Letting Go of Past Hurts

How many times have you said to your partner, We’ve already had this conversation.  Why can’t you just let go of the past and move on?

This was the frustration that brought Maria and Carlos into couples counseling.  In their initial session, Carlos stated that Maria often brings up something he did in the past that hurt her. When I suggested that they could address these past hurts with me, Carlos said, "What's the point of talking about something we've talked about hundreds of times. Nothing is going to change!"

At this point, I shared one of my favorite slogans with Carlos, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.  I asked Carlos if he was open to learning how to talk with Maria in a different way that would help her ‘get’ to a different place?

Carlos agreed to try again even though he didn’t feel hopeful.  I asked Maria to give me an example of a past hurt Carlos knows about. 

Maria: “Whenever I don’t trust that Carlos has my back, I bring up the time our contractor started blaming me for something and Carlos didn’t stand up for me.  When I mention this, Carlos tells me I caused the altercation and that I should have walked away.  He says there’s no point in talking about the past so I should just get over it. 

Carlos jumped in. “It happened a couple of years ago and we stopped using that contractor. I don’t see the point of rehashing it again and again and again!  See?  This is what I’m talking about.  How is this helpful?”

Maria rolls her eyes and lets out a big sigh. “We’re wasting our time here.  He’s never going to give me what I need.” 

I can hear the frustration in Maria’s voice and sense Carlos getting defensive and shutting down. 

I ask Maria if she can use ‘I’ statements to tell Carlos how she felt when Carlos didn’t come to her side. 

Maria: “When you didn’t tell him to stop yelling at me, I felt alone, unimportant and sad.” 

Then I have Maria ask Carlos why it makes sense that she felt this way.  With some guidance from me, Carlos is able to validate Maria’s experience. 

Carlos : “It makes sense that you felt alone, unimportant and sad because what I know about you is that you’ve always had difficulty asserting yourself when someone is angry with you.  Growing up you were afraid of your dad’s temper and since then, you feel you can’t have a voice when there’s conflict.  I also know that you always support me and you’re always reminding me that we’re a team. So it makes sense that when I didn’t help you in that moment, you felt abandoned and uncared for. 

Maria nods and wipes her tears away. Carlos reaches out and holds her hand. 

I ask Carlos to tell Maria what he imagines she would have felt if he taken her hand back then and said something to the contractor. 

Carlos : “I guess you would have felt valued and loved by me.”

Maria adds one more feeling. “I would have felt safe.”

I explain to Carlos the importance of validating and expressing empathy for Maria’s experiences. I also suggest that Carlos take personal responsibility for whatever he did or didn’t do.

Carlos takes a minute to reflect on his role in this particular situation. “I wasn’t there for you. I see how hard it was for you to set a boundary with the contractor and I should have stepped in and stopped the altercation. I also see now how I’ve been very dismissive of your past experiences and not wanting to hear your feelings. It’s been easier for me to sweep the past under the rug rather than acknowledge my role and deal with my difficult feelings.

I remind Maria that she also needs to understand Carlos’s good reasons for not taking action in that moment and to have empathy for what Carlos was feeling. In addition, she can take personal responsibility for how she contributed to the situation and for not setting boundaries with the contractor herself, rather than expecting Carlos to step in. 

When both you and your partner validate and express empathy for each other, and each takes personal responsibility for your role in past situations, you’re better able to let go of past hurts.  When you’re able to let go of the past, you can focus on what's really important in your relationship: creating and sharing a joyful life together.

Start letting go of past hurts and resentments.

I can help you learn how to move past the past and live in the present. Call me for a free consultation to learn how you can start doing that now.