Saturday, August 8, 2009

Recognize if your marriage has a deep injury, and HEAL IT!

If you have a sore spot in your relationship, that keeps coming up over and over, it's possible that it is, what is known to therapists as, an Attachment Injury.

A friend and colleague of mine, wrote this piece about how you can heal an attachment injury you caused.

I'm sharing it with his permission.

Healing Attachment Injuries

An attachment injury, by definition, is a hurt in a close relationship that is severe enough to adversely affect the relationship. This could be between husband and wife, parent and child (no matter what ages), or others.

We grow close to or attached to people when they help meet our needs of friendship, companionship, romantic relationships, etc. We want to love and trust those we have attachments to and want to be treated well by them. When the relationship is good we can easily forgive little things and a quick apology can work wonders.

When an incident happens that is big enough to be called an attachment injury, things are different. An example of an attachment injury was reported by the well respected marital therapy pioneer and author, Susan Johnson.

It happened when a woman had a miscarriage and she appropriately responded to the loss as a death of a child. Her husband however had not yet established a relationship with the fetus, nor felt it growing and moving, or had those deep loving, tender feelings his wife had. His anticipation and longing for a child was not in the same place as his wife's. He looked at the miscarriage as a medical procedure. She was crushed by his dismissal and silent denial of her pain and loss. For years afterwards whenever this wife felt a triggering event her emotions would swell up and she would feel anger, hurt, abandonment and more; almost as if it happened that day.

When our spouse goes off on an emotional outburst, after experiencing a triggering event, we know there is an attachment injury that is not yet healed. Or sometimes when we hear about the same problem or issue over and over again it is evidence of an attachment injury.

Here is how to heal an attachment injury at approximately this level. (More severe injuries, like affairs or repeated significant injuries, require more and often different treatment.)

To begin, you must want to heal all such injuries sincerely or your attempts will not yield the desired result.

The following steps will be written from the point of view that the husband caused the injury.

The next time a triggering event occurs and ignites your wife's emotions about "the" injury - stay with it.

1) Bring the entire issue, tenderly and carefully, to the forefront of her thoughts. Go over all of the events that lead up to it, all of the errors made, acknowledge the missed queues, etc. To be healing your attitude should be calm, humble, soft spoken and contrite during the conversation. Acknowledge your partner's pain and suffering over this. Remember the focus is on your spouse healing—not on you or your feelings, image, etc. The more you are thinking about your issues, the less helpful it will be to your spouse.

2) Next, apologize for every little detail that you were responsible for--every single one. Then apologize for the things that happened that you did not cause--especially, if you did not cause them. Apologize that they even happened! Be truly sorrowful that those events contributed to your wife's pain and sorrow.
Proceed slowly, only going forward when there has been enough time for her to absorb what is occurring.

3) Let her know what your intent was and what your intent is now. If your intent was not good, don't lie about it. Admit it and if it was selfish, prideful, controlling, etc. - apologize for it. Tell her how your intent is going to change, if it needs to. On the other hand, if you truly felt that your intent was completely pure, recognize that with the additional knowledge you now have, you still need to apologize. Pointing out that your intent was not meant to harm is a step in the process but does not negate any of the other steps.

4) Next, tell her how you are going to prevent things like this from happening again. Tell her what you are doing and going to do to make absolutely certain you never let that happen again. How are you going to be aware that something like this is brewing again? Share this with her or figure it out with her.

5) Finally, apologize all over again for every single issue that you caused and every single thing that happened that could have been prevented whether you caused it or not. Then, if she is ready, hold her gently and lovingly. Let it all sink in.

Remember, the apology must match the size of the injury. We don't cure infections with aspirin.

We don't cure attachment injuries with a quick and pitiful "I'm sorry, I should not have done that - now get over it."

Remember also, that healing takes time. Some or all of the above may have to be repeated. Be patient—do it again. Allow time to heal.

You will know when the injury is healed. You will see or hear the trigger and the gun won't fire. Healing will then be complete.

By Dean R. Bender

To learn more about marital attachments read Susan Johnson's book, Hold Me Tight

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