Once you have been together for some time, one of the things that you build is a shared story. You have good times and bad times. Memories that bring a smile to your face or a furrow to your brow, turn you on or turn you off. The longer you are together, the richer and deeper this shared story.
History gives you an idea about where you came from. It roots you into a mutual understanding, gives you strength, continuity and a sense you are building a life together.
Without it, you are simply strangers passing in the night. With it you are companions, partners, parents, lovers, friends and soul-mates.
Getting stuck in the past
One of the seductive qualities about falling in love, that period before love matures, is that the story is still there to be written, the journey is yet to be travelled. You have no past together – only have a future, or at least the potential for one. You can be anyone, do anything and have not yet experienced any of the inevitable ‘downs’ of a relationship. You have not hurt each other through lies, betrayals, disappointments and myriad other ways you show up as an imperfect human being. At this early stage, you are perfect in your lover’s eyes and as such become perfect in your own.
Being ‘in love’ is not love. And it is delicious. And fleeting. You have not yet built a relationship.
There is a trap here, of course, in that this stage is easy to get sucked into and hold onto it. But it is a trap. It keeps our focus on the past not the present or the future. And we forget the beauty of the journey which can only move forward as love deepens and blossoms into something much more profound with this journey of relationship.
What to do with mistakes?
Another way we can get stuck in the past is to hold onto grievances, resentment and complaints. In doing so you reduce the other and yourself. You make them smaller, less loveable and so keep darkness as part of your couple story. Or you may be tempted to end this story and look for a new one to start – often repeating the same until at last you choose a path of healing.
As your story develops you will make mistakes and often your mistakes hurt those you love more than anyone else. You cannot avoid this. You can try to hide them, but this will create a different kind of suffering where you are not living in truth. Trust me I know. I have been there. More than once.
What you do with these moments is a choice. You can learn from them and through the suffering get a deeper understanding and appreciation of your partner and yourself. It is not easy. Talking through the difficult times with care, truth and compassion takes courage, trust and skill. Listening to it takes the same. When you can do this, you bring light into previously dark places. You open your wounded hearts to each other and are there to hold each other as you heal.
Celebrating your life together
As you build your story together you will also experience joyful moments. Remember them. Invite more of them into your life. Choose to define your relationship as the sum total of all these happy moments. You can commit to learn from them (as well as the mistakes) and build future moments from these insights into how to create happiness. Be grateful for what your relationship brings you and tell your partner this often. What do you find attractive about him/her? What are you especially grateful for about your life together? What do you choose to attract more of into your life?
This is not naïve or ‘head in the clouds’ stuff where we overlook the things that aren’t working. Rather it is a choice to celebrate life together and focus on bringing more of this energy into your shared life. When you do this, you will find it easier to overlook the insignificant hurdles and to handle the bigger crises with a more constructive approach. And continually celebrating the good is much more enjoyable.
Moving the Story into the future
Your future, of course, is not determined by your past. But it is influenced by it. If you don’t bring awareness to your lives then you are likely to simply follow the same path set out by your story. Until some external event forces you to change direction. With awareness comes choice. Where you have been on your journey and where you are going do not need to be the same.
Timeline of your relationship
Here’s a powerful exercise to finish off the article.
I suggest you do this together although it’s possible for just one of you to do it. If you do it together, I have given an idea for each step how to approach it as a couple v individual. Take as long as you need with the exercise.
- List the key events, incidents, decisions, periods etc. in your life together (Individually, then share)
- Organise the list into a timeline. The timeline should have time on the x axis and happiness level on the y axis – see picture below (Together)
- As you look at the timeline, what do you notice? Does something stand out for you? A trend? Any patterns? How satisfied are you with this picture? What do you enjoy about it? What can you learn from it? (Individually, then share)
- What have you achieved together that you are proud of? (Individually, then share)
- What needs to be addressed in the present. Any unresolved stuff you need to let go of? Any decisions to be made? (Individually, then share)
- How would you like your journey to move forward? What dreams do you have that are not yet achieved? (Individually, then share)
- What are immediate next steps you want to take? (Together)