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Ask Dr. Norman Brown Your Own Question

Dr. Norman Brown
Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 958
Experience:  Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples
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I had been with my girlfriend for about 2.5 years before we

Customer Question

I had been with my girlfriend for about 2.5 years before we had a break up a little over a year ago. We were off for about 2 months before we decided to get back together. We are now going on 4 years together (both 27 years old).

When we got back together a year ago, I asked her if she had been without anyone while we were broken up and she adamantly said "no." She is the only girl I have been with in the last 4 years and we both got full std tests before entering the relationship. However, a couple weeks ago I started feeling uncomfortable in my man region and went to the doctor. He checked me for everything and called me saying I have chlamydia.

Extremely hurt, I confronted her about it. She immediately broke down, hysterically crying, and came clean that she had a one night stand while we were broken up. She swears she never cheated, claiming that was the only time she had ever been with anyone else since meeting me. She told me how disgusted she felt with herself after (she had only been with 3 guys before me...all serious long term relationships) and she told me she lied when I asked her because she knew how much hearing it would hurt me. Since then, she has been begging for my forgiveness, telling me how sorry she is.

I love this girl more than anything in the world, but I am very hurt and torn based on two aspects of this:

First, is the trust. We had always had an open relationship and I never thought she was capable of looking me in the eyes and lying to me like that. While I understand her reason behind it, it certainly does not justify it.

Second, I am having an extremely hard time getting past the thought of her physically having a one night stand and being with someone else. Keep in mind, it has NEVER bothered me who she was with BEFORE me...and while I understand that we were broken up and she was free to do what she wanted, the idea of this one night stand has been eating at me to no end.

I want to get past this but I need help. How can I get through this?
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  Elliott, LPCC, NCC replied 1 year ago.
Seeking expert testimony is a sign of strength. A personal relationship with a caring professional is proven clinically effective

Dear friend,

I believe that I can help. You are having obsessive thoughts about this and you must not let it ruin your relationship.

She did nothing wrong because you had broken up. She wanted to protect your feelings and did not tell you about her brief relationship with someone else.

These things do happen, and it could have happened to you. You might also have lied about it just to protect the relationship. She was trying to avoid the situation that she (and you) now find yourselves in.

Do you really love her more than anything in the world or do you love absolute perfection even more that you would be willing to lose this relationship again?

You have three choices or alternatives that you can take:

-accept what happened and move on, forgiving her and never ever mentioning it again. Not ever !

-stay in the relationship but let it become a damaged and spoiled one, and continue to bring this up and make it a sore point whenever you disagree about anything else

OR

-just abandon the relationship because you can never forgive and forget.

I recommend the first option. Perhaps the following book will be helpful to you:


Product Details

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by Christopher K. Germer PhD and Sharon Salzberg

 

I wish you the power and strength to choose the path of forgiveness and move on together. If you choose this path your bond will become stronger than ever and you will be her hero. Choose the heroic path of forgiveness and you will never regret it and hopefully, never look back.

 

Warm regards,

 

Elliott, MAE, LPCC, NCC, CCMHC

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Relist: Answer quality.
Stated the obvious. Gave me no insight as to the remedy for my problem.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Can I please have a different expert answer this?

Expert:  Elliott, LPCC, NCC replied 1 year ago.

So, do you have a fourth option? You are going to lose this woman because your heart is not open to forgiveness and you will remain a prisoner of your own anger.

You cannot change the past, and you cannot change the truth by telling me that my service is poor, when in fact if was excellent, compassionate, and gave you advice and tried to inspire you to save this relationship.

If you can't even accept good advice from a caring professional without dialogue and by rudely calling his service "poor", then you will never succeed in restoring your relationship. You will throw her away because you are angry/

You only hurt yourself by giving me a low rating.

If you wish you continue the discussion I am at your service. You will never solve this by anger and just drive her away. She will not regret it either, seeing how unforgiving you have proven yourself to be.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Don't take it personal. How do I speak to a different expert?

Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 1 year ago.

I'm not convinced that I can offer you something different than Elliott has offered, as I think his first option is the shortest way to burying the unwanted past. I've been through that more than once with a serious girlfriend, back when I was your age and again in my thirties, and the first time it happened I put it away and didn't build up my feelings about it. The second time, with the same girl, 3 years later, her betrayal was intentional and continuous, and I couldn't get over it, even though I tried. So I had to leave our relationship, after 8 years. And that was a severe blow to both of us, that took years to recover from. Similar stuff happened again in my thirties, but the relationships then were never as precious to me as my first one. Now my marriage of 28 years has had no challenges of THAT sort to cope with.

 

I'm going to ask questions in search of the life experience that may bear on your present struggle.

 

Is this your first really long committed relationship? And are you hoping for marriage? Have you ever been hurt in a way similar to this before? Have you ever done something in a romantic relationship that you regretted a lot? How have you managed your memories of anything you've done that you're not proud of that hurt a girl who cared about you?

 

I'll wait for your replies before proceeding further with you. You want a heart-to-heart discussion, and I want to give you that. Perhaps if we explore enough some doors will open for you to recover from your thoughts.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.

I'll start by saying there is a typo in my original post, as it should have said... I asked her if she had been WITH anyone while we were broken up and she adamantly said "no."


 


As per your questions - This is not my first long committed relationship. I was with someone for 3 years from 19 years old to 22 years old. I had my fun from 22 - 24 while I was single and then found this girl who I have been with ever since. However, I can say that she is the first girl that I really believed that I have a real future with.



I am hoping for marriage and a family one day.



I have never been hurt like this before. I'm not upset about contracting the std. 3 days worth of antibiotics and it's already out of me. What kills me is the fact that she lied and equally the thought of her being with another man.


 



To be honest, I haven't done anything I have regretted while being in a relationship.


 


Keep in mind, she was NOT in a relationship when this one-night stand happened and I more than acknowledge that.


 


Thanks for the heart-to-heart. I want to be with this girl more than anything but I know I need to get over this with a clear conscience if we are ever going to work again.

Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 1 year ago.

I want to sleep on this before I come out with more advice. But I also want to ask again about your prior experience. Were there any painful episodes in your first committed relationship from 19 to 22? It's not hard for me to believe that you may remember a few things that happened in that relationship that hurt YOU, but have forgotten anything you did or didn't do that hurt HER. I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about my early relationships (since I developed a Relationship History writing option for students in my Relationships class by first beginning that examination of myself 3 years before I met my wife in California and 10 years before I launched that course in Florida. So I'm aware of several incidents with girls before I started my first great love at 20--in which I chickened out on love and/or said some hurtful things that were totally uncalled-for--and several more during that first love. And by listening to my wife and hundreds of women in relationships and/or in therapy, I know that what I remember of pain I caused are just the little coral atolls that are actually the tippytops of gigantic volcanos under the water rising from the ocean floor.

 

What I'm trying to help you do is to rediscover some examples of hurt you've suffered before as well as hurt you've caused. For example, 1. what events led your first love to stop growing and start declining? 2. Who did what that brought you out of the happy-partner land and to the edge of breaking up? 3. Who initiated the breakup? 4. How many times did you have to say it was over before you didn't try to resume it again? 5. What did she do (or say) that hurt you? 6. and what did you do (or say) that hurt her?

 

And what about your earlier breakup with your present girlfriend? Apply all of these questions to that breakup too.

