Most relationship problems aren’t created by disagreements, they’re created by couples with hurt feelings.
Most relationship problems are actually “attachment injuries”.
Dr. Sue Johnson describes an attachment injury as an incident when one partner violates the expectation that the other will offer comfort and care in times of distress. In other words, an attachment injury is caused by emotional absence during a critical moment of need or any other betrayal of trust.
The longer you don’t talk about that moment that caused you so much pain, the longer you sit with resentment. Your resentment shows up in every interaction, deepening your relationship’s wounds day after day.
Relationship Problems and Wounds
Often, attachment injuries go unaddressed for so long because hurt partners start to forget what exactly caused them pain in the first place, they just feel like their partner doesn’t care anymore.
Maybe you have tried to talk about it, but the argument goes in circles, focused on who’s to blame and whether or not they/you meant it. That’s not what’s important. Regardless if you or your partner “meant to”, it doesn’t change the fact that someone got hurt, and you need to reconcile for that.
Feelings will get hurt in relationships. Couples can get through this by processing those feelings together and making amends.
With healthy communication, couples can get to the roots of their relationship problems, offer sincere apologies, and rewrite their story together.
Getting Professional Help
If it feels like your relationship problems stem from emotional wounds, then I highly recommend going to a therapist who specializes in emotionally-focused therapy (EFT). Therapists can help facilitate those emotionally-charged conversations that are hard have at home. It helps to have someone who can direct you to validate each other’s pain.
I’m not just saying this as a relationship educator, but as a therapy patient. Learning how to communicate in healthy ways that heal attachment injuries takes time and practice. Having a therapist help guide these conversations can show you what your communication and apologies should look like at home.
Here are some tools and information your therapist might give you:
- 9 Rules for Sincere Apologies
- 6 Steps to Forgiveness (Healing Attachment Injuries)
Read on to learn about these helpful tools!
9 Rules for Sincere Apologies from Dr. Harriet Lerner
- Do not include the word, “but”
- Keep the focus on your actions and not the other person’s response
- Include an offer of reparation or restitution that fits the situation
- Do not over do
- Don’t get caught up in who’s more to blame or who started it
- Require that you do your best to avoid a repeat performance
- Should not serve to silence
- Shouldn’t be offered to make you feel better if it makes the hurt party feel worse
- Do not ask the hurt party to do anything, not even to forgive
With sincerity and consistent effort, couples can rebuild their trust and create a safe space for each other again. This will take time, but it’s possible. Read “5 Ways to Build Trust in a Relationship” for relationship advice on building trust.
6 Steps to Forgiveness from Dr. Sue Johnson
- The hurt partner needs to speak his or her pain as openly and simply as possible.
- The injuring partner stays emotionally present and acknowledges the wounded partner’s pain and his/her part in it.
- Partners start reversing the “Never Again” dictum. This means that they go back to the injuring moment and rewrite their script.
- The injuring partner takes ownership of how they inflicted this injury on their lover and express regret and remorse
- The injured partner identifies what they need right now to bring closure to the trauma.
- The couple now creates a new story that captures the injuring event, how it happened and eroded trust and connection. Most important, the story describes how they together confronted the trauma and began to heal it.
Read my post “How to Let Go of the Past and Embrace Change in Your Relationship” for relationship advice on forgiveness and reconciliation.