We all have a past. We have a relationship history, complete with mistakes and baggage. And when we don’t take care of ourselves and heal from what came before, we can end up destroying our future with the past.
Of course, there are two people in any relationship. And if your partner isn’t cleaning up their side of the street, things can still go wrong. But if you take care of your own issues, you stand a much better chance of having a healthy, happy relationship that isn’t affected by your past.
How do you do that, though? Here are four simple things to start with.
Be aware of your own “stuff” & how it impacts you
In order to keep your past from affecting your present, you need to know how it would do that.
For example, I know that because of past relationships where cheating was an issue, there are certain behaviors or ways of talking to me that would make me suspicious and think a partner is cheating. By being aware of this, I can put the brakes on when I recognize that my partner is behaving or speaking in a way that would trigger that suspicion. I can consciously take a step back and ask myself questions about the reality of the situation so I don’t spiral out of control over something that isn’t real.
You’ll have different issues. Look over your relationship history and identify what they are. But also look at things like what your parents’ marriage was like, or other people whom you were close to. If there were major issues in those relationships, they could have created issues within you that you don’t even fully recognize are there.
Once you identify these issues and how they impact you, it becomes a lot easier to recognize when they’re trying to rear their ugly heads and cause trouble. You can then actively change your reaction to them and have a different outcome.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable
It can be terrifying to open up to someone and be vulnerable. You’re giving them the ability to hurt you — handing them the knife to slice open the most tender, sensitive parts of yourself. Yet if you don’t, you can’t build trust. And trust is the foundation of any healthy, solid relationship.
You don’t need to lay your deepest, darkest secrets bare on the first date. But as you get to know someone, you should start sharing things with them in a way that is appropriate to how things are progressing.
By being vulnerable, you allow yourself to assess how they react and respond. Do they reciprocate and return the intimacy that comes from being vulnerable? Do they brush off what you share or laugh? Do they close themselves off and hold back?
Making yourself vulnerable will allow you to build trust or to realize that the other person isn’t willing to be open with you and therefore, this relationship or potential relationship can’t go anywhere.
Take care of your mental health & self-esteem
New relationships often result in a “cocooning” stage where we don’t see friends and family as much, set aside hobbies and interests in favor of spending time with our new love, and basically getting lost in the relationship for a bit.
But it’s important that you don’t do that indefinitely. Enjoy it for a bit, then get back to reality. Put your mental health and self-esteem first.
Spend time with friends and family. Engage in your favorite hobbies and interests. Spend time by yourself, keeping your connection to yourself thriving.
Don’t let a new partner overwhelm you and make you drop all the things you had before they came along. When your partner becomes the focus of your world, all those past problems can end up being amplified because you have nothing else to distract you from the relationship.
Make sure you do all the usual things that contribute to good mental health, too. Eat healthy foods, get regular exercise and consistent sleep, and visit a therapist for at least a few sessions if you feel like you need to.
Don’t assume the worst about someone’s actions
What’s your first thought when they don’t text back right away? Is it that they’re busy and they’ll get back to you or is it that they’re not interested, cheating, or something else that hurts you?
It’s easy, especially if you have a relationship history filled with bad relationships, to assume the worst about the actions of others. And once you do that, you end up going down a spiral where you just keep assuming the worst until you’re basically ready to break up with someone just because they took 30 seconds too long to text you back.
Instead, when something happens that you could assume the worst about, try thinking of a more positive alternative possibility. Instead of assuming they’re not picking up your call because they’re not interested, assume they’re in a meeting and can’t answer.
Instead of assuming they’re not telling you what they did last night because they were cheating or doing something else bad, try assuming they were helping a friend and are trying to protect the friend’s privacy.
And if you can’t come up with a positive alternative? Then just keep reminding yourself that your assumption is not reality. Remind yourself that you do not know anything about why they’re taking whatever action they’re taking and refuse to allow yourself to believe the scary stories your mind is making up. Wait until you hear from your partner.
Your past doesn’t have to define your future
No matter what your past relationships look like, your future ones can be different. It requires healing and inner work on your part — and it’s not always easy — but the results are worth it.
And if you’re worried that by trying not to let your past ruin your present that you might overlook real signs of trouble? Couples’ counseling isn’t just for couples in trouble. Even newer, relatively healthy relationships can benefit from working with a neutral third party to help ensure they build a solid foundation.
Work to overcome your past. The reward is a beautiful future.
Wendy Miller is a Certified Happiness Coach, freelance writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love & happiness they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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