 

I respect your need to come thru this with a clear conscience. Your morality is obviously important to you, as mine has been to me. But I know that I let myself get away without regretting some "little things" I said and did back in my late teens and twenties and even thirties by not paying much attention to them and not finding out how they affected the women I was involved with. Most strongly I remember how GLAD I was that my need to break up with my first great love of 9 years total (and I was her first love that lasted over 6 months too) was entirely due to HER Ongoing SEXUAL BETRAYAL in our communal household during my first professorship. For I know that my complete rejection and eventually almost complete communication blackout toward her, was a huge devastating blow for her--and I felt that my conscience was clear. I've never felt the need to ask HER forgiveness for what my unilateral decision did to her, nor has she ever been able to ask for MY forgiveness for what she did to me. I do remember that at the time (1971-73) my anger toward her for her in-house affair was VERY repressed, until one day she and I were wrestling in the living room alone, which was a new activity her 9 yrs younger boyfriend had introduced. She weighed slightly more than I, and when she started to get an advantage over me, SOMETHING SNAPPED, and before either of us knew what happened I had thrown her flat on her back so fast the wind was knocked out of her. We were both so SCARED of that sudden murderous rage, that we quit immediately and never even spoke about it!

 

SO PERHAPS YOUR RAGE IS IN NEED OF EXPRESSION. But you don't want to ruin your relationship with it, because you want a Clear Conscience.

 

So try this: Write her a letter that you're NOT going to send. Do it when she's nowhere nearby. Put into it EVERY thought and feeling you've had while chewing over this indigestible event from that past she didn't want to let you know about. LET HER HAVE IT. Don't hold anything back, all the lies, all the inexpressible anguish you can't get rid of. And that includes your hurt and your fear that you can never love her with a clean clear conscience again--even though that's YOUR fault too, not just hers. If you find you want to act out your anger, do that too: break something, throw something away, beat up a big pillow, punch out a punching bag. (Don't go nuts just because I say you can. Do what YOU want. And if you want me to be a witness, you can write or tell me about what happened. Just don't say anything about it to her! Unless and until you're feeling different--IF YOU DO END UP feeling different. If then you have something you want to communicate to her, and you're confident it will probably make things better between you and not worse, THEN put that in writing or in speaking.)

 

Well, guess what: I didn't sleep on it. And my suggestion might be premature. So if it doesn't seem right, or if it scares you TOO much, cuz you're afraid you'll work yourself up so far that you'll never be able to get back to the clear conscience you want to have. But I suspect you will get some feelings off your chest that you didn't know you had, and you WILL feel better afterwards, and more able to complete the job of reconciling with your girlfriend. And you can CERTAINLY discuss with me anything that you thought, felt or experienced and I will wade in there with you to work it through.

 

I never wrote that letter to my first great love. I didn't have a therapist that could show me how. I'm very glad now that I have a different woman as my wife, because of what I have learned from and with her. But I'm beginning to think I need to work on forgiveness with that lover that ended almost 40 years ago.

 

So thank you for the opportunity to compare life experiences. And I hope you're going to get as much from me as I'm getting through you and your experience.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.

 


With regard to my first love, we met in college but once we graduated, we both moved back to our respective homes and couldn't get through the long distance. Additionally, there was a lack of trust that I always had to her that went hand in hand with the long distance. When we were together things were fine. When we weren't, I would hear stories and rumors about her being overly flirtatious with guys. In the end we decided it just wasn't worth it and to be honest, I've never looked back.


 


I look back on it and realize I had no clue what I was looking for in a woman and partner and I was more caught up in simply being in my first relationship than actually being in love. We never got back together because I was at peace with being done with her at the time.


 


However, this girl was different. It was the first time I said to myself "holy shit, you are going to marry this girl one day!" She was everything I could have wanted. We were best friends, open and honest, she wasn't promiscuous (only been with 3 guys before me...all long term relationships - never had a one night stand).


 


It kills me that she lied to me...had the ability to look me in the eyes...and lie right to my face when I asked her if she had slept with anyone over that break and she said "no." As much as she swears up and down that is the only lie that she has ever told me, and explained that she did it because she knew how much hearing it would hurt, it doesn't justify it. I want to be able to trust her implicitly again and I need your advice as to how I get us back to that point.


