Relationships add a new level of complexity to our already-complicated lives. And even the best relationship can prove complicated terrain to navigate. But there's one thing many of us do without realizing it—something that injects more emotional tension into our relationship than there needs to be. We transfer our unresolved emotions and past experiences into our current circumstances.
What does that look like?
There are many different ways we bring the past into our relationships.
Here's one such circumstance:
Imagine you had a challenging day at work and feel frustrated by what happened. When you arrive home, you're pretty irritable and, before you even set your bag down, your spouse asks you to do something you don't want to do. Your response? To blow up at him in frustration, because the feelings you've been holding onto all day now have a safe place to erupt.
It could also play out like this:
Maybe you you had a tough relationship with your father and always felt insecure in his presence. Your husband has a similar stance and stature and, as a result, you feel a similar insecurity when you attempt to communicate how you feel or ask for what you need. Instead of showing up as a healthy partner in your marriage, you diminish your needs and default to doing what your partner wants you to do. You're transferring your childhood insecurities into your relationship.
So what can you do once you realize you're transferring past emotions or experiences into any relationship?
Just start by reminding yourself that you're not alone. You are a culmination of everything you’ve learned, experienced, and been a part of, and there's a reason you respond the way you do. This happens to everyone. Once you can accept that you have a problem—and that it's solvable—you can begin to explore why you react this way and how you can move beyond this limiting way of being.
Here are three strategies to help you keep the past in the past and yourself in the present.
1. Honor your emotions.
This is often easier said than done. But our emotions are messengers; they are here to guide us. When we don't allow ourselves the freedom to honor, express, and release our emotions in a healthy way, they remain stuck within us and and have nowhere to go. We're basically creating an emotional time bomb that will blow up—likely at the least-convenient possible time.
2. Identify what relationship (or behavioral pattern) you may be repeating from the past.
We learn how to be in relationships from our upbringing—both by relationships that were modeled to us and ones we were a part of. Acknowledge that you may be carrying old, ineffective ways of relating to others from an earlier time in your life. There may be a specific way of being that is no longer serving you. By understanding what past relationship you may be emulating, you gain insight regarding the parts of you that most need change and healing.
For example, we may think we are furious with our spouse about something when really the relationship is simply mirroring a childhood relationship—perhaps with a parent or sibling. True healing is in recognizing and making peace with the original relationship that caused us pain. Fortunately, we can do this without the other person's involvement. Once we do, we can make peace with our current circumstances and have the freedom to make the changes we desire.
3. Use what's happening in your relationship to learn and grow.
Instead of allowing your relationship to define you, make you feel bad about who you are, or limit you in any way, use it to become stronger and more of who you are meant to be. Use it to become wildly happy, successful, at peace, and fulfilled. How? Acknowledge that what’s happening right now is a gift meant to teach you something powerful about yourself and lead you to a place of healing. Once you’ve acknowledged this, simply make a commitment to doing the inner reflection and healing work that’s necessary.
Inherent in every relationship disagreement, challenge, or struggle is the possibility that unresolved emotions and past experiences will emerge. However, by using this insight and challenge to grow, your disagreements become lights that bring our attention to issues we need to resolve. Looking at relationships through this lens has been one of the most impactful ways in which I have transformed my own life.
Want more insight into your relationship? Find out the things you should always be selfish about in your partnerships and the questions that could keep your marriage from ending.