Can You Continue To Love Someone Who’s Behaved Badly?

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“How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they behaved badly?” Today’s media is full of stories of condemnable behaviors, and it is easy to write off a person if we don’t have any real ties to them. But what happens if our partner is the one who is behaving in a way that hurts you and/or other loved ones. This blog is not about the stories in the media, but they do bring to mind that this question is often raised in the therapy room.

Spouses who want to work things out with a partner who has hurt them tend to feel shame for wanting to work things out after their partner has ‘behaved badly’. I’m referring here to various behaviors such as affairs, lying, secrets, leaving the relationship and then returning, lashing out in anger, and so on. Many have shared with me that they don’t tell their friends or family about such spousal behaviors out of fear of being judged or shamed. (Just to note – in this article I am not referring to extreme behavior such as repeated physical and emotional abuse).

It’s terribly unfortunate for one to feel worried about turning to their loved ones in what is most likely their most important time in need of support.

It is also completely understandable that those who love you express their concerns when you’ve been hurt. However it is often the case that you feel differently about a situation than family or friends do, for many reasons that they may not always understand.

This is what I say to those who fear judgment and being shamed:

“You have the right to try to work things out with the person that you love. You and the two of you together have made an investment in each other and a life together. You and only you know what you can endure in an attempt to work things out with your partner. All of us have the capacity to endure and work through some things in our relationships that others might not. We are all different in that way. And no one can make that decision for you. It’s yours and yours alone to make. This also does not mean that you need to be against your family and friends who love you; it means that you know and understand that they are worried and care for you.

And while you will most likely question yourself, remember to trust that you will know the limits to what you will go through with your loved one.

And this is important: one’s willingness to work through being hurt by someone that they love does not mean that they accept, approve, agree with, or will continue to tolerate their loved one’s hurtful behavior. It only means that they are open to exploring the possibility of healing if it can occur.

The Challenge:

When someone has ‘hurt another’ it is necessary for them to do the very challenging and painful work of repair. When the ‘hurt’ person makes a choice to work through being hurt with their partner – the challenging journey begins. And depending on the degree or severity of the ‘hurtful behavior’ it will take time and the time it will take for healing is never predictable.

In the media, the accused have been quick to say “I’m sorry” however, that is only one teeny, tiny step that needs to be taken for repair. Anyone who has hurt the one that they love will need to listen, empathize, and express genuine remorse, compassion, and a real understanding as to how they hurt them.

The frequent challenge is that the person who has hurt a loved one is often consumed with ‘shame’ whether they show it or not. They may not even be aware of their shame. And because repair and healing has no end point, no timeline, it becomes extremely difficult to endure, or in some way work through, the feelings of shame and regret while at the same time continue to respond to the need of the person they’ve hurt. Seeing the hurt face of someone who you love again and again is a mirror to the shame that one feels for the pain that they’ve caused.

While one may have the intention to repair the hurt that they have caused, like I said, it is a challenging process to endure one’s own feelings of shame and regret while addressing the hurt feelings of another. Intention does not mean that one will go through the process smoothly. It’s hard for both people going through it. It is sometimes helpful to recognize that intention does not mean that repair is apparent or imminent. There will be a learning curve which makes the timeline for healing more arduous.

The Goal:

In addition to repair, we also have to work to understand the other’s actions. We need to understand ‘why’ someone behaved in the way that they did. Again this does not mean that we accept, approve, or agree with the behavior. However, understanding is empowering for both people involved. It provides one with self-awareness and only with self-awareness can we then change our behavior. And most often, understanding can help the person who has been hurt. It can shed a completely different light on hurtful behavior. I have witnessed this many times in the therapy room.

Here’s the thing – when we hurt someone it is an opportunity to work on personal insight, self-awareness, and growth. It is only through gaining an understanding of who we are, that we can then understand our behavior. When we understand it – we can change it.

I cannot stress enough that to understand our actions we must understand our emotions. Understanding emotions can lead us to a pathway of gaining necessary insight, self-awareness, and growth. It can be truly liberating for everyone involved.

But for those who choose to try to work through being hurt by someone who you love, remember this:

Take care of you. Please do not feel shame for being open to healing. It takes courage to work on injuries in relationships. You may discover an admirable strength in you that you did not know existed. You might be surprised as to what you might learn and discover about you. Some of my most painful experiences in my life have led me to the greatest discoveries about myself. I did not enjoy the process and yet, I am grateful for the outcomes, all of them, whether they ended the way I wanted or not. The learning has been invaluable to me and I hope for you as well.

*          *          *          *           *

If you want to learn more about relationships – I wrote this for you “Ten Essential Things I’ve Learned About Marriage & Relationships” I’ve included the lesson that saved my marriage. I care about the work that I put out to you, and I hope you find it helpful. Let me know!

And you can keep up with my writing on relationships, random thoughts and more by subscribing here.

One more thing… I really would love for you to share your thoughts with me. It’s not easy to do, I understand because it took me a long time to work up the courage to begin blogging! But I want to get to know you. When you feel ready, please feel free to share your thoughts with me in the comment section. And, if you would like me to blog about a specific topic – let me know! 

If you think this blog will help a friend, please share it with them or share it on Facebook and Twitter!

Details of any stories told in my blogs have been changed to protect the identity of people that I work with in therapy.

Photo Credit: Tobias Wrzal@flickr.com

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Can You Continue To Love Someone Who's Behaved Badly?
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Can You Continue To Love Someone Who's Behaved Badly?
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Today’s media is full of stories of condemnable behaviors, and it is easy to write off a person if we don’t have any real ties to them. But what happens if our partner is the one who is behaving in a way that hurts you and/or other loved ones. This blog is not about the stories in the media, but they do bring to mind that this question is often raised in the therapy room.
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