We all know that an ex-boyfriend (or ex-girlfriend) can sometimes create a problem in a new relationship. We see it happen all the time. An ex being involved in any relationship can be tricky, but what if your ex could get involved without you even knowing? In fact, you probably don't even realize how involved your ex is in your relationship. What if we told you that your exes are probably impacting your relationship all of the time? Would you believe us?
For most people, this is the case. Our past relationships shape us. You may not realize how much this is true, but it is absolutely the way it is. We learn what we know about relationships from relationships, and if you're having problems in your current relationship, it's likely that a past one is involved.
The good news is that when you recognize how this is happening you can do something about it. In this post, we're going to show you the three ways that your past relationships can wreak havoc on your current one so you can get them out of the way before they get in the way for you.
1. Your past will cause you to misunderstand your partner.
Be it memories, thoughts, feelings, or experiences, you are always interpreting your partner through your past relationships. We do it with everything; it's the way the human mind works. We always take what is in front of us and relate it to what we know from the past.
Let's say you have a favorite coffee shop that you’ve been going to for years. You love the coffee, the environment, the music, everything. One day you're in another city and you stop for a cup of coffee. You don't just take the coffee shop in as it is without reference to anything else. You probably compare it to your coffee shop back home. If you like something about this new place, you might think they should do that back home. If you don't like something, you might say that you like the way they do it at home better.
For the most part this kind of thinking is harmless. This is how we determine our preferences and learn how to interact with the world around us. It gives us a sense of concreteness and solidarity in life. The problem for many of us is that this is operating on hyper-drive, and when this type of thinking happens compulsively, we not only do it with coffee shops, t.v., products we use, etc., WE DO IT WITH EVERYTHING! In our Love lives, this can cause huge challenges.
Everything that your partner says brings up some experience from your past for you. You process it through memories from past relationships and that determines how you react.
Think about this:
When he tells you, "I Love you", you typically don't respond with, "Well what does Love really mean to you?" You assume you know what it means, but how do you know? You know based on what Love has meant to you in the past—when your last boyfriend said it, or your high school boyfriend, or even back to when your parents said it (or didn't). You think that you know what Love is but you only know what it is according to you and your experiences of it in your past. Surely his experiences of Love have been different (even if only slightly), so it must mean something different to him.
The same thing goes for when he says, "I'm angry", "I'm hurt", or "I'm sad". When we fight in relationships, one of the biggest challenges to resolve is that we don't really understand each other. You think he's saying one thing because he's using the same words that someone used in your past, but the feeling that he's attempting to communicate may something else entirely. In fact, it's happening both ways, so you are both left feeling misunderstood and invalidated.
Realizing that this is happening can drastically improve the communication in your relationship. In the clients we work with, we find that 90% of fights are quickly resolved when couples learn how to bypass this automatic behavior and become clear about what their partner is saying.
2. Your past can make you think your partner is being hurtful, even when they are not.
We tend to think that the things that other people say and do can hurt us, but in reality, that is not the case. The things that people say and do are triggers that touch the underlying pain points that exist within us. We all have different pain points. If someone you were dating did something that hurt you, and they couldn't understand why it hurt, this is probably why.
Our past experiences are different from the next person, and so we think about and experience things differently in the present. If you were cheated on in a past relationship you will likely be hyper-aware of anything that looks like it could be cheating. This is a normal response. You've experienced a certain pain in the past and the natural thing to do is to attempt to protect yourself from it moving forward. If this sounds like you in your current relationship, your partner may sometimes feel like you are unreasonably suspicious. They may feel that they've never given you a reason to doubt them, so you should trust them. You want to trust them, but still, you doubt them.
This habit can be insidious, and it can certainly ruin a relationship. Every time you try to let your guard down, your mind tells you, "Don't be too sure, remember last time you thought you could trust him...". Your fear of being hurt in that way again will disrupt your ability to be Loving and open with your partner now, and, if you let it, it can ruin the relationship for both of you.
Any time you feel that your partner has hurt you, if you're willing to look, you can start to see how that same kind of thing has been hurting you all throughout your life.
We once worked with a client that wrote poetry. She would email her boyfriend a poem every morning and sometimes, by the end of the day, he still had not read the poem. He would apologize, tell her about his busy day, but every time this happened, she would get very angry.
She brought this up on a call and after taking a look at it, we found that every time he hadn't read the poem, it made her feel exactly the way she felt at 14 years old when her father had promised to come to her ballet recital and she looked out into the audience to see only her mother sitting there. That was one of the earliest times she could remember having that feeling. Ever since then, when she felt like someone hadn't come through for her, she relived that experience all over again.
Before she had this realization, she would react by closing herself off from her boyfriend, she would become passive-aggressive with him, and at times, they would even get into a fight over it. Once she realized what was happening, she was able to tell him why it was so important to her and also understand that he wasn't intentionally trying to ignore her. He promised to make a point to read the poems when she sent them and she promised not to get upset if sometimes he wasn't able to. That has not been an issue for them since.
Learning to see how this is happening for you will help you to avoid most of the pain that you experience in your relationship and to learn to speak with your partner about it.
3. Your past can lead you to the wrong person.
If you are someone that has a history of falling for the wrong people, looking to your past can likely tell you why. It's not an accident that you're attracted to the people that you are attracted to. Most people have never really looked into why they are attracted to those people.
Our mind subconsciously puts together a picture of what we think we want to find in a partner. This happens without any real effort on our part. These pictures are usually assembled from qualities that our parents had (especially our opposite-sex parent) and other significant figures from our childhood. Sometimes it's the qualities that made us feel loved that put this picture together, but not always. In fact, it can often be the things that hurt us as children that attract us to other people.
This becomes further intensified as we begin dating. As we start to identify what we find attractive in the opposite sex, we are drawn to a certain attitude or image that a person presents or a certain personality type, and we refer to this as "my type".
Sometimes it is entirely based on trends and social norms with no consideration given to what actually makes someone a great partner.
When a relationship with someone who is "your type" ends and you're re-entering the dating field, you're likely going to be looking for (you guessed it) "your type". This is not necessarily a conscious process, but trust us--it's happening. I think we've all had a few experiences in our dating history that we can look back on and say, "What was I thinking?"
People tend to believe that we don't have any power over who we are attracted to. As the old saying goes, ”The heart wants what it wants." But that is far from being true. When you become conscious that what your attracted to is not necessarily what you want to be attracted to, you can teach yourself to admire different qualities in men. All you have to do is recognize the qualities that you are attracted to that are unhealthy for you and learn to see them as such. Also identify the qualities that you want to be attracted to--for example, kindness, generosity, openness, compassion, understanding--and train yourself to look for those. When you see them, it will be a huge turn on.
We often support our clients in sorting through this process. If you are diligent with it, you will quickly break any old dating patterns that are not fulfilling to your life.
As human beings we always learn from our past. It's only through our past that we know anything—it's the way life is set up. But there is a distinct difference between learning from our past and growing through it and continuing to operate in the same old patterns that we learned long ago.
Your past relationships have a wealth of information that will show you everything you need to know to create the relationship you truly desire. But if the habits, thoughts, and feelings from your past are running on automatic without you being present to them, they will surely derail your current relationship. Once you become conscious of it, you can begin to do something about it.
Do you have any questions about these ideas? Post them in the comments. We'd love to chat with you about it!
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Thank you for reading!
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