You made a mistake. There are plenty of reasons why this happened, but now it’s time to own up to your lapse in judgment. You go to therapy (because your good pal Wilson told you to ☺), but you’re finding the process to be slow, and it just feels like you and your partner are arguing more now. All you want to do is fix the problem and pretend it never happened. The journey to healing is a long one, but there are some things you can do to help move things along more smoothly.
1. Be Transparent: Your partner’s trust has been badly damaged now. You can’t rely on your previous experiences with them to re-establish trust because the foundation is gone. You must go the extra mile. Your partner will come back to you again and again to ask you to repeat the story of how everything happened. You need to do your best to be honest and not leave anything out. You need to take responsibility and be patient with your partner’s process, because they are questioning everything that they thought was true in your relationship. Yes, it will be repetitive and painful to retell the story over and over again. Keep in mind that your partner needs to know you will protect the relationship from damage going forward.
Identify Triggers: Your partner is hypervigilant right now. They are on edge when you get a text or a phone call after work, or when you leave home. Trust that your partner doesn’t enjoy feeling this way. It is important to continue being transparent and inquiring about their triggers so that both of you are aware of them, and so that you can set reasonable expectations. You may need to show more effort by notifying them regarding any changes in plans or schedules and being transparent about phone calls and text messages after-hours. This includes setting appropriate boundaries with people who may be threats to the relationship. This part of the healing process is temporary, as your partner needs to see that they can trust you before allowing themselves to be vulnerable again.
Validate Fears: Once triggers have been identified, you may be able to more easily empathize with your partner. Your partner will continue to come back to you and express fear about your actions when they coincide with one of their triggers. Biologically, the part of our brain that controls emotion is right next to the part of our brain that controls episodic memory. Validate their fears based on your past actions, then re-direct and remind them of your efforts by saying, “I hope you can trust me based on the effort I’ve been making recently for the relationship.” Invalidating their fears will be detrimental to the progress made towards healing. Your partner needs to know that they are being heard and that you are being mindful of their needs in the relationship. Do your best to reject that knee-jerk reaction to defend yourself. Take a breathe, validate, and re-direct.