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Working Through Past Painful Experiences

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Are you having trouble in your marriage because of past painful experiences that continue to haunt you? The following is written by Dr David Clarke, which can help you work through your issues. You can then put them to rest so you can move on in your marriage to a healthier place.

Please note: This is addressed to women, in particular. However, husbands dealing with their painful pasts can use the same method. Just switch the pronouns, glean and use what is applicable. Also, you may find that in your situation, you will need to approach matters differently. If so, please read the following MODIFICATION, first. Dr David Clarke writes:

Dredge Up Past Painful Experiences

What I’m going to ask you to do is lay out in front of your husband —in intimate detail —all the significant pain you’ve experienced in your life before meeting him. You’re going to write letters to every person in your past that caused you serious pain. I know you can remember at least several individuals who did or said something that you experienced as harmful. Something that tore up your heart and left a scar.

As you read these words, you are picturing in your mind’s eye those individuals, who traumatized you in some way in the past, aren’t you? You know who they are. And you haven’t forgotten them or what they did to you. You may have tried to forget, but the pain is still inside you. It’s time for the pain to come out.

Maybe it was your mom who hurt you. Maybe it was your dad, a brother or a sister. Perhaps it was a cousin, or an uncle or an aunt. It could have been a grandparent, a stepfather or stepmother. Maybe it was a foster parent, a neighbor, a teacher, or a coach. Or it could have been a Sunday school teacher or youth leader, or a pastor. Maybe it was a boyfriend, a female friend, a fiancé. Or maybe it was a former spouse, a son or daughter, a boss, or a fellow employee.

Regrets

In addition to being angry and hurt because of what others have done to you, you probably have done things that you regret. Things that you’re ashamed of. Things that have done damage to you and those close to you. Drinking. Drugs. Premarital sex. Lying. Gossiping. An abortion. Gambling. Overspending. An eating disorder. Divorcing someone without biblical grounds. Treating one of your children harshly. Jealousy. An explosive temper. We all have sinned. The only question is, what are your sins?

LETTERS OF TRUTH

You’re going to write letters to those who have hurt you. You’re also going to write letters confessing your sins and apologizing to those whom you have hurt. These letters will be the complete, honest truth in living color. You will cover all the details. You will leave nothing out. They will be heartfelt expressions of the pain you experienced.

They will be raw. Ragged. Intense. You will not spare those who hurt you or yourself from responsibility. And you will not use excuses or fabricate rationalizations. You will just tell the stories and express the pain attached to the stories. Before you write each letter, you’ll pray that God will bring out the memories and the pain needed to heal. You’ll pray that God will guide, strengthen and comfort you. You’ll pray that God will give you the ability to forgive.

These letters are not to send. They are to be read only to your husband. Later you may read them to a therapist and a close friend. You may choose with God’s direction and a therapist’s guidance to send “cleaned up” versions of these letters to certain individuals. But for now, the letters and your pain are only for you and your husband.

Don’t Miss a Step

I want you to write these letters even if you’ve already worked through your past pain with a therapist. If you didn’t include your husband in the process, then you missed a step. You may have healed, but you overlooked a golden opportunity to change your marriage.

I’m asking you to do something extremely difficult. I understand that. I’ve led many couples through this process, and I’ve seen up close how emotionally demanding it is. You’re going to relive the worst times in your life and allow your husband to see it and to feel it with you. This requires a lot of vulnerability. You’re taking a risk, because he may not respond and open up his gates to you. But I believe it is a risk worth taking. The pain of disappointment if he chooses not to respond is outweighed by all the benefits of letting him see and feel your pain.

CHECK OUT THE BENEFITS

Here are some of the primary benefits of confronting and resolving your pain:

You’ll heal from the pain.

If you haven’t resolved your pain, it is still inside of you and it is affecting every area of your life. Now it’s time for you to forgive all those who have hurt you. When you do that, you’ll be healthier physically, emotionally, and spiritually. You will take a huge step toward loving yourself in the same way the Bible teaches God loves you.

You’ll be a better wife because you won’t transfer your pain to your husband.

Your unresolved pain will be triggered, usually unintentionally, by certain words and behaviors of your husband. When that happens, your past pain will come out of you like a white hot laser beam and hit your husband right between the eyes. Suddenly, he will not only be receiving your anger and hurt for whatever he did, he’ll be catching it for what others have done to you in the past.

Once you and your husband have worked through your past pain together, there will be nothing more to transfer. Your past pain won’t be triggered, and you will only have to deal with your reactions to issues today, not today and the past.

You and your husband will be closer.

Sharing your pain with your husband will bring the two of you closer in a way you have never known before. Doing this kind of deep emotional work will automatically propel your relationship to a higher level. There is an intimacy in shared pain that cannot be found in any other experience.

Your husband will learn crucial communication skills.

As you express your pain by reading letters and by sharing in follow-up conversations, your husband will learn how to listen to you. He’ll learn how to reflect, and how to build understanding. He’ll learn, probably for the first time in his life, what it feels like to connect with someone on a deeper level. When he has reached that deeper level over and over again by helping you heal, it will be easier of him to reach that level with you in many other conversations. Once he knows how, he can do it repeatedly.

When your husband connects to your pain, he has a chance to connect to his own pain.

