How to Stop Bringing Up the Past In A Relationship
Imagine hearing your partner saying, “You did that the last time, remember?!”
At that moment, the guilt washes over you like a tsunami.
You might also feel angry and defensive and fire back: “You’ve brought that up every single time we get into an argument. How’s that fair?! I’ve already apologized! What more do you want?!”
Just like that, everything explodes, quite like the most brilliantly beautiful fireworks you could’ve witnessed, except this doesn’t elicit joy and wonder. This isn’t a celebration; this scene has turned into a detrimental escalation.
Let’s be fair though – All of us are guaranteed to have at least said that to someone once in our lifetime, whether in a romantic setting or to a friend or family member. Chances are, it’s way more than once. Anyone who hasn’t might be a saint.
We’ve made all these mistakes before.
The thing to remember is: Everyone grows at different rates, and we will make missteps before learning the crucial lessons we need to learn to become better human beings, a better spouse, a better parents, children, siblings, or even that of a friend.
If you’re guilty of this presently, and it’s something that people have given feedback to you before, instead of sinking into self-pity or beating yourself up over it, know that you’re not alone and that you can change.
Now, let’s focus our energies on ways in which we can learn to stop lording the past over the heads of others. (Please note: This article is not addressing bringing up the past on serious deal breakers that have occurred such as infidelity, for example. That needs rebuilding of trust, and it requires a lot more work than the scenarios set forth within this article.)
Hold Space for Remnant Emotions to be Processed
More often than not, when someone is recounting a scenario or dredging the past up like old black sludge threatening to ruin your relationship, what the person is essentially saying is this: ‘I still feel hurt from what happened.’
Some people might not like repeating events. That said if your partner remains to hurt from a past mistake you’ve done, and you do acknowledge and recognize how that can be hurtful, be willing to hold space and talk it out.
If you’re the party who is still hurting, recognize that you are in that mental space, and it’s okay. There’s no timeframe to be achieved here. Gently communicate to your significant other where your headspace is, and ask for help.
For example, “I know this isn’t ideal. I still feel hurt about what happened, and I was hoping you can hold space for me and we can discuss this again. There may be things unsaid in the last conversation.”
Before the chat, it would help immensely if you’ve accurately identified the lingering thoughts or feelings that are bothering you.
If you’re the party whose partner is asking for help, do your best to show empathy and create a safe space for open discussion. Nothing good comes out of sweeping things under the rug, as they’d eventually spill out, possibly in more catastrophic forms by then.
Once the discussion is over, breathe and let it go. Nothing good will come out of keeping scores.
Now, if you’ve properly processed the emotions and there’s no resentment leftover, the occurrences of bringing up the past should naturally decrease.
If you still need more convincing, think about this – When someone throws your past mistakes in your face, what’re the chances you’d be triggered to fight back?
Likewise, if you’re rubbing the past in someone else’s face, you cannot possibly expect the person to be able to rise above and respond in kind. Selected highly self-aware people can do that, but not many would be able to when provoked.
Let’s not poke the bear, shall we?
There is room for much kindness in the world, much less for the person you love and cherish. Show them that instead. Kindness doesn’t have to be accompanied by big, loud gestures; it can also be quiet, and void of the need for recognition or praise.
Allow People to Change
Oftentimes, we might find ourselves eventually accepting someone’s apology, but are we giving them the platform to change, elevate and evolve?
‘That’s the craziest thing you’ve heard, you might say. ‘They should change themselves, no?’
Yes, that is true.
Yet, by highlighting someone’s past mistakes in current arguments, what we’re effectively doing is reminding them of how they failed once, the action alone doesn’t exactly inspire or give people the platform to be able to do better.
Most people respond best to positive reinforcements. Statements like “You always do your best by me” are extremely encouraging, and it does motivate people to try their hardest for you. Of course, that statement has to come from a genuine place too.
Focus on Shared Discoveries
Take the pressure off the pedal to win arguments, and start realizing, you’re a team.
So, whether this team succeeds or not depends on both of you, especially how two people communicate and hold space for one another non-reactively during arguments.
Focus on what the issue the last time allowed you both to discover about each other, and go from there. Let every mistake be perceived as an opportunity for another discovery, in the absence of pride, ego, and all the stumbling blocks that hinder open and vulnerable communication.
Forgive, forgive, forgive
Forgiveness is a well-known secret to every healthy relationship.
Perhaps this should be written in every marriage vow: “I promise to, even in the hardest of times, hear you out peacefully, and to do my best to forgive each other repeatedly for mistakes we’re undoubtedly going to make in the years to come.”
Should both parties have acquired the ability to forgive, and learned the graceful art of winning together, the chance of relationship success is very promising indeed.
In the words of Paul Boose, “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”
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Deborah Choo loves discussing relationships, platonic or not, as that remains at the heart of human existence. She draws upon learnings from couples’ counselling, and continues to celebrate an incredible journey of growth.