It’s not too late.
As a couples therapist, I work with many couples who want to learn how to start over in a relationship after a recent betrayal or years of disappointment or distance. I believe couples can understand how to start fresh in a relationship, but it takes a commitment to forgive and to develop new patterns and new memories together.
This process is certainly not easy. Pain caused by someone close to you is not the easiest burden to get over. Same goes for if you were the one to hurt the person closest to you. The guilt can eat you up and make it almost impossible to have room to heal.
The good news is that nothing is irreparable. The realistic news is it takes work. And the bad news is some couples can’t seem to put that work in to get there. But there are some that can. It’s really up to you and how badly you want to repair the relationship.
Many people probably want to go back to the way things were before there were problems. But the thing is you can never do that. As a couple, you have experienced a lot more and have grown. So you shouldn’t want the same old couple back but a new couple that is ready to take on the world together.
It’s hard to do on your own. Asking for help can be really beneficial, especially if you are having problems communicating altogether anyway. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness as some people might think. You are strong enough to accept every bit of help you can get because you want the relationship to work that much. It’s the best thing you can do.
Here’s how to start over in a relationship by taking these emotional steps and starting again.
1. Identify what you value about the relationship.
When we are hurt it is tempting to focus on the difficult and less-than-appealing elements of our partners and our relationship. But couples who work through difficult times keep their eyes on the positives and can clearly say why they want to stay with this person and what they love about them.
This step can also give you clarity. If the only reason you can think of to stay together is that you dread the task of separating, that may not be enough to get you through. By clarifying what has worked in your relationship, you can build on those things and stay motivated to do the repair work needed.
2. Get support for the relationship.
If it was easy to just press the reset button and get over the hurt, you would just do that. The truth is if your friends and family have heard you complain about your partner month after month, they may support you but find it hard to support the relationship. Also, if you and your partner are trying to be the only support for each other, you may find yourselves in a pattern of constantly having difficult talks about past hurts and how you are feeling.
Therapy is great because it gives you an unbiased, experienced support person and it allows you and your partner to focus time together outside of therapy on having fun together again, which is critical.
3. Take steps to make sure that the behavior that hurt you is not going to repeat.
This step is not about being naïve. This step is about figuring out what you and your partner need to change to convince you that the patterns that happened before are not going to happen again. Notice I include you in this as well.
Couples that recover from relationship wounds can point to the things they each did to address the problems and make changes. They have a plan to address future problems before they grow. Folk wisdom tells us that we can’t forgive injuries that are still happening to us.
It is hard to start over when you are in the same old patterns. Both people have to be willing to change.
4. Make clear promises to yourself.
One of the fears people have is that if they forgive their partner this time, then maybe they will never stand up for themselves again. The big fear is actually not that their partner will take advantage of this; the big fear is that they can no longer trust themselves to set limits and enforce them.
In this step it is important to allow yourself time to reassess your own limits. So maybe the things your 20-year-old self thought were unforgivable, are forgivable after all. This does not mean you have lost all right to relationship boundaries.
This is a conversation you need to have with yourself. The step to take is to forgive yourself for being someone who can get hurt and then to trust yourself anyway.
5. Rebalance the power.
Couples who create fresh starts for themselves have moved out of the blaming, punishing, reactive dynamics. They recognize that to move forward neither person can be stuck in the role of victim or bad guy. An ongoing pattern of making amends or being the long-suffering martyr is not sustainable because it feels awful for both people.
You cannot move forward feeling like one person owes the other. You cannot move forward with one person being the vulnerable one. At some point the past wounds need to be put in the past, not to be forgotten, but to be taken out of active play, meaning that they will not be brought up in every new argument, they will not be thrown in anyone’s face, and that you feel you have genuinely worked through them and have resolution. Then you move forward as equals again.
6. Make a choice to start again.
Beginning again with a partner means making a clear choice to do so, to let the past rest, to take the risk of trusting again, and to love them more because you appreciate the work you have each put in to stay in relationship and you acknowledge the risk.
Will you ever have the starry-eyed “nothing will ever come between us” love again? No. Will you have the same relationship you had before? No. But couples who give themselves a chance to restart find ways to value the depth of the relationship they have now. Ultimately, you unbreak your own heart by choosing to let it heal.
Melissa Fritchle is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist & Sex Therapist with a holistic private practice in Capitola, California. She is also an award-winning international sex educator offering workshops and trainings around the world. Follow her blog, Conscious Sexual Self.LIKE US ON FACEBOOK If you ‘like’ us, we’ll LOVE you!
5 Hard Relationship Truths Couples In The Best Relationships Already Know
If you want a strong and healthy relationship, there are a few things you need to understand.
Recently, I was asked what the core principles are for making a good, strong marriage.
Interesting question. These sort of questions fascinate me. Trying to identify the “core”, or “basic”, foundations of something requires drilling down below the froth, and discovering those things that cannot, or should not, be ignored.
After having listened to the life stories of so many people over the course of the past three decades, I found it pretty easy to come up with a short list of core truths every married couple should keep in mind (no surprise, I also have a long list).
