In a previous article I wrote about the influence of previous lovers. Here are some practical tips to ensure old partners don’t ruin new partnerships.
First of all, we need to acknowledge the presence of these relational squatters, and understand how they are polluting the environment.
For most dating couples, it is enough to hear that “things are really over” between our partner and their previous significant other. It’s easy when we are “in love” to naively believe not only that our new love interest is un-attached but that they are also un-affected.
Too often it is not until conflicts arise that we are forced to examine how our relational actions and reactions are affected by the ghosts of people we have been with in the past.
Imagine a man whose previous wife cheated on him with someone she met at work. How likely is it that his pain from that betrayal will affect his reaction when his wife reports what a fun lunch she had with 4 new co-workers, 2 male and 2 female? Given his history, only a Teflon robot could respond in a completely objective manner.
Here are some practical things to do.
1) Cut the ties. Smart people are aware that it is almost always best to cut off all contacts with previous partners, except for those that are essential, such as communication with ex-spouses about shared custody of children. Non-essential contact only provides an opportunity for misunderstanding and distrust with our new partner. Ideally, we were careful to not begin a new relationship until we were ready, and by ready I mean completely dis-engaged from previous partners in any way that could threaten the growth of the new relationship.
Even if we do that, it is still very likely that those ex’s will influence our new partnership. If a woman recently divorced a husband whose pattern of abuse escalated from verbal to emotional to physical, it is likely, and reasonable, that she will become concerned if her new husband raises his voice during a dialog. Even if the increase in volume is appropriate and non-threatening, she can’t help but react based on the trauma she experienced with her first husband.
2) Be fair and self-aware. When you find yourself acting or reacting to a new partner based on your experience with a previous one, take ownership of what you are doing, and learn why. In fairness, acknowledge that you unjustly responded based on past experience. Graciously admit that what your partner said does not warrant the reaction you presented. Be self- aware.
It is important to make every effort to respond cleanly and appropriately to what your partner presents to you, good or bad. Most of us are perfectly capable of screwing up on our own, in big ways and small, and we don’t need to be unfairly blamed just because something we did or said reminds our partner of their previous unhealthy relationship.
Hopefully with this new understanding of who’s in the house, we can enjoy relationships in which we experience freedom and joy. Freedom and joy that are the rewards of properly and thoroughly processing our own history, and helping our partner do the same.