How do Couples and Families Heal?
It may seem impossible to heal as individuals and as a couple from the trauma that occurs when a partner discovers that his/her spouse has been engaging in secret, destructive sexual and relationship behaviors. Sometimes, it is not possible.
However, when there is a commitment by each person to work to heal, there is a possibility not only to heal from the trauma and wounds of the past, but to develop a healthy relationship based upon honesty, accountability, responsibility, respect for self and one’s partner, caring, openness, flexibility, and a commitment to finding creative solutions to conflicts. It is difficult to do, and it takes time, but it is possible for many couples to heal; and it creates a new foundation for couples to thrive and to work together to overcome any challenges that may occur in the future.
Sometimes the commitment to heal the relationship is motivated by a shared concern for the needs of children. Sometimes, it may be due to other external factors such as financial realities, etc. Sometimes, the commitment may be based in one’s values, sometimes by the underlying caring and love that exists in the relationship despite the serious violations and resulting trauma, sometimes by fear or shame. Often, there is a combination of motivating factors that leads to making this commitment.
Regardless of the reasons, the process of healing as individuals and as a couple may be one of the most difficult and challenging tasks that you have ever undertaken. It requires
- Hard work,
- Ability to be honest with yourself and become aware of your own vulnerabilities,
- Willingness to recognize ineffective and destructive ways of coping with emotions, stresses, and issues in relationships,
openness to accept guidance from others,
- Effort to develop supportive relationships, with others – usually in 12-step programs – who are working to overcome similar crises in their lives,
- Ongoing engagement in individual, group, and couple’s therapy.
It requires a deep sustained effort as well to respect yourself while also listening to your partner, gaining understanding of his/her experience, strengths, vulnerabilities, feelings, and needs. It requires time and money that will make it necessary to reassess priorities and make difficult decisions regarding what not to do and what not to buy.
This commitment is made not knowing what the ultimate outcome will be. Not every marriage survives the trauma of these serious violations. Nonetheless, there are many couples who do heal and who develop healthy, loving, long-term relationships. And, even if the marriage does not survive, you can experience a healing for yourself, knowing you did everything you could, healing from the wounds of the past, developing new skills and capacities that you carry with you into future relationships.
Following are guidelines that will give you an overview of the stages of the healing process, and the tasks that you and your partner will need to complete at each stage, as individuals and as a couple. Note that the progress through these stages does not always proceed straightforwardly. There may be times when the couple needs to move back to a previous stage as a result of changing circumstances. The stages include the following:
- Crisis Management
- Individual Foundations for Recovery & Healing
- Couple Foundations for Recovery & Healing
- Trust building & accountability agreements
- Developing relationship skills
- Formal Disclosure & Relationship Repair Process
- Healing the wounds of the past & building a foundation for the future
- Goal setting and Commitment to next steps – making the decision to work to repair the relationship or to end
- Individual Family of Origin and Trauma Therapy – Resolving underlying issues with regard to impact on couple/family relationships
- Couple Relationship Renewal
- Chronic, unresolved couple issues – decision-making, finances, life-style, parenting, relationships with extended family, etc.
- Renewing physical and sexual intimacy
- Couple recommitment process