Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why it’s called the present. (Alice Morse Earler, 1902)
When we spend time living in the past, life in the moment is likely to have less meaning and joy. The same is true for partners in a romantic relationship. Living in the past will greatly diminish our romantic opportunities for meaning and joy in the present moment. This seems to be true for better and for worse – it does not matter whether we are dwelling on past pain or past joy!
Oh yes, the joys or sorrows of the past can provide us with great lessons if we are willing to learn from them. However, those memories can become sticky, even adhesive; it is very easy to get stuck in either euphoric recall or in painful memories. When that happens, past hurts or successes can begin to color the way that we see and experience today.
When we get stuck in the pain of the past, today’s opportunities seem out of reach. Fulfillment becomes quite elusive. Preoccupation with past hurts and failures can leave us expecting less of ourselves today, or, imagining that there is little hope for improvement or real happiness.
Likewise, if we spend too much time basking in the warmth of past accomplishments and previous successes it is easy to end up seeing our present selves as failing to live up to our past precedent. We may begin to feel “less than” or that we somehow have become incapable of handling our current challenges of daily living. Some people say they feel depressed because they are now under-producing. It is easy to compare our present challenges to our nostalgic memories of the way we remember it used to be.
This is especially true in relationships. We are asking for trouble if we are comparing our current partner with the way that we remember this or other romantic partners in the past.
The key phrase here is “the way that we remember” the past. The way that we remember the past might not actually be the way that it really was. That is how the term euphoric recall got its definition. It refers to the tendency of people to remember past experiences in a positive light, while overlooking negative experiences associated with that event.
In closing, it is important to know that in spite of all our dire warnings, still there is a gold mine of positive lessons for us to learn if we are willing to review our past. The only condition is that we don’t park ourselves in the past and decide to live there. In relationships, positive and meaningful exploration of our past in a measured way can provide us with important insights into the reasons we slip into conflict with our romantic partners. There is always a back story to why couples fight.
If we are wiling to examine the parts of our past that have shaped our personalities, we can develop important insights that can help us make meaningful changes in the ways we deal with our present challenges. This is true especially if we are wiling to share our discoveries about ourselves with our current partner and elicit his or her help in working toward making the changes that will turn today into a “present”.