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.