The relationship advice I give is not solely informed by my experience as a therapist. Each of the foundations I mention below are also supported by research. But, as is often the case with psychology, research simply confirms what your grandparents already knew and took for granted.
So here we go, five truths about marriage that every husband and wife should keep in mind.
1. Your spouse is not perfect.
So what? Great marriages are not made by having the perfect spouse. If that were the case, there would be no great marriages.
Instead, great marriages are made when two people are reasonably compatible, when each looks for the good in the other, and when there is mutual support, forgiveness, and respect.
No one finds the perfect spouse. We all have our shortcomings. Dwelling on the imperfections of your spouse poisons the relationship. Learn to let the little things go. If you must focus on something, choose to focus on the good qualities of your husband or wife.
2. Your spouse cannot make your life complete.
Many young couples have the unrealistic expectation that the marital relationship will act to “fill in”, or “mend”, the broken parts of their life. To some extent, this does occur, but it is not complete.
If you enter marriage believing that this wonderful person you have married will be your best friend, counselor, motivational coach, substitute father/mother figure, etc., you will be disappointed. Resentment will eventually take root. When it does, great unhappiness is not far behind.
Instead of insisting that your spouse fill all of these functions, rely on friends, family, and yourself. By reaching out in this way you live a fuller life, and have a happier marriage.
After all, is it truly realistic to think that your spouse can meet all of your needs? Of course not. No one would even voice such an expectation. But many people unintentionally and subconsciously fall into the trap of having this mindset. Sadly, they may not come to realize this until after the pressure such demands create has resulted in a divorce.
Each of us (no matter the relationship: spouse, parent, child, friend) needs to take a sober look at our expectations. When they turn out to be unrealistic, let them go. You and your spouse will be happier, and paradoxically, your relationship will grow closer.
3. As is true in life more generally, you get out of your marriage what you put into it.
If you invest time/thought/energy into growing a stronger and healthier relationship, you are likely to be rewarded with a terrific relationship.
That is not a guarantee, but a principle (just the same as if you exercise and eat right you are likely to be healthier and live longer than if you never exercise or eat properly).
The effort you put into your marriage can be made more effective by candidly talking with your spouse about what is going well in the relationship. You’ll then learn what can be focused upon even more to help your marriage flourish.
Also, take the time to patiently talk about what is not going so well. Honestly consider how each of you can take steps to shore up weak areas in the relationship.
Lastly, give one another grace: let the little things go. Pick your battles.
Have this talk once a month. It’s important: put it on your calendar.
4. Marriage is somewhat like an investment account.
The more you put into building a strong connection with your spouse (showing kindness, support, affection, and respect), the more the emotional bank account grows. Then, when you really miss the mark (forget about an anniversary or impulsively purchase that must-have item without your spouse’s approval), there will be sufficient ‘emotional funds’ to cover the loss your relationship sustains.
This approach must not be used as a ploy to allow for misbehavior — that just comes across as manipulative.
Be intentional about building intimacy, good memories, shared successes, and so forth. Be a pro-active investor in building a strong emotional bank account.
5. Love is a verb, not a noun.
Most people report that one of the important reasons they chose to get married was that they were ‘in love’ with their spouse. They had deep feelings of affection, admiration, and affection for each other.
Feelings, however, will wax and wane. There will be times in a marriage when these feelings are very weak, or altogether missing. Some men and women, faced with these weakened feelings, will then ask “Why should I stay married if I don’t love my husband/wife any longer?”
Someone who has this view of love may very well end up with multiple marriages. Feelings are fickle things; do not base your marriage on the unstable foundation of feelings.
Recognize instead that love involves more than feelings. That at its heart love is a commitment to do what is best for another and that this commitment then needs to be expressed in daily actions that are supportive, affirming and respectful.
When this approach is taken consistently, the feelings of love that may wane at times will eventually return, mature, and root more deeply in the relationship.
Forrest Talley, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Folsom California. He spent 20 years training interns at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center before recently opening a private practice called Invictus Psychological Services.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.
7 Tips On How To Perk Up An Unhappy Marriage
No matter how hopeless things feel.
If you’re wondering how to fix a broken marriage, you’re not alone. This type of relationship anxiety affects so many couples who swore they would be happy together but then wound up in an unhappy marriage, wondering what went wrong.
If your relationship has hit a rough patch, don’t panic — there’s some marriage advice that could help you learn how to save your marriage and keep you both from the brink of divorce.
The bliss of “dating/engagement/wedding” is hardly a trustworthy predictor of a marriage’s success post-honeymoon phase. Saving an unhappy marriage may not be on a wedding-day radar, but it sometimes becomes the unexpected goal not too far into the future.
Anyone who has ever aspired to grow-old-together love has witnessed at least one iconic couple so interwoven at a soul level that the partners are veritably “one.” They speak and move in unison, respond with impeccable timing, and somehow, inexplicably, look alike.
The deeply-entrenched love of elderly couples who have been together almost their entire lives can be so inextricable that the spouses can’t live without one another. Literally. The stories of spouses dying within months, weeks, even hours of one another are so poignantly common that they have their own name: the widowhood effect.
