spilled milkYou may remember growing up with clichés like “do not cry over spilled milk” or “the past is the past…you should not live in the past.”  Those rules for coping with feelings were prominent when pop music discouraged “big boys” from crying and hit movies suggested “love meant never having to say you are sorry.”  There were so many rules for how we should feel or act that it is no wonder so many of us found ways to dull the pain of living.

While the journey down memory lane may be nostalgic, those rules for coping with our emotions can cause many problems in our adult lives and in our romantic relationships.

This is especially true if the relationship in question has endured emotional injury. Emotional injury can be endured through life experiences such as financial hardship or sickness. It can also occur as a result of the harms that partners have caused each other.  In such challenging moments we will intuitively reach into our bag of coping skills and more likely than not, we will choose one that is familiar to us. While the cliché we administer to our plight may sound good, it will do very little to bring any true relief.

The pain associated with romantic rejection, for example, may not be addressed adequately through the well meaning condolences of loved ones who proclaim there are “a great many fish in the sea” or “time heals all wounds”.  The feelings that remain after the memory of the well-meaning platitudes wear off are likely to jade your picture of romantic commitment and negatively affect you ability to find and sustain secure romantic attachment.

There are so many examples of old messages and coping behaviors that we grow up with only to learn as adults that they do not work. One wonderful solution for this would be to venture off into your past and take an honest surveillance of some of the rules for dealing with your emotions that you learned or developed growing up. You can then properly assess whether these are or are not serving you well today in your current day relationships.

While we agree that it is unhealthy to live in the past, we also insist that purposeful excursions into the past with people we trust can uncover valuable insights into our defects of character that we struggle to let go of.

In Twelve Step recovery this process might best fit together with the 4th through the 7th Steps.  The wisdom found in Alcoholics Anonymous, (1953) suggests that “we grow by our willingness to face and rectify errors and convert them into assets” (p. 124).

Additionally, our past and our true stories will be the source of infinite value to our partner and to other couples if we are willing to share ourselves completely with others.

“You are only as sober as your deepest, darkest secrets.”

In our own romance, we both recoiled from that admonition because we dreaded the thought that our partner would know the truth about our past.  We had both experienced numerous romantic failures and suspected that our new relationship would suffer the same fate as the rest of them – disaster.  We thought we could start fresh and keep our past from our partner. We could not.  If we choose to keep our past from our partner we will soon be amazed by the conflict it stirs.

You can click HERE to share with our readers some of the rules for dealing with your emotions that you learned growing up that did not serve you very well in romantic relationships.


This article was written by John & Elaine Leadem, senior supervisors of the Leadem Counseling & Consulting offices in Toms River, NJ and East Brunswick, NJ. The content of this article is based on their book “One in the Spirit: Meditation Course for Recovering Couples.”



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    Last reviewed: 21 Mar 2014

APA Reference
Leadem, J. (2014). “Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk” & other non-effective coping strategies. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 2, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/couples/2014/02/dont-cry-over-spilled-milk/


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Elaine Leadem, MSW, LCSW & John Leadem, MSW, LCSW are authors of many books, including One in Spirit & An Ounce of Prevention.
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