 


The second thing is the whole idea of her actually being with another guy kills me. I asked her for details. She met him out at a bar, got drunk, and said "for one night, I told myself it was okay to not care. I thought we were done." My brain envisions this guy as a porn-star stud giving her the best night of her life. I expressed that to her and she swears the sex was just average but that doesn't help. The other part that kills me is she took a 30 minute car ride with this guy from the bars BACK TO HER PLACE. The bed that I have slept in 100 times over the past year, since this incident happened.


 


I want to be mature about this and say "she was single and had every right to sleep with another man, you can get past this" but a part of me holds her to such a higher standard than that.


 


This is a girl that would say verbatim "I could never have a one night stand. Having sex is so invasive for a female." When we spoke I brought that to her attention and she was like "I still feel that way! I had one night of horrible judgment and I've never felt more disgusted with myself since."


 


How can I not look at her as damaged goods?


 


By the way - I already did the letter thing. I wrote it and then walked outside and lit it on fire.

Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 1 year ago.

I hope your letter burned so bright that the Devil had to run and hide!

 

I see that your feelings about your girlfriend have been influenced by the reputation your first girlfriend got from the rumors that were spread about her when you were at a long distance. It makes good emotional sense -- and emotions have a very "reasonable" logic of their own, no less respectable than other types of "reasonable" thinking -- that you don't want the girl you want to mary to drift into the same category as the box you emotionally locked your first love into when your trust was challenged repeatedly, AND you were not around each other to knock those anxious thoughts down.

 

Now I'll provide an intellectual explanation that may help to situate your and your girlfriend's experience in the midst of normal human nature. Emotional logic and thinking-logic are not the same. In fact Emotional Logic overpowers thinking-logic, though the vast majority of academically educated PhD psychologists don't understand that yet. Ordinary thinking logic could either agree with your girlfriend's explanation (drunk, afterwards disgusted, shamed, remorseful, trying to hide her shame and even sensing that your untested morality would make a really big deal out of it, so trying and praying to hide it), or lean toward your own workup: If she did it once & lied, then she could do it again & lie again, just like the first girl, who was NOT good enough, tho I didn't know any better at the time.

 

Note that this thinking-logic is not Objectively Solid and unchangeable, but it bends to what you want (or don't want) it to conclude; some say Reason is a Whore to whomever's using it, so Reason can't be the ultimate judge of anything, at least not when it's about human beings. Normal Social Psychology (which I've taught) has created what's called the "Fundamental Attribution Error." That says that when I do something good, it's proof that I'm a good person; it's a consistent part of my personality. But when I do something bad (like one of those things I did that hurt one of my previous girlfriends, or even how I might have hurt my present girlfriend during the breakup we had over a year ago) it was just because I reacted to the special circumstances at the time, and it is therefore NOT a consistent part of my personality. (So my conclusions about MY personality are almost always self-serving.) But the other side of the equation is not equal: When YOU do something good I'll accept that that's part of your personality, IF I'm in the habit of liking and trusting you, but not if I'm suspicious of your motives. However, when YOU do something bad (that I judge to be bad or that hurts me), I DON'T ASSUME that's just a product of extraordinary circumstances, but instead that it's VERY likely to be a nasty part of your personality that I just never saw before--and now that I know it's there, I expect it to show its ugly face again, probably soon--because, in effect, it's consistently a part of your personality, so all you're doing when you're always good is suppressing that BAD part of your personality, that's bound to be still there. THAT'S the same thinking that's implied in your concern about "looking at her as damaged goods."

 

In contrast, Emotional Logic accounts for these attitudes much more sensibly. 1. We are always feeling something, and 2. what we're feeling directs our attention to particular perceptions or thoughts like shining a spotlight of a particular color--of which the basic ones are Excitement, Joy, Surprise, Distress/Sorrow, Fear, Anger, Shame(hurt/embarrassment/guilt/awkwardness/disappointment), Disgust(Dislike), Dissmell(Contempt), the spotlight colors can be mixtures. Thus our feelings always color our thoughts and skew them towards feeling-toned meanings.

