Have you ever heard about ‘Kintsugi’? It’s the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold. This act of ‘golden repair’ can be a beautiful metaphor for rebuilding love after emotional damage. It’s a reminder that no matter how broken a relationship is, there’s always room for some damage control.
But how exactly can couples bounce back from painful setbacks? Is there a guide on how to love someone again after they hurt you? We’re here to answer these and myriad other questions you may have about rebuilding trust in a relationship, in consultation with psychologist Nandita Rambhia (MSc, Psychology), who specializes in CBT, REBT and couples counseling.
What Causes Emotional Damage In Relationships?
Nandita explains, “Emotional damage usually happens if one has been emotionally unfaithful/ unavailable to their partner. Infidelity, unavailability, emotional abuse, or passive aggressiveness can all be painful emotional experiences.” Here are some other common signs that someone is causing you emotional damage:
- Manipulative, controlling behavior such as gaslighting
- Invading boundaries and privacy
- Constantly humiliating or embarrassing you in public
- Isolating you from loved ones
- Playing mind games/hot and cold behavior
- Belittling your achievements
- Stonewalling you
- Guilt-tripping you into doing things
- Trivializing your feelings
- Blaming you for all their problems
If you have witnessed some of the above signs in your relationship/marriage, chances are your bond may be on thin ice. When it feels like your relationship is standing on its last legs, rebuilding love after emotional damage can be a complex process. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. We’re here to tell you all you need to know about how to fall back in love with a partner who has hurt you deeply.
Step-by-Step Guide To Rebuilding Love After Emotional Damage
Is it even possible to rebuild love after emotional damage? Nandita answers, “Yes. However, it’s not easy and takes its time. Healing and forgiving require a lot of effort from both partners. It can only happen if both feel a strong need to rebuild love from scratch. If this need is strong, sincere, and honest, the chances of moving ahead are high.”
Even research suggests that re-trusting a partner who has caused you emotional trauma – be it through infidelity, lying, dishonesty, or emotional manipulation – requires openness, the intention to cooperate, sharing, and mutual support between partners. With this, we arrive at some tips on how to love someone again after they hurt you:
Step 1: Acknowledge the emotional damage
Nandita says, “When rebuilding love after emotional damage, the first step is to acknowledge that there has been damage. This can be a sensitive topic but it must be addressed. A lot of empathy is needed, from the person who has caused emotional damage, to acknowledge that he/she has been responsible for the distress of the other partner. It is important to give space and have a lot of patience and perseverance.”
According to the Gottman Repair Checklist, here are some phrases you can use when trying to show accountability for the damage that you caused:
- “I really blew that one”
- “I can see my part in all this”
- “How can I make things better?”
- “I’m sorry. Please forgive me”
- “I want to be gentler to you right now and I don’t know how”
Step 2: Go the extra mile
The partner who has caused emotional damage needs to understand that just saying “sorry” won’t fix the other partner’s paranoia. If the root cause is infidelity, every time the cheating partner doesn’t answer the other’s call or comes home late, they will feel anxious. Likewise, if the emotional damage has been triggered by constant belittling or manipulation, the partner at the receiving end is likely to be more sensitive and wary of the other’s words.
It is totally normal to feel suspicious and resentful after being hurt by someone you trusted and loved so deeply. Being mindful of this is the key to figuring out how to save relationships that are emotionally fragile.
Related Reading: How To Trust Someone Again After They Hurt You – Expert Advice
The person responsible for causing the damage has to make an extra effort, even if that means being accountable every minute of the day. You have to be an open book, who keeps zero secrets from their partner. If the person you had an affair with contacts you, let your partner know. Their anxiety/trauma can only be healed once they truly come to believe that you won’t cheat on them again.
Step 3: Be honest and figure out what led to the emotional damage
Looking for tips on how to save a relationship? With respect to infidelity, Nandita says, “After acknowledging mistakes, partners should be honest enough to figure out what exactly triggered something like infidelity. Was it just a whim? Or was it the emotional unavailability of a partner? The reasons can be several.” Here are the various possible reasons why someone cheats:
- ‘Something’ was missing in the relationship but they didn’t know what exactly was missing
- They knew what was missing but were never able to express it in an open, honest, and transparent manner
- They expressed their unmet needs multiple times but the attempts to fix them proved to be unsuccessful
Similarly, if manipulation has occurred in the relationship, deep dive and try to find the root causes. Maybe, the manipulator witnessed unhealthy relationships while growing up. Or maybe manipulation is their way of hiding their low self-esteem. So, to fix the damage, it is important to heal the underlying causes.
Nandita adds, “In this entire process of addressing why the emotional damage happened, it is extremely important that both partners continue to respect each other and themselves. They need to be empathetic and understand that while the fault lies with one of them, they both have a common interest in mind – relationship repair.”
Keeping in mind the importance of being empathetic, here are some questions to rebuild trust in a relationship, according to the Gottman Repair Checklist:
- “Can you make things safer for me?”
- “I need your support right now”
- “This is important to me. Please listen”
- “Can we take a break?”
- “Can we talk about something else for a while?”
Step 4: Communication is the key
Don’t be afraid to talk about the uncomfortable details, whenever you feel ready. In cases of infidelity, you both need to explore the following questions together:
- “Did the affair offer you something that your relationship didn’t? What?”
- “Did your affair make you feel loved/nurtured/desired/noticed?”
- “Did your relationship ever make you feel those feelings? What changed?”
- “What are the things that need to change in this relationship/marriage?”
- “Can this relationship ever meet those needs?”
