How long is long enough to punish someone for their mistake? What do you gain by keeping that resentment and punishment? What do you gain by ditching it?

When we think about the ‘benefits’ of hanging onto resentment and punishment, we start to understand our behaviour. Doe it make us feel validated, or better still, to feel heard, to hang onto that punishment? Perhaps there is something else that won’t allow us to simply let it go, or let them go.

Andy’s Resentment and Punishment

Ten years ago, Clara cheated on Andy. She cheated with his best friend. She and Andy had been in hyper drive trying to save their business, working like mules, seven days a week. For Clara, it was too much. She felt trapped. She sought escape, and she escaped with the guy who was there, a listening ear, and supportive shoulder. He knew better than anyone what Andy was like when he was stressed. He’d been Andy’s best mate for a long time.

No matter how you frame it though, cheating is problematic, for everyone. It creates mistrust, abandonment, betrayal, revenge, regret, and the list goes on. I don’t know how the best friend left the scene, but I do know that he hasn’t been back. He also lost his best friend, and his clandestine mistress. For Clara, she lost Andy’s trust, an for Andy, it was his worst nightmare. He felt utterly destroyed, for several years.

When Andy came to see me it was because he wanted to save his marriage. He had been furnishing Clara with his resentment and punishment for the last decade, but he still loved her, and wanted to move past it. More than anything, he wanted his relationship back to where it was, before the affair began.

Key Questions

To assist Andy in moving on, I asked him to really think about how long was long enough to keep punishing Clara. Ultimately this could go on forever unless he could define a timeframe. I asked him if he thought that his resentment could have anything to do with the void between the two of them. He had not thought about this from Clara’s perspective. On one hand he wanted things to return to the good old days, and on the other hand, he was throwing his resentment at her every single moment.

The reason Clara was still there, after 10 years, is because she loved him too. But she was so worn out by the punishment she received that she didn’t know what she felt anymore. It took a few weeks of changing Andy’s behaviour for Clara to remember and re-experience that love.

Andy could have walked away from Clara for her actions, and if he had, you could understand why. But Clara could also have walked away from Andy for his ‘purgatory’ state, and you could understand that too. Both parties needed to understand the others’ perspectives, but they also needed their own healing space.

Clara’s need for escape was based on much more than the stress experienced with the business. There had been a lifelong battle of trauma fuelling this need for escape. She was in fact quite vulnerable. The best friend? Who knows. Was he a player looking for a quick bit of fun? Was he actually in love with Clara? Was he simply competing with his best mate? I have no idea. But it doesn’t matter because he is history. The only thing that mattered when Andy walked in was resolving his ability to let go of that resentment and punishment.

For Andy, the motive to hang onto resentment and punishment was so that he could feel heard. He had been deeply wounded and he needed Clara to know. We sought some unconscious alternative behaviours for Andy to do, instead of doing resentment and punishment, that would allow him to feel heard. These behaviours centred around his being generous.

By spending more time with Clara in the ways that interest her, rather than himself, he is expressing generosity, and feeling heard. So Andy was scheduling in some gardening time, trips to town and other activities that he would normally leave to Clara to do alone. We did a host of other techniques to resolve his need to feel heard, and to let the past go. After three sessions, the couple were far more self-aware, and back on track.

If you need assistance in letting go of the past, or resolving resentment and punishment, we can help. Horizons Clinical Hypnotherapy Sunshine Coast