It is my vision that couples can support each other in the healing of their relationship as well as in their individual healing.
The prerequisite for this is to have a certain level of consciousness in the relationship, the willingness for each partner to consider their part in every given situation, and the commitment to make love bigger than fear.
I believe that in any given relationship the partners are always right for each other. We only get involved with each other when the partner reflects a certain aspect of us. We always look into a mirror. Even an abusive relationship is purposeful. The abusive partner reflects self abuse back to the abused partner. The purpose of this relationship then can be to stop the self abuse and to terminate the relationship if there are no mutual ways of changing an unacceptable situation.
The purpose of a relationship can be to have and co-parent children. This is an important task which requires good communication. Having children together creates a deep bond, and it is beautiful, if both can also be partners and lead a happy family life. Nowadays this seems increasingly difficult, since the stress of parenthood and the stress of our society (job, earning an income, social pressure) provide many stumbling blocks. Outside help, like couple counselling might be required.
Couple counselling can also support the healing of the individual as part of the purpose of the relationship. In our experience this can best be done when the counsellors are a couple who know about healing relationships from their own experience.
The person closest to me, my partner can most likely trigger old, yet unresolved childhood traumata in me. It is important to note that the partner is the trigger, not the cause of the re-experienced hurt. As long as the partner is seen as the cause I won’t be able to be vulnerable with him/her and will feel the need to protect myself. However, the closing off that happens in protecting myself is not only a protection, it also prevents a possible solution.
Let’s consider unresolved childhood traumata as unfinished business from the past. It will create tension in us until it is resolved. Since the hurt initially was caused in a social setting, it will again need a social situation for it to heal.
The hurt we are trying to protect ourselves from by closing off is already inside our walls. It lives on in us as familiar feeling, scare story or unconscious expectation. Paradoxically it gives us some security through its familiarity. In situations when we feel frightened, we most likely go back to the comfort of the familiar. In doing this we don’t give our partner a chance, nor ourselves of experiencing something different.
Like in nature next to a poisonous plant grows the cure, like in homoeopathy the principle applies “like heals like”, we need another close person to finish a past hurt, to meet a still unmet need from the past that still lives in us and creates some tension.
First, we need to be able to imagine that it can be different. If we have not felt respected or cared for in the past, we need to imagine in our own mind’s eye what it is like to experience respect or care, for example. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What do you see happening?
Then we need to imagine that we could have this experience with our partner. In becoming aware of the unmet need that keeps the old hurt alive, believing that we still can meet this need, communicating it to our partner and then experiencing it, we can finish the unfinished gestalt.
In reality it rarely happens that straightforward. Often we might feel ashamed of the need. It might feel childish, wanting to be held like a baby, for example. We might stumble over our own self-judgements. We might project them onto our partner. We might have a partner who has difficulties giving us what we most need. This would then require him/her to grow too, extending themself.
Our particular need might be a trigger in return for our partner, and we could easily end up cancelling each other out.
A further obstacle in developing a healing relationship lies in the hurts that we still carry, caused by our partner, like an affair. These will make it much harder and riskier to open up.
The only solution to heal is often individual therapy with a person we trust.
When the relationship has reached a certain level of consciousness, it can become a far better tool for healing than the best therapist. The contact with our partner is more consistent, the availability is far greater than the most accommodating therapist. And healing of childhood wounds together is further strengthening the bond and deepening the trust and love.
Often the healing is mutual. As I support you in your healing, it helps me in my own healing.
What I am not promoting is for one partner to become the other’s therapist. This would create inequality and damage if not destroy the relationship. Healing partnership requires mutuality, where both partners can be strong and vulnerable. Both can be the child and let their partner re-parent them. It only works if they take turns. If both are children at the same time, we have the normal row that couples experience, each one screaming out, “what about me?”
Taking turns means that while one is in their child space, the other stays in a nurturing adult space, which requires them to put on hold personal needs that would interfere with their partner’s needs. For example it is inappropriate and unhelpful to express sexual needs while your partner is crying like a child in your arms. You might feel your need and as an adult have the capability to put it on hold.
We regress and feel like a needy child as long as a yet unmet need exists as unfinished business. This can only change when the need has finally been met sufficiently. No rationalising, explaining or theorising makes any difference in our experience. Healing comes with the experience.
Again it is not such a straightforward process. Getting what we want most also frightens us. This is because receiving a yet unmet need brings to the foreground all the misery and grief for all the times that this particular need had been frustrated in the past. There can be tremendous fear, as if a part of us is dying. We identify very strongly with certain attributes, like unlovable, unwanted, ugly, so that it is shattering to our self-image to experience the opposite. The stronger and deeper the need, it seems, the stronger the resistance to having it met, the deeper the grief. Sometimes the fear is greater than the dissatisfaction. This then limits the personal growth.
In a healing relationship, the personal growth for both continues as the partners deepen the love of themselves and each other. This also deepens the being in the world, living real lives rather than a life of pretence and illusion. It becomes a fuller life, where we can feel deep sadness as well as great joy. Dissatisfactions, when viewed as stepping stones, lead to positive actions. The couple’s potential increases and with it comes humbleness and peace. When limits are reached outside support is considered.
If those words speak to you, I invite you to consider them for your life.
Copyright © 12/1998 by Rumijabu | Originally published in Integrative Dialogue #9, Dec1998