 

So when I do something I perceive as good, I feel Joy (&Excitement&pride) toward myself--so obviously I'm a good person. When I do something ungood, I feel Shame (and/or Disgust), but if I shift my bad feeling towards external conditions--or the other person (like I did toward my first great love's ongoing betrayal, definitely hurting me), then I'll be OK with just being angry at something other than myself and therefore justified in not remembering that I did anything hurtful to anyone else. In contrast, when YOU do something good to me, I feel joy, etc. But when YOU do something bad to me, I feel hurt/disappointed/humiliated--I'm totally unable to feel the excitement and joy that are necessary parts of my loving you. I can't Idealize you (the natural thinking-colors resulting from excitement & joy/happiness). So your action (that's aroused my hurt&disgust) has robbed me of the idealizing thoughts I have toward you in order to marry you; I feel ripped off, and intolerably disappointed, so I'm ANGRY at you. I find myself believing your personality is permanently stained (by MY unerasable memory of suddenly feeling a surprise+hurt/disappointment). And I want to get that Stain UNDONE, so I can get rid of this horrible interruption in my ongoing excitement&enjoyment of you. The Deep Truth About Shame(hurt) is: Shame is triggered by the sudden interruption and impediment of Excitement & Joy, that does not eliminate E&J however. So you still have the fondest hope of returning to the UNINTERRUPTED experience of E&J, which is the purest possible experience of love.

 

That's where you're stuck right now, stuck staring your own disappointed Idealization of your partner in the face--that your hurt/humiliation shines onto her as a Stain on her personality.

 

I have to do something else now, before 5pm, so I'll continue this later. But back to the "Fundamental Attribution Error"--an error of "reasoning" as previously presented. It is also FUNDAMENTAL to human nature, that all of us do things occasionally that are 1. very self-centered & self-protective and 2. very hurtful to somebody else, because our personalities are NOT fixed in stone, so we let circumstances prompt us to do things we'd Disapprove of if we weren't strung out on stressful conditions and actually looked at our actions squarely in the mirror. I remember countless students (of the 2,000 or so) in my Psych of Relationships class that were CERTAIN they'd never violate their own romantic & sexual moral codes--and many were deeply wounded by the violations they'd witnessed or known that their parents had done. But I knew that over half of them would probably get to the edges your first GF reportedly reached, and a third or more would fit the definition of "cheating" or engage in what's now called an "emotional affair" by confiding in someone at work or online to the point of feeling more interest/excitement and enjoyment/empathy with that person than with their long-term partner.

 

If you grew up in a very moralistic household, like I did, you may have steered clear of temptation so far, so you could easily feel like you've NEVER done anything hurtful to a loved-one, tho that's more extreme than the version of that question that I asked you yesterday. But I think it's very likely that IF you could put yourself into one of your GF's heart, either a short-term girl or one of your two long-term GFs, you would find moments when what you did or said, or didn't do or say, DID hurt her. Even if you didn't want it to hurt her. Even if you didn't think she SHOULD feel hurt (but many, even most girls in her situation with you would have felt hurt too).

 

Why don't you to go back through your past in romantic relationships and see if you can find any moments where your actions might have hurt a girl (like fading away into the sunset while a girl is still expecting&hoping you'll want to see her again--esp After having sex). And especially remember that EVEN if the girl "shouldn't have expected" what she expected, or EVEN if the girl did something unkind to you ALSO, what you did that affected her COUNTS as an "insensitive & hurtful" action. [There's an interesting movie about the differences in "He Said, She Said" accounts of romantic relationships, before that one--it's called "High Fidelity" with John Cusack, and it's the flick where Jack Black gave his breakthrough performance with a song, so it's REALLY good.

