Can a Past Relationship Affect Present Relationships?

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Creating a new relationship with a person you care about can be as challenging as it is rewarding, especially when the accumulated damage of past relationships affects how you interact with your current partner. Past relationships can lead you to misinterpret your partner's actions and even second-guess your own actions.

Past and Present

Bad relationships and breakups are emotionally painful, and most people naturally shy away from anything that might cause them pain. If you were cheated on or otherwise mistreated by a past romantic partner, you may be hypersensitive to any situation that reminds you of that painful experience, even if there is really no reason to assume that your new partner will do what your old partner did. According to psychologist Shannon Kolakowski in her article "The Hidden Issue That Could Affect Your Relationship" for "The Huffington Post," bad experiences from past relationships also can contribute to depression in the present.

Trapped by Trauma

Emotional or physical abuse can cause long-term trauma. According to marriage and family therapist Jennifer Lehr in "How Past Trauma Impacts Current Relationships" on her website, ordinary disappointments and minor tensions in your current relationship can trigger traumatic emotions from a past relationship. When you feel disappointed or unsupported by something your current partner has said or done, you may find yourself exploding with anger or becoming cold and disconnected even if it was only a small disagreement. Past traumas can make it difficult for you to see your current relationship objectively because you're always on the lookout for another betrayal.

Sabotaged by Second-Guