1. Can our relationship be saved?
The short answer is yes, but let’s unpack this question a little more. Part of what I think is being asked is, “Can we get back to a place where we feel happy being with one another?” Saving the relationship takes a lot of hard work, and if both parties are willing, then I firmly believe that it is possible to save the relationship.
However, I also tell couples that their relationship may look different than it did before it needed saving. If both partners are willing to make changes, then the relationship may become stronger and more resilient, and the connection may become deeper than it was before.
I have worked with many couples who, while working through an affair, were able to save their relationship; but they also tell me that it’s not the same relationship it was before. In fact, many say it is better.
2. How can I forgive my partner for something that has happened in the past?
Forgiveness is not like a light switch that can be turned on or off. It’s more like a dimmer, where the individual slowly works their way towards forgiveness.
There is the cognitive side of forgiveness, as well as the emotional side of forgiveness.
The cognitive side is making the choice to forgive. This can be a quick decision, or it can take time and be a process. The emotional side of forgiveness is more difficult. How do you regain trust? What is the appropriate boundary to set with this individual considering the hurt? These types of questions can take longer to work through.
Forgiveness also depends on the person who did the hurting and whether the behavior has stopped. It’s hard to forgive someone who keeps hurting you. I have personally witnessed a deep sense of forgiveness when empathy is demonstrated.
Once the individual fully understands the impact the hurt had on their partner and is able to stand in their partner’s shoes, it is possible for the partner who has been hurt to forgive rather quickly because they now feel fully seen and understood.
3. How can we improve our communication?
This is the most common question
and the most presented concern
that couples bring into therapy.
They usually report that their communication is bad and that they are not on the same page, which usually leads to an increase in arguments.
Couples that have been together longer than 18 – 24 months usually do not have trouble communicating with words. Studies show that 76% of communication is non-verbal. It’s the emotional communication that is tripping-up their relationship.
The tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language are causing most of the trouble. Empathic failures that send negative signals are what each partner is reacting to, creating a feedback loop of negative responses that can come to dominate the relationship.
Slowing conversations down, recognizing their cycles, and knowing the negative signals that get sent back and forth, are how the couple learns to reconnect and how they learn to communicate better.
- Tom Philp, LPC & CEO Stonebridge Couples