This Tisha B’av I listened to the moving and insightful webcast of Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President, Emeritus of the Orthodox Union. He was focusing on the power of using words to process our pain and how this can be therapeutic for those experiencing post-traumatic stress. In fact, he pointed out, Holocaust survivors who did not talk about their experience found themselves suffering more than those that were able to verbalize what they went through. This point resonated with me strongly as I have witnessed the therapeutic benefit of sharing pain.
Holding in Our Feelings
When a new couple comes in who is in crisis, they often experience great relief after one session because they were able to express their true feelings and their pain, often for the very first time. Many of us may be suffering in our relationships but we may be holding in our feelings, walking around with resentment, and focusing our energy everywhere but our spouse.
I am reminded of the wife who was scared that her husband would never be successful. Instead of articulating her feelings, she took action and immersed herself in work for three years to the point of obsession for success, disconnecting herself from her husband and family.
Of course, in order for us to be able to express the fear and pain we may be feeling, we need to feel safe enough to discuss these feelings. As we have mentioned before, the structure of the Imago Dialogue helps create the safety needed to verbalize our innermost pain in a non-threatening way that allows the listener to have compassion for our story. Once we can articulate how we feel, we blow away all of the assumptions either one of us may have had about each other. We also mitigate the resentment that came out sideways in the forms of jabs or putdowns. After everything is on the table we can move forward.
I believe that we are all suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress. (Whether or not we can technically be diagnosed with PTSD is irrelevant for our purposes.) This trauma could be from childhood, from previous relationships, from witnessing or even reading in detail the graphic accounts of 9/11 or other tragedies. Until we can articulate the pain we are experiencing, we will be operating in survival mode. Living a life of reactivity, of flight/fight, will only bring about more discord in our relationships and within ourselves. If you are in a relationship where you are afraid to share your feelings with your spouse, know that it is so much more pleasurable to be in a relationship where you can share without being worried about the other’s reaction.
I have outlined some of the precursors to safe communication in chapter four of The Five Step Action Plan to Saving Your Marriage. If you have any questions about how to create this essential component for your ultimate relationship, don’t hesitate to contact me.