 

Hasta manana, or at least luego.

 

Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Wow. That was incredible. Thank you for that!


 


There is one single thing that I regret doing/saying to my current girlfriend.


 


I am Jewish. She half Jewish half Catholic. We are both two extremely non-religious people. To both of us, a religious holiday is nothing more than a family dinner and we were both open to celebrating both religions.


 


A few months before our break up, it randomly hit me that I thought it would be best if we raised Jewish children. We both aren't religious people and I didn't think she would care (being that she was half and half anyway).


 


However, after I told her I saw just how much that really did hurt her. She asked if she could take some time to think about it and I said sure. I remember her spending the night on multiple occasions and waking up to her hysterically crying at like 4 in the morning. I would try to comfort her. It KILLED me to see that I inflicted that much pain by making that suggestion.


 


After a week or so told me that she didn't want to raise Jewish children and if that's what I wanted, we shouldn't be together. I apologized for even suggesting it and told her that being with her was more important to me. I genuinely meant that too. We broke up a few months later...which is when her one-night stand happened.


 


I still don't know if she has ever gotten over "that" hurt to this day, as much as we have put it behind us. If there is ANYTHING I could take back...it would be that.

Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 1 year ago.

Thank you for that! Believe ME it is one of the more painful aspects of growing up human, and especially of getting older and older, because when you're young, part of being "innocent" is remaining UNAWARE of anything you could feel remorse about (esp because boys are biologically predisposed AND learn from age 1 on to brush off hurtful things they've done to others--technically that means using the shame-blocking defensive maneuvers of "avoidance" (OR self-distraction thru positive emotions) and "attack-other" (anger&blaming somebody else), in preference to "withdrawal" (leave the scene of the experience) and "attack-self"(self-blame & depression & submissiveness), while girls are biologically predisposed to "attack-self" and make it their job to fix up uncomfortable interpersonal situations. This is necessary for boys to grow up to be warriors and business competitors as well as Alpha Males in society. The highly sensitive guys (like me, and perhaps you) who don't enjoy picking on other boys don't work out as warriors, but do as artists, inventors, scientists, teachers, philosophers, advisors to the Alphas.

 

Your religious similarities are DEFINITELY significant in finding in each other a very important point of common refuge: You've both been bruised by your families' religious traditions, SHE probably more bruised than you, because the conflict between dominant mainstreamReligion & "Chosen"OutsiderTribes festered within her family, while you've probably just roasted in the status of Rejector-but-Identity-bound to OutsiderTribes. I bet that if you talked about her family history you'd find out why "raising children as Jewish" is so painful to her.

 

I've found many times that nonpracticing Jews share with me a high devotion to both intellectual effort and social-justice&improvement, AND a suffering from OutsiderStatus, except that they have a name for their status (Jewish), while I have to use "World-citizen" (where I can identify with Pres Obama) and "Universalist" (as a religious identification with the goals & attitudes of all religions but without their tribal exceptionalism). Tho I grew up with a wishywashy Protestant denomination, I left California for W. Europe at 18, spent 5 identify-formational years there, and came back somewhat bicultural, multilingual & not belonging instinctively either place. My 9 yr first love was a nonpracticing assimilated Los Angeles Jew who spent 4 of those 5 years with me in Europe. My wife (met 12yrs later, raised Unitarian & rejected her Presbyterian seminary MA, but very spiritual) and I have raised our daughter with no religious belonging, but we're dismayed that she prefers "atheism" (admiring Bill Mahr's ridicule) over our compatible spirituality.

