TAKE THAT RING AND SHOVE IT...RIGHT BACK ON YOUR FINGER

TAKE THAT RING AND SHOVE IT ? RIGHT BACK ON YOUR FINGER

On a rainy, tearful, traumatic Wednesday evening four months ago ? Jason angrily ripped the ring from his finger, tossed it in the sock drawer and slammed it shut. That was the last time he planned to ever wear his wedding ring. The bond was shattered, promises broken ? he saw no way back. That was the evening he discovered Lena had slept with his best friend.

In our culture, wedding rings mean different things to different people. To some it's just a piece of jewelry, to others just something you mindlessly slip on and off your finger at the beginning and end of each day, but to Jason ? to him, it was a symbol of a personal commitment, love, loyalty and fidelity. It wasn't removed easily.

After 18 years of what family, friends and other observers viewed as a really great marriage, the walls collapsed. Successful, attractive, community minded and religiously active, they were the perfect couple. They were also the proud parents of three equally appealing children, aged 10, 7 and 4. Were it not for the kids, Jason would have initiated divorce proceedings the next morning. But with the kids, the depth of what the ring symbolized ran deep. While Jason couldn't put the ring back on, he was reluctant to end the marriage and put his kids through the hell he had experienced as a 9 year old when his parents divorced.

When they entered my office for their initial session, the tension was palpable. To Jason the relationship was irreparably damaged. While he wished they could erase the infidelity and resume life as it was ? he knew that was impossible.   Lena on the other hand, was ashamed, contrite and remorseful. Sleeping around was not in her DNA. It violated every fiber of her being, and yet it had happened, she had done it. Once broken, there was no going back to the old relationship. If they were to survive this test, it would require going through rather than around the event that cracked their shell. They would have to rebuild their relationship from the ground up.

Perhaps the key to the therapy was the fact they were in agreement about this one basic idea ? that they could no longer avoid the accumulated pain, anger and hurt they had adroitly shifted to the back burner. As is so often the case, the path to this infidelity was marked by a persistent pattern of avoidance. The infidelity, regardless of how brief it was, had cracked the shell of their comfort level. It order to move forward they would have to make it real. They would need to open the files of their pain and alienation, share their hurts and perhaps even risk speaking of their need and longing for one another. Expressing vulnerability wasn't their thing but they both realized it was in fact the path they must walk.

As is often the experience of walking new paths, the road was rocky. Unexpected anger, surprising rage and gut wrenching hurt filled our sessions. Feeling mistreated and misunderstood was the order of the day. It took real courage and perseverance to even open themselves to sharing but they struggled through the dark times.

As their therapist, I too wondered if they would make it over the hump. Some sessions were hopeful, only to be followed by a return to the pain, rage and futility that was never far away. Despite their efforts, despite the fact that they were working hard ? consistent progress was difficult to see. Then it happened. Something shifted, something changed.

Jason entered our next session more relaxed than usual. They reported a good week, highlighted by more open sharing about their inner turmoil and pain, as well as hopes and dreams.   Lena reported she had finally arrived at the place where she recognized she could not force Jason to forgive her, let alone love her again. If that were to happen, it would have to come from him. She felt relieved to have shared this with Jason.   And Jason, on his part, had resolved the issue of his betraying best friend ? deciding that, at least for now, he couldn't have any contact with him. He too felt a sense of relief, and was at peace after resolving this haunting issue.

And as we continued with the session, Jason turned to Lena, raised his left hand and showed her the wedding ring that was once again in it's place. He had slipped it on just before entering the session ? some four months after removing it. Lena was thrilled, touched, pleased. She tearfully reached for his hand saying she was so glad he had chosen love. She promised to be there for him always.

Jason's explanation of why he put the ring back on was simple. He described a moment in our previous session when I asked him to revisit the pain of the discovery of the affair. And in the midst of this revisiting, I asked him to consider the difference between being retriggered by the revisiting versus simply remembering the moment. As he considered the difference between an emotional trigger and an intellectual memory, a light bulb went on. In that moment he realized that he had the power to chose the way he perceived and experienced the trauma of the affair. The seed of resilience was planted.

In the week that followed, the significance of wearing his wedding ring shifted. He noticed he began to feel differently about the ring still buried in his sock drawer.

After the discovery of the affair, he felt wearing the wedding ring would be evidence of weakness and a tacit condoning of the infidelity. The idea of ever wearing that ring again was imbued with an intense, reactive negativity that he couldn't bear. But now, the symbolic impact of wearing his wedding ring shifted. Now, he reported, that not wearing the ring felt like evidence of weakness.   He went on to state that he was no longer willing to give that one night of alcohol driven, bad judgment by Lena the power to destroy his marriage and mar the future of their children.

He was able to see Lena in a different light. He was flooded with memories of who she was, of who they were before becoming overwhelmed by the pace their life had demanded of them. The trauma of the infidelity had opened their eyes to the relationship numbing impact their hectic life had created.

With the wedding ring back on his finger, not only did Lena feel relieved, but Jason once again felt he was the man he was created to be.

Thanks for Reading,

William Bumberry, Ph.D.
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