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4 steps to letting go of the past

Past transgressions and harboured anger can be detrimental to your relationship. Here's how to let go of the past and fully move forward with your partner.

By Liza Finlay
4 steps to letting go of the past

4 steps to letting go of the past

Haunting pasts

The past haunts us. Past transgressions and harboured anger can sour our relationships, becoming sources of bitterness and resentment. His unimpressive performance on your fifth anniversary still rankles. Her peevishness with your parents the past few Christmases continues to irk. 
 
But here’s what bitterness and resentment really are: unfinished business. You may think you’ve dealt with the problem, but if acrimony endures, you simply aren’t done. Here are four steps to getting it done — really and truly.

4 steps to letting go of the pastPhoto: Jacob Wackerhausen/iStockphoto

02Acknowledge it

We tend to approach emotional pain the way we would Pandora’s Box — we keep it tightly lidded for fear all manner of evil will be unleashed. But that's not the case. Suppressing hurt only makes us hurt more. It eats us up inside until small problems become big problems. The hurt you avoid now becomes a chronic pain down the road.

So unpack your pain, hold it up to the light, look at it and then...

4 steps to letting go of the pastPhoto: biffspandex/iStockphoto

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03Deal with it

Deal with it. Your first order of business is to determine what the problem truly is. Examine your wound; take a good hard look at it. Is the fact that he friended his ex on Facebook really the root of the problem? Or are you perhaps jealous because you don’t feel the relationship is getting enough of his attention? Is she really too flirtatious with her coworker? Or are you insecure about the extra 10 pounds you’ve packed on? Who really owns the problem?

4 steps to letting go of the pastPhoto: artpipi/iStockphoto

04Plan for it

That’s right, plan for it. Don’t punish or berate yourself or your partner on account of feelings. Your jealousy, his insecurity — none of these feelings are “bad." Feelings can’t be put on a chair in the corner until they change. But, if you change your approach, typically feelings will follow.

So, if holidays are hot buttons (he is a terrible gift giver, or she doesn't get along with the parental units), put safeguards in place. If the ex is going to be at pub night, create a loving “couple’s code word” that offers your partner reassurance. Treat each other’s feelings with respect, not ridicule, and plan accordingly.

4 steps to letting go of the pastPhoto: Troels Graugaard/iStockphoto

05Exercise compassion

None of us are perfect; we all make mistakes. But compassion isn’t about "tolerating" another’s mistakes — there’s judgment and superiority in that. Compassion requires us truly to understand another, or, as psychotherapy guru Alfred Adler once said, to “see with the eyes of another, hear with the ears of another and feel with the heart of another." Once we understand, we can accept. And once we accept, we can let go.

4 steps to letting go of the pastPhoto: Joshua Hodge Photography/iStockphoto

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Moving forward

Once you’ve followed these steps, put the past in the past. Motor forward and leave resentment in the rear-view mirror.

4 steps to letting go of the pastPhoto: Daniel Rodriguez/iStockphoto

More relationship tips!

4 steps to letting go of the past
This article was originally published on Nov 15, 2012

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