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Can We Save Our Relationship?

Question: After a three-year relationship my partner and I have one child and I'm five months pregnant. We have both had indiscretions, causing hurt and jealousy, and do not trust one another. We are still in love and we're both very happy about the pregnancy, but we just can't seem to stop the sarcasm. Is it too late to save our relationship?

A solid relationship is based on trust. Yet the two of you founded your relationship upon hurt and betrayal. You both clearly lacked the skills needed to develop trust and intimacy in the beginning of your relationship. Still, you proceeded to parenthood precipitously and you now hold responsibility for the lives of your children in the balance of a stressed relationship. You have taken on parenthood without establishing the foundation of a committed relationship. It will take work to substantiate that which you have started. But what are your alternatives? Since you have already gone this far with the father of your children and you still love each other, why not get the help you need to give yourselves a real chance?

Start by using couples' counseling to explore your respective experience of family. Did you learn trust or distrust in your family relationships? Did your parental role models exhibit an ability to establish a committed and caring relationship where needs were brought to the table and negotiated, or did unilateral decision-making and subterfuge reign? Was commitment taken lightly in your family of origins? Consider the fact that you describe your affairs as "indiscretions," as if they were minor, instead of major offenses. Was such behavior accepted as "normal" on some level in your childhood experience of family?

When you both broke the rules of your relationship, you broke trust. To repair this trust, you must first understand the emotional meaning of your infidelity. Were you afraid of "putting all your eggs in one basket?" Were there needs you were bringing to someone else instead of to your partner? Do you feel loved only when that love is threatened in some way? You will need to find the courage to bring your needs directly to your partner. You will also need to establish a safe arena for problem-solving and negotiating to meet one another's emotional needs.

Seek to understand your respective family patterns. They are the subliminal blueprints that you will be compelled to repeat (or rebel against) unless you are able to separate from the past and establish a vision for the kind of relationship you want to have with each other. Your intent to love one another has clearly gone amuck. It will take soul-searching to understand the nature of your infidelities and consider the impact of betrayal and the reciprocity of pain in a relationship.

Reflect deeply on the reciprocal nature of relationships. It is through interdependence that respect and love are truly attainable. A committed partnership is not unlike a garden. Throwing toxins into the soil will limit the potential of what can grow, at best, and prohibit development, at worst. When we truly understand in our hearts that our actions towards our partner are reflected back upon ourselves, it is easier to control our impulses towards toxic "indiscretions."

Express your feelings, take responsibility for your actions and look into your heart. Forgive, but do not forget. It will be the pain of the past that will help the two of you steer clear of damaging behavior in the future.

You and your partner have created a private chaos in which you and your child and child-to-be now live. It is time to slow things down and establish the order you need to support the growth and development of the children you have brought into this world together. Learning the skills you need to create trust and emotional safety in your relationship will lend you the strength you need to parent together, whether or not your romantic relationship endures.

Let your children's needs be your guiding light on this one. Use your couples' therapy to learn the communication and relationship skills you did not inherit from your own families. If you succeed, you will not only save your relationship, but you will stem the tide of distrust and pain that is headed for the next generation!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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