You’re not the only person with unresolved pain from the past. Your husband has plenty of his own. He has just walled himself off from it. In fact, he has walled himself off from almost all his deeper emotions. Dealing with your pain could energize his entire emotional system. When the wheels finally start turning in his emotional world, there is a pretty good chance that your past pain will trigger his past pain. Because he is getting used to feeling your pain and dealing with it, he may be able to feel his pain and share it with you…

A WALK-THROUGH

Let me walk you through the process so you know what to do. When you’ve finished writing your first letter, schedule the reading for a Friday or Saturday with your husband. Give yourself enough time to read the entire letter. You’ll need at least a half hour to forty-five minutes. Read the letter in the quiet, private place you use for your couple times.

Before you read the letter, take your husband’s hands in yours and pray that God will direct both of you and superintend all that happens. Pray that God will help you heal and that He’ll help your husband listen and understand your pain. Ideally, both of you will pray. If your husband won’t pray, you go ahead and pray. After the prayer, ask your husband to do his best to reflect what you say and feel as you read the letter. Tell him it’s okay to interrupt you to make statements of reflection and encouragement.

As you read the letter, pause every few paragraphs and give your husband a chance to reflect and build understanding. When you pause, ask him to tell you what you just said and the feelings you have expressed. He needs these prompts. Since this is completely new to him, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. This process is one of the best ways he can learn.

He’s Learning Too

Make sure you tell your husband repeatedly that you’re asking for his reflection and understanding because it helps you heal. Remind him that he’s working on these critical skills for you. To help you. At the same time, he’s learning skills that will transform him and your marriage.

After reading the letter, thank your husband for listening and trying to feel your pain. Praise the efforts he made. (Husbands need praise, remember?) Hand him a copy of the letter —do not give him a copy until after the reading —and ask him to reread it several times on his own. Ask him to pray about your pain and think about it and process it. Ask him to work hard to feel it and respond to it. And ask him to look inside himself and see what responses he has to what you’ve read. Ask for his observations, insights, what he’s learned about you, how your pain has affected you and the marriage, his own emotions, events and pain in his life that your letter triggered, and so on.

It’s a good idea to pray together again at the end of the letter reading. In your prayer, thank God for a husband who is willing to go through this process with you. Ask God to help your husband process your pain and respond to it.

Follow-up Meetings

Finally, schedule the follow-up meetings. You need to have at least two follow-ups a week so you keep the pain fresh and your husband engaged. Leave a few days between meetings to allow sufficient time for each of you to process. I recommend Monday and Thursday for these meetings. They should be 15-20 minutes long. If they are any longer, your husband will get distracted and overwhelmed. Sometimes, if you’re both getting into it and he’s okay with continuing, you may want to go longer. How many follow-ups will you have? At least six, and maybe even eight. You need this many to vent and process and heal. Your husband needs this many to practice emotionally connecting to you.

In these follow-up meetings, begin again with prayer. Briefly ask God to be with you as you work together. Choose a quiet, private place —ideally the same spot you use to read the letters. Screen out all distractions.

After the prayer, ask your husband if he has any responses to share. These responses could be to the letter or to other follow-up meetings you’ve had. If he shares something, great. Reflect what he says, and interact with him about it. If he has nothing to say, which may be the case early in the process, move right into verbally processing the letter. Vent your feelings and thoughts and pain. Tell him the additional details and memories and insights that God has brought up in the past few days.

Pause and Ask

As you express yourself in these follow-up meetings, pause occasionally —just as you did when you read the letter —and ask your husband to reflect and try to understand your pain. Give him the words and phrases to use, because he won’t know what to say.

At the close of each follow-up, pray again. Pray that God will continue to help each of you process the pain. Thank your husband for spending the time and trying to help you in the healing process. Ask him to pray and process between now and the next follow-up.

Near the end of each cycle of letter and follow-ups, around the sixth or seventh follow-up meeting, ask your husband to write a letter to you containing his summary of the process. Ask him to put on paper what you’ve shared verbally, your feelings, and his responses to your pain. Tell him to do his best and not to worry about being right or wrong. Tell him you just want to hear from his heart. Ask him to do it for you.

Reach for Healing

Make it clear that hearing him read this kind of letter will promote your healing. If he’ll do it, it will also help him reach a deeper level in his own emotional life and in his relationship with you. Something about writing down pain and feelings and emotional responses is healthy and healing.

Follow this same procedure until you have expressed all the significant pain from your past: Write a letter; read it out loud to your husband; take time to process; conduct your series of follow-up meetings; and have your husband write a summary letter. Be prepared for this process to be very difficult for both you and your husband. It will require faith in God and perseverance. It will hurt in many ways. But it has the potential to make a huge, positive impact on you, your husband, and your relationship. It has the potential to give your husband a taste of the emotional intimacy he has been missing his whole life. It has the potential to give you the emotional intimacy you both have been mission in your marriage.

THE HUSBAND’S TURN

Once you have processed all of your pain, it’s a good idea for your husband to follow these same steps. He has his own pain from the past that needs to be expressed. He can experience all the benefits from doing what you’ve done. So I recommend that you —as a couple —reverse the process and allow the husband to write the letters and work through his own pain. Go ahead and ask him to do it. Since you’ve gone first and he has helped to get through it, he should be more inclined to take his turn.

[Please note: Again, you may need to to use MODIFICATION, in order to get to a better place in putting your past behind you.]

This article comes from the book, “The Total Marriage Makeover,” written by David Clarke PhD, published by Barbour Publishing. Unfortunately, this book is no longer being printed, which is truly sad, because it has a lot of useful information in it. But you can read additional articles and look over other books you may find helpful, which are written by Dr Clarke at his web site, Davidclarkeseminars.com.

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