Try this quick experiment. I’ll explain why in a bit.
Think about the last time your boyfriend did something really irritating. For just a moment, 30 seconds tops, remember every detail you can.
Got a specific annoyance in mind? Good.
Okay, the next part is the important part. How do you feel RIGHT NOW?
The original emotions came back, right? You spent less than a minute thinking about something frustrating, and you felt yourself getting upset all over again.
You’re probably not surprised by that. I’m sure you already know that when you remember something, good or bad, it’s like reliving it. [i] The feelings always come back.
And, boy-oh-boy, are there times when that can wreak havoc. Like in the middle of a fight.
When conflict breaks out, it’s only natural to think of other times something similar happened. But when you do, it makes everything about the current conflict messier.
In part, that’s because you’re piling negative emotions on yourself. Now you’re upset about two things instead of just one. But there’s another downside.
Once you think of ONE other time he’s been a…ahem…bonehead, you’ll likely think of SEVERAL other times.
In the world of psychology, this is called “kitchen sinking.”[ii] That means throwing everything into the current argument you can think of, including all kinds of past pain.
And, yes, guys do it, too.
Kitchen sinking will make any conflict much harder to navigate.
What’s more, a recent study[iii] found that even if you don’t actually mention past irritations during a fight, just thinking about them is as bad as bringing them up!
Luckily, there are two surefire ways to keep the past in the past.
1. When it comes to small stuff, don’t make a big fuss.
If you can find it within yourself to forgive a past grievance, then it won’t come back. But that means offering forgiveness without even a hint of residual negativity.
This works well for little issues. Unfortunately, it’s not a good strategy for bigger things.
2. When you’re dealing with something BIG, don’t sweep it under the rug.
Sweeping frustration under the rug can seem like a good idea in the moment. You’re upset, you may not have your feelings sorted out, and talking about something unpleasant is likely to be, well, unpleasant.
But past pain has a way of coming back to bite us in the butt.
So if your man does something that truly upsets or offends you, the best thing you can do is talk to him about it.
My advice on this is simple. Avoid accusations. Don’t say things like, “You really screwed up!” Instead, focus on your emotional state. Tell him how his actions affected your feelings.
And there’s a classic approach that works beautifully. Seriously, this is the single most powerful technique for tackling tough emotional topics.
Use this formula. “When you _________________, I felt _________________.”
Like this. “When you canceled our date to watch football with the guys, I felt like time with me wasn’t important to you.”
Yes, the conversation that follows may be a little tense. No one enjoys hearing they let their partner down. But you’ll have a much better chance of resolving the issue in a calm conversation than in a fight.
THE way to stop past emotions from messing with the present is to deal with them. You can do that by offering forgiveness for the little stuff, and intentionally, strategically talking through bigger issues.
Do those two things, and the future of your relationship will carry a lot less baggage and a lot more potential.