Something happened. It was bad. It was awful. You never thought in a million years your spouse would do something like this. And they just can’t understand the pain they have caused. What are you supposed to do with this pain? Just get over it??
Something happened. It was bad. It was awful. You are sorry, you already said so. But your spouse just won’t let it go. You understand that it was bad. That it was wrong. That it hurt him or that it hurt her. What more can you do about it? Sigh.
If this is happening in your marriage you are in one of two places. You are the one that caused the hurt, did the thing that your spouse just won’t let go. Or, you were the one that was hurt, dealing with the backlash of what happened and you just can’t let it go.
After working with couples through minor infractions to the most severe betrayals, there are some pieces of advice we want every couple to know.
- It is hard, but possible.
If it feels difficult, it’s because it is. Healing from relational hurts is difficult territory. It is easy, common and expected that you may feel discouraged and hopeless. You may be thinking “I can never imagine trusting you again. I can’t live like this!” Or “Is it going to be like this forever? You are just going to beat me over the head with what I did over and over again? I can’t live like this!”
I’m going to be completely transparent here. Couples therapists spend hundreds of hours in trainings, reading books, doing workshops and reviewing articles to learn how to help couples work through hurts. And we do it because it is hard. It takes skill. Know-how. Experience. Tools. It doesn’t just come intuitively.
I share that with you because couple after couple comes into my office after the fall-out of a bad thing that happened. They are so frustrated that they can’t figure it out. They are disappointed and sometimes flat-out hopeless that they can’t figure out how to resolve this hurt, move through it, heal from it and move on.
It’s taken us therapists years to learn how to do this effectively. Don’t beat yourself up, or your partner, if you don’t learn this overnight.
- You may have to hear about it over and over.
Clients tell me how incredibly painful it is when their spouse brings up the thing they did that hurt them. They describe how hard it is to hear about the worst thing they feel they have ever done. And then to hear about it daily, weekly, hourly? It can be too much. So they try to shut it down.
Usually in the following ways:
- Telling their spouse they are making too big a deal of it–it wasn’t that bad.
- Telling their partner they just need to move on already.
- Telling their partner it’s not doing anyone any good to keep rehashing it. It just makes things worse.
- Avoiding these conversations at all costs. Which includes NOT ever, or rarely asking their hurting spouse how they are doing with all of this. They never ask “how are you feeling about it today?” They never ask because the last thing they want to do is open that can of worms.
If you are using any one of these responses, mark my words, you are making the hurt worse. And the worse it feels for your spouse, the harder it is for them to move past it.
I encourage you to try these types of responses instead:
- I’m sorry the thing I did is impacting you so much. How can I help right now? In this moment?
- I’m so sorry this is so hard to move on from. I want to do everything I can to help you do that. What do you need from me right now?
- It is hard for me to hear about it but I’m willing to listen. It would really help me listen if you could talk to me without attacking me. When you attack me, it makes me want to shut down and I can’t be here for you when I am shut down.
- I’ve been thinking a lot about you today and have been worried about you. How are you today? How are you feeling about what happened today? Is there anything I can do for you right now to help?
- You may have to change your approach if you want to heal.
It may be a small hurt. It may be a full on betrayal of trust. Either way, you may desire to move through it. You may desire that your relationship heal from it and come out even stronger.
Part of healing is sharing the depths of your hurt, the meaning of it for you, the way it changed how you view your relationship, your partner, yourself. BUT, and this is a big BUT….if you share these hurts in a way that feels like an attack on your partner, it will take longer to heal and recover, if it ever happens. Because most likely, when your partner feels attacked, they will defend, minimize, avoid or attack back. These types of responses only compound the hurt you feel. Consider changing your approach.
I realize that what I’m about to say is really difficult to do. Especially when you are in the pain of a hurt or betrayal. However, I am saying it because often times, it is your best chance of getting the type of support and comfort you need from your partner.
This is the shift. Instead of “you did this horrible thing because you are a ________ (fill in the blank with whichever character assault you choose, i.e. a@$hole, horrible person, selfish, don’t care about anyone else but yourself, stupid, etc), you shift to some version of:
“This hurts me so much, because you matter so much. It’s because I care about you/love you that I feel so utterly hurt by you.”
In order for you partner to lean in, the way that you need, they need to feel that even though they hurt you, you still want them to be there for you. They need to believe that even though you are so angry, sad, disappointed, betrayed, that they are still important to you. If they feel they are scum of the earth, they will NOT lean in to your pain in the way you need.
Try these approaches instead:
- I think it would help if I could talk to you about how I’m feeling about it today. Are you willing to talk with me?
- I don’t know what to do with this pain, this anger, this disappointment. I think it would help to feel like you are in this with me, so that I’m not going through this alone.
- Can I talk to you about why this hurts me so much? When you listen, it helps tremendously.
What to do?
- If you caused the hurt, reread #2. Read those phrases over and over. It may even help to write a few in your own words.
- If you are the one hurt, reread #3. Read those phrases over and over. It may even help to write a few in your own words.
- If you aren’t in that place in your marriage, tag this post for a later date. There are always hurts in a marriage, even the really, really good ones. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is that happy couples learn how to heal together through the hurts. Take it from these two experienced couples therapists….learn the tools before the big hurts arise. Use them with the small hurts. They will become common practice, even automatic. When the bigger ones happen, you will be ready.
- If you are trying to navigate hurts in your marriage, be patient with yourself and your partner, it isn’t always intuitive.
- If you shut down when your partner is hurting, healing takes way (with a capital W) longer.
- If you come at your partner like an attack dog with your hurt, healing takes way longer too.
- There is an effective way to navigate hurts…learn it. And you can always find someone who can help you too!