April 5, 1999 Ask Dr. Love Advice Column
I've been with my boyfriend for over 4 years and we have both verbaly abused each other from time to time it seems more often than not
I'm 26 and he's 30 and we are tryin to break up but were still very in love but hurt at the same time. What can we do to forgive the hurt feelings and move on? We do want to be together, but we can't forgive the hurt words.
I hear that you fear that there is too much water (and harsh words) under the bridge for you to stay together. I also hear that, on another level, you both can't let go of each other.
So basically you are in conflict.
I don't think you should make such an important decision in haste. Each of you needs to take time to talk about what makes you want to stay and what makes you want to go. You both love each other, that's clear. And, I think that you both know that you were brought together to help each other learn an essential lession: that it is necessary to behave properly even when you are angry.
I know you both feel hurt and unable to forgive and forget. Nobody says that you have to be untrue to your feelings. But, I am quite sure that you both could learn to let the past go, under one very important condition: you both must commit to stop adding insult to injury. If unkind words are ever said again, the old wounds will be ripped open again and neither of you will ever heal.
In other words, in order to stay in this relationship, you both must promise to never, ever say anything damaging to each other again. If you stick to your word, the old wounds will begin to heal. If you have decided to commit to this plan, then I wilI show you how to stop the verbal abuse.
First, you must recognize the thoughts and feelings that precede the verbal abuse. Each of you must identify your hot spots ( what sets you off) and you must come to recognize the warning signals before you go off. A warning might be a physical sensation, such as a feeling of eruption in the chest or the stomach.
You each need to get in touch with what your warning signals are. Then once you know what they are, you must make the committment that whenever a warning sign appears that will stop and prevent yourselves from acting or speaking.
At that moment you are to say to yourself, 'I am not permitted to say or do anything damaging to him or her. Hurting him or her is hurting myself. The rule of thumb is if you can't say something that would be helpful and constructive, then walk away. And, don't come back until you can behave and speak properly.
If you both have the same goal at heart, which you do, then you can help each other to achieve it. You both know that you need to grow in this area. Realize that if you break up, and move on to new partners, you will still need to do this growth work anyway.
Since you love each other, why not help each other achieve this vital goal? This type of work is not easy to accomplish alone. Usually it needs to be done in a couple's therapy setting.
If you decide to work in couple's therapy, make sure that you choose a therapist that doesn't follow the cathartic model (letting it all rip). That would be death for you both.
So, commit to doing the work. No need to break up now. You can always break up later, which I don't think you will need to do if you just do the work.
"If anger and fighting are ruining your dream of a happy marriage, Dr. Turndorf’s conflict resolution program is for you."
-- John Gray,
Author of NY Times #1 bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
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Pulitzer Prize winning author and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
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Author of NY Times #1 bestseller Homecoming
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Producer Relationship Advice Cafe
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