Marital Disconnection –
On any given day, week, month or year, I sit with a number of couples whose relationships have deteriorated into various states of marital disconnection. For some couples the disconnection has become so pervasive, they are beyond all hope. In fact, by the time they find their way to the therapy couch, they may have already taken preliminary steps to dissolve the relationship through separation or divorce. For other couples, the disconnection has become such a “normal” way of being with one another, they doubt whether or not they ever really had a good relationship to begin with or could ever feel genuinely united.
My experience has taught me that all couples have the capacity to heal, connect and reconcile. If, and this is a pretty big if, they individually and collectively are willing to embrace and follow a few guiding principles about couplehood and reconciliation. On the surface that can sound deceptively simplistic. Just follow these steps and your relationship will transform into the type of couplehood you have always wanted. Yeah right. I said it sounded simple…I didn’t say it was simple.
Marital reconciliation is hard work and is best undertaken by two partners who are both committed to the process. If one partner, or the other, hedges their bets, the probability of reconciliation is greatly reduced if not thwarted. Mutual commitment to the process is an important element of the process.
Seen and Heard
From here, the partners must be willing to allow one another the space to share the story of their couplehood from their unique perception. Preferably, this takes place in the absence of the word “you.” Better know as the use of I-statements. Being seen and heard in the relationship is another important element of the process. But it is still not the key element.
Once each partner has had the opportunity respectfully tell their story, they attempt to offer one another validation. Which by the way doesn’t imply agreement about their partner’s perception. Validation, in this situation, is an acknowledgment of their partner’s feelings and perceptions. It is not an endorsement, it is an acknowledgment i.e., “I understand how you could feel that way.” Validation, however, is still not the key to reconciliation and healing.
At this point, we’ve effectively cleared the air and hopefully allowed both partners to feel seen, heard and validated by their partner which now allows the couple to move into the more “meaty” parts of the process which begins with forgiveness.
Forgiveness can be a prickly subject for couples. Often this is because they think forgiveness is the evoking of a kind of get out of jail free card. They think if they forgive, they will be denying the pain, the harm and emotional damage they have experienced. They may even think that forgiveness implies blindly trusting a partner that may have proved themselves unworthy of trust.
In reality, forgiveness is an act of our will that has very little to do with the other person. Forgiveness is a one person event in which each individual partner decides to offer the gift of forgiveness…not because it is deserved…but because holding on to un-forgiveness is a bit like holding a hot coal in our hands and wondering why the other person is not being burned. When we forgive, we make a conscious decision (with our thinking brain) with which our emotions eventually come into alignment.
Which brings us to the process of reconciliation and the key you’ve been waiting for. In reconciliation, both partners take personal responsibility for their part of the disconnection, derailment, emotional damage, etc. and offer and receive a genuine, authentic apology for faulty and often harmful choices, behaviors, words and actions.
The key to this process, and the larger process of healing the marital relationship however, is an attitude of the heart and mind in which each partner truly sees, acknowledges and experiences a shift in the way they understand their contribution to the marital disconnection. In essence, they have a genuine moment of clarity or coming to one’s self in which they change their heart and change their mind about their contributions to the relationship and chart a new course or direction. We call this element or key repentance.
Repentance is one of those words that often conjures up images of angry people wagging a bony finger in someone’s face as they shout repent! The negative connotations that have been attributed to this word or process are unfortunate for in reality the word or process of repentance is a perfect metaphor for the type of mental and behavioral shift that must take place in order to achieve true relational reconciliation.
Repentance, correctly defined, is a change of mind and change of heart in which the person experiences a form of internal enlightenment, clarity, understanding. A coming to one’s self or senses…as it were. This change of mind, change of heart then results in a change of behavior and the setting of a new direction. It is a turning away from the old and a turning to the new. It is much more than an apology.
Repentance is not only an genuine shift in one’s thinking, it is a shift in one’s belief and perception which translates into a shift in one’s behavior, choices and actions. It is revelation followed by action or tangible, external manifestations of the internal shift.
“Bring forth fruit that is consistent with repentance [let your lives prove your change of heart]” ~ (Matthew 3:8, Amp.)
Repentance: Heart and mind transformation followed by action.
The successful navigation of the repentance stage (a change of mind that results in a change of behavior) is the ultimate determining factor for whether or not couples are able to continue through the reconciliation process and achieve true marital healing and relational reconnection. If the partners are able to jointly share in the mutual sharing of the repentance phase, the odds of marital reconciliation and healing grow exponentially.
However, without the key element of repentance, couples often languish in the muck of an articulated apology that feels neither genuine or sufficient for the rebuilding of trust, which is the final step in true marital healing and reconnection. While apologies can be helpful they are often ineffectual in and of themselves and do little to cerate a sense of safety and trust upon which the couple can build a strong relational future.
Repentance is generally not a concept that brings to mind images of reconnection, healing and true intimacy. Repentance, when defined as a change of heart that results in a change of behavior, is however, the key to creating a lasting, safe, growing environment within which trust can be rebuilt and deep, mutually satisfying marital relationships can be constructed.
What to learn more about healing marital disconnection?
Call our office at 317-760-0604 or Schedule your appointment online today.
Chrysalis Connections Counseling and Consultation
Your Partner in Life
429 E. Vermont St., Suite 208
Indianapolis, IN 46202