4.4
November 26, 2018

How to Stay Together: Healing our Relationship Wounds & Making Love Work.

I married later in life, when I was 35 years old, after having a few serious relationships.

I’m a psychotherapist and have done a lot of my own deep, personal healing work, and I was looking for someone who has done their own work, too.

I was waiting for “the one” to come along.

You know what I am talking about, right? The one who would meet all of my needs, have common interests, laugh at my jokes, think I was the greatest thing since sliced bread, my soul mate, my other half. You get the idea, right? Sound familiar?

Little did I know I was unconsciously looking for not just a mate, but for someone who would be the “good parent” to the kid in me that never received unconditional love in childhood—and was still looking for it.

When I met my husband, and he told me he had been going to therapy for years for his own personal growth, I thought I hit the jackpot! He had everything on my list, and I had everything he wanted that was on his list. Seriously, we had actual lists!

We dated for a while, and things were going really well during what is called the “romantic” stage of a relationship, when our love hormones are all activated and we get addicted to each other. We decided to move in together, and this is when all the shit hit the proverbial fan. We fell directly into power struggles about who should do what chores, how to spend money, what to do with our time apart and together, who needed to change, and what our roles were.

When we get into a real relationship and commit to more intimacy, all of our unconscious and unhealed relationship wounds from childhood get triggered and come up. This is actually supposed to happen in order to heal the wounds, only we aren’t taught this, so we think it’s a bad thing when it happens.

This is when we start to think that it’s a bad relationship, blame the other person for not meeting our needs anymore, and start blaming, shaming, and criticizing the other person until they see the light and change, damn it! This never actually works, but we keep trying to make it work this way.

My husband and I thought that since we were both evolved (ha!) and had worked on ourselves (and I am a therapist, for crying out loud!) that we could manage whatever came up on our own. Well, that was a fantasy that did not come true.

We had a really hard time and almost didn’t get married because we triggered each other’s issues so much. Neither one of us felt heard, seen, appreciated, understood, or even liked sometimes. We just couldn’t figure out how to fix things and both felt really hopeless and at the same time really loved each other and wanted things to work out.

We went to couples counseling and worked our way through two therapists who just could not be powerful enough to confront us both on our crap, so it was not a good experience. We finally got married, thinking we just had to keep working and plugging along until something shifted.

I have to say that I don’t know many couples who worked as hard as we did to make things work. We just never quit, which is something I did not realize I needed in a partner.

I came to our relationship with abandonment issues, due to being kicked out of my house as a teen. I needed to know he was in it for the long haul no matter what, which he was and is. That was very healing for me. My husband came to the table with his own issues of not feeling loved and accepted for who he was. It took me a long time to be able to give him this, as my main way of receiving love is acts of service. I feel loved when someone does things for me like take chores off my plate or makes me dinner.

We came to the table with wounds that the other touched, triggered, and had a hard time with in each other. We had a full understanding of what was happening, and yet we just couldn’t stop getting triggered. I was aware of it when I was getting angry or acting out—but I just could not stop myself. I had no impulse control when the wounded kid in me felt hurt. The same happened to my husband. In calmer moments we would talk about it and have compassion for each other and ourselves.

We finally found a great couples counselor who really helped us to find ways to be productive in helping each other heal the childhood wounds. We continue our own personal work, as well as the couples counseling and tune-ups as more stuff comes up to heal.

Here are some tips for healing communication issues, wounds and triggers:

1. Always make room to hear and mirror.

Repeat back to the person what they said to make sure you got it right. Don’t get defensive or interrupt, as this will definitely lead to a fight. We fight because we are trying to get heard and understood. If you hear your partner, then there will be no fight.

2. State a need, not a complaint.

We often complain and criticize our partner when they are not meeting our needs, which automatically puts them on the defensive. If you state your need instead, then you might actually get it met! It’s the difference between “You never hug me anymore,” and, “Honey, I would really love a hug, would you be open to giving me one?”

3. Remember that our partner is an “other.”

This means that they are different than you and have had different life experiences that have created how they think, feel, and see the world. Be curious and learn their language instead of feeling critical that they are not like you in all ways.
~

I have to say that being in an adult relationship and being committed to healing the kid inside me and helping my husband to heal the kid inside of him has been the most meaningful, hard, purposeful work I have ever done in my life.

I feel eternally grateful to my husband for sticking around while we do this work together.

author: Dori Gatter

Image: Milan Popovic/Unsplash

Editor: Kelsey Michal

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mamacrs Nov 29, 2018 10:36pm

i have been married for 50 years (in September) and in some ways this was a rear-view mirror sort of thing. But i was delighted to realize that we’re doing a lot of things right, other things not as intelligently as i thought but we muddled through and some avenues i might examine my heart about. An interesting read.

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Dr.Dori Gatter

Psychotherapist, Relationship Expert and Coach