Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Healing Emotional Wounds In Marriage

December 10, 2007

What makes a marriage secure is the ability of the couple to stay connected emotionally and to be able to retreat to one another’s arms for comfort and care. The marital bond is ruptured when incidents of emotional abandonment or betrayal of trust occur.

At a time of great vulnerability, fear, and threat, and when presence and comfort are most essential, sometimes a spouse will fail to show love and support. It is a devastating blow to feel unable to count on one’s spouse to be there for you when it really matters.

The emotional wound is even more traumatic and profound when one’s spouse is the one inflicting the pain. The offending partner becomes redefined as untrustworthy or dangerous.

Why is this so traumatic and held onto for so long? From that point on, the world is seen through a new lens. The violation of the bond invalidates a partner's basic belief of the world, the relationship or oneself.

Basic assumptions about life are shattered. Fear takes the place of trust. The offending spouse is no longer a safe haven. The self may be viewed as weak, incompetent, guilty, unworthy, or even unlovable. New experiences are distorted by the violation.

By being sufficiently guarded, hostile, withdrawn or rejecting, the traumatized spouse tries to protect him or herself from being hurt again. Traumatized spouses pay a price in current misery as insurance against being traumatized again.

Resolving relationship injuries. The healing of violations of the security and safety in the relationship is a willingness to take a risk in confiding one’s inner hurt and to have it received compassionately and non-defensively. The offending spouse is in a difficult position of needing to listen and to understand the hurt and significance caused by his or her own neglect or misdeeds.

The traumatized spouse needs to be fully heard and understood. This requires an anxious desire to truly understand the painful ramifications of what happened, exquisite listening skills, emotional control, patience, and a burning desire for reconciliation.

Good listening skills involve inviting and caring body language, a soft and concerned tone of voice, and appropriate comforting touch at key moments.

Someone who isn’t good at listening will struggle. Defensiveness, justification or even giving one’s exculpatory side of things are hurtful and counterproductive. It is only by understanding in depth the gravity of the offense that the victim will feel understood.

As he or she is being truly listened to, the injured partner’s anger often evolves into hurt, helplessness, fear and shame. The hurt partner is able to share grief for the loss of connection and trust the offence caused.

By really listening and understanding his or her partner’s pain, something important happens to the offender. He or she is able to truly connect and empathize with the harm that was caused. Once there is true empathy and emotional awareness, the subsequent apologies and attempts at making amends will take on meaning.

Expressing with true emotion one’s sorrow, remorse, responsibility and unconditional resolve not to repeat the offence will be the bridge by which two people can meet again. An effective apology will have sufficient detail of the harm caused so that the victim will be satisfied and reassured. In this way the offender becomes the healer, perhaps the only healer capable of righting the harm.

A two way street. Listening and apologies need to go in both directions. The offender also needs to explain his or her side of what happened and the pain of living with the loneliness, rejection, anger, and loss of bond from the traumatized spouse. Though not as definable as the original offense, it is still a source of injury and needs to be heard as well. The process of mutual confiding with emotional openness and intensity pulls each other back into the relationship.

Confiding to each other needs to be accompanied by touch, affection and physically holding each other. Both partners take emotional risks in either reaching out compassionately or by asking for comfort, reassurance and caring. The caring way this is done acts as a healing remedy for the lack of comfort in the original incident.

Apologies and forgiveness should be memorable and mutual. Now a couple move forward with confidence to let go, to forgive and allow consistent and faithful love to bring trust back into their relationship.

It is a beautiful, sacred moment when couples reaffirm their commitment to stand by each other again. It is like a marriage vow being said again with two broken hearts coming together truly knowing what it now means to be loyal and trustworthy. They now have a rekindled hope that they can find comfort in the shelter of each other’s arms. They have been apart for too long.

How reconciliation leads to intimacy. By healing their emotional wounds, couples share a greater understanding of each other. They cherish each other.

They learned the hard way how much they need each other and how lonely life can be without a true companion. They know how important their bond is. They are careful not to let other concerns take priority over a spouse’s well-being. They take their commitments seriously and protect their relationship from further trauma.

Out of their courageous willingness to work through the hurts that drove them apart, they find a new and quite incredible happiness.