 

Unitarian "fellowships" are refugee camps for throngs of bruised emigrants from very dogmatic religions, esp Catholics, Jews and Evangelicals, and they even house Wiccans, New Agey folks and scads of people that don't know what to call themselves. The majority of Western Europeans don't believe their established religious dogma anymore, and they think it's wierd that so many Americans are so backward&dogmatic. So you have a lot of good company. But it's more difficult to find each other when you don't have a roof to crowd together under and a sabbath. And there's not much in popular user manuals for homeschooling your kids in religion. Even the Unitarians spend so much time studying comparative religions without allowing the feeling side to offend anybody who feels differently, that they end up only endorsing social justice & things like gaylesbianbisexualtransgender-queerambidextrousselfspecialness, which has nothing to do with spiritual experience as far as my wife and I are concerned. We've united in Carl Jung's Spiritual Psychology & Dream Interpretation as manifesting a connection with a higher power than one's ego and a path to spiritual development that's comparable to yoga, meditation & other tribal spiritual traditions--which I'm very grateful to have discovered through my activity as a therapist since age 30.

 

I do think that your common outsiderstatus will give you great challenges and satisfactions in a lifelong quest together. It's almost ready to get dark & cold again, so I'm going to enjoy the woods & an errand before it's too late.

 

PS There are 2 key elements in the experience of Remorse. 1. is Empathy=feeling the other person's feelings, which you have done about the childrearing issue, and 2. is getting the realization that you CAN'T take that hurt memory away from her, no matter how badly you want to, and it's only the tides of her own thinking&feeling and your clear evidence that you want her to feel better & forgive you that can lead to a transformation of that hurt into an important milestone and cornerstone of your relationship. And the same is true for her, that she's already felt empathy for what she did to you, and she CAN'T take that hurt memory away from you.

 

But both of you have the bases for two cornerstones in your relationships'house foundation: That each of you is NOT able to be as good and as admirable as you have always wanted to be, that you are each flawed already and the other knows it-- and in the coming years you will unexpectedly and unsuspectingly reveal more flaws and hurtful mistakes to each other, so that ONLY the forgiveness that you're each capable of extending, despite the offender's inability to ever make the unintended wounding go so far away that it never happened, can preserve the love you have built together.

 

This is actually one of the greatest gifts of enduring love: that your bad/ugly/mistaken side and her bad/ugly/mistaken side can and WILL show to both yourself and your partner, and as HARD as staring at your own ("shadow" was Jung's name for it) is to bear, your partner's (even grudging) acceptance makes awareness of your weak, insensitive, cowardly, fearful, spiteful, hostile & self-centered moments tolerable enough for including in your personality--from this many good things can grow.

 

Thanks again, for getting me on a roll. I'm doing this partly to put things that have slapped me in the face over 40+ years of receiving and providing psychotherapy down on paper for a record that I might be able to share in other situations.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Thank you so much for this. THIS is the "expert" advice that I was looking for!


 


At this point...is there anything more that you can recommend as to how I forgive, forget, and move on so we can get back to where we once were or become even stronger?


 


Thanks again for everything.

Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 1 year ago.

Yes, there is more. But you can't get back to where you once were because of the mistakes and wounds that have been made. You have to become stronger.

 

Share with her what you've written to me about being aware of how much you've hurt and maybe also scared her about the prospect of wrangling over raising your children in one religion or another--and see if you can feel your own worry that you'll never be able to take that experience away from her, and perhaps also HER future worry that the issue will come up again, and perhaps poison the love you have with each other (because it may well have poisoned the love and security she had in her family of origin). Feeling and showing REMORSE is really good for us (not all the time of course), because it reminds us that we are 1. very imperfect and 2. not powerful enough to make our mistakes evaporate--even if we can forget them for long periods of time. Your sharing Remorse may help her with her own remorse. And you might instigate a thorough airing of your histories about dealing with religious education and with religious differences in your families, that could bring you a long way towards the great relationship you want to keep building.

 

And this is one prediction I will GLADLY go out on a limb for: She will Never do anything like that again as long as you have ANY relationship (even if you have another rocky patch and break up with potential finality). (She may never even forgive herself for doing it, because she violated her own principles with terrible results.)

