A loving, supportive romantic relationship is one of the biggest joys in life. But it can also be a source of regret, guilt, anger, resentment and sorrow. We learn all about weddings and courtship as children and teens. But we really don’t learn much about how to make marriage work. This is reflected in the divorce rate. The latest is 41% for first marriages and 60% for second ones. Life’s stresses and having different expectations for things can railroad even the best of relationships. Something else that weighs heavily on a relationship is a phenomenon called “attachment injuries.” This is when a particularly stressful or painful event arises in our life and we need our partner to comfort us but they aren’t available either physically or emotionally. This leads to resentment and suppressed anger. Therapist Dr. Melanie Greenberg has come up with a certain type of therapy to counteract these issues and get relationships back on track. It’s called HEAL, an acronym standing for Hear, Empathize, Act, Love. It exchanges self-protecting behavior with reconnecting, loving, and compassionate behavior.
First you have to listen actively to your partner. Consciously take down your defenses and open up your heart to them. Look at their facial expressions, body language, register their tone. What else are they saying with these nonverbal cues? How are they really feeling? Are they actually expressing some sort of need that isn’t currently being met? Companionship, understanding, control, and love are all needs that perhaps are going unfulfilled. The best way to calm your significant other is to really listen, find out what need isn’t being met, and be open to changing and working hard to meet their need. Next, empathize with your partner. Realize what it’s like from their point of view. Feel what they are feeling and let it come over you. Sometimes one emotion such as anger resides at the surface, but is put there by another emotion lingering underneath, perhaps frustration, loneliness or feeling that you aren’t in control of your own life. Sometimes there is a deeper reason. But sometimes your partner just needs validation and compassion. Oftentimes these two are enough to quell the problem. The next step is act. Talk with your partner and find out what needs to be done or what you need to change in order to meet their needs. Finally, love. Feel love for the person and express it unconditionally. If your relationship has trust issues, restore it with HEAL. For more advice read, I Love You But I Don’t Trust You: The Complete Guide to Restoring Trust in Your Relationship by Mira Kirshenbaum.