Published on Sunday, November 2, 2014

Can "The Past" Between Couples Be Boxed and Put Away for Good?

Can "The Past" Between Couples Be Boxed and Put Away for Good?

There is one thing that most couples find extremely hard to do; and that is to put the past behind them and move forward. In all honestly, that is something that most people have some difficulty with - letting go of a hurt caused, or an injustice experienced by the hands of someone else.

But it is not always a case of being unable to forgive simply because we want to hold a grudge or feel the person should pay; that justice should prevail. I think there are several contributors to the difficulty we experience in putting the past... well, in the past.

One of these is who the person is that hurt us. It is easy to forgive the stranger who profusely apologises right after bumping you with a shopping cart in the store. Or the person who spilled his drink on the floor right next to you, almost soaking your trousers and leaving a ghastly stain... certainly way easier than forgiving you partner for his/her "sins"... no matter how profuse the apology might be...

The "who" is important. We enter into relationships with certain expectations of one another and our relationship. We have certain "truths" as the basis for our being together - we put this person into a certain little box, and believe, without a doubt that that person fits there comfortably. We know everything about one another; everything is so easy and comfortable, we fit perfectly. And as we grow together and get to know each other a little better, we start "realizing" how this marriage would be... very nearly perfect!

But the inevitable happens and this perfect person, who loves you, who would never ever do anything to hurt you, does exactly that. Sometimes it's something small, sometimes it's something big, but the fact of the matter is, it's often times completely unexpected.

The "who" also applies when it comes to family or friends. We put people into boxes labelled "mother", "father", "best friend"... we believe certain things of each of these boxes: a mother Is loving and kind, a father is protective, a true friend always understands... If a person then disappoints or challenges this truth... we get hurt and that is harder to forgive, because it doesn't fit with what we "know" about this little box and it's again utterly unexpected. Now we are faced with a dilemma - do I take this person out of the box, or do I reshape this box, rethink its diameters... is what I believed about this specific box a universal truth, a factual truth... or is it my truth...

Some of these boxes also carry more weight than others. If you are a very family orientated person, a "sister" box might weigh more than a "friend" box and definitely more than say a "colleague" box. This all depends on you as a person. If a heavier boxed person hurts you, the impact would therefore tend to be bigger than a lighter boxed-person...

I believe certain boxes weigh more because we put more of ourselves in them; we spend more time with those people, we value their opinions more, we invest in that relationship and when we invest to such an extent, we open ourselves up, we become emotionally vulnerable. We are, quite frankly, open targets...

So if a spouse or a life partner messes up and hurts you, it's bad. You have to rethink what you believed to be true. If it's a first time offence, it's easy to justify, to forget, to ignore - "I don't have to rethink this box or the person in it, it was an anomaly... "It's when this happens a second and a third time that we are really in trouble. Especially if you've opened up your heart explaining why this is not okay with you, why this hurts you so. It's really hard to get your head around that, and I'm not talking only about huge issues like infidelity here. This includes situations that, to some might seem really insignificant, but that are important to you; like hubby helping out with the kids more, or your wife not holding that golf game against you...

So what do you do if you are trying to work on you relationship but the past keeps rearing its ugly head? There are several things that you could try:

  • Firstly accept the fact that you cannot change one single thing about the past - it is what it is and will always stay that.
  • Understanding each other better is key - why is this specific request so important to your partner?
  • Apologize, sincerely for the hurt that you have caused your partner.
  • Understand that every day is a brand new opportunity to change the mistakes of the past, to show your partner that you are actively working on your contributions, to change your own mistakes of the past.
  • In all of this, healthy and effective communication is absolutely essential.


In short; the Past is an issue, because it hurt, badly. It keeps on coming up, because your partner wants to convey the extent of the hurt to you; he or she feels that you are just not getting it. My advice would be to listen empathetically; do not justify or defend your actions, do not retaliate with an onslaught of your own, but rather keep quiet, listen attentively while keeping eye contact. If possible hold his or her hand while your partner is opening up. This in itself will already go down better than you think!

Find something you can apologise for; sincerely and actively start working on making your partner feel loved and cared for. If you are the one who is struggling to forgive and forget and you feel that moving forward is almost impossible, I urge you to seek professional help.

If you are battling to achieve the results you would like to achieve, visit one of the Vita Nova Relationship workshops for practical methods that you can apply in your relationship by making both partners feel loved and cared for. So if you need help in putting the past where it needs to be, contact us today.

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Anri van den Berg
Anri van den Berg>

Anri van den Berg

I truly enjoy working with people of all ages; and I wholeheartedly believe that I can, and do undoubtedly add value to every life through the work I do in my practice; Vita Nova Counselling

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