Every marriage will have its share of hurt. In healthy, loving relationships the wounds we inflict on our partners are unintentional, even if it doesn’t feel like that in the moment.
When partners feel hurt, having a culture of apologies and forgiveness is vital to maintain emotional intimacy and trust. Here are the ingredients needed to create and cultivate the habit of apologies and forgiveness in your marriage.
1) Recognize and be mindful that you have the power to hurt your partner.
In intimate relationships, we will inevitably perpetrate wounds on each other. They may be intentional at the moment as when we lash out in anger or pain. Or we may feel disconnected and numb to our partner’s feelings. More often, the injuries we enact will be unintentional, spoken as a joke or a sarcastic comment. Or we may be insensitive to our partner’s feelings. We all have raw spots that hurt when they are touched.
The key here is to be mindful that we have the power to hurt one another. Relationships are fragile. Trust is delicate. When we “forget,” or are insensitive or blind to this power, we will surely do things that harm our relationship.
Part of our commitment in marriage is to gently hold the other’s heart in our hands. If you are feeling disconnected or in pain emotionally, it’s time to ask for help. Talk with your partner about the divide and propose that the two of you come for counseling.
2) Accept that it’s not up to you when your partner experiences a wound.
When one partner says they feel hurt, we often hear, “That shouldn’t hurt you. You are just too sensitive.” Or, “I didn’t mean it that way so you can’t hold me responsible for your pain.” Sometimes partners become defensive which only increases the hurt.
The truth is we are each entitled to define and feel our own pain. Judging whether someone else should or shouldn’t feel pain is like another person pinching you and then telling you how much that hurt. Our opinion or judgment about another’s feelings or pain is irrelevant. It is just how they feel, and we cannot tell another person how to feel.
In a healthy relationship, it’s vital to validate the other’s feelings regardless of what we think about it or understand it. When your partner says she is hurt, hear that and lean into it. Show empathy and say, “Help me understand why you are feeling emotional?” That is what engenders connection.
3) Take responsibility for effectively communicating your hurt to your partner.
Some people have no trouble telling their partner when they feel wounded. Others struggle with telling their partner and may get angry or withdraw. Your response is determined by your instinctive fight or flight response, and what you learned in your family.
We are wired to automatically to fight or flee, so you may express your hurt by yelling at your partner or you may put up a wall and withdraw.
If your family was one where everyone communicated their feelings, listened and validated each other, you’ll be more likely to clearly communicate your pain. If not, it will be much harder to do that in an effective way.
Ask yourself – “How do I habitually respond to feeling hurt by my partner?” and “Where did I learn this response?”
Recognizing your automatic response and where it came from will help you understand yourself more deeply. Then you can learn to communicate more effectively.
Expressing your pain will most likely be heard and acknowledged if you use “I” statements. For example, “I felt hurt when you walked in from work and didn’t come over to kiss me,” is an “I” statement. The speaker owns the feeling.
A “You” statement such as, “You never come in and kiss me when you get home from work,” feels like an attack and engenders defensiveness or withdrawal from your loved one.
4) Validate your partner’s feelings of hurt.
Connection is complete when you know your partner understands and “gets” your pain, regardless of whether they agree or disagree. We all want to be heard.
The average conversation goes like this:
Wife: “You never say ‘I love you’ anymore.” (“You” statement)
Husband: “Never? That’s not true. I remember saying it last week.” (Attack is perceived and then Defense is enacted.)
Therein a couple proceeds to argue about who is right and who is wrong. The conversation escalates and no one is heard or validated. Instead of addressing the deeper feelings, the anger escalates and increases the hurt.
A better way is to validate your partner’s feelings:
Wife: “I feel like you don’t say ‘I love you’ very often.” (“I” statement)
Husband: “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that.” (Owning it.)
Wife: “Yes, I feel disconnected when I don’t hear the words.”
Husband: “I do want to connect with you. Thanks for letting me know. I’ll make it a point to do that.”
Validating your partner’s feelings lets them know you heard and respect them, that you see their emotional needs and feelings.
5) Apologize for hurting your partner, whether or not it was intentional.
“I’m so sorry I hurt you.” Some people find it very difficult to make a simple apologetic statement. Why is that?
No one really likes to say they’re wrong or that they have made a mistake, especially when it is unintentional. It feels bad and is uncomfortable. There may be strong feelings of guilt and shame when we acknowledge we hurt someone we love. You may feel vulnerable or weak.
The upside of apologizing is your partner feels listened to and validated; and, they get to express their softer and deeper emotions, like hurt and pain, which are right underneath their anger. When couples connect on this level, they find emotional intimacy. Without that, the communication and relationship will remain superficial.
The wrap up here is forgiveness. We often see partners who hold onto their anger and do not forgive or let go. There’s fear their partner will hurt them again. It’s hard to be vulnerable after you’ve been hurt. When your partner truly understands and empathizes your pain, and sincerely apologizes, it is important to let go.
Holding onto pain is like you eating poison and expecting the other to die.
When an apology is offered and forgiveness is received, trust is nurtured and fed. This leads to emotional growth in a healthy relationship.
Your relationship deserves the highest level of support. Relationship Experts, Bob and Lori Hollander are committed to helping individuals and couples build connection and deepen bonds in a world that often makes it difficult.
Call them at 410-363-2825 or email them today, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit Aleksandr Davydov on 123rf