Managing Feelings — 04 January 2007
Couples can initiate a new beginning

The celebration of a new year often brings joy, excitement, and hope. The joy is about the completion of another year, the excitement is about new things to come and the hope is the anticipation of an even better tomorrow. A similar process can be applied to couples who wish to improve their relationship.

In marketing the word ‘new’ is associated with a fresh, updated, and improved product. People are enticed by the promised experience of a better, faster, brighter, more efficient product or service.

New babies, puppies and flowers are some of the marvels of nature that conjure awe about their sweetness, purity, lovability, and freshness. Every newborn animal in the zoo captures the enthusiasm and curiosity of most spectators. A new home, car, attire or gadget receives the appropriate adulation of its owners and admirers.

New love relationships are cloaked with the lovers’ aura of fascination, euphoria and ecstasy and the enthusiastic support and delight of family and friends. Newlyweds are catered to and welcomed into society with joy by all observers.

Seasoned relationships my lose the initial luster of the newness of their bond and may develop signs of ‘wear and tear’. Disenchantment, disappointments, unmet needs, life pressures and time constraints are some of the common tarnishing elements. Hurt, resentments, conflicts and unresolved differences may dim the couple’s enthusiasm for each other, as they continue to yearn for the resumption of the fascination they had when their relationship was new.

Some people go so far as to keep an ongoing log of their partner’s mistakes, unsupportive acts, failures, errors or hurtful conduct. They are so burdened by documenting this painful history that they are hindered from experiencing all the positive, new and improved aspects of their partner’s essence and behavior.

The mates of the log-keepers often feel condemned to never be forgiven for their early ‘sins’. They feel unforgiven and lost in regaining the trust, love and positive regard of their partner. They may also feel helpless and hopeless about rehabilitating their love connection.

Some couples state that their relationship has been mutually hurtful and that neither can get over the pain he/she feels about the past. They have made attempts to repair the old damage, only to be reminded that the mate still does not feel safe enough to be trusted.

When couples decide to reverse the trend of recalled and reminded hurts, one of their challenges is to learn how to effectively exchange apologies, accept the redress and allow themselves to clear the slate. As long as the old plagues the new – freshness and intimate connection cannot be fully restored.

The responses to hurt are: avoidance, revenge or forgiveness. The first two widen the distance between the mates and are destructive. Research by Dr. Frank D. Fincham on forgiveness in relationship hurts found that how the offending behavior is viewed impacts the ease of forgiveness. Not attributing malice to the hurting partner, feeling empathy for the offender’s perspective and taking some responsibility for the occurrence of that pain, aid in the resolution of the conflict.

Another researcher, Dr. Heider found that viewing the partner as the only one to blame led to greater anger, dissatisfaction and marital rift. Self-effacing and kinder view of the mate produced greater couple satisfaction.

• I recommend that couples discuss the hurtful behavior from the other person’s perspective. It fosters understanding and compassion, which leads to healing.
• Couples are also encouraged to learn and use healthier communication tools to deal with painful emotions as they occur.
• Both partners are wise to talk of the old resentments, apologize, accept and forgive each other and agree to file them in BOOK 1, a read and closed segment of their lives. They can then embark on BOOK 2 that embodies the healthier, kinder and more accepting view of each other.
• Trusting that each partner as well intentioned, kind and loving helps deal with hurtful conduct without attribution of malice or lack of love.
• Forgiving and receiving forgiveness validates both partners worthiness and ignites attraction.
• Being viewed positively can re-spark the intimate connection and create a new, fresh and enthralling connection.
• A new beginning may be even more intoxicating than the first one because it is based on a solid foundation with new reinforcements and above all- hope for a safe and secure lifelong bond.
• A new year is a great time to recreate your new relationship.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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