Beyond Blue

Here’s what the hospital therapists/nurses advised Marjorie to do about her emotional affair:

1) Since the affair had crossed that hidden and tenuous line into a physical relationship (with the kissing), she should sell her portion of their engineering business, and work completely independent of him.

2) She should end all contact with him. Cold turkey. No Christmas cards, birthday e-mails, or Groundhog Day greetings. No communication. Nada.

3) She should tell three or four good and trustworthy friends (who won’t get drunk and blab at a cocktail party) about the emotional affair, so that they can support her as she goes through withdrawal and tries to fill the emptiness in her life created by the absence of his calls and e-mails.

4) She should keep a relationship journal or log, where she can record her feelings and thoughts regarding her special friend every day, as well as any incidents or memories that support her decision to move on.

For example, one day after group session, Marjorie broke down and called her engineer buddy from the hospital. She felt intoxicated by the sound of his voice–hearing him tell her that he loved her and thought about her all the time. But the day after the phone call, Marjorie’s euphoria was replaced by incredible anxiety, as the guilt caught up to her and she knew she had to end it (for the 203rd time).

I thought Marjorie was going to vomit all over my slice of pizza the day a few of us ate lunch together in the cafeteria between group and OT (psych ward terms). Her face was green, and she was so distraught that she couldn’t eat a bite.

She cataloged all her emotions in her journal to read the next time her fingers started to do the walking (to dial him). Yes, she realized, it would feel fantastic for about 24 hours, until–just like any other drug–it dumped her into an even deeper depression and fit of anxiety.

5) She should ask God for patience–TONS of it–because her painful withdrawal from her friend would most likely take several months or more. She knew she could expect to feel worse before she felt better, that going “through it” not “around it” was absolutely the right way to get where she wanted to be, but that route would be filled with sizable potholes.

6) She should pump up her mental-health program a notch or two or five million: an extra-strict diet (more protein and fiber, less white flour and sugar), regular exercise (at least an hour of cardio five times a week), getting outside as much as possible (light and fresh air do wonders), relying big time on her friends (call THEM, not him), developing some hobbies (constructive activities to take her mind off of her friend and to fill those hours of communication), attending support groups (like Co-Dependents Anonymous), working with a therapist, staying busy, praying and meditating (if she can do it without fantasizing about him), reading spiritual or self-help literature, distracting herself with a novel or a movie, taking extra vitamins and minerals, getting a massage if she can afford it (and if the massage therapist doesn’t look like her engineer), and getting regular sleep (a nice amount but not too much).

7) She should try some cognitive-behavioral techniques like visualizing a stop sign every time her thoughts go to him. She should write down all of her distorted thoughts and, using techniques like the ones Dr. David Burns suggests in “The Feeling Good Handbook,” she should try to untwist them. Moreover, she should try to identify the lies inherent in her delusional thinking, and work toward seeing and accepting reality: her crush can’t “complete” her or meet all of her emotional needs in the way she thinks he can.

8) She should work on her marriage: by looking for the holes in her relationship with her husband that made her seek an extramarital friendship that turned romantic. Why did she feel that her engineer partner understood her so much better? Were there some communication problems in her marriage? She should consider marriage therapy with her husband.

The nurses advised Marjorie to devote at least as much (preferably more) time to her husband as she was giving to her friend: taking time for quiet dinners with him, having lunch with him at the park, lighting a candle during (actually, before) sex, wearing sexy lingerie for him, telling him everything she loves about him, e-mailing him or calling him at work during the day (just to say hello), picking up a hobby with him (like tennis or running), as a way of creating more things they have in common and giving them more opportunities to have fun, possibly arranging a brief getaway–a break from all the domestic responsibilities that drain a marriage.

9) She should trust that time heals all wounds and that eventually she will feel whole again, without him in her life.

10) She should start smoking (just kidding!).

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