The past can linger as an unspoken, but clearly felt, barrier in your relationship. This can cause you both, no matter how much progress you’ve made, to fall into the ugly dance of the past as you relate or interact with each other.
Let’s be candid. Starting fresh when your history involves abuse or dysfunction can launch trust issues. If that person changed once and relapsed, you may not be willing to try again.
There are also communication problems. What can you talk about? And what can you not talk about? What topics lie just below the surface and can explode like a landmine when you unexpectedly tiptoe past a hidden line?
Everyday imperfections are often magnified. An off day, a loss of temper, a bad choice––all of these might signal to you that your loved one is unstable or untrustworthy. It makes sense, because that’s what happened in the past.
Your brain signals it could happen again, because it did happen once. This fails to account for the fact that everyone has off days. We all lose our tempers and make mistakes. It also sends the message to a loved one that perfection is required and there is zero tolerance for error. It’s life without parole for both of you. Your growth is stunted as you react, respond and relate with that person as if you were still a child or entangled in the past.
So, how do you create a new way of relating?
You create a new groove.
Let me explain. Not long ago, I rode a bus through the Swiss Alps between Austria and Italy. It was snowing, though it was spring. The mountainside was majestic. Thirteenth-century fortress-like dwellings jutted out of the mountainside above, and small farms dotted the valley below. Waterfalls spilled down from the mountaintop, and the snowcapped mountains reached into the clouds.
It was the waterfalls that captured my attention. Somehow, though snow covered the vast mountaintops, the water knew where to go. It didn’t rush down the entire mountain; it followed familiar paths carved over generations.
Our brains are much like those waterfalls. We create familiar grooves in our brains. We have our go-tos. When we get angry or feel bad, we respond in a certain way. When we get defensive, we respond in a common pattern. So, when we relate to that person who once caused us pain, we fall into a familiar groove.
In the Alps, if you move one large rock, suddenly the water has room to go in a new direction. It will, at first, go toward the old, deeply grooved path it always follows; but over time, a new path will emerge. A little wider. A little deeper.
You and I, with God’s help, can form a new groove in our brains. But it’s not going to feel normal at first. It’s a conscious choice rather than a natural response. We begin to respond in a different way. We begin to see that person in a new light. Over time, the new groove becomes deeper and more of a natural response while the old groove—left dry and unfilled—dries up.
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