We all have past relationships, experiences and memories. No one comes into adulthood with a clean slate. And if you’re past the age of 25, you most likely have had at least one significant romantic relationship if not more. As you look back and reminisce on your past, you will find that some of those memories are sweet and some are sour. Life is filled with both. Your past is filled with both. The question is not if your past in lurking in your present relationship, but how.
It really doesn’t matter if your memory is sweet or sour, either one can wreak havoc on the present. The trick is to separate out past from present. The trick is to recognize and manage your ghosts of relationships past. Easier said than done. Let me share a couple of stories to show you why.
Janie is a divorced 40 year old woman who is now dating Jim. Janie’s first marriage was difficult and her divorce was even more so. Janie felt manipulated, controlled, and unsupported throughout most of her marriage. Janie will be the first to admit that it was her responsibility to set appropriate limits at the get go. She feels she did not support herself enough and this lack of self-care made it easy for her to tolerate lack of caring from others, especially her husband. Although Janie worked hard at trying to make the marriage work, in the end, she left. She eventually found her own self-worth and made a vow to never lose it again.
When Janie met Jim, she was doing well in her career and was satisfied with her life as is. She felt Jim was a decent man and enjoyed spending time with him. All was well until the day Jim invited Janie to his parents’ 45th wedding anniversary party. Janie was excited and nervous about the event. She was fairly shy in nature and did not do well in large groups with people she did not know. Janie explained this to Jim and asked if he would make an extra effort to stay by her side and help her navigate the special event. Jim said he would. They arrived at the party and no sooner than they had walked through the door did Jim disappear. Janie felt abandoned. She felt Jim had only said he would be by her side in order to have someone to “show off” to his family. She felt manipulated, controlled, and unsupported.
What Janie didn’t know is that Jim’s cousins had grabbed his arm and pulled him aside immediately because they had planned a special surprise for his parents and wanted him to know what they were up to. Jim was gone for only a few minutes, but in those few minutes, Janie’s ghost had settled in. It would take time and effort for Janie to calm herself down enough in order to find out what really happened to Jim and even more time to reconcile her current man with the ghost that was haunting her. Jim had no idea that a ghost had infiltrated his relationship with Janie when he tried to find her at the party and could not.
We all have ghosts from relationships past. And some of them are quite nice.
Larry was married for twenty years to a wonderful woman. His wife died of cancer a few years ago. They had one daughter together and she had just gone off to college. Larry met Kathy at a business meeting. They started dating and had become a serious item fairly quickly. Larry was hungry for the warmth of another woman and was so glad he had Kathy in his life. But as time went on and the relationship grew more serious, Larry began to notice the differences between Kathy and his late wife. Kathy was a career woman; his wife was dedicated to taking care of their home and daughter. Kathy liked to travel and eat out in restaurants; his wife liked to entertain at home. Even though Larry rationally understood that Kathy and his late wife were two different people, he couldn’t help but feel the sadness over their differences. While on the one hand Kathy offered something new and wonderful to his life; on the other, the differences made him miss his late wife even more than before he had met Kathy—the differences made him feel something was missing or wrong with what he had with Kathy.
As the relationship progressed, Kathy wanted more intimacy with Larry. She wanted to spend more time with him. She wanted this relationship to grow toward something more permanent and committed. She felt Larry’s distance. He would spend the night, but then quickly leave the next morning and would find reasons for why they could not go away for the weekend.
Larry felt something was missing with Kathy but couldn’t really say what it was. Larry didn’t understand that his own ghost of relationships past was interfering with his ability to fully connect and commit to Kathy. He didn’t understand that he was still in part living in his past with his wife. Fully committing to Kathy would require that he release his commitment to his wife and the life they had together.
What ghost is lurking in your relationship? How does it impact your ability to be fully present with your significant other for who he or she truly is? Are you aware of when and how it wreaks havoc? And most importantly, are you able to send off your ghost with love so that you can fully engage in your life and your loved one today?
Share your ghost story with us.
Julie Orlov, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery
Create Relationships in Your Life That Work — learn more at www.julieorlov.com