“I thought I had forgiven her for her affairs,” Caleb said recently, looking over stoically at his girlfriend of two years. Short but muscular, his words pierced his girlfriend.
“I know it is the Christian thing to do,” he continued. “But, I’m not so sure I’m really at peace with what has happened.”
Tanya, an attractive woman, looked wistfully back at him, her brown hair pulled back in a pony-tail.
“I thought you had too,” she said, seeming somewhat irritated. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Our relationship was in a mess.”
“Yes,” he said. “And I know I contributed to it. I treated you badly. So, I kind of assumed I deserved you cheating on me. I don’t know what I think anymore.”
Caleb and Tanya were like many couples, some dating, some married, who find themselves with growing detachment and distance largely because of hard feelings that have been suppressed by cheap grace—a tendency to quickly forgive, ignoring deeper, painful feelings.
“It takes time to really explore feelings about traumatic events,” I explained to them during a counseling session. Too often couples want to rush through issues, hurrying the healing process. But, healing cannot be hurried.”
“I want to just get on with things,” Tanya said impatiently. “I don’t want to wallow in bad feelings.”
“Me too,” Caleb echoed. “We’ve hurt each other enough.”
“But, remember why you’ve come to see me,” I said. “You came to counseling because you feel detached from each other. Caleb, you said that you still feel hurt and angry over Tanya’s affairs. Tanya, you said you still feel hurt over feeling abandoned by Caleb, and that these feelings still cause you to push away from him.”
Both nodded their heads in agreement.
“We just wish these old feelings would go away,” Tanya said.
Tanya and Caleb, like many couples I see in my clinical practice and at The Marriage Recovery Center, often make the mistake of wishing feelings would simply vanish, like unwanted visitors. But, they don’t. In fact, when we offer a partner cheap grace, it is simply that—cheap! True healing comes from taking the following, challenging steps.
1. Understand that a feeling denied is intensified.
While we may wish feelings of resentment, hurt and betrayal would simply disappear, they won’t. In fact, attempting to deny them, quickly forgive them or ignore them makes them all the more intense.
2. Feelings must be embraced and affirmed.
Feelings won’t simply disappear. They must be embraced, understood and shared with others. We often must sit with our mate and share feelings with them, in a safe and caring atmosphere. We must carefully walk through a grief process, involving many different feelings.
3. Feelings are an integral aspect of our being and must be heard.
Feelings can be highly useful in telling us what is missing in our life. They can be instructive, informing us as to what may still be missing in our relationship. Both Tanya and Caleb needed to sit with their painful feelings, attending to them as a welcomed visitor.
4. Create an environment where honest feelings can percolate to the surface.
This aspect of healing takes time. You must invite your mate to share whatever feelings they have, in a respectful, caring manner. Much as soaking in Epsom’s Salt works to heal wounds, you must create an environment where your mate feels free to share feelings of hurt, betrayal or abandonment. As you share these feelings, you will discover what is needed to find real connection.
5. Honor each other’s feelings and embrace your new-found connection.
As you share from your Most Vulnerable Self, you will feel a new sense of profound connection to your mate. While their pain won’t always be easy to hear, moving through the pain to healing will be an exciting journey. You will feel and sense this new intimacy—‘into me see.’ Transparency brings full healing, rather than cheap imitations.
Scripture implores us to truly listen to each other. “He who has ears to hear, let him listen.” (Matthew 11:15) In relationships, this means that we listen carefully to what our mate is saying—and not saying. We lower our defenses and let them speak in depth, rather than superficiality. We create an environment where they want to share their true heart, knowing that such sharing brings true healing and dynamic connection.
Consider the wounds you have experienced with your mate. Have you been willing to truly listen to each other? Have you shared the deepest parts of those wounds with your mate and listened with an open heart to their wounds? Do you feel safe in doing so?
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at [email protected] and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.marriagerecoverycenter.com where you’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled relationships, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage. Please ask about my free 20-minute consultation.