How Far Back Can You Remember? Why Does It Matter So Much in Your Marriage or Relationship?

7 New Year’s Ways to Improve Your Marriage

How Far Back Can You Remember? Why Does It Matter So Much in Your Marriage or Relationship?

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If you’ve been hurt in a past relationship, it can take many positive experiences to heal the old wounds. Perhaps someone who you counted on in the past betrayed you, or left you feeling alone when he or she didn’t understand what you were going through in a difficult time. Not surprisingly, your present partner or spouse is going to rub up against these old wounds from your past, and sometimes it may even feel like he or she is pouring salt on your wound. In a healthy marriage or relationship, it’s actually possible that your partner or spouse can help you by rubbing a soothing, comforting ointment on even your deepest wounds.

When Does Memory Start?

Memory can actually form even during the third trimester of pregnancy. Every experience you’ve had in life is actually stored in memory in your brain. Your memories filter how you see things now, and when there is a resemblance to a past event that hurt you, an alarm goes off in your mind that can flood you with adrenaline, as if a wild animal is about to attack you. You may not realize you’re being influenced by a past memory; what you notice is tension throughout your body, tightness that propels you into fight, flight, or freeze reactions.

How quickly does all of this occur in your body? In an instant, your body responds to protect itself, since you’re wired to survive. Your body automatically reacts to the perceived danger by getting aroused, which you can learn to notice through focusing on your body sensations and slowing your central nervous system down to then “make sense” of your arousal.

Show Me the Love

A key goal is to approach yourself in a kind, loving, compassionate way to understand as much as you can about your arousal, a key practice of mindfulness meditation. Instead of criticizing yourself for getting anxious on a date, for instance, you can approach yourself with compassion and reassurance, knowing that you’ve been hurt in the past by feeling rejected, and that even though you’re sensitive to the possibility of being rejected again, you know that there are differences between now and your past.

For instance, if you’ve worked to understand more about yourself, you may realize that the past rejection was not something you deserved, but a result of an unhealthy relationship. As you feel better about yourself, you know that you deserve to be valued and loved by a person who can give that to you. If your date doesn’t feel that way toward you, you move on to someone who can give you what you rightfully deserve.

Key Tips to Help Your Marriage or Relationship

Your challenge in a marriage or relationship is to manage internal activations as they occur inside your body, meaning that you are able to tune into the tightness in your chest and the increase in your heart rate and realize they are bodily sensations connected with anxiety. You are able to immediately go into a slow, deep breathing exercise to calm your system, releasing the tension in your chest and slowing your heart rate down. You can then try to understand what was upsetting you, and know the difference between what you thought was potentially dangerous and what in reality may be upsetting but not harmful. You can then focus on the response that you need in the situation, and ask your partner or spouse directly for what you need in a way that invites him or her to want to respond positively.

In a marriage or relationship, two individuals within a couple create a culture that can either help each other thrive, or influence each other to become miserable. If you grew up with a secure connection with your mother, father, or caregiver, you’re much more likely to magnify the positive moments in your adult relationship with your partner or spouse. If you had an unhealthy connection with your mother or father, negative moments in your adult romantic relationship can easily get magnified, and positive interactions between you and your partner are easily forgotten.

Easy In, Difficult Out

What makes sense about this? We are all wired to survive, so when we’ve been hurt, it is much more important for our minds to watch out for dangers and to discard positive moments that aren’t dangerous. Your mind sets up tests for your partner or spouse that actually make it more likely that he or she will eventually fail the test and reinforce your belief that you learned from your past hurt.

If your marriage or relationship is secure, you’re able to turn to your partner or spouse and count on him or her to be there for you as your number one fan, comforter, and source of support. Gone are the fears of being dismissed, criticized, rejected, betrayed, and abandoned. In a secure marriage or relationship, you and your partner are highly skilled at helping each other manage even intense emotions when they arise, rather than a couple who are unsure of each other and lack the ability to calm each other down.

Share Your Experience

How far back do you remember? Do you realize when you’re getting upset how past events could be influencing how you’re seeing the present? If so, what has helped you to become more aware of the difference between the past and present? Are there certain areas that are challenging to you now in your marriage or relationship? Share your experiences in the comment section.

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  • Travis Atkinson

    Travis Atkinson, L.C.S.W., is the Director and Creator of the Loving at Your Best Plan. He has extensive training in marriage and couples therapy, based on over 27 years in practice, earning certificates from top-rated couples therapy models, including: *Certified Advanced Schema Therapist, Supervisor and Trainer for Individuals and Couples *Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and Supervisor *Certified Gottman Method Couples Therapist *Certified Group Psychotherapist *Honorary Lifetime Member of the International Society of Schema Therapy Travis is a co-author of the latest schema mode therapy inventory, the SMI. He is also the co-author of two chapters in the recently published “Creative Methods in Schema Therapy: Advances and Innovation in Clinical Practice (Routledge, 2020) and author of “Schema Therapy for Couples: Healing Partners in a Relationship” in the Handbook of Schema Therapy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

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