 

One of the greatest challenges to every marriage (tho perhaps some people never notice it, because they're just not paying that kind of attention) is the increasingly surprising & disappointing discovery (normally taking 3 to 6 years and often amplified by the lack of quality pair-intimacy when children are growing up from 2 to 18 but esp in the preschool years) that your partner is SO far less than the ideal person and ideal fit you were convinced about in the most romantic years, that your long-standing conviction that this is THE ONE is thoroughly shaken, and you're asking "Is this Really as good as it gets?"

 

In my text Love & Intimate Relationships my coauthor's chapter on Marriage considers that the end of the "Expansive stage" and the beginning of the normal "Contraction stage" that can last as long as the children are still in need of most of your nonworking time. [You only become aware of some of your unconscious blueprint for what YOUR "happily ever after" marriage is going to be when parts of it are contradicted by what happens (as your sad/bad/ugly/flawed sides emerge).]

 

Then you wrestle with her trying to make her be more like what you thought she was, and you fail, and your ongoing attempt to change her may generate conflict that poisons your love and trust (but not if you learn how to contain conflict, forgive & reconcile). You've had a sharp taste of that threshold, and you've written that you DON'T want to slide down toward that "trough in marital satisfaction," because then you won't even get married, and you'll miss out on what looks like the best partner you might ever meet.

 

You are tasting that discovery now. That's why it was important for me to ask you to find something you might have done that could have hurt somebody else, and you and I lucked out when that something hurt the same person who subsequently hurt you. Is it possible that that unexpected wound you caused played a role in your breakup not long afterwards? Such delayed and apparently tangential effects are common among people who are not used to expressing their dissatisfaction when their partner rubs them the wrong way. In fact learning to say OUCH within a day or so when something hurts often takes many years (or at least half a dozen therapy sessions) to learn. For if you weren't trained to say OUCH when your parents pushed you around emotionally (and few of us were even allowed that), then you trained yourself to NOT NOTICE when something hurt you, but just withdraw & later attack-self or blame-somebodyelse; so you lost the ability to accurately register and then express what bothers you, esp when the stakes are high because you love the person and don't know what would happen if you showed some dissatisfaction with them.

 

BotXXXXX XXXXXne: It's really Good for you to go through emotional storms, IF that forces you to learn how to deal openly with them--because openness is rarely well established in families.

 

But not ALL openness is good for a relationship, for at least 2 reasons. 1. it can give you details about the other person (like ugly past & ugly mistakes with no bearing on the relationship) that you'll end up not wanting to remember, and 2. if YOU believe you have to be Honest about everything you do, then you'll just arrange your brain to forget what you wouldn't want to confess. So then you're right back to what happened while growing up before you even knew how to name WHAT you were experiencing inside. In our profession we call the most desirable kind of openness "edited openness." You edit your self-revealing to limit bruising the other person when it's not necessary. So If you spend some minutes feeling attracted to another woman, you don't mention that to your girlfriend--but you also learn that if you don't curb your attraction and keep it well managed if you do see her again, it will pull your erotic energy away from your girlfriend. So you're on the way towards committing adultery, until you make sure that that can't happen, one way or another (like talking to the woman glowingly about your girlfriend). Developing a distinct self in an intimate relationship includes differentiating between what you'll keep to yourself, what you'll express to your partner, and what you might express to somebody else, like a therapist, but not your partner.

 

Please ask for me again if you want to make sure your relationship is healing and strengthening now and in the future. It's been very interesting to correspond with you.

Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
Category: Relationship
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Experience: Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples
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Customer: replied 1 year ago.

I can't thank you enough for your advice. Definitely opened my eyes to a lot of things I never realized before. I intend on keeping in touch with you and possibly even referring my girlfriend to you if she has anything on her chest. Thanks again for everything.

Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 1 year ago.
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Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Please keep me updated with your website or any contact information (if possible?) so we can keep in touch.

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Dr. Norman Brown
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Professor on Writing Sabbatical
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Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples