Dear Neil:  My wife “Sherry” and I have been married 29 years.  We have gone through a huge number of hurts and disappointments that have left both of us feeling vulnerable.  What can be done to overcome past emotional injuries so they don’t harm the quality of intimacy and closeness in our marriage?

Wounded In Boulder, Colorado

Dear Wounded:  The following exercise is designed to help you identify your emotional vulnerabilities.   Check the columns that fit your present—or your past.

Parents Siblings Lovers Peers Close Friends Co-workers
Not Having Enough Control
Being Excluded
Being Controlled or Coerced
Being Unfairly Treated
Being Abused or Humiliated
Not Being Accepted
Being Betrayed
Being Ignored or Neglected
Being Disrespected
Other Injuries (Describe)

To each injury you checked, describe what happened, how did the wound affect you?  What did you do to try to heal from the injury?  What have you done to try to insure that this doesn’t happen again?  What are the implications of the injury on your current life?

Answer the above questions.  Then answer the questions once more, this time putting yourself in your spouse’s place.  After that, thoroughly examine the following:

  • How do your enduring vulnerabilities affect your ability to connect emotionally with your mate?
  • Do you feel that past injuries interfere with your ability to invite emotional connection?  In which ways?
  • Do you feel that past injuries interfere with your partner’s ability to invite or accept emotional connection from you?  How so?
  • Do past wounds ever get in the way of your ability to feel included, desired or wanted by your spouse?
  • Do past injuries interfere with your ability to express affection—or to accept affection—from your mate?
  • Do you sometimes feel that you’re struggling too hard to control your partner because you feel vulnerable?
  • Do you sometimes feel that you’re struggling too hard to resist being controlled because you feel vulnerable?
  • Are there ways that your spouse could help you to heal from past injuries?  What healing things would you like him/her to do or say?  How could you most effectively this request to your mate?

Source:  The Relationship Cure by John Gottman (Crown)

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