Many of us wonder why we see the same old issues arise time after time in our relationships. We wonder, is it me? Is there something wrong with me? We see ourselves react in ways that we cannot understand. We are left puzzled by our over-reactions or inability to deal with certain behaviours or conflicts in our relationships. The reality is that our past experiences and relationships have a profound influence on the people we are drawn to, and also on how we think, feel and behave and conduct ourselves in our present relationships.
The aim of this article is to educate us about the different ways that our past may be impacting our present. Armed with this knowledge, we will now be able to take charge of our lives and break some of the detrimental cycles that we have seen in our relationships.
The first significant relationships we have are usually within our families. By seeing how our family members relate to us and to each other, we begin to piece together a story of what relationships are all about. As a child, we receive a variety of unconscious messages which we carry with us into later life. Two of the most central messages that we have received that may be affecting our relationships are:
If you came from a family in which you felt safe and secure, you may find it easy to trust people as an adult. However, if you felt rejected, or lost someone close to you, you may find it harder to believe that others will love you and treat you well. As the ability to trust is very important in relationships, you may need support from those around you to help rebuild your faith in others. You may ask the question, how do I know who I can trust? The bible tells us that you should place your trust in God. He is the one who will lead you beside still waters [peaceful and beneficial relationships] (Psa. 23:2). He can give you the ability to discern who you should allow into your life and those who should be kept at arm’s length. “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”(Prov. 3:5-6)
If you find it easy to show your emotions, chances are you were brought up in a home where you were encouraged to be open about how you felt. You probably saw other people arguing – and saw them make up, too. This taught you that conflict can be resolved and communicating is a way of making life better. On the other hand, if you were encouraged to keep your feelings private or to ’sweep issues under the carpet’, then this may be continuing into your present relationships. This is not to say that being a private person and not wanting to share everything is wrong but it may cause issues in a relationship if the other person is very open and expects you to also share every feeling with them. In this case, you would need to work out a balance that you both feel comfortable with.
We also learn patterns of behaviour from our family relationships. For example an individual who grew up in a home where the mother was responsible for disciplining the children may expect that his wife take responsibility for disciplining the children. This may cause conflict if the wife grew up in a home where both parents took equal responsibility. It is necessary that we acknowledge the different backgrounds that we come from and the ways that they affect how we see the world.
Most importantly, we need to create a future that is not based on the past. We cannot be so rigid in believing that the way we grew up doing something is the only right way. We need to be ready to accept that the other person in the relationship also has their own ideas of what is right and wrong. The key is finding out what is right and works for the two of you, not what worked for your parents, your sister or whoever else you grew up learning from. You must be willing to sacrifice a little to benefit the relationship. Particularly in marital relationships, the ‘becoming of one flesh’ (Gen 2:24) is a process. Two very different people with two different sets of past experiences are coming together and are expected to merge together. Of course, this may come with some challenges. The key is being aware of how much your past is affecting you so that you can deal with it rather than walking in ignorance wondering why there always seems to be conflict in your relationships. Take time to sit down with pen and paper and write out some of the messages and behaviour styles that may be influencing you from either your family or past relationships. Next, take action on how to begin creating your own future that is free from the past.
Some other tips to enable you live in the moment and not the past:
# Don’t make the sweeping assumption that if you have been mistreated in past relationships, you will be mistreated in all future relationships Each new person you meet has the right to be evaluated based on his or her own unique merits and flaws, (as opposed to being evaluated based on your past relationship experiences).
# Don’t obsess over certain painful incidents or relationships from your past. In fact, it’s akin to playing a negative tape loop over and over again in your head, and it is definitely not conducive to creating happier, healthier relationship experiences. The bible says that we are to think on things that are of good report, so don’t waste valuable time entertaining negative thoughts (Phil. 4:8)
# Don’t sabotage your relationships. People who feel insecure and/or who suffer from low self-esteem sometimes consciously or unconsciously sabotage their love relationships by engaging in behaviours that could potentially drive their partners away in order to confirm their own worst fears and beliefs about themselves. Don’t fall into this all-too-common insecurity trap!
# Untangle love knots. Love knots are assumptions that we make about our relationships based on past experiences. For example we may say inwardly: “If you are in pain, I believe I should be able to fix it. I’ve been able to fix it before. I’m good at fixing things. I don’t know how to fix it, so I feel inadequate. I get angry at you for making me feel inadequate. I withdraw from you and blame you for being in pain.” In this situation, the other person doesn’t know anything about your assumption and so does not know where the anger is coming from which can cause an argument. Another common love knot is, “If I tell you what I want and you do it, it doesn’t count because I had to tell you. You used to just ‘get me’. If you try to guess what I want and don’t get it right, I get angry.” Untangling these love knots by changing our assumptions or letting the other person in on what is happening can change the negative cycles that have been recurring. Again sit down with pen and paper and work out any love knots that may be at work in your relationships. You can use the diagram below with the other person in the relationship to help explain the love knot to them.
# Live in the moment. Life is full of moments, both positive and negative. Often times, we let a negative moment hold us back from moving forward to enjoy the next positive moment that is on the way. Imagine the scenario where two friends are having a day out together shopping. The day has been great fun but tiring, they decide to stop for lunch. During lunch, the discussion gets heated as they disagree over a particular political issue. The conversation has brought a negative atmosphere and the friends have forgotten the great time they had been having and cannot continue so they make their excuses and go their separate ways. In their individual homes, they replay the day, they have each forgotten all the positive moments instead concentrating on that one negative moment in the restaurant. They concentrate on the negative things they said to each other in the heat of the moment and wonder if they can still be friends. This is an example of what often happens in our relationships, we concentrate on one negative moment rather than understanding that we can move past that moment. We begin to define the whole relationship by that one moment. Instead we need to be able to move past it, realizing that better times are ahead.
In everything give thanks (1 Thess. 5:18), don’t focus on the negativity of the moments in your life instead realise there is a time to weep but there is also a time to laugh (Eccl. 3:4). God has promised to turn everything in your life that looks like ashes into beauty (Isa. 61:3). Good times are on the way, can I hear an Amen?
Remember the words of Paul in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
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