When you recall the past, the resident memories carry the emotional content of the moment. A tremendous exercise in control is required to isolate the event from the emotion. Some are trapped in the past in a way that previous trauma prevents personal growth and development, but when all is said and done, we can to some extent affect the way we interpret our past and then be the author of our future. We must accept the painful memories as part of our personal history, and then make sure the bad memories do not prevent us from living here and now. This is sometimes a difficult task.
Sandy sat quietly in the car with her husband on her way back from a party. “When we were to be engaged you said you weren’t sure if you were willing to commit,” she said suddenly. Her husband frowned in reflection and admitted, “Yes, that is right, I felt that way then.”
“How could you allow yourself to get engaged to me without being sure of what you wanted?” she continued, her voice breaking as tears started to stream down her face. Her husband, Andrew, sighed as he readied himself for the “how could you…” argument for the nth time. He is getting tired of this behavior that his wife adopts so often. He has seen her whip herself into a frenzy of “how could you- you don’t care” to an extent that he has started doubting her sanity. The problem with her line of fighting is that he is unable to provide an explanation. He admits to having been stupidly honest in the past, at that time he had thought she would understand.
They have been married for the last five years and have two children. When she and her spouse fight, all the statements, angry comments and past hurts are re-created leaving both of them hurting and exhausted. At times, Sandy feels she has been hurt so much that she needs to leave the relationship. Her husband feels the same way. The children are the deterrent. At moments of normalcy, the couple is loving and genuinely caring. Though, there is no way of knowing when the next flare-up will occur. Sandy and her husband have tried to retain their calm, for the sake of the children, but they continue to fail. The slightest mistake, facial expression or exclamation is enough reason for the next fight and raking up of the past. Criticism, cruel words and hurtful intent fill the communication. In the recent past, Sandy rushed at her husband and struck him and was stunned when he struck her back. They decided to put the past behind as both repented and resented the fight. Until now…
Her husband has started to feel victimized and has created a repertoire of memories that he can hit Sandy back with – measure for measure. He doesn’t feel satisfied with this route of action but it makes Sandy quiet and gives him the feeling of having won, temporarily at least. The couple feels victimized and acts in ways that are contrary to their true feelings about each other. The children for their part feel that the best way to stop fights is by crying inconsolably until the parents kiss and make up in front of them.
Two people who have been in a relationship for any amount of time will have moments of error. If the relationship is genuine in moments of normalcy, there is scope for retaining and improving it.
Re-creating the past
Remember how you felt when your best friend cheated you or a parent wrongly castigated you? When you lose a loved one, the memory of the funeral will inevitably bring tears to your eyes, as it did on that day in the past. When you recall the past, the resident memories carry the emotional content of the moment. A tremendous exercise in control is required to isolate the event from the emotion. This is the reason why Sandy and her husband are having a problem. If they look at their relationship from a long-term perspective, they prefer to stay together. Neither of them likes the idea of being separated though they have seriously started contemplating the possibility now. Would they like to try to stay together? They must confirm that they want to try to stay on as a couple because they have added some valuable learning to each other.
Some of us tend to stay in past hurts, holding grudges against friends for events of our childhood and adolescence. The person we hate goes ahead with life, finds happiness and contentment and probably forgets us completely while we are stuck in a quagmire of hatred. It is necessary to recognize this self-limiting style of thought.
Sandy’s marriage is reaching a state of irreparable damage due this habitual line of thought and argument. Andrew has, in the recent past, considered divorce but is afraid of losing custody of the kids. He knows Sandy will die if the children are taken away from her. He does not want to do that to her, but he cannot continue like this.
Confront the past
Situations of this sort require third party help since both the warring partners are unable to come out of the turmoil. Sandy and her husband will have to come to terms with their pasts. Sandy’s insecurity stems from her fear that her spouse does not care about her and may leave. Andrew cares but does not like to be blackmailed into saying so. Yes, he was in a state of uncertainty about the commitment. He remained so until he saw his first baby and it dawned on him how much he loved Sandy and re-affirmed his decision about getting married. He hates the idea of breaking up a marriage, he sees himself as a one-woman man.
In the course of a marriage, there are times when the relationship feels ambiguous. The transition from single to double to family places the adult into a variety of new, if temporary roles. At times, the pressure can be too much. The past cannot be changed or undone. A fight about such an event will lead to no avail. This is the reality. Andrew and Sandy must view their marriage as valuable with or without the children and act accordingly. Andrew has probably been unthinking about his confessions in the past while Sandy has been hurt and kept mum. A repeated action or statement brings back the hurt and Sandy reacts while Andrew is stunned at the force of the reaction. Both are victimized.
Value the present moment
Sandy and Andrew will have to commit to letting go of the past. They will need to decide to be happy for their own sakes instead of feeling that the marriage hinges on the presence of the children. An effective behavior to be adopted if either party brings up past issues is to identify the behavior, “You are dwelling on what is past, we have both had good times and bad. Control your behavior.” This brings Sandy back to a conscious affirmation of her intent and slowly helps her to reduce and control her mind when it starts suggesting possibilities that she fears. It prevents the fight from escalating into an uncontrollable event.
Accept the problem
Sandy needs to accept that this thinking line stems from a flawed reaction to a perceived crisis. There is strength in clearing the air when she does not like something Andrew says rather than keeping it in her mind for later reaction.