Managing Feelings — 12 March 2006
How to deal with a partner who collects hurts

One of the most frustrating relationship issues occurs when one partner repeatedly reminds the other of his or her prior misconduct. When past hurtful behaviors are not apologized for or forgiven, the pair becomes immobilized by the ongoing pattern of accusations, pain and hindered connection.

Those who collect their hurts are usually unaware of the major reasons causing them to frequently recite the unpleasant past. They usually view their unforgiving style as justified reactions to the pain they endured as a result of their mate’s insensitive conduct. Those who are reminded of their past failings seem unable to apologize enough or repair the old damage done to their partner’s esteem. Trust and respect are severely damaged and the relationship stalls.

Since all repeated behavior enhances us more than it detracts from us, (even if it serves unhealthy needs), it is important to determine what may be some reasons for this relationship pattern that immobilizes both mates.

Some unforgiving mates may be aware that their behavior may stem from mistrust, which they believe is needed to secure their safety. “If I trust again, I may get hurt again”, they say. That may be an accurate depiction of their fear, yet continuing to mistrust and be accusatory toward the mate, certainly does not engender loving cooperation.

For others, the ongoing recitation of the partner’s past transgressions empowers them to demand greater efforts in the present. “Try harder” is the implied message with an unstated promise of never being satisfied enough. This pattern, thought not intended to be unkind, may actually end up being abusive.

Feeling superior to the mate may be another emotion propelling the behavior of remembering and reminding one of his or her offenses. Though the recallers of hurts may be unaware of this, they are deluding themselves into believing that they are superior beings or partners. They feel that they could not have done to their mate what was done to them. They may also misperceive their own behavior as never hurtful. These erroneous beliefs may provide a temporary sense of worthiness and superiority. But, to be maintained, it requires a nonyielding perseverance of righteousness and shaming of the mate for all his or her misdeeds.

Partners of the hurt mates often feel very regretful and humbled by their prior behavior that offended their loved ones. However, when their sincere apologies and commitment to avoid this behavior in the future are not accepted, they feel defeated and helpless. When their deep redress is seen as inauthentic or insufficient, they often feel devalued and their hope for acceptance is shattered. It feels to them as though they were criminals who never got their day in court or like those whose probation period is eternal.

This destructive pattern dooms the feelings of closeness and intimacy. Both mates feel unaccepted, unsafe and unloved.

If you are the unforgiving mate, ask yourself:

• Has my pattern of reminding my mate of his/her prior errors been helpful or harmful to our relationship?
• Do I feel safer, more powerful or healthier by resisting my mate’s apologies?
• What do I need to do to help create a better union? Is the risk of trusting again worth the potentially improved bond?
• Remember, most people live up to the expectations placed on them. If you accept, trust and forgive, not only will your relationship improve, but your personal esteem will also be heightened.

If you are the unforgiven mate, ask yourself:

• Are my apologies expressed sincerely and am I committed to honoring my mate’s needs first?
• How can I implore my mate to see that the lack of forgiveness hurts me deeply, harms us both and impairs our connection?
• Does my pattern of affirming my partner’s negative view of me, support his/hers habit and further damages our connection?
• What can I do to soften my mate’s attitude toward me? Am I willing to do what it takes?

Both partners may decide to discontinue their ineffective interactions by:

• Realizing that the current standoff will only keep them apart, slowly destroying their love and their individual self-esteem.
• Accepting that prior hurtful conduct came from lack of awareness, not ill intent.
• Having a final, open hearted discussion to end the hurts and to commit to loving each other anew.
• Agreeing to close “Book 1” and start “Book 2” which begins with more mature characters creating a relationship based on acceptance, respect, trust and friendship.

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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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