What Do We Do With the Repetitive Hurts?
Jerry N. Duncan, Ph.D., ABPP
In marriage, we can find ourselves hurting our partner, and being hurt by our partner on a regular basis. Even though we might be diligent in confessing and apologizing for wrongs to each other, continuing the same hurt over and over can make our partner wonder how committed to change we are, and how safe he/she feels with us. Remember, safety comes before love.
The healthiest way I know to deal with repetitive hurts in an ongoing relationship is the Issue Resolution Technique. If you use it the way it is designed without modification, you may find yourself resolving your longstanding issues safely, and in less than five minutes.
There are three steps to the technique. Step one is “Setting it Up.” One person goes to his/her partner and says, “Honey, I have something important to talk about. When would be a good time? The approached partner gets to pick the time. I suggest it be as soon as possible, but no longer than 24 hours away. I know this sounds like a simple step, but you will discover that setting it up this way will help eliminate many failed attempts to discuss something all the way through to a solution because you demanded the discussion happen immediately. Your partner may agree to the demand, but you run the risk of him/her listening resentfully, or not fully attending to what you are saying because they are still thinking about that program he/she was watching that only comes on once a year, or is a series, and they are missing an important part of the ongoing story.
It is in your best interest to let him/her pick the time. There will be less of a chance that he/she will be angry. You have a better chance of having his/her full attention. And, it feels good when someone important to you sets aside specific time to talk about something that is important to you.
Step two is “Discussing the Issue.” If you initiated the Issue Resolution, you begin stage two by first identifying the topic you are about to discuss. You then begin to share your thoughts and feelings about the issue-without interruption and without using the words “you” or “your.” When you are finished, you say, “I’m finished.”
Regardless of our intentions, the words “you” and “your” are trigger words. They tend to trigger a defensive shield that flies up in front of your partner and he/she stops listening. In fact, he/she might start throwing “stones” back at you. Absolutely keep the words “you” and “your” out of stage two. It will take practice. And, you will have to learn to think before you speak. But, most of us need to learn to do that anyway. Your partner then shares his/her thoughts and feelings without interruption, and without the words “you” or “your.” And, when he/she is finished he/she says, “I’m finished.” Now you are ready for the third and final stage- the “Solution Stage.”
At this stage, the initiator of this issue offers a proposal that obviously includes as many of his/her partner’s thoughts and feelings as his/her own thoughts and feelings. When you are finished, you say, “I’m finished.” It is now the partner’s turn. The partner has only three options- accept the proposal exactly as it was proposed, offer a proposal in its place that obviously honors the original proposer, or accept the proposal with some additions. If an alternate proposal is made, or additions are proposed, it goes back the original proposer who has the same three options. If the first proposer does a good job of listening to his/her partner and obviously includes the partner’s thoughts and feelings in the original proposal, it is rare for an alternate proposal to be needed.
Repetitive hurts can be stopped if both parties understand why they occur, and jointly agree on a plan to prevent them. The more repetitive hurt issues that get resolved, the safer the relationship feels.
Remember, safety comes before love.