A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine asked me if there was anything he could improve on to have greater relationship success in the future. This is someone I dated in the past, so I was a good candidate to give him feedback.
After giving it some thought, I shared with him both the things that I thought would increase his chances of having a satisfying connection as well as things that he was doing well and should keep doing (hey, it’s nice to know what you’re doing right, too!).
The main thing that I thought would help him move to the next level with someone special was his relationship with the past: he was stuck in it. And him being stuck in the past was preventing him from making a meaningful connection in the present.
When he and I dated, I got the sense from him that he was embarrassed and upset about how his last business venture went. He invested years of his time, effort, and finances into an operation that painfully fell apart. He seemed to desperately want to make a professional comeback to demonstrate to others that they should listen to him and also prove to himself that he saw “the signs” well in advance of everyone else and was able to avoid other pitfalls. What I also deduced from our conversations was that he wanted to be more financially successful than those who he felt ruined his business.
Related to this is what I saw as a somewhat warranted chip on his shoulder from being taken advantage of by others. His brother, who stole a significant amount of money from him, being the big one. My friend is a kind person and wants to help others and unfortunately, this hasn’t always resulted in reciprocated kindness. Also, unfortunately, I think this resulted in a defensiveness where he actually looked for ways others might be taking advantage of him or potentially taking advantage of him, which didn’t serve him or his present relationships at all. In fact, it made it more difficult to relax around him and accept his generosity.
I told him that he had every right to be angry about what happened, but maybe when bad experiences from the past come up in his mind and he’s about to bring that situation up in conversation with someone that he’s dating, to pause and ask himself how doing that would serve him, the conversation, and the connection he’s trying to build.
The heavy focus on the past, especially unpleasant memories, doesn’t feel expansive to a potential partner. In this case, it felt like he was most focused on revenge, not exactly a turn on. I wrote a post called “Love is Expansive” if you’d like to know what I mean by that.
Ultimately, it can be helpful to know about someone’s past in order to appreciate who they are today, but I think every person wants to be with someone who has let the past go or is working on letting it go and is more focused on being in the present moment with them and also positively thinking about and planning out a future together.
Being stuck in the past can take on many forms. For example, you might be fixated on an ex-partner or relationship and be having difficulty moving forward.
Another close friend recently told me about someone who used to pop up in her life for years. She would hear from him or see him and feel instantly disoriented. Nothing came into fruition between them and after a while she started dating another man. Eventually, this other man proposed to her and she said “yes.” She said that even on her wedding day, the other man was still in the back of her mind.
She thought she would never be able to love anyone as much as she loved this other man. But, she said, it wasn’t true. She now loved the man she was married to just as much, it just grew over time. I asked her what allowed her to let the other man go and she said: time, distance, and fully committing to the relationship she was in.
Bottom line: it’s not unusual to think about the past or have unresolved issues or a lack of closure from the past, but if you feel like you are struggling with letting go of something that’s sabotaging a connection with someone in the present, just remember that the person you are with cannot participate with you in the past. They can only participate with you in the present and future. It’s harder if not impossible to feel connected to you when you’re living in the past.
Further reading: find out what your balance of past, present, and future is by taking the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI) survey here.