The foundation of any marriage saving plan.
I've worked with hundreds of couples and individuals, successfully helping to save their seriously troubled marriages.
One of the most powerful relationship-saving strategies I discovered in this work is what I've come to call setting up your "Hurt-Free Zone."
If you're going to save your marriage, with or without a counselor, setting up your hurt-free zone is the critical second step in the emotional repair work you have to do as a couple. This is actually step 2 in "The Ultimate 8 Step Guide to Saving Your Marriage" (start by exploring Step 1!).
What's a hurt-free Zone?
A hurt-free zone is a period of "relationship stabilization" where certain types of marriage-destroying communication and interactions are simply not allowed to continue. The hurt-free zone starts to have powerful effect on a relationship within just a few days.
Dr. John Gottman, one of the world's leading relationship experts, could predict divorce in hundreds of couples with close to 100% accuracy, based on four ways they communicated with each other—in as little as three minutes!
The most destructive communication pattern is criticism and defensiveness leading to emotional shut downs and "relationship contempt."
I could tell Liam and Ava were in serious trouble as a couple long before I knew what their major issues were. I could tell just by listening to how they talked about their kids' routine for their night with Liam's parents during their first session with me! Liam was quick to make personal and criticize Ava's questions and concerns. This made Ava quickly and aggressively defend herself.
I am actually very hopeful for a couple who are very frustrated, even angry, with one another, because that means that they really, really love each other underneath it all.
What happens when there's no hurt-free-zone during a highly emotional marriage crisis?
The underling hurt and sense of abandonment start to take over emotionally when the couple attempts to negotiate seemingly-unrelated issues as simple as housework and shopping, often not to mention more challenging issues like parenting strategy and maintaining long-term physical intimacy during stressful life events.
Later, as they shared more about their situation, Ava expertly and very hurtfully criticized Liam for having had an emotional affair. Liam would erupt into self-defense mode about how he ended the affair and never let it become sexual with a barrage of angry and precision targeted counter criticisms about Ava's inability to move forward.
With this kind of spiraling cycle of criticism and defense, both partners begin to shut down emotionally and put up a wall of frustration and anger or disconnection to protect themselves emotionally from the increasing sense of underling hurt. This is where the hurt-FREE-zone comes in.
You know a marriage is really in trouble (but can still be saved with work) when the emotional shut-downs becomes really fast and angry, often with a quick roll of the eyes and forced sigh.
The #1 rule for your hurt-free zone is that criticism is simply not allowed. Without criticism, defensiveness very often fizzles out over just days.
There are no deep, active communication goals at the beginning of your hurt-free zone period. In most cases you won't explore deep emotional hurts yet or physical intimacy issues (if they exist) right at first.
If there's been an emotional or physical affair, you will definitely need to cut it off immediately and affair-proof your marriage fast. But exploring and resolving the deeper feelings won't start until your hurt free zone starts to have its powerfully positive effects.
Your prime directive right now is to eliminate the most toxic negative communication and reduce intense negative emotions for 3-4 weeks. This sets the stage for the equally powerful steps 2 through 8 of "The Ultimate 8 Step Guide to Saving Your Marriage."
You will start setting some very simple surface-level goals and gradually add new very healthy and positive, but small, new behaviors after a few days. For example, next you’ll be granting “3 simple but powerful wishes that will save your marriage”.
For your hurt-free zone to be really effective, you both need to suspend any negative assumptions about your partner or your ability as a couple to save your marriage together. You don't want to even think about it for at least 1 month.
It's so important to act in spite of any bad feelings in order to move forward. Learning effective strategies for controlling negative feelings can be extremely helpful when you're saving your marriage (more on this in coming posts).
One of my favorite parts of having developed divorce-prevention action plans with couples like Liam and Ava is the amazing emotional contrast between our first appointment or online chat together and the 3-4 week mark.
I'll never forget their sense of real hope after they had fully committed to their "save our marriage pact" (Step 1) and then got right to work setting up and living in their hurt free zone. Their "relationship love pulse" had jumped from the Marriage CPR zone to over 50 beats per minute and was slowly but very steadily climbing!
Liam and Eva were both becoming amazing and highly effective armchair couple’s counselors to save their marriage!
Neither of them could have imagined this level of success almost one month before. And that sense of shared accomplishment really set the tone and positive momentum for them as they moved on to the 3rd step of their divorce prevention action plan, "Granting Each Other 3 Simple Wishes."
Ask me about developing your own divorce-prevention action plan online