By Tracy Clifford
I can say this with certainty: There is not one person on this planet that hasn’t made mistakes when it comes to relationships. What I can also say with certainty is that some make more mistakes than others. Another way of saying that you make mistakes in relationships is to say that you’ve suffered from errors in judgment. Only the truly masochistic make poor decisions and relish the results. Most of us hope we are making good choices at the time, only to get badly burned later. If you’ve had your heart broken a couple times, you may start to lose trust in yourself. If you’ve made bad choices in the past, how do you know you’ll make the right ones the next time around?
Many of the women I’ve spoken to feel a sadness they can’t quite name when they talk about troubled relationships that ended badly. But I’ll put a name to it – shame. Perhaps you survived domestic violence. Maybe he cheated on you. Maybe his critical comments did a number on your self-esteem. Maybe he had a substance abuse problem, which in turn inflicted its own sort of abuse on you. Experiences like that can change you. Worse than making you feel like you did something wrong, shame can make you feel like you are something wrong.
Renowned author and researcher Brené Brown has taught us that empathy is the antidote to shame. But I also believe that empathy can help restore faith in your ability to make good decisions. After ending a distressed relationship, many women find it hard to trust the next man that comes into their lives. They fear that in time, he will change. After being hurt, many women approach new relationships with caution and restraint. They look back on the past and wonder how they could have made so many mistakes. How can you know the next relationship will be different?
Individuals who succeed in relationships know how to treat themselves with empathy. Such a concept sounds strange. The Merriam-Webster dictionary states that empathy is the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions. So what does treating yourself with empathy mean? It means acting as if you were your own best friend, and treating yourself with compassion, kindness, and concern. If your sister or your roommate or best friend came to you with a heart wrenching relationship issue, you would hopefully respond to her with a willingness to listen, a propensity for kindness, and the instinct to say: “I understand.”
People who enjoy healthy relationships have learned from their mistakes and have treated their wounds with compassion. Just like you would say to your friend “I’ve been there, too.” Or, “I know how you feel, I’ve gone through the same thing.” What would it mean to say the same thing to yourself? Remind yourself, “Everyone goes through hard times in relationships. I’m not the only person to have made this mistake.” Instantly, you start to feel less alone. With an empathic attitude, you start to connect to the rest of the world, as you remember that everyone has missteps. And you start to realize that the wonderful thing about judgment is that it can be improved. You might not get a second chance at your relationship, but there is still redemption for those who have made mistakes.
I’d love to hear from you and look forward to your comments! Thanks, Tracy Be sure to order our new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”