Relationship Past-Relationship Future (Part 3 of 4)
Greetings and welcome to my post. The purpose of this post is to engage in conversation about how all of us do relationships. I believe that we are created for relationships and what gives us the most meaning in our lives is the significant relationships we have with people. When we have positive, growing, and happy relationships, then our lives become more meaningful. But the opposite can also happen when we have conflict, hate, and hurt in our most important relationships. Then life can become very stressful and depressing.
Recently, a book was published titled “Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship” by Terri Orbuch. The theory and premise of this book was to ask divorced people to reflect upon their past relationships and to state what they think they did wrong as a learning lesson for building a better relationship. I thought this study and topic to be very good and right on, so I thought I would share some of my insights as it applies to participating in healthy relationships.
GET OVER THE PAST
A third area that the author talked about in her book was the importance of finding a way to get over the past. Upon reflection from divorced spouses, they are realizing that each spouse needs to figure out a way to let go of the past.
What does this include? According to the author, this means getting over jealousy of your partners past relationships, irritation at how your mother-in-law treats you, something from your own childhood that makes it hard for you to trust, or an argument or fight you had with your spouse six months ago. This study also showed that divorced individuals who held on to strong emotions for their ex-spouse—whether love or hate—were less healthy than those people who had moved on emotionally.
What implications does this have for our lives? We all have a past, but it is how we view our past that is the challenge. So many people get stuck in the past. Life is moving on and time is moving but some people have difficulty living in the moment or having a positive attitude about the future because their past prevents them from living in the moment. When spouses come to see me or individuals come to see me, they are usually stuck in their life due to some conflict from the past.
Sure, in all of our relationships, we drag a bag with us. We all want to let go of our baggage and not drag it with us into the future. That is ideal. But we all have hurts, conflicts, resentment, anger, and sometimes hatred from our past that we drag into our current relationships. But, it is interesting from this study that divorced spouses regret allowing the past to ruin and maybe even destroy their marriage. These divorced individuals vow next time if they get married to not allow the past to destroy their future marriage. From the study, divorced individuals are saying that not getting over the past is what they want to change next time.
So how do you view your past as a major obstacle to your current relationships? Can you see how your past baggage does lead to major obstacles and conflicts in your current relationships and how at times you do regret how your past does this? Can you look back at a recent fight or argument with someone important in your life and notice how much of your past issues are affecting your current relationship?
When I got married, I quickly noticed the first year how much my wife’s father was in our current marriage. I once turned to her and stated, “We need to get James out of our marriage.” From my perspective, her father’s voice was in her head impacting our marriage. It was like he was always in our apartment and he was taking up way too much space in our marriage. From my perspective, he was a “10” on a scale of 1-10 of having an influence upon my wife and our marriage. Together we have worked on this and now he is about a “4” in having an influence on our marriage. My wife has done some good work to get over her past and his negative influence upon her life.
In my work as a therapist, probably the one issue that keeps coming up is this topic of resentment. People have held onto anger and hurt and have used resentment about their past as a weapon to give them evidence why they can’t live in the present or the future. They are resentful and have hurt from the past and this results in the current conflict with someone in their life. The problem is that life’s problems, like hurt and anger, never got resolved in the moment or at least that day, to find a way to let it go.
In other words, when you have healthy conflict resolution strategies, then conflict get’s resolved sooner rather than later. The higher the level of intensity or trauma (an affair, abuse, a fight, divorced family) that an individual goes through often results in having difficulty letting it go. Learning to let go of the past with this level of intensity obviously can be very difficult to resolve without professional help.
And this makes sense. But what happens when we allow the little things of life to also affect our present and future? This is when the wisdom of letting go or not sweating the small things of life. This is when one can discern what and when something is a mole and when something is a mountain. On a daily basis, this must happen to help each person and spouse discern what are we not going to put our focus on and what are we going to go to battle for. At some point, in all of our relationships we must discern what to argue about and what to let go of.
So the challenge for all of us is to learn, in a healthy way, to regret how we have allowed our past to negatively affect our present and future. When we do this, then we can see how our past has ruined our present and find a way to learn how to get over it. This probably will mean that we need to find a way to seek forgiveness or do some work around loss and grief and letting go of our past. The sooner we can do this, the better we will all be able to enjoy our present and the future. So, get over your past and learn from it! It really will do you good.
Phil Kiehl, LMFT, M.Div.
P.S. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what ingredients you would put into building a healthy relationship. Share your comments and share this article with others. Thanks.