Dear Dr. Love,My girlfriend and I have been involved with each other for at least 10 years since the age of 10. We have shared many experiences together both good and bad. We’ve grown to love each other very, very much, we started as friends and we could talk and share anything with each other. As time went on as young adults we were imature about relationships and what’s right and wrong. We’ve both done many things to hurt each other but our love has still kept us together.Now as we have matured more and realized what a relationship is all about (at least we think) it seems that it is getting harder and harder to talk and share our feelings the way we used to. As I was to leave to the Marines we started talking of marriage because we both know that ‘s what we want. The problem is we find it very hard to deal with our conflicts without blowing up and coming so close to throwing everything that we have fought for away, and it’s all because the hurt in our past.How can we get back the communication we had before? How can we learn to deal with each other and our problems without letting the hurt in the past effect our future? Is our relationship headed for trouble because of our past? Can we stop the hurt from the past or make it go away? How? We are very much in love and do not want to hurt each other anymore but how do we deal with these feelings of hurt?Yours Truly, What to do
You say that you both find it hard to deal with current conflicts because old hurts creep into the picture and fuel more fighting. You both are stuck in the ‘Ancient History ‘Fight Trap. That is, you keep throwing the past back in each other ‘s faces.The big question is why is this happening? If the past is constantly brought up, we know that the old issues were never put to rest. Issues can’t be put to bed until you both feel sufficiently heard and understood. So, each time the past is churned up, there is a hope that, this time, the other person will listen and understand. But this isn’t happening in your case. Instead, it sounds like when one of you brings up the past, the partner on the receiving end feels blamed and guilty, then defends or justifies his past actions. This in turns causes another fight because the person bringing up the past must is still not feeling understood.And, so, the need continues to bring up the old issue in an effort to be heard. In order to break this cycle, you both must learn how to listen to each other. And you must also learn how to express your hurts and anger in a way that can be heard. Read through my Ten Tips on How to Head Off a Fight, and How to Express Anger, which gives you clear advice on how to listen and properly express your feelings.In a nutshell this is what you must do: You need to take turns doing the following: Deal with only one problem during the discussion. And, state what your partner did and how that made you feel. The person on the receiving end needs to repeat back what the speaker has said and ask if he (she) has understood. If you the receiver has understood, then the speaker continues with the next point. If the receiver has not understood, the speaker clarifies the point and you try another replay. Keep on doing this until the speaker feels heard and understood. Then change places and let the receiver speak his or her mind. Remember to follow my ground rules.Deal with only one issue in a discussion. No name calling or character assaults (you’re dumb, stupid) and avoid global remarks (you always, you never. ) Once you both have learned how to properly present your issues and understand each other, you should be able to put the old hurts to bed, once and for all. If you still find it difficult to bury the past, then you will need to face the possibility that you both are using conflict as a way of distancing. Since you have hurt each other in the past, you both may be afraid to trust again. The anger and fighting may protect you from closeness, but it is also ruining your lives. So, if you find that fear of closeness underlies your chronic conflict, do some couples counseling. Let me know how it goes for you both. Good luck.