Posted by Michelle Avigan, Ph.D.
We cannot love without hurting and being hurt. It is impossible for it to be otherwise. When we are truly close and connected with another person, their words and actions have a powerful impact. Because we are only human, because we make mistakes, because we cannot be perfectly tuned in to each other all the time, because we are sometimes careless or thoughtless— we WILL hurt those we love. Because this is true, it is essential that we know how to repair these injuries.
A true healing conversation is not just about the words. If the verbal expression is “I’m sorry” but the underlying message communicates something different— like ‘stop talking about this’ or ‘this seems silly to me’…the conversation will not be healing but will reinforce the hurt and mistrust. A true healing conversation requires emotional presence and responsiveness on both sides.
- The wounded partner understands their pain and speaks it clearly and simply, without blaming or defining the other.
- The other partner tunes in, accepts the wounded one’s hurt and acknowledges the reality and importance of the pain. The message must be that ‘your hurt is legitimate, I care about it, it matters’.
- When the wounded partner has explored and disclosed the core of the hurt, the injuring partner can really “get” it, stay emotionally close and connect with the hurt. This will allow the injuring partner to be moved by their loved one’s pain. They can now apologize, express sadness, regret and perhaps shame at having caused this hurt. This is done in a way that expresses their love and caring—‘your pain hurts me too because you are so important to me.’
- The wounded partner can now ask for the comfort that was missed before. When the injuring partner is accessible and responsive, the message is ‘I know I wasn’t there in the way you needed before but I am here for you now.”
- Safe and loving connection is the antidote to isolation and loneliness.
Although most couples can navigate day to day hurts and misunderstandings, sometimes bigger hurts can be experienced as relationship traumas. Key injuries can occur in moments when we are particularly frightened, fragile or uncertain and we feel let down by our loved one. It may feel like we called out in our time of need and no one came. This sort of unanswered call can make us feel terribly abandoned and betrayed. Couples who have trouble working through these wounds may find it useful to get help from a professional such as an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist.