You know those times. You and your lover are hanging out in the kitchen and everything seems great. But then something is said or done that triggers one of you, and within seconds, you are yelling at each other and engaged in an all-out fight about something that took place years ago.
Perhaps you are that someone who remembers when something was said or done that produced a rift in your relationship. No matter what you do, you just can’t seem to let it go and forgive. The moment replays over and over in your mind, and the pain from that event seems un-healable. The silliest little things send you back to that time. It doesn’t matter how many times you hear “I’m sorry”, you just can’t open your heart all the way again like you used to. You wonder if you will ever be able to fully love again.
Or maybe you are on the other end of this dynamic. You said or did something hurtful and you are now genuinely sorry for your mess-up. You are desperately seeking forgiveness and redemption. You have learned from your mistakes and are sincerely moving ahead with committed resolve to be a better person. You need your partner’s support as you make these changes, but your partner just can’t give it to you. You feel pigeonholed, punished, unseen and disempowered. You wonder if you will ever be forgiven.
What can we do with such moments in relationship? How can we heal and move forward in partnership without being blindsided by the pain of past wounds?
We are biologically wired to focus on injury – doing so helps us protect ourselves from threats to our survival. But since we aren’t usually defending ourselves against real tigers, our painful memories don’t serve the same practical purpose.
We humans have a unique way of recovering from trauma: we need to share our hurt and pain with a compassionate, nonjudgmental person in order to heal. We generally feel lighter, more uplifted, and less alone when we share our story with someone who really gets the depth of our painful experience and allows us time to sort through the maze of our conflicting feelings.
However, if we take this too far, sharing our hurt and pain can have an opposite effect. If we focus on the negative and repeatedly tell our sorrowful story, we essentially experience the tragedy over and over again. So instead of feeling lighter and freer, we feel unhappier, and more depressed, stuck, gloomy, and hopeless.
Simply stated, there is a difference between honoring and sharing our feelings for the purpose of healing, and wallowing or stewing in them. You can know you are wallowing if you feel worse when you talk about your painful experience, if your thoughts keep drifting toward the same old story of loss or injustice and you can’t seem to let it go, or if your loved ones are sick of listening to you talk about it!
How to get out of wallowing? Change the end of your story. Do a ‘do-over’ in your mind, or better yet, do a ‘do-over’ in real life. Replay the event until you emerge from your story empowered, uplifted, and transformed. Instead of being a victim in this past event, you are now a survivor, a hero or heroine, a miracle maker, a master creator.
If he kept a secret from you, replay the event where he comes forward and tells the truth. If she stole money from you, replay the event where she comes forward and vulnerably shares her need for financial support and asks to borrow money. If he made fun of you for wanting sex, replay the event where he instead appreciates you for your sexual desire.
Do-overs don’t disappear the original injury, but research shows that when we end a negative experience with a positive one, the pain of the negative experience is dramatically reduced!
In the 80’s, I participated in a special self-defense class where I witnessed several women who chose to reenact rape scenes with male volunteers in order to create a more empowering end – one in which they were able to successfully disable their attacker and emerge victorious. This reenactment went a long ways in helping these women recover from traumatic experiences and find their power again.
Recently, a man who felt unjustly judged by his wife, was able to fully forgive and let go in a ‘do-over’ with a friend who acted as a stand-in for his wife. There he fully expressed himself, stepped into his power, and was finally able to get the support and love he wanted. This work allowed him to be more forgiving and open with his wife.
We have helped many couples walk through do-overs, where each person gets to replace an undesirable negative past behavior with a positive new experience. Do-overs help both parties emerge empowered, connected and renewed, anchored in a new “past” that results in fewer fights in the kitchen going forward!
If you’ve suffered deeply and no one knows, by all means find an accepting, empathetic person to talk to – a friend, mentor, or coach; someone you trust. Let yourself fully own and express all of your feelings. After a while, your emotional waves will begin to subside and you will experience increased ease, lightness, and freedom. Once you have been fully heard and received, create a new ending that moves you from victim to power. Get support if you can’t do it on your own.
Perhaps you have heard the saying, “It is never too late to have a happy childhood”? Well, it is never too late to have a happy relationship, or a happy ending!