From blaming to gratitude
Why on earth do we have to struggle so much?
It puzzles me why it is so difficult for couples to achieve great functioning relationships. With my husband I have supported couples for 18 years, but I am too humble to have any answers to this mystery. All I can do is to share some of my own struggles and life changing insights. Many couples we have worked with, tell us that they recognize themselves in our story. If we can inspire some people, it is worth sharing.
Old wounds activate
Many of us carry wounds from childhood. Parent’s behavior toward a child has significant effect on that person’s later life. I really believe most parents try their best with no intentions to hurt. Nevertheless, their actions or lack of actions during upbringing will affect emotionally. There is quite a chance for this to be fully activated and cause trouble when in intimate relationship.
My own emotional wounds came to activation when meeting my partner Sigmund. I had no idea what I carried from my past, before it fully revealed in our conflicts and gradually became possible to explore and process in gestalt therapy.
My father divorced my mother when I was two. They were both very young. He left us to work and start a new family far away from my home country. My mom was not able to compensate for the missing and my childhood was influenced by longing and waiting. I could sadly wait seasons between meeting him and I lived for his letters. This led to a strong feeling of not being worthy of love and formed my main trigger – fear of rejection and being left alone again.
Wounds meet wounds
Sigmund’s own childhood wounds intensified mine, as he was unable and totally unwilling to meet my demands and expectations to be taken care of. He grew up in a dysfunctional habitat. He got more or less the responsibility for his whole family´s welfare, also an absent father, an invading mother and a helpless sister. He was absolutely not interested to cater for any demanding needs.
When rejected by him I regressed to a child, wrapped in a grown-up body. I was a victim – very insecure, lost and angry. It was embarrassing, especially afterwards, to expose myself so unattractive neurotic; furiously yelling, desperately crying, blaming him – highly emotional. This behavior brought the worst out in him and really made him withdraw and reject me – every time. He left me in anger and I got even more desperate. These fights came unexpectedly and gave us hours or days of painful separation. I did not at all see my own part in this misery. I was expecting to get the love and attention I always had longed for and never got from a father. He got the total blame for not fulfilling my unfunded needs from my childhood.
I did not understand that my expectations were quite unfair and impossible to relate to as I acted like a little girl. Unconsciously I was seeking a replacement father and thank God, my new partner did not deliver on that. It was a turning point to realize that he was a helper, not my enemy.
Empowering with self love
After going to therapy I began to embrace myself, and then I could start getting a healthier relationship. Giving to myself what I needed – self-acceptance and confirmation. Gradually I started to believe I was worth loving and feeling safe enough to say and do what I felt like, without considering his reaction.
It was also of great importance to make a deal with him. None of us could just walk out of the relationship or threaten to leave. We had a written agreement to seek couple therapy for at least half a year before a possible break-up. That was quite crucial to reassure my fear for being left alone.
Learning never stops
Maybe I will have to deal with my themes for the rest of my life. I still can get very upset and very hurt when I feel rejected, but I do not blame anybody for very long – I know what is mine. I have learned to look at my contribution in situations and most of the time I manage to focus on what to learn. Again and again I am surprised with new awareness and when challenged in our disagreements, I get new insights – at least subsequently.
The needy girl is still inside of me, and I need to recognize and take care of her. For a very long time I was trapped in the blaming game with a deprived own self and lack of life power as a consequence.
Through this knowledge I am now able to act more responsible and “grown up”, and I am gratefulful for the opportunity to understand the connection between my wounds and my behavior as a partner.
The Norwegian couple therapists Nina Sontum and her husband Sigmund Sontum are both educated gestalt psychotherapists in Oslo. They have worked together supporting couples since 1998. They have a practice in Tønsberg, about 1 hour south of Oslo.
They met in 1991 and had a troublesome start triggering each other wounds and gained a lot of valuable knowledge to use in the couple work.
Together they have written a personal book for couples “Ut av sandkassa!” Not available in English yet. Website: www.parutvikling.no