Expert Q&A: Getting Over Past Relationships
It's true that, like the old song, we always hurt the ones we love. At first, this situation seems wrong. After all, its seems like the words "love" and "hurt" shouldn't even be together in the same sentence. Yet, the truth is that we risk hurting our intimate partners because love "ups the ante" of our emotional involvement. As our involvement goes up, so do our defenses against being hurt, betrayed and abandoned.
Our defenses are unique and are based on a combination of personality and our experiences in childhood, teen years and previous relationships. Some of us, for instance, yell while others sulk. Or, some people have affairs while other people cling.
Regardless of your defensive styles, most of us have brought our personal "baggage" into our relationships.
See if these examples sound like you.
1. Whenever Kathy's husband came home late or forgot to call, she went into a tirade. Her previous husband cheated on her all the time.
2. When Christopher didn't answer his girlfriend's questions right away, she accused him of being insensitive and selfish--just like all her past boyfriends.
3. Whenever Maria came home from work too tired to cook, she wanted to go out for a light bite. Her husband got angry and told her that she was a spendthrift--just like his mother who drove his father to drink.
In all three of the situations, one partner has remembers past hurtful behavior all too well. They have allowed the past to color all related incidents. Yet, we need to remember what hurt us in the past so that we can recognize a similar situation in the future. Our memories of previous emotionally harmful experiences is part of our survival skills. Imagine if cavemen forgot that the lion can kill. Unfortunately, these memories can also make us over-react and misread situations. Here are some tips to help you manage your past hurts.
1. Recall relationship hurts and how you handled them. Yes, it's important to know what hurt you in your past romantic relationships. Make a list that includes any hurts such as infidelity, lying, criticizing you in public or private, forgetting your birthday, violence, avoidance of sex, and any other upsetting behaviors. Now add how you handled them. Did you cry, rant and rage or just tolerate things, for example.
2. Run the "movie memory" in your head of your parents' behavior. Few parents were perfect role models. Imagine you are directing a few typical scenes from your life with your parents. What would they be saying to each other or you? What made them angry or distant? Run several scenes in your head. Make a list of their negative actions. Now write down what you learned from your parents about love, men and women. For example, did you learn that men cheat and hit? Or that women ignore their children when a new man comes in the picture?
3. Join and compare the lists. Now put these two lists together. Do you see a pattern in the types of hurts and how you react to similar situations in your intimate relationships?
4. Observe. Over the next few weeks keep a journal of things that make you feel hurt by your partner. Temporarily adopt an "observer" view. This emotional position will increase your chances of seeing more clearly what kinds of interactions upset you. It will also decrease your chances of reacting.
5. Explain, examine, plan. Now that you know what kinds of situations turn up your hurt meter, the next time your partner does something that registers as a hurt:
- Tell your partner that you are having trouble separating your past experiences from the current one.
- Now tell your partner that your emotional hot buttons include things such as abandonment or trust, for instance. Of course, your buttons will be unique to you.
- Ask your partner to review his behavior and determine whether it is--or isn't--actually hurtful behavior. Sometimes, for example, your partner just might be pre-occupied with a work problem. Or, your partner just didn't express himself in the best way.
- Finally, come up with a new plan as to how you both will handle real or "baggage" hurts in the future. Some suggestions include doing all or any of these actions:
- Tell your partner your old feelings are getting churned up.
- Ask your partner to clarify.
- Raise your finger or hand to indicate that you need a time-out for clarification or calming.
- Call for an "instant replay" where you both start the conversation over.
Over time, you will come up with your own techniques.
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