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When to Challenge

By Kenda-Ruth Stumpf

I don't like to validate his 'bad' behaviour and neither do I want to exhibit any rejecting behaviours toward him.
Is this because you fear that validating his behaviour will encourage it; he will think you approve or that you are so desperate to have him back you will allow anything? That's why validation is about feelings rather than behaviours. Challenging is not about confrontation, rather it can be part of a response given to him from actions and statements initiated by him. In the beginning stages validation is vital. But this doesn't mean you should accept projected blame or validate inappropriate behaviours. At what point of the crisis is it beneficial to question the validity of his feelings or call him on his behaviour?

You're insane! You can't control your emotions; you let little things set you off I think you're bipolar.
Wow, that sounds like a projection of his own fears. Redirect the idea back onto himself.

  • Are you afraid you might be manic depressive?
  • You know, anyone watching us right now who has a basic knowledge of manic depression could figure out which of us is mentally unstable.

MLCers have valid feelings, but they also insist feeling things they know to be false. Happiness is a common claim, but their behaviour and physical appearance tell otherwise, as do their angry and cycling moods. Validate the feelings you recognize as genuine.

I can see and his friends have told me that he is miserable and depressed. But according to him, he is so happy, is moving on with his life, and the OW will be a part of it.
Should you play along or tell him you know that it is not true--either matter-of-factly or with sarcasm? There is a time for playing along and a time for confronting him with your knowledge of truth. The difficulty is knowing when to use which.

  • Validation
    I realize that dear. You've never been happier.
  • Truthful Confrontation
    We both know you aren't happy, so denying does no good.
  • Truthful Confrontation-Sarcasm
    If that's happiness, I don't want it. But we both know it isn't
  • Truthful Sincerity
    Really, I'm sorry. But you've been looking so miserable/sad/down. I just assumed you were unhappy.

He will react back with a retort--except possibly to the sincerity. Shrug it off, and perhaps add an I'm sorry you feel that way if it feels necessary.

Everything in my life is your fault.
In the beginning he will believe this, validate him: I'm sorry you feel that way. But it's been over a year--maybe over two and he's progressed enough that at times he has shown recognition of his culpability, though he is not ready to take responsibility. But he knows everything bad in his life is not your fault, in the beginning he did not know this. Should you validate? There are a few options.

  • You're right, I'm raising three beautiful children, and I work a great job that helps provide for our house which I maintain. Thank you for recognizing me.
  • Don't be so hard on yourself; you are also responsible for our wonderful children and this beautiful home.
    That might not have been what he meant, but it will throw him off guard!
  • I'm sorry you feel that way, but you know that is not true.

Notice the words: You know rather than I think you know. He doesn't have to accept it, but by stating it as a fact it enters his mind--his subconscious--where given time it can grow to belief. The key is to be consistent; state a fact and without wavering, show that you believe.

I'm miserable. I'm such a bad person.
If he begins to confide in you, he is showing that he feels safe revealing something of himself. Be careful, he may be too vulnerable for a challenge. There are also times it is appropriate to answer with a challenge to encourage him to look back at himself. Knowing when to challenge and when to simply listen is intuitive. If he is not ready for a challenge, he will sink into himself and away from you. If you respond with a challenge and he reacts defensively, you will know that he is too vulnerable.

If you felt that having an affair was okay, then why feel low?
I am more complex than a dish sponge, you know.
You are trying to use logic to show him how his emotions and behaviours do not fit together. But DUH! He knows this already. Thanks for stating the obvious. He doesn't want or understand his feelings; they control him and he doesn't know what to do. He's scared and frustrated. Your words are a reminder that his feelings are misaligned with his actions. But since he knew this, the reminder escalates his frustration level; frustration creates knots which increase confusion which cyclically increases frustration.

I wasn't lying; I meant it last week when I said I would dump her and commit to you. I've changed my mind.
You seem to change your mind frequently. I agree; you weren't lying. But you clearly lack the ability to control yourself and need professional help.
Lying is conscious behaviour. Some may deny lying because at the point a statement was made, they meant it. While this may be true, it is not a justification for his inappropriate behaviour.

He said that I'm not accepting the real reason he left our marriage - that he doesn't love me and felt I manipulated and controlled him. He is adamant that unless I agree with why he says he left, then I'm not accepting it. How controlling is that?
Though validation is important, you do not need to accept responsibility for his behaviours. At times it is beneficial to throw his projection back. Try combining a validation and returned projection.

  • So you think it logical to control how I file by...
  • Sorry, I won't agree to a lie.
  • I'm sorry you feel I was controlling, but I would be lying if I agreed with that.

He claims to be in-love with the OW. Should you validate? Though what he thinks are emotions are chemically created thrills, they are real to him. Validate what he feels is real. What about two years and five nasty break-ups later, should you still validate?

Recall that MLCers store memories in emotional files and that behaviour is not real in the absence of present emotional affinity. The chemicals that yield in-fatuation can last a few years and longer when a relationship is elicit. Do you think his statement is genuine?

Each situation is different, but to me he seems hooked on the thrill and drama rather than the specific person. He may be chemically addicted to the thrill as a means of avoiding Liminal Depression. After multiple nasty break-ups, he has at times admitted to himself that he is not in-love with her. The break-ups may be times he returns (or attempts to return) home, plays the field, or remains single. Use what you know to be genuine about his feelings--from now or the past. He has genuine negative feelings for the OW and genuine positive feelings for you. Create positive affirmations regarding his feelings for you and negative affirmations regarding the OW.

You know you don't love her.
By making the statement with him as the subject you are showing him his awareness and stating it as factual. To have said I know you don't love her without showing his feelings would be a form of denial.

I'm Kenda-Ruth and I believe in marriage.
Are you tired of hearing...
  • Once a cheater always a cheater?
  • You're better off without him?
  • She doesn't deserve you?
  • I guess it just wasn't meant to last?
  • Divorce is no big deal?
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