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'Starting Over' With Your Partner: Is It Really Possible?

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistOctober 28, 2020

Every relationship has its ups and downs. But if problems aren’t really resolved or sufficiently addressed, hurt and anger can grow, taking your relationship in an unhealthy and unhappy direction. When this happens, many couples wonder whether they can “start over.”

If you really think about it, you wouldn’t want to -- at least, not in the literal sense. Starting over would mean trying to get back what you had, which you’ve already discovered included some serious flaws, even if they weren’t apparent in the beginning. That said, if you still truly love each other and are committed to making positive changes, you may be able to learn from the past and heal your relationship.

Being able to remember the “good stuff” in your relationship is a sign that you can likely do this. Think about it: Can you remember what attracted you to each other? Can you remember the fun you used to have together? If you can -- and it sparks some sense of what you felt back then, you can use that ability to help rebuild a positive connection. You can reflect back on those times and generate positive feelings toward each other that strengthen your emotional connection, increase your resolve to work through problems, and build hope for a happier future together.

Other essentials for healing and rebuilding your relationship are:

You both feel respected. Healthy relationships can only exist if both partners feel accepted and treated with respect. If this aspect of your relationship is shaky, you will need to work on building it up through caring conversations in which you both express your desire to understand and support the other. Although this can be difficult and take time, it is often possible. However, your relationship may be beyond repair if either of you sees the other as unworthy of respect and expresses contempt.

You believe that your partner is talking with you honestly. Even if you don’t fully understand your partner or struggle to empathize with them, if they are communicating honestly from the heart  you can at least know that they are being open with you, which is important because it shows a desire to be close. However, if you don’t believe they are being honest, you won’t believe them no matter what nice things they say about wanting to change, caring about how you feel, or anything else.

You feel emotionally safe and supported. To have a healthy relationship, both people must feel that they can turn to their partner for caring during difficult times. It’s also important that you feel supported and encouraged to pursue your interests and to live your values. This tells you that your partner respects you and wants what’s best for you. Even if they have reservations about your plans, they will still ultimately be there for you. And when you make mistakes along the way or decisions that turn out not to be the best, they are still there to support you through them.

If your relationship has strayed from this kind of mutual support, you will need to take the time to talk this through. Address how each of you might be feeling alone, hurt, angry, or whatever else. When you both can experience the sense of support again in your relationship, you will hopefully also feel a renewed sense of connection and commitment.

As you talk through your struggles together, you might find it helpful to consult with family, friends, clergy, or a therapist. Their outside perspective can be especially helpful when you feel overwhelmed or confused. They can also offer you some much needed sympathy, compassion, and support. Ultimately, it’s your -- and your partner’s -- true caring, persistence, and effort that will make it possible to heal your relationship.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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