Have you ever heard of the saying revenge is a dish best served cold? It sounds like something you say to your worst enemy but some couples are subscribing to this school of thought when it comes to coping with hurt. Everyone reacts to hurt in a different way. Some people simply avoid those who have wronged them while others may look to get even. The purpose is to often to hurt someone the way that they have hurt us so they can feel and experience the pain that we did.
I see this kind of thinking and behaviour in couples that are in the midst of divorce or the aftermath of infidelity within their relationship. It’s the kind of betrayal and trauma of severed trust that cuts deeply and leaves them feeling defenseless. A war ensues on who is right and wrong. Friends of those couples have to pick a side before the war begins.
My friends Tina and Tim are just that kind of couple. They seem to have a relationship that is grounded in an immense connection and care but neither is able to make each other feel safe with each other. They have been together for five years and living together for three years. One day, Tim left his Facebook open and his messages with a girl on his friends list was seen by Tina. The messages were flirty and witty. Tina began talking to one of Tim’s close friends and even started hanging out with him.
“It hurt me a lot what he did. Not because he was speaking to another girl but that some of the things he said I wished he thought of me,” said Tina.
Tim’s response was surprise. “And your solution was to hang out with my friend? I have never cheated on you. In fact, I am with you most of the time. I take you out for dinners, text you during the day when I can and even tolerate watching your silly TV shows,” he said.
“You act like I have never done anything for you. I have stood by you through everything. Maybe you just need to be more sensitive,” said Tina.
What Tim and Tina were going through is not unusual for what I hear even with my clients coming in for help. Neither party can put the scorecard down long enough to comfort each other. In relationships, we need more than evidence that our partner is caring. We need to feel we matter to each other. Partners often keep scorecards in fear that they won’t be appreciated, but by doing so begin to lose sight of all the things their partner is doing. Unfortunately, partners also fall into the trap of disproving what their partner said rather than comforting them and being emotionally responsive.
It’s easy to feel that you are at an impasse and focus on the problem rather than the solution. Forgiveness becomes even harder for those because they often hold the belief that by forgiving a wrong you are excusing the behaviour. However, forgiveness refers to the actor not the act. We can get lost in hard assessments and imperfection. We become unable to notice that all of us are vulnerable to bad judgments and making mistakes. Forgiveness is a process rather than a destination and compassion has a large part in it.
We don’t always feel it’s fair when we are hurt and we attempt to assert some form of control over it by inflicting the pain on those who have wronged us. Don’t be disillusioned by the power of the words “I’m sorry” because the reality of it is that those are just words. They often do not dissolve the hurt that has incurred and in fact much of the healing is a personal process. You may not be able to change the past but your choice of what you bring into the future can be the lessons you have learned.
Amy Yew is a researcher and therapist. Tell us what you think and submit any questions you have to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also tweet your thoughts on Twitter @AmyYew.