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Relationship Trauma and Repair

COUPLES CORNER –

Many couples who arrive at counselling are looking to heal or repair issues in their relationships that have become problematic. Relationship wounds are inevitable, even in the strongest couples. It is difficult to have love and closeness without risk, vulnerability or hurt. The question becomes: how do we tolerate the discomfort and how do we establish repair in order to move forward? 

The answer to this question is typically “communication”. Couples who can communicate their hurt and hear their partner’s hurt are better able to heal from relationship wounds. At the same time, communication is commonly used as a catch-all term that does not always encompass the full work of repair. 

One thing that I have noticed is that in order for true repair to happen, the hurt partner needs to know and feel that their partner fully understands what the painful experience was to them. If I know that my partner genuinely holds my own experience in mind, and has expressed care, responsibility, and concern for this pain, I can begin to let go because they are now holding a piece of this. One reason why we have trouble forgiving is because we don’t want to let go of something painful for fear that it could happen again. This can then build into resentment and the need to punish the offender so that the memory of the relationship trauma can stay alive – if I forgive and forget, where’s my insurance policy for the future?

Here’s where acceptance, trust and empathy come into play. First, accept that all relationships are imperfect and that at some point our partners can mis-step. We will experience hurt and pain even with people who are the closest to us. Trust that this mis-step is likely not deliberately intended to cause you pain. At the core of most arguments is fear that our partner is trying to maliciously hurt us or that they do not care about us at all; yet sometimes, we need to remind ourselves that this is likely not the case. Instead, this is often our own fears talking. Demonstrate empathy for the experience of your partner in this moment. This might sound like, “I know you likely didn’t intend to hurt me, and I also want to share where that moment took me…”

In therapy, you might notice that we like to use a lot of physical terminology that relates to relationship attachment – hurt, pain, wounds, trauma, injuries – because emotional pain is a profoundly felt experience. Relationship wounds are painful and can remain for years beyond the original event. This is why, if you have mis-stepped in a relationship, you will need to show and feel empathy for your partner’s hurt in order to establish repair. This might sound like, “I hear how much that hurt you, I want you to know that I would never want to hurt you in that way, and that I can understand why you felt the way you did.” 

Think about it as if you are the doctor helping your patient tend to a wound – you are facilitating the healing process together. However, keep in mind that after healing takes place, a scar might remain where the wound once was. Be open to re-demonstrating acceptance, trust, and empathy in the future if the wound becomes irritated. The more you do this successfully, the less often it will resurface.

Couples can get caught in continuously trying to defend and hold onto their own narrative, such that no shared experience of a single event can occur. However, if they can show to one another that they hold the other’s experience in mind, suddenly they can begin to listen and let go. If we are experts in hurt, then we can also work to become experts in repair. 

 

By Jennifer Goldberg, RP, M.Ed., CCC.

 

Jennifer Goldberg is a registered psychotherapist who works extensively with couples at The Counselling Group. She incorporates current topics arising out of her couples therapy sessions into themes and issues covered in Couples Corner. 

Looking for couples counselling? The Counselling Group offers a variety of experienced couples therapists who can support positive changes and growth in your relationship. For more information, please call 613 722 2225 ext 352 to speak with an intake worker today.

 

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