Untangling from the past means a couple individually and together consciously engage in the present. This seems so obvious. But, can you do it? The whole concept implies taking the history and prior reactions and not letting them rule the present interaction. It means taking the moment for what it is. If the past hurts that remain take precedence, you cannot hear or totally react to the present experience.
The issue is that old ways of being together get projected back and forth. One comments. The other takes the comment in old ways, old meanings, and old reactions are expected even before anything else can happen. In this manner of communicating, the previous habits creep into the present and any new ways of reacting are effectively stopped. No growth is allowed. The familiar is easier even though it has created the current problem.
So, in order to change anything, a couple is forced to take mutual responsibility and call a halt to their ineffective communication. It means each person in the partnership is willing to check inside how they feel. Then share this verbally, emotionally and honestly. Each agrees to listen to the other without defense or attack. Openness is the answer to really being able to hear oneself and one’s partner.
Here is an example. He wants to save money and goes for a super austerity approach. At the same time, he feels upset and resentful that to his way of acting is not on board. She says she feels the same as he about their need to budget, but they do need to spend some money to live. For their own reasons each blames the other for the financial bind they are in. In fact, this may be a reason they are still together because they cannot afford to separate. Yet, there are more reasons they remained together. They still too angry and sad and do not yet know how to express gratitude or appreciation to each other.
Until now they have not known how to communicate, discuss feelings or really listen to each other. By sitting down once a week for a longer time and daily for a shorter time, they have slowly began to clear out some of the debris that was clogging communication. They were each afraid and money was one of the huge issues they avoided discussing. The arguments covered their fear. Money is so central yet often denied a place of discussion. And, it aroused shame and despair.
In order to find their way through, they agreed to listen first and then take action. And they made the agreement to do so in the therapy sessions. They knew if they were in a safe place, they could begin to talk, small step by small step. They knew they could not get together without this help. Communication was too layered in a muddy way from going on so long. They wanted to work out something and the agreement to seek help was a significant step to each other. An opening was helping them untangle.