Where are the Windows and Walls in your Relationship?

Posted by on Sep 30, 2015 in Couples Counseling, Couples Counseling For One | Comments Off on Where are the Windows and Walls in your Relationship?

One of the most interesting illustrations in the book Not “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity by Shirley P. Glass and Jean Coppock Staeheli, included a discussion of relationship “windows and walls.” This acts as a metaphor for the affair triangle which includes the betrayed partner, the involved partner, and the affair partner.

Essentially, committed, healthy couples construct a wall between them and the many forces that could damage the relationship. It’s not necessarily a wall that needs to shut the world out, but it is a necessary safety buffer. On one side, protected, is “us”, and on the other side is anything that could hurt “us.” Ideally, what couples want to construct is a united front.

On the safe side of the wall, a couple looks at each other, hopefully, through a clear, open window. This is where there is an open and honest exchange of ideas and feelings. They communicate well through this large opening between them.

In this healthy situation, the couple may also have close meaningful relationships outside of their connection. However, the windows between partners and their other relationships should remain much smaller and not as transparent.

Basically, if people outside your relationship know more about what’s happening inside your relationship, there’s a problem. That’s how you know your windows are out of proportion.

Ideally, any private information inside the marriage is not shared with friends or family outside the marriage.

When an affair develops, the arrangement of walls and windows gradually shifts, until the window and wall situation is completely reversed. Over time, a wall is built between married partners. The big picture window, once so clear, shrinks down between them. Soon, a wall is put up in its place. There may still be a window there, but it’s very small and cloudy. There’s very little communication, and eventually, at least one partner has shut out the other.

Simultaneously, a window has opened up between one of the partners and a separate love interest, the affair partner. That person then becomes the person they are primarily communicating with routinely.

In this situation, the affair partner is now the one on the inside. The relationship partner is on the outside, behind a wall. That, of course, is not the most desirable situation for preserving the primary relationship.

On the whole, the wall and windows metaphor can accomplish several things:

  • It can help partners assess the overall health of the relationship.
  • It help determine whether an outside relationship has moved from a friendship to an affair.
  • Having experienced a relationship affair already, it can help determine a partner’s level of commitment. Or for example, does your partner say he or she is committed, but then allow a wall to remain between you? If a window is still open for the affair partner, that’s a sign that the appropriate level of commitment isn’t there for the marriage.
  • It can help you gauge where you are in the recovery process. If the window has reopened between you and your partner, and the wall is rebuilt between your partner and the affair partner, it’s a sign that you’re well on your way to recovery.

As author Shirley Glass put it, in the foreword of her book, “Good friendships and a loving marriage: this is what is possible when you value and preserve the differences between them. You can learn how to keep your commitment strong and your friendship safe, so that you will stay in the safety zone and remain just friends. Otherwise, you can easily cross into the danger zone were infidelity begins, when you are not just friends anymore.”