The past can have a major impact on your current dating life. From early childhood wounds to bad breakups with ex’s, the past can shape who you are and influence how you see yourself, others, and the world. Without evening realizing it, your past can affect the way you approach dating and view relationships. It can affect the way you select a partner and who you are attracted to later in life. And, it certainly affects how you respond to emotions and make decisions. This is why resolving old wounds and baggage while learning how to be present is essential to healthy dating.
Your past may be at play if you find yourself in the same situations over and over again. Patterns are often repeated because they feel familiar and comfortable. Your past experiences disregard the logical part of you knowing what you are doing isn’t working. You may be reenacting childhood patterns as an adult, causing relationship conflict or the inability to create a healthy partnership. For example, you may find yourself attempting to rescue or fix your dates or partners. This is especially true if you grew up with an emotionally unstable or alcoholic parent. You may also be protecting your heart. Unknowingly you may be pushing away interested potential partners and not letting others get too close to you if you’ve been burned in previous relationships. If you find yourself struggling to trust a new partner despite zero red flags and things actually going well, there is a good chance your past is unresolved. This is causing a general sense of mistrust and anxiety that has nothing to do with your partner.
To ensure you are learning from the past, but also keeping it where it belongs so you can have healthy relationships now, try these 5 strategies:
1. Give yourself time to heal and take breaks for reflection when relationships end. If your tendency is to get over a person by attaching to another person or substance abuse, you are leaving little space for closure. Closure comes from the willingness to reflect, process, and sit with emotions over time. It involves being present and accepting of what’s actually happening versus trying to avoid it or numb yourself. While it might feel safer to deny your feelings and pretend the breakup isn’t happening, you need to confront it to heal. If you don’t, you will naturally bring old baggage into future relationships. Take time to process each relationship loss before moving on and restarting dating. You don’t have to be 100% over someone to find love again, but you do need to give yourself a bit of time to readjust, reflect, and heal before moving toward a new relationship.
2. Find healthy outlets to release emotions from the past. One of the interventions that my clients find the most powerful is writing a letter to each ex or significant person in their lives. This is an exercise you can do right after a breakup or many years later if you feel an old relationship is still affecting you and occupying space in your mind. The key is to let yourself release your emotions in a healthy way by writing in a deep and uncensored way. The goal is also to articulate what you learned from the relationship so the relationship doesn’t burden you in the present and you can move forward. The letter is for you and will not be sent, so be as honest and open as possible. Consider what you would like to let go of to enjoy a healthier and happier life now.
3. Watch out for over-generalizations. If you believe “all women are high-maintenance” or “all men are selfish,” experiences from your childhood or relationship past are still dominating the present. All or nothing thinking may be coming from your brain projecting that all women are high-maintenance because an ex-girlfriend is or all men are selfish because your father is. This is called a cognitive distortion or a flawed way of thinking. These sorts of assumptions can be very dangerous and cause you to date with walls. If you continue to attract the same exact person time and time again, it’s important to understand your role in who you attract, however, you also need to remind yourself that no two people or partners are the exact same. Each relationship has the best chance of thriving when it is approached with a clean slate.
4. Be aware of your triggers, vulnerabilities and sensitive spots. Our partners are going to push our buttons. We all have some baggage, so it’s important to own any baggage you are bringing into your new relationship. For example, if an ex had issues managing his money, you may find yourself overly reactive when your new partner makes a large, but necessary purchase. Or if your romantic relationships have a pattern of ending at around three months, you may feel anxious and paranoid around that time period with someone new. It’s essential to keep the past in the past so you don’t actually sabotage relationships at that point. Own your triggers and be honest about how they manifest in relationships. If you sense the past is contributing to discomfort or anxiety in your current relationship, it’s a good time to communicate this to your partner and put effort into your own healing. This is not about blaming others for the past, it’s about accepting responsibility for how it may be affecting you now.
5. Set intentions for love. The more present you are, the less of a hold the past will have on you. Setting intentions and using positive statements is a great technique to anchor yourself and take stock of your goals, hopes, and dreams now. Use the background of your phone, post-its on your vanity mirror, your journal, etc. to surround yourself with hope, inspiration, and courage to meet your dating and relationship goals.
Examples of statements to write, recite, and keep around you include:
Leave the past behind
Committed to being present on my journey to love
Open to attracting a wonderful partner
Willing to be vulnerable and take emotional risks
Hopeful about my present and future
Ready for love
Understand that you are not trying to erase, ignore or get rid of the past. You are integrating it into the present and future you desire so it doesn’t control your life without awareness. By owning who you are and understanding how your past may be impacting you, you can focus your energy on creating what you want now.