another affair. It's like he hasn't learned his lesson from the first time. He still has his head up his ass. This morning he was crying in the shower and said, "I am afraid." "Of what?" I asked. "Of us never moving past this." Ugh. I get it. It sucks to feel like a horrible person all the time and sweeping it under the rug would be great for him, but he rarely shows compassion for my pain. It's ALL about him!

    3. Grace,
      One of the KEY pieces after betrayal is that our partners understand just how easy it is to find themselves in a position where they might cheat again. It's like an alcoholic avoiding situations where he might be tempted to drink. He has shown you that his boundaries around extra-marital sex are pretty fuzzy, to put it mildly. So it makes TOTAL sense that you would expect him to draw REALLY CLEAR lines around communication/contact with other women, ESPECIALLY if he finds them attractive.
      It sounds as if (including his shower cry) he's feeling so sorry for himself for the situation HE created that he can't see that he's continuing to create it. Sure, it stinks that he can't have flirty work relationships with lovely women. But he overstepped and now just can't unless he's willing to lose his marriage over it. He can cry the blues all he wants...but he created this situation. All you're doing is attempting to recreate a marriage in which you feel safe.
      I wonder if he understands yet just how deep the wound he created goes.



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