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The Past Doesn’t Stay in the Past

One of our biggest passion topics here at Thriving Marriages (other than, you know, passion) is the importance of your past. Just like today’s author, Lisa Brookes Kift claims, our experience is that most couples are running from the pain of their family of origin, previous relationships, or sexual abuse. This is a completely understandable defense mechanism that in the moment helped protect you from what was happening, but for a marriage to grow you eventually have to face the past’s role in your present. As you read today’s article we hope you lean into the discomfort, and ask some hard questions.

Consider sharing this with your spouse and having a conversation about it tonight. 

Do you believe things that happened in your past can impact how you function in your relationships?  If you don’t, you’re not alone.  Being a therapist who works with individuals and couples, I’ve heard countless time, “The past is done.  There’s no point in rehashing old stuff.”  It’s certainly not useful to get stuck on a topic and let it replay over and over like a broken record – but acknowledging the experience and working through it to free yourself is pretty important.

First, let’s look at what I mean by “emotional wounds” because they can come in many forms:

  • Lack of secure attachment with one or both parents or primary caregivers
  • Abuse or other physical/emotional trauma
  • Emotional or physical absence of one or both parents during childhood
  • High levels of criticism and lack of acceptance during childhood
  • Peer rejection or bullying during school years
  • Pattern of loss in friendships or love relationships
  • Pattern of betrayal in friendships or love relationships
  • Pattern of maltreatment in friendships or love relationships

There are many other ways people can experience pain that sticks with them down the line.  Keep in mind that some people are more vulnerable to these types of experiences than others due to factors of resilience and who they are.  Also, often the earlier the relational disappointments and pain (from birth to five) the more likely future issues will be more difficult to get through.

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Now let’s look at ways emotional wounds can show up in your relationships:

  • Tendency to attract and be attracted to partners who mistreat you
  • Tendency to attract and be attracted to partners who are emotionally unavailable
  • Tendency towards self sabotage in relationships
  • Fear of getting close in relationships
  • Tendency to have high expectations of others, personalize their behavior and be easily disappointed when they fall short

A primary reason why much of the above happens for those who carry emotional wounds rests in their belief systems about themselves (lacking value and worth), others (lacking trust) and the world (lacking belief things will work out).  It actually makes good sense considering their earlier experiences!  For children who didn’t begin their earliest years in an environment of trust, security and love (during the most important time when the brain is developing and wiring at a fever pitch), it’s no wonder they can become adults who don’t necessarily believe that good can come – or that they deserve it!

Many blindly cycle through unhealthy relationships with no awareness of how their past has blocked them from achieving one of the most rewarding of human experiences, a loving relationship!  The good news is that change can occur.  What I’ve observed often working for people is a recipe of acknowledgment that they are operating in a way that isn’t ultimately serving them, awareness of why that is, desire to take steps to change and stepping outside of the box that they may have known their whole lives – to do something different!

It’s brave work to tackle your past.  But it can one of the most rewarding things you ever do for yourself.