James*, a professional in his mid-thirties, came to me for counselling because he was experiencing crises at many levels. It all began when his lover confessed that whilst on holiday overseas, she had a “one-night stand”. He felt betrayed and was devastated. After all, they had been together for eight years and except for his wife, had remained sexually exclusive to each other.
Throughout the illicit relationship, Julie* knew that James was married and would never leave his wife and children. Theirs was a relationship doomed to go nowhere.
There were times James thought his secret could be uncovered and jeopardise his marriage. Nonetheless, he carried on, pushing aside all moral, religious and rational considerations. When Julie transgressed against him, he could not forgive nor trust her any more. He decided to end their affair.
This overdue decision precipitated a series of crises for James. He could not stop thinking about Julie and their torrid relationship. Their sex life sizzled, in contrast to non-existent marital relations. He was plagued by fear that his extramarital affair would be found out. He went for tests to rule out sexually transmitted diseases.
James was also undergoing an identity crisis. After leading – rather successfully – a double life for years, he was having trouble figuring out who the real James was. On the one hand, there was the hardworking and brooding James. Spending long hours supposedly at work to support his family, he was a distant husband and hands-off father. Then there was the other James. This James was flamboyant, confident, jovial and fun to be with. He had no hesitation in making time for friends and his lover.
His current situation was all the more difficult because in ending his affair and refocusing on his marriage and family, he had done something supposedly right – and yet, he was not happy. James’ life had become dull and bland, devoid of the sinful and selfish pleasures in which he used to indulge. He had yet to reap the rewards of a reformed life.
Over the months of counselling, James worked hard, often through tears, to turn his life around. I have found myself using the metaphor of a ship to describe the different types of work he needed to do and is still doing.
I started by saying that he needed to patch the holes in his ship, explaining that the integrity of his ship’s hull had been compromised by his longstanding extramarital affair. He had to mend these holes first by ending the relationship and not dwelling on it, including discarding everything that could trigger reminders of the past. These steps would also help him refocus on his family.
Another important part of the ship that I have referred to is its rudder, which sets the direction for the ship. In James’ case, he had to ask himself who he wants to be. What kind of husband and father does he want to be? Words like “supportive”, “attentive” and “involved” sprang to mind. These are like setting the directions for his rudder.
Finally, another key piece is the propeller. Without propulsion from the propeller, the ship is dead in the water even if the rudder is set correctly. For James, propulsion would come with following through on some of his good intentions. He needed to put time and effort into rebuilding his relationship with his family. He needed to persevere even if he felt he was making little headway.
Is your life ship like James’? You may not be in an illicit relationship but may have allowed things, thoughts and behaviours to creep into your life that could threaten the integrity of some aspect of your life or relationships.
As we embark on a new year, it may be helpful to ask if our rudder is pointing in the right direction.
Have we set our priorities right? And if we have made some good new year resolutions, are we persevering and staying on course? Oftentimes, we just have to keep chugging along to reach our destination.
*These are fictional names
Picture by Mike_Kiev/Bigstock.com
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.