Dear Becca: Events or Emotions?

Dear Becca,

To rebuild a wounded relationship, is it more important to carefully unravel problematic events or to explore the emotions of the situation?



Dear Michael,

To repair a wounded relationship, the first step is to prioritize the relationship. It’s the relationship that needs repair.

Often when we want to repair, we want our partner to heal us, to comply to what we think needs to happen to repair trust or to be convinced we really matter and are important to our partner.

While we do need personal healing, when the relationship is in crises we have to put the relationship first.

For example, often in a wounded relationship one partner wants to move towards the problem, talk about it, express feelings, “get understood” and face the pain to heal it. While at the same time the other partner wants to “get over it”, “move past it” or “just forget it” as the strategy to heal the relationship.

Being on polar ends of an issue this way adds to the wounds of a relationship. Each partner feels misunderstood, unsupported and at odds with the other.

Rather than either unraveling the problem, or exploring the emotions of the situation what needs to happen first is to be sure your both on the side of relationship recovery – that the relationship comes first. This requires for each partner to see how their push to do it their way pushes their partner into continued distress. Follow these steps and your relationship will be underway to healing:

  1. Notice your positions in this negative loop. For example, “I want us to stay together even though we’re hurting and so I push for more intense talk and attention to the hurt. You want us to stay together and so you push to move away from the pain and protect from more intensity. This leaves us stuck, working against each other rather than for our relationship.”
  2. Notice when either of you are caught, doing the old pattern above and let the noticing stop you. “Oh look, there we are again, stuck on opposite ends of what we think needs to happen. Let’s stop.”
  3. Then start talking about things you each think the relationship needs, and what you each need in the relationship to feel close and safe. Ex. “I still feel scared and hurt that I don’t really matter, I think I still need reassurance (yes again)that you really want me and our relationship.” Or, “I feel really guilty for hurting you and feel like a failure when I think about it or we talk about it. I think I need some reassurance that even though I hurt you I am the one that you want to help you feel better. That you still want us to be together.”
  4. Work to receive your partner’s efforts to meet your needs and move closer to you. Ex. “Oh honey, I noticed and am really glad you came home early and are helping me.” Ex. “I really like it when you snuggle up to me. It feels hopeful.”
  5. Work to offer your partner’s needs and move closer to your partner. Ex. “Buttercup, (I heard this term of endearment in public at the World Cup warm up the other day – cute, yes?!) I was thinking about us today, and want you to know how glad I am to be in your life.” Ex. Initiate hugs or cuddles.

As you apply these 5 steps you will feel your relationship get more healthy. As you become more responsive in your relationship healing will occur, it’s a process and takes some time to rebuild a wounded relationship.

If after some time of applying these steps, this isn’t enough to rebuild and get the problematic events healed then it’s time to enter a forgiveness process. Which I can discuss in another post sometime.

Thank you for asking such a good question, and here’s to the happy healing of your relationship distress.

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About Dr. Rebecca Jorgensen

Becca works with couples to save and strength their relationship. She trains psychologists to do couple therapy internationally. She is a: Professional psychologist. PhD. in Clinical Psychology. Licensed Mental Health Counselor Research Faculty at Alliant International University. Director of the Training and Research Institute for Emotionally Focused Therapy. Certified Emotionally Focused Therapy Supervisor and Trainer.