I treat many couples and families who are trying to recover from relational pain. Perhaps a husband had an affair with his daughter’s basketball coach. Or a mother was unavailable to her children because she was abusing prescription pain medications.
In each of these situations, the family wants to heal. The members long to re-establish a functional unit. They want to move forward in their marriages and their lives.
But moving past the an guish is a daunting process. Painful memories get in the way. When one person starts to bridge the gap, another reminds her of her misdeed. No matter how long ago the transgression occurred, it remains front and center in the relationship.
The key to moving forward is clearing the slate. It’s imperative that family members shake the emotional Etch A Sketch and begin anew.
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This doesn’t mean they forget what happened. That’s impossible to do. Rather, they stop behaving as if the transgression were still occurring and create a new relationship grounded in today.
That new relationship assumes several factors. First, the unacceptable behavior has stopped. The family unit can no longer be in the midst of turmoil. Offending parties have unequivocally terminated their misdeeds. They have achieved this without reservation and are demonstrating this change on a continual basis. Any resistance or perceived sneakiness undermines the process and fosters an attitude of distrust.
Second, emotional reparations have been made to those who’ve been harmed. Apologies have been stated in a heartfelt manner and have been repeated as often as the injured party requests them.
Finally, offenders demonstrate a plan for maintaining the straight and narrow. They readily follow a course of action that will diminish the odds of the problem recurring. They equally adhere to behaviors that will support the positive changes agreed upon in the relationship.
When all the criteria have been met, the time is right to clean the slate. Now’s the time for all members of the clan to take past hurts to the psychic dumpster. Make today the day you start anew to build the relationship you and your loved ones deserve.
TRY THESE TIPS FOR CLEANING THE SLATE IN YOUR OWN RELATIONSHIP
Commit yourself to the healing process. You can’t do it halfheartedly. If you want things to get better, you need to jump in with both feet. Choosing to stay a little angry doesn’t cut it.
Identify what changes need to be made. Discuss with your loved ones how things will be different from this day forward. A husband may need to stop drinking and attend AA meetings. A woman may agree to delete her ex-boyfriend from Facebook and cease all further email contact with him. Whatever you decide, make sure all parties agree. Anything less will be counterproductive.
Don’t bring up the past. Fight the urge to flail past hurts into loved ones’ faces. They can’t do anything about what’s already happened. It only makes them feel powerless and angry. It’s an underhanded thing to do.
Contain your inner anger. Yes, you may still harbor angst about the past. But wallowing in the emotional mire only makes you miserable and interferes with your happiness today. Listen to angry feelings when they arise. Then replace them with more productive thoughts, such as “I need to let that go. My life is different now.”
Improve your relationship with your loved ones. Find activities you mutually enjoy. Seek out joint friends. Go on outings. Talk about fun topics. Be a loving family member. Make your relationship as good as it can be so that everyone feels safe and cherished.
Focus on your loved one’s strengths. No one is perfect. We all have plenty of flaws. Dwelling on our foibles creates hurt feelings and discourages the unity we crave. Think about good points so both you and your loved one feel better.
Get counseling. Cleaning the slate can be accompanied by roadblocks. Some families need support to get the job done. Find a skilled therapist you can all work with to improve everyone’s lives today.