Whether these beacons of hope are grandparents, friends or movie characters, their mastery of commitment gives witnesses pause to consider their “tricks.”
Were they always this happy? Did they ever fall on tough times? Did they ever get bored or angry with one another? Did they ever have to worry about saving an unhappy marriage?
Relationships are organic in the sense that they are always in motion. Even stagnancy bears an undertow of change. Love relationships course through different forms of love. Many are to be expected — the giddy stage of romance, the power-struggle stage, the sunset years.
Most couples, however, commit during the romantic stage of love when they are marinating in matchmaking brain chemicals and hormones. They see all that is perfect and possible, and brush off the negatives like dandruff off a shoulder.
Give them a couple years, however, and that chemistry starts to wane. Suddenly reality sets in, and, even if the spouses aren’t incompatible, they don’t “recognize” their relationship. It doesn’t look or feel as it did early in their relationship.
They have power struggles, and the discomfort is often mistaken for unhappiness and/or boredom. They fight to “get back to where they once were” instead of embracing the course of love and working together to keep it vital.
Suddenly they are second-guessing their decision to marry and wondering if it is worth saving an unhappy marriage. Because they don’t recognize where they are in their relationship, they may be convinced there is nothing to do to save the marriage. And not having the “feeling of being in love” can cast a dread on the prospect of working on their commitment.
Some couples, of course, allow years to go by while negative emotions fester and morph into contempt, criticism, and defensiveness.
According to marriage expert Dr. John Gottman, couples wait an average of six years before seeking help for their issues. Perhaps one or both partners believe they shouldn’t (or don’t) need help at all.
So the big question is this: Is saving an unhappy marriage possible?
The answer is a cautious “yes.”
The caution is because the success of saving a marriage is contingent on the commitment of the partners to … well … save their commitment. Surprisingly, if even one person in the relationship is committed to growth, change, and working together, there can be a great hope for the marriage.
Here are 7 steps to take in order to fix your broken relationship and save an unhappy marriage turning things around.
1. Seek help early.
Don’t wait for those negative emotions and behaviors to take root. It is far easier to guide couples in developing compassionate communication skills than it is to untangle resentment that has had plenty of time to deepen.
2. Learn to listen.
This is so important no matter how silly it sounds. It is so easy when falling in love to hear what you want to hear and to move forward in the spirit of everything being rosy.
But too often people don’t know how to truly listen — to themselves or to their spouses. They get lost in blame and a need to be right and fail to hear with their hearts.
Everyone has triggers, fears, and painful memories. By learning to communicate those deeper realities with responsible expression and compassionate reception, intimacy and love grow. Too many relationships are lost simply because people don’t feel heard.
3. Prioritize your marriage.
Saving an unhappy marriage takes work. And making that investment can seem like a contradiction in terms if one or both of you is really unhappy.
But if you are committed to making your marriage work, you will need to infuse it with dedicated time and energy. Even ten minutes a day that is completely devoted to emotionally connecting with your spouse can work wonders. Remember the power of listening discussed above.
4. Replace the “divorce” mindset with a “marriage” mindset.
This is a decision that you are going to choose your thoughts.
Remember that you didn’t get to this place overnight, and you’re not going to get out of it overnight, either. Take the time to rediscover the reasons you got married in the first place. And repeat them and expand on them … over and over. As you work from this commitment mindset, you will likely discover new reasons to add to the list.
5. Work on yourself with no expectations of your spouse.
Yes, the objective here is for both spouses to be committed to the recovery of the marriage. But your work can’t be contingent on your spouse’s. That may seem like a big risk — and it is. “What if I do xyz, and s/he doesn’t do her/his part?” Yep. Could happen. Or maybe you won’t both evolve or “get it” at the same time.
But if the character and behavior traits you are working on are all positive traits, how can you lose? And if you start growing and demonstrating the results, your spouse may take notice and begin to change, as well. Either way … do your own work.
6. Take responsibility.
This can be so difficult, especially if your spouse has done something that you believe is more egregious than anything you have done. But relationships are always a common ground where two people come to work out their lives by learning, struggling and growing.
There is always responsibility on both sides. Owning up to yours will help to diffuse defensiveness on the other side while sharpening your self-awareness and -accountability. That goes for the little things as well as the big things.
7. Be transparent and accountable.
Leave your pride at the door. Transparency and accountability require self-reflection and an examination of your thoughts, behaviors, and intentions. There is no room for convenient omissions of details and information.
Your goal needs to be bringing you and your spouse onto the same page. Your intentions, therefore, need to be pure and for the good of the relationship. Your personal commitment to this — especially if you have violated your spouse’s trust — will speak volumes about your commitment to the good of your relationship going forward.
Saving an unhappy marriage is a commitment to a lot of hard work. But assuming that the marriage is not abusive and you can still see through the clouds misery to the memory of loving light coming through, there is hope.
Seeking help for saving an unhappy marriage can help define areas that need work, while giving you tools for working on them. It’s amazing how the “impossible” becomes “possible” when problems are identified and a plan of action is made to overcome them.