Similarly, if you have been emotionally abused, don’t remain silent and choose to live with it. Express to your partner how their dominant/controlling behavior has affected you deeply. Also, you need to set clear boundaries this time. For example, you can say, “Yelling, calling, and blaming are not acceptable anymore. This rule cannot be broken at any cost.”
Step 5: Be kind to yourself and be patient
There will be days when you will question why you weren’t enough, what it is that you lack, or why the one person you loved so deeply chose to hurt you. Don’t blame yourself. Be kind to yourself and be patient. Forgive yourself if you feel shame about staying; this shame is not yours to hold. You deserved a chance to make things right. And you have this chance now. Use it to the fullest.
Step 6: Adjust and accept, instead of compromise
On how to overcome trust issues, Nandita advises, “Instead of using the word compromise, use the words like adjustment and unconditional acceptance. How do we adjust to each other? How do we learn to accept each other? This way, you feel more in control of the relationship, keeping your self-respect and own needs in mind.”
Talking about adjustment (instead of unhealthy compromise), the Gottman Repair Checklist mentions a couple of phrases that can help you heal from the pain of the past:
- “I agree with part of what you’re saying”
- “Let’s find our common ground”
- “I never thought of things that way”
- “What are your concerns?”
- “Let’s agree to include both our views in a solution”
Step 7: Engage in activities to rebuild trust in a relationship
Nandita shares that a client she was counseling in the aftermath of infidelity asked her, “My husband hurt me deeply. He feels shame but I am not able to accept his apology. I am neither able to trust him again with my body nor show my inner self to him. What should I do? He has hurt my feelings deeply and I’m afraid that he will do it again…”
She replied, “Whatever you do, go slow. Do not criticize unnecessarily. Do not point out faults where there are none. Also, do not build mountains out of molehills. Accept that there will be ups and downs but the goal at the end should be pretty strong and clear.”
Spending time is one of the most crucial ways to rebuild love after emotional damage. Here is a handy list of activities to rebuild trust in a relationship:
- Cuddling session, eye contact
- Synchronize breathing with your partner
- Take turns and reveal secrets to each other
- Schedule weekly date nights
- Pick up a new hobby together (could be skydiving/watching artsy movies)
Step 8: Seek support from outside
On how to overcome trust issues and learn to connect with a partner who has hurt you, Nandita advises, “Sometimes, rebuilding love after emotional damage triggers issues that the couple is unable to resolve on their own. In such cases, it helps to seek guidance from someone more experienced, mature, and non-judgmental. It can be a family member, friend, or professional counselor.” If you’re looking for support, our counselors from Bonobology’s panel are just a click away.
Step 9: Write gratitude letters for rebuilding love after emotional damage
Even research shows that expressing gratitude increases comfort in relationships. So, reignite the spark in your love life by expressing gratitude regularly. Here are some phrases that you can use to appreciate your partner, according to the Gottman Repair Checklist:
Related Reading: 10 Ways To Shower Appreciation On Your Husband
- “Thank you for…”
- “I understand”
- “I love you”
- “I am thankful for…”
- “This is not your problem. It’s OUR problem”
Step 10: Let go of your partner if you need to
Nandita says, “If one partner is completely unable to come to terms/accept the other partner or if he/she has way too many conditions laid down, which are not being met by the other partner, these are signs your relationship is beyond repair. If one of them is uncompromising in any kind of way (could be either of them) and if the other person is always compromising/giving in, these are the subtle initial signs that the relationship will not work.”
“The more radical signs are that the couple is always arguing, fighting, and usually unable to agree on anything. In other words, there is a lack of love, affection, and respect in the relationship.” If you can relate to this, perhaps it’s best to walk away instead of causing each other more hurt and pain in your quest to repair the emotional damage already caused.
Dos and Don’ts Rebuilding Love After Emotional Damage
Studies show that many participants were simultaneously motivated to stay in their relationships and leave, suggesting that ambivalence is a common experience for those who are thinking about ending their relationships. This ambivalence is the very reason why people second-guess their breakups. Here are some dos and don’ts if you choose to stay in a relationship, after emotional damage:
|Talk things out honestly and openly||Expect immediate forgiveness|
|Find out why the damage happened||Continue to lie and keep secrets|
|Respect yourself and your partner||Give up when things get difficult|
|Accept that things will suck for a while||Try to buy forgiveness by expensive gifts|
|Offer a genuine apology, show remorse||Channel your anger into taking revenge|
|Show empathy, patience and acceptance||Blame yourself or your partner|
|Embrace all negative feelings like anger||Bring up past mistakes to win arguments|
|Express gratitude, appreciate little things||Get the kids involved until necessary|
|Participate in trust-building activities||Someone else decide if you should leave|
|Give each other space||Forget to take care of yourself|
|Get support from friends, family, books||Make decisions out of fear of being alone|
|Let go of your partner if you need to||Shy away from seeking professional help|
- The process of how to fix a relationship starts with acknowledging that there is something damaged that needs to be fixed
- The only way to undo the damage is to make extra efforts to save the relationship
- Deep dive into why the damage happened and what can be done differently this time
- Forgive yourself for the shame of staying and take care of yourself
- To build trust, pick up new hobbies together and schedule weekly date nights
- Don’t shy away from taking the support of trustworthy people
- If all these tips on how to trust someone again don’t work out, make the brave move and walk away
Finally, rebuilding love after emotional damage can be a traumatic experience. It will require you to be very patient. You are still trying because you know your relationship/marriage is worth fighting for. You know that good people mess up sometimes. You know that this mistake contains hidden lessons/secrets to make your relationship stronger, wiser, and more sustainable.
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