I have a friend who is a general contractor. On many occasions he’s been asked to provide an estimate for what it would cost to remodel a house or commercial building. He inspects the foundation, the walls, the plumbing, the wiring, and more, and sometimes he finds that making all the repairs would actually be more expensive than to simply tear down the building and build a new one. Sometimes it’s easier to start over than it is to repair what we have.
And so it is in relationships. I saw a couple, Ilsa and Dave, who’d been married for twelve years. They were constantly fighting or withdrawing from a fight. Bloody wounds completely obscured who they really were. Every word was delivered with a sword sharpened by innumerable resentments.
I finally said, “This is impossible. You two will never work out all the contentions from the past. There are too many, and you’re both too attached to them. You’ll never agree on the details that never end. So we’re going to make this simple. You don’t realize it, but neither of you is even present here in the room. You’re both so wounded from childhood that essentially you’ve BECOME balls of pain and automatic reflexes to pain. When you two speak to each other, it’s just pain talking to pain. You don’t even think before you speak. You just react to each other, like a knee jerk, or jerking away from touching a hot stove.”
I explained how they both suffered so severely from the pain of a lifetime that they couldn’t even make a conscious decision. They were ruled by fear, so trying to repair the resulting relationship would be impossible.
“So here’s what we do,” I said. “I’ll be loving and teaching each of you individually—separately—and we’ll work on healing the uncountable wounds you carry around. These wounds have made you invisible to each other—and to yourselves. All you feel is your own pain, so all you see in your partner is how they might make your pain worse. You don’t see yourselves at all. Even though you’ve been married for twelve years, you don’t know each other. You couldn’t. There’s just too much pain in the way. So we’re going to start over. That is a DECISION you can make, to believe that you don’t know each other, and to treat each other as though you were just meeting. I’ll help each of you to get rid of your pain, and that will make it possible for you to realize who YOU really are, and to see each other. Are you willing to do that?”
Ilsa understood immediately what I was saying. She reached over, took Dave’s hand in hers, and said, “Nice to meet you.”
They did start over, and a week later Ilsa said, “We’re happier than we’ve ever been. Happier than when we were dating, honeymoon happy. I like this.”
At various times in our lives, we’ve all been unloving with people to the point where starting over is a consideration. If you want to experience the miracle that is possible with this decision, you could say something like this:
“I’ve made a mess of this. I’ve gotten impossibly confused by my mistakes, and my pain, and by not paying attention to what you need. I’ve hurt you so much that all you can see is how I’ll hurt you next. I don’t want to keep doing this, and I don’t know how to get rid of all the confusion and mess. So I want to start over. I want to forget about all the arguments, and all the offenses. I choose to let go of all of it, and start right now—this minute—loving you like you deserve. Would you be willing to do that with me?”
I have spoken such a message on more than one occasion—with more than one person—and the results have been lovely beyond description. We can make a choice to throw away the past—and all the pain associated with it—and simply start over. This is impossible, however, unless we have the unconditional love and knowledge that will enable us to really make a new beginning. Words alone are not enough. Just trying harder is not enough.
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