Do You Want to Focus on Past Hurts or Present Hurts (Part 2 of 4)

The invitation with this difference is discerning the importance of how spouses view time in your marriage. When you got married, both you and your spouse began a journey of time together viewing the future with much excitement. As the weeks, months and years have gone by, memories get built into the marriage. It is easy for couples to sit down and recall various events, both good and bad, of what happened to both of you in the past and the experience you two have had together. As you know, some events bring about trauma or hurtful memories of what your spouse said or did that today still brings up emotional hurts for you. In the same way, some events from your past bring about pleasure, meaning and happiness for the two of you in looking back over the time you two have been married.

So when spouses remain stuck in the past, this creates an unhealthy marriages. In the present when spouses are having an argument or fight about these past hurts and events, it is like getting back on the merry go round, rehashing and retelling old pain over and over again. They go round and round picking up an unresolved topic and talking about it again. For example, let’s say you approach your spouse about eating out for dinner Saturday night and they propose a certain place and the spouse reacts with this statement: “How come you always get to pick the restaurant? Last week when we went out to eat, we went to a place that you wanted to go to. I did not have a voice on this and now I feel neglected, like I am not important or have a say in what restaurant I want? What am I in this relationship, just a potted plant? You make me feel that I am not important each time we go out to eat as I always feel the choice of restaurant is for you and not for me.”

This type of response will only lead to one person getting defensive as the other person is attacking them. The boxing gloves come on and the fight ensues as they are arguing and fighting about the hurts and events concerning the choice of restaurant. Like a detective looking for evidence and doing an investigation, they focus on the past and now in the present they have done their investigation and have concluded one spouse is at fault.

In general, spouses who bring up the past have unresolved hurts and conflicts. Their past baggage has not been resolved and they are bringing up the past in the present due to hurts, fears, doubts, and mistrust. People who bring up the past tend to fear they are going to lose. For them, life becomes a contest in which they don’t want to lose, and the marriage become competitive and a power struggle, in which they fear they are not going to win but lose and the other person is going to win.

When we come to the realization that our past is unfinished baggage, then we can realize this baggage has not been resolved, ended, or finished. When we do not put closure or ending to our past baggage, it will get triggered and buttons will get pushed in the present. The more spouses can resolve leaving their baggage behind and put closure to it, the more spouses can find a way to stay in the present.

So unhealthy spouses who bring up the past do this as a way to not be dismissed, not be minimized or controlled, and not to feel that what happened in the past will get repeated in the present or future. Bringing up the past is an attempt to feel that they are in control, that no one is going to hurt them again, and they bring up points, attacks and blame is a way to ensure this time they will be heard, will not be rejected, and hope they will win and the other person will lose.

Spouses stuck in the past tend to be blamers. They tend to take on a victim stance or a poor me stance in which they are looking for attention, looking for sympathy or empathy, and they are wishing this time around in the present that their spouse will give them empathy or validate how they are feeling so they can feel heard and understood. The attitude or stance of people bringing up the past is this: You hurt me in the past, you now are hurting me again, it is your fault, and it is your responsibility to fix and heal my hurt since you are the one who hurt me in the past. I am hurt, you hurt me, now you fix it and if you don’t, I am going to keep on bringing this up until you do something different.

This can be especially true for unhealthy marriages. Bringing up the past is similar to not having good endings. For example, let’s say you want to start a project at home, maybe cleaning up old clutter in the garage. You may start with good intentions to begin the process of getting rid of clutter by putting it in boxes for your favorite thrift shop. But then you get distracted, and this clutter just sits. Unhealthy marriages remain stuck when one spouse does not finish or end a project. Like many people, it is easy sometimes to start, but it is challenging to see it through to put some ending to it. In the same way, unresolved hurt does not get resolved and band aids are put over them and they can be easily ripped off as a way to bring back old hurts.