The past is riddled with hurtful events. The pain from any event is only fully past when it is emotionally complete. But for many of us past events remain incomplete and the pain from unresolved events linger, contaminating our present. For many couples their history of unresolved hurts is a lengthy narrative holding them back from enjoying the fullness of love, a condition that thrives in the freedom of an uncontaminated present.
Daily, we weave together an awareness of past, present and future. But of these three, the present is magic in a way the other two are not. Our "now" is the place where we really live. It holds the key to our well-being and balance. When having fun, all self-consciousness is gone and living completely in the present reigns. The present holds the key to happiness, and love relationship satisfaction. The past and future are danger zones; the past is place for regret and unresolved hurts; the future is unknown and therefore is the cause for fear and worry. Thousands of years ago, the Taoist wise man, Lao Tzu, wrote, "If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present." Our now is emotionally safe place in which we have the power to make a positive difference in our lives, the power to solve problems. Love lives in the present, a place of simplicity and peace. Couples who attend fully to their experiences of the present are better able to relate deeply, safely. In the present, we are most in control.
Resolving problems, healing hurts and repairing damage is optimal when done quickly...thereby minimizing the risk of collateral damage. For many couples, the pain from past hurts has accumulated to become an easily ignited reservoir of explosive emotion. Old unfinished hurts trigger conflict; partners are strongly pulled to express old anger once the anger-monster has been awakened. If addressed in the present, an issue may more easily be resolved non-hurtfully...without latent toxic emotion spoiling another day.
Negativity is a signal that a painful past is polluting the present. In the now, life is ever evolving and becoming. Developing events happen. Expressing negativity, in addition to it being unattractive, is toxic and brings forth old pain. Negativity forms a defensive wall of protection against fully experiencing life in the present. For many the present moment is lived only a little bit. Living only in the present is a very difficult, but worthwhile, skill to master.
Forgiveness and acceptance function in the present, gifts to ourself that melt lingering pain. They are practices of letting go. Forgiveness is often confused with "letting someone off the hook." Seeking retribution, revenge or wanting pay back signal a holding onto the past; being stuck in pain and anger from the past is the result. Forgiveness and acceptance do not include forgetting, they are about allowing love to trump pain by not allowing it to pull us into the past.
Couples may escape the harmful habit of allowing their painful past from stealing the joy of the present by practicing a variety of useful efforts. Holding onto anger and withholding emotion are negative habits that keep a painful past alive. Better to speak up the moment a problem arises. By using language of the present, the current moment is accentuated. While difficult to do because our culture celebrates the past and future as much as the present, turning up the volume of the present is a worthy effort. Past events may be the source of unresolved pain, but the pain itself and associated emotions are lived in the present. If in discussion with the partner, the emotions that are presently experienced are shared without introducing the originating past events, the injury at hand is much more likely to be attended to and resolved in the present without defensiveness or conflict.
Few places in our lives require more forgiveness than in our love relationships, where hurts, hopefully unintentional, occur regularly. The closer we are to another the greater chance we will be hurt by them. Resolution of these hurts must happen in the present. When hurt, the more quickly repair is accomplished, the less chance that an unresolved hurt will spawn addition complicating problems. Partners do this by speaking up soon after a hurt has been felt with a request for an action to complete the repair. Wants and needs exist in the present. "I want an apology; I require to be understood." What is that may be done to solve this now? The plan of action, in word and deed may complete an injury.
Partners too easily follow the path of redressing past wrongs by listing repetitively all their old injuries. In doing so the accumulated painful emotion is pulled with force from the past. Commonly an accused partner, facing an onslaught of recriminations grows defensive, hurt and angry. While arguing about the past, and often debating about whose version of the past is more accurate, partners escalate their tensions while adding another negative chapter to their dissatisfying relationship history. Far more productive, but albeit less dramatic, is to request an appropriate current remedy. The present is where positive change and growth bloom. Love happens in the present. Andrew Aaron, LICSW, is a relationship and sex therapist who practices in the New Bedford Seaport. Andrew Aaron, LICSW 508-997-6091 x106