Series One: Blog Ninety-Six
Tomorrow is the inauguration of a new president. Events foreshadowing inaugural ceremony have been unprecedented. Beliefs about the veracity of the election have been skewed with claims from many that the counting of votes has been fraudulent. Many do not believe that the election officials and courts have been honorable and fair and square in tallying the votes. Our country faces a great divide regarding this issue. Less than two weeks ago, thousands took to the streets of Washington D.C. to protest, embracing the hashtag “Stop the Steal”. Heightening the drama, hundreds violently stormed the Capitol, demanding that the election results be reversed, destroying property and threatening the lives of lawmakers whose task was to confirm the results of the presidential election that day. This shocking historic experience had not occurred since the War of 1812.
The prospects of what could be next have been mind-numbing for Americans.
The accumulation of racial tension, an unprecedented pandemic, immigrant suffering, and dire economic conditions particularly for the poor and most vulnerable, has fractured the unity in democracy of our country. Our new president steps into leadership with the daunting responsibility to lead our country to heal the fracture and show the way toward a brighter future in the days ahead.
Healing fractured realities is the challenge that every addictive family faces in recovery. Betrayed partners don’t trust their addict partners no matter how adamant the addict swears to the truth. How many addicts have sung the lyrics to themselves “if I could turn back time, if I could find a way…? “Yet, broken dreams and destructive behaviors cannot be taken back. When the foundation of relationship is broken and trust is severed, the road to healing is difficult and the terrain that must be traveled is demanding. Repairing a broken relational foundation is strenuous and challenging for the most stout hearted. A few considerations:
When it comes to relationship betrayal, I don’t know of any betrayed partner who comes to believe that the offending partner finally told them everything- even, after multiple polygraphs. It stands to reason. The very nature of betrayal undermines trust in the spoken word. At some point, after going through the pathway of disclosure around the betrayed experience, those involved in the relationship must establish a “ground zero”. After sifting through the ashes, an investigating fire marshal must eventually determine how the fire started, what needs to be done to correct the problem and then move forward. This is true in relationship healing whether the couple determines to stay together or not. Some couples never establish a ground zero and only know to go back and wallow in the charred remains of betrayal behavior. Those relationships never heal, and after the relationship ends, many carry their betrayal ashes with them throughout life. At some point, to move forward, you must let go of the hurt, the pain, and the heartbreak that what you once thought was real wasn’t. When you can do this, not too soon and not too late, you can begin to construct a “ground zero” toward healing and developing newfound trust. Often, what is required is the creation of a communication process that you choose to trust when you cannot trust your partner. Lacking trust in your partner at some level is a normal experience for every relationship. It is intensified when there is betrayal. So, when you cannot trust your partner, it is important to create a communication process that you will trust. This process becomes a bridge that you trust. You construct the bridge in such a way that you can get off it if you do not trust and fear it will collapse. Working with a counselor can help you build this bridge of trust.
Relationship healing requires that principles be established about how to address triggers and experiences with past betrayals and that both parties live by the principles they agree to. For example, many times a couple will agree to what is identified as a “fight fair contract”. This contract includes the many different unfair practices of fighting that each can do toward the other when fighting unfair. The agreement is not if, but when the contract is broken, then the breech is more important than the point one is trying to make. At this point, the offending partner agrees to stop and make amends. It becomes a way of creating an “I care about you” environment between the two. The contract is a simple one. The challenge is to live by principles that are agreed upon. When this occurs and principles agreed upon are adhered to, broken trust begins to heal and an infrastructure of intimacy and trust begins to grow. Many couples make agreements and feel entitled to brush them aside in the moment of reactivity. As simple as this sounds, I would suggest that living by principle is a way to heal fractured moments whether it be in your relationship or at a macro level in terms of our country. Simple doesn’t equate to easy but it does address relational healing.
I believe that most people lack sufficient amounts of empathy, toward themselves and others. This quality is not easy to grasp and implement. One research paper noted 43 different definitions ranging from basic shared emotions to more lofty mixtures of concern and kindness. An emphasis on more is not always better if we do not apply what we have to where we are and with whom we interact. Among the many applications of empathy, I want to focus on the capacity to identify with another person’s plight in life. This skill set in relational healing is profound. Often, a betrayed partner struggles with identifying with why their partner deceived them. Understanding the mechanics of what happened is important for the addict to grasp in order to stop the behavior. Destructive behavior does not happen out of the blue. For the betrayed partner, understanding those same mechanics can help develop empathy around the offending partner’s destructive behavior. Frequently, fear stifles cultivating this level of empathy. There is fear that you will give the offending partner a pass which will become a set-up for more betrayal. It takes a lot of courage to cultivate empathy. Understanding is not equal to excusing. It does not assign fault or responsibility for the offending behavior to the offended party. It paves the way to the cultivation of empathy which is crucial to healing a fractured moment in life.
Empathy requires listening which is the most difficult skill set in communication to develop. Listen to what was said and done. Listen with your ears and with your heart. Many times when agitated you might appear to be listening but either you are trying to interrupt to get a word in edgewise, stuck in the way you see things, or looking for weaknesses in the other’s position to attack. However, when you really try to understand why another person did what they did or said what they said, you can extend empathy to the other person even when you don’t agree with the behavior. Empathy heals without being responsible for another person’s shortcoming and failure.
Many times in working with betrayed partners, I will hear the agonizing statement that “if I trust, how can I keep the betrayal from happening again?” The answer is that you cannot, for there is no guarantee. This is the human condition. Yet, for those who choose to move forward toward healing, this calculated plunge is necessary. The only way to know deep intimacy is to plunge into vulnerability, knowing that your heart could be broken again. Or you can choose not to. No one can make that decision except the one who has been betrayed. However, to know deep intimacy means that you must take the plunge, even, if it is with another partner some day. It is not a foolhardy plunge. Many components must be present for the plunge to make sense. Yet, in the end, healing fractured moments requires the courage to establish a ground zero experience, a willingness to pursue agreed-upon principles, and the cultivation of understanding through empathic listening. Ultimately, a courageous plunge into a sea of vulnerability will be necessary so that the healing of fractured moments can establish a foundation of renewed trust. Pray to God that you in your broken relationship and the country we live in might know this deeper healing as we all move forward.
Subscribe to receive the latest stories, thought leadership, and growth strategies from PCS therapists.