C.S. Lewis wrote, “Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something (or someone) to forgive.”
Couples that begin counseling for marital issues often have a focus on what they both perceive as a lack of communication, inability to work through conflict, or other relationship issues that keep them from connecting. During the course of the counseling sessions, one partner shares an event that deeply hurt and wounded him or her. Suddenly, the hope that was building over the past few sessions, now brings a cold sense of despair. The key: forgiving relationship wounds and trauma.
These incidents represent deep injuries that can be termed “relationship traumas” and usually involve a wound of emotional abandonment. In my work with couples, there is no greater trauma than the wound caused by the very person that is suppose to provide support and protection but instead flees in fear. This relationship wound could be recent or have occurred years ago. It comes up again and again. The wounded partner doesn’t trust and won’t allow the other partner to be emotionally close. Susan Johnson calls this the “Never Again” moment because the hurt partner refuses to go there again.
The relationship wound answers “no” to the question, “Are you someone I can trust to be there for me when I am most in need?” Susan Johnson writes, “There isn’t much room for compromise or ambiguity when we feel this kind of urgent need for our loved one’s support. The test is pass or fail. These moments can shatter all our positive assumptions about love itself and our loved one’s dependability, begin the fall into relationship distress or further fraying an already fragile bond.”
Until these past events are processed and worked through, being able to be vulnerable and have emotional engagement are essentially out of the question. These relationship wounds are not only due to being betrayed (such as infidelity) but rather due to the partner’s lack of empathy and emotional support when the betrayal is discussed. The partner has been wounded by the abandonment in the midst of his or her intense emotional distress.
Susan Johnson writes, “Partners typically suffer relationship trauma at times of intense emotional stress when attachment needs are naturally high, including the birth or miscarriage of a child, the death of a parent, the sudden loss of a job, the diagnosis and treatment of a serious illness.” Most partners who cause these injuries didn’t do this on purpose but rather simply do not know how to tune in to their spouse’s attachment needs. Some are also caught up in attempts to defend themselves or deal with their own fears of abandonment.
The wounded partner defensively puts up an emotional wall and may even make a vow that he/she will never expect support from the partner again. The only way out of these relationship injuries is to walk through them and heal them together. The sooner the better! The partner that caused the hurt must be willing to tolerate the other partner’s anger and distress and also to provide reassurance. The goal is for the hurt partner to feel heard and understood and to begin forgiveness. Partners not only need to let go of resentment but also need the willingness to trust again. Restored trust is the ultimate goal.
Are you feeling hurt and wounded by a lack of emotional support in a time when you need him or her the most? Has it caused resentment and an unwillingness to trust your partner in the future thereby pushing a wedge to let him or her back in? We have marriage counselors that have received specialized training in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT) and can help you both in walking through the relationship injury and finding restoration of trust through forgiveness. Call our counseling center today to begin healing and restoration.