Do you and your partner have the SAME conversation over and over again about the SAME problem that happened days, months, or even years ago? If so, you and your partner are likely stuck in the past. Couples tend to hold onto problems rather than moving past them. As a result, couples will have multiple problems that never actually get resolved. So, how do you get unstuck from the past? Here are three tips to help you get unstuck from past problems.
Odds are, there are reasons why a past conflict keeps coming up for you and your partner. Most likely, you and your partner never resolved it. If you have not come to a resolution about the problem, think about what it is that you are wanting from this conflict. Are you wanting an apology? Are you fearful that this same problem is going to happen again? What is it for you that is keeping this past conflict around? After thinking about your answers to these questions, you will be able to CLARIFY what it is that you are still upset about. Once you have clarified this, talk to your partner about it. If it is an apology that you need – say that. If you have fears of the same problem happening again – say that too. The only way to move past this conflict, is if you have clarity as to why you are still upset AND you clue your partner in as to what is still upsetting you about the past conflict. Only then can you and your partner work towards a resolution.
After you have clarified why you’re holding on to past conflict(s), and what you need from the past conflict(s), it is time to actually move on from the conflict. As a couple’s therapist, I unfortunately observe many couples who use past conflicts as ammo for current and future fights. This is not a healthy way of fighting! When couples use past conflict(s) during times of current conflict, they are not actually coming to a resolution about anything, but rather, trying to “win” the fight. So, after you and your partner have clarified what it is that is still upsetting you about past conflict(s), move on and move forward. Moving forward can take a variety of different forms. Maybe you apologize, acknowledge past mistakes, correct problematic behaviors that cause fear for future conflicts, etc. Once you have done one or all of these things, leave the past conflict(s) in the past. They will not help you in the future.
3. Give the Opportunity For Change
Oftentimes, couples who are stuck in the past are not providing the opportunity for change. What does this mean? This means that your partner may be trying to change past behaviors/actions that were upsetting for you, but you are not allowing them to show you that THEY CAN CHANGE. Give your partner the opportunity to change! You can’t expect your partner to put much effort into change if you are holding them to past conflicts and not seeing hope for change. So, in order to do this final step, look for the positives in your partner. What do you feel is going to help them change? What small changes have they already made? Have hope in them and show them that you know changes can be made. Once your partner sees your optimism and does not see you bringing up the past, they will feel more confident and comfortable to make changes.
Now that you have read these tips on how to get unstuck from the past, put these tips to the test! Create a present and loving relationship by leaving the past in the past. And, check out this blog for tips on how to fight fair, so that you don’t get stuck in past behaviors again.
Amanda Cummins is an intern with The Marriage and Family Clinic. She focuses on working with couples in distress as well as families and children in transitions. As a Denver Native, Amanda enjoys hiking, yoga, and spending time with her family.