Sweet Marital Empathy - Loving Your Spouse's Wounded Inner Child
Written By: Mark Smith
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The most difficult part of my job is observing the ugly, hurtful, embarrassing, belittling, disrespectful, reactive, mean, overly entitled and selfish ways that couples at times treat each other. It is like watching a train wreck at times. The best part of my job is having the honor of observing couples in moments of vulnerability, empathy, acceptance, nurturing, kindness and forgiveness. It is really beautiful. I can't say that it happens every day. I wish that I could. Most couples come in pointing their fingers at each other. They come in filled with judgment, rage, harshness, bitterness, coldness and distance. They are focused on fixing the wrong person still. They are stuck. They are missing the point.
They aren't in touch with their own wounded inner child enough. They don't know that their spouse was personally invited by they themselves to demolish the psychological defenses that had been protecting that precious wounded little child. My job is to create an environment that will help to introduce them to their spouse's deepest, sweetest and most vulnerable parts. I love that process. That is what successful therapy is.
Think about your significant other. What are their deepest childhood emotional wounds? Nature actually drafted you and gave you the mission of puncturing your sweetie's most powerful psychological defenses. You might feel like the bad guy but there actually are no bad guys in love and marriage. You are in the relationship to break your spouse down - just by being yourself. You are your spouse's best friend and their worst nightmare all rolled into one.
Couples can be ugly in therapy sessions. They at times bring their worst selves to do battle. It is as if a combatant locked in a fierce battle with their spouse simply can't see or hear the deep vulnerable pain underneath the anger. I can see it and hear it from my objective perch. It is so obvious and plain to see. The hurting little girl or boy is in the room with their armor off and their sad eyes pleading to be seen.
I am constantly amazed at how much an adult can change when their little kid comes out - their voices change, their eyes change, their posture changes, their faces change...they become little. But their embattled loved one most often remains oblivious to and unmoved by the emergence of the little one in the room
I always melt when I see and hear the little ones inside my big people clients. I am honored to be able to see and hear someone on that level. Many times all I have to do is point to the little one with a gentle voice and then the spouse all of a sudden sees them. With one big, strong, scary guy my sole clinical intervention was simply to say each week "look at your wife's eyes". Then he would melt too. Then the whole environment of the room would change. It is no longer combative. All weapons of mass destruction are dropped on the spot. They are no longer needed.
Psychological defenses are also dropped. Couples hold hands, they hug, they kiss and wipe away each others' tears, they accept and nurture. I have been known to actually leave the room at such sacred moments to give the couple time to tend to each other. The first time that this moment happens in therapy can change everything for a couple's future. It is the moment that they both learn that there are no bad guys. It is the moment that true, deep, mature love begins. It is the moment that your spouse is able to look beyond all of your flaws, faults and dysfunctions but still see you, love you, accept you and forgive you.
It is someone whose ugly parts are just like your parents' when you were little who is able to not judge and able to fully embrace and love you in spite of all of the pain that you have caused them. It is a priceless moment. It beats the hell out of divorce court! It beats the hell out of two wounded animals thrashing at each other while missing the whole point of the work that they are doing together. It is very sweet to be able to nurture your spouse when they are at their most vulnerable. Pay attention to the wounded little person underneath your spouse's defended, tougher, meaner self. There is a little kid in there really trying to get your attention. They need a hug, not a harsh word. Intimacy is vulnerably showing your little self without the ugly battle or the therapist's office. Give much love to your spouse's little one - they deserve it.
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