Q My wife and I have been married for 17 years. When we have arguments, she brings up mistakes I made from when we first got married. I am encouraging her to let go of the past and start with where we are now. I know she was hurt when, in the early days of our marriage, I did not protect her from my parents’ demands and criticisms. How can I convince her that things are now different?
A The first step is understanding her experience of your parents’ and your lack of support for her, not trying to convince her that things are different now. If you try to move on before fully understanding her pain, it won’t work. She will feel that you don’t really want to know how she felt and that you don’t care about her experience and feelings. Thus, she will hold on to those memories to protect herself from further hurt. When someone is hurt and feels unsupported, there is a vulnerability and anger that needs to be acknowledged.
Take a look at why you didn’t protect her from your parents’ opinions and expectations. Did you believe they were right? Did it feel culturally appropriate to have them be in a dominant position in the family? Were you afraid of anything? Clarity on your part about this past dynamic will help you fully understand how it impacted your marriage.
Second, name what you thought was unfair and painful for her. Then ask her how it was for her, and how it has affected her ability to feel comfortable and trusting in your relationship. This will get to the heart of the matter and tell you much about her mind and emotions. Be prepared for her grief and anger. Don’t minimize it; instead listen, tell her what you heard, and validate her feelings. This will be more powerful than you can imagine. Also share your regrets at not offering support at an important time, when she may have felt alone or vulnerable. Assure her that you care for her well being and want to create a trusting and safe relationship. In order to do this, you’ll have to do some inward reflection and look into your motivations and fears.
Q You have written that personality patterns taking time to change. I find myself getting quite frustrated and believe there must be a faster way to get over things. Is there a better way to change our negative thoughts and actions?
A I think most of us wish human nature were simpler and easier to change. There are many tools and skillful ways to help us know ourselves more fully, heal our past wounds, or alter our personalities and values. Given that we are conditioned from a very early age about how to respond to events and people, these patterns are quite deeply ingrained. We get frustrated when we wish to feel or act differently than we are able. It also evokes our impatience.
We live in a culture where “faster” is the best way for anything. It is really by practicing awareness, looking at ourselves honestly, speaking openly about our challenges, acknowledging our strengths, and establishing new intentions that we begin to transform. Along with our efforts, we can relax into the natural seasons of maturing that happen as we live our lives with integrity and a desire to grow.
|Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. www.wholenesstherapy.com|