In August of 2019, Couples Corner featured a post entitled, Trauma and Repair. Many people inquired more about that particular article afterwards, and I considered how this is a reflection of just how big the topic of relationship trauma and repair is – it is impossible to capture and explore everything necessary within a single discussion. Much like trauma therapy, most of the time you will need to revisit something, and each time you do, a new piece of it might be uncovered.
Some couples present to counselling and emotionally, one or both of them are stuck. What do I mean by this? “Stuckness” in a relationship often feels like you cannot let go of an experience, as though it has affected you so profoundly that a shift has occurred, and you are, thereafter, emotionally road-blocked. This can occur after a wound has formed within the relationship. It is important to remember that “stuckness” is a sign that something is needed. I can only let go of something if I know it is safe to do so.
Revisiting the post from August 2019, the stuck person may be able to begin to let go if their partner demonstrates that they truly understand the damage that was done to the relationship, and they show that they hold a piece of their partner’s hurt. This tells the hurt person, “I understand how you felt, and it is important enough to me that I would not want you to feel that way again”. This becomes about accountability, acceptance, and forgiveness.
There are many ways to have this conversation; however, it can be daunting to know where to start. As such, I wanted to share one technique that I use that can help to get couples un-stuck. The exercise is called, Ask Me Anything. You may have heard of this before – essentially, one person is allowing the other to ask them absolutely any question about a particular topic. In this case, the partner who caused a rupture to the relationship is to ask everything they possibly can about the hurt partner’s experience. I encourage you to become curious if you are in the asking position – what is every nuance of what your partner felt during that moment? What went through their mind then and what is their experience now? How did you impact them, and what was the profound shift they went through? How did it feel in their body? Treat this as if you are a researcher and as though you need to investigate every possible variable in question.
Asking your partner anything achieves many things. Firstly, it shows that you care enough to become curious – that you want to understand not only what happened and how it happened, but also what it did to your partner. This is the part that can help to show you are holding a piece of their pain. It also allows the hurt partner to freely answer. In turn, as a couple, you begin to re-process relationship trauma together in a safe, structured way. Think about it, if you are a researcher, you do not argue with the data, but instead seek to understand it. This is how we begin to heal together.
It’s important to mention that Ask Me Anything is not necessarily one-sided. We know that many relationship wounds go both ways, so if this is true, do not hesitate to switch roles after one partner’s experience is shared. In this case, the researcher becomes the subject. This exercise should only be used when couples feel emotionally ready to express, listen, and understand.
Repair often does not happen in one sitting and may take time. You may need to re-visit the process of repair repeatedly, learning more about it each time that you do. If you are unsure of where to start and you don’t know where to begin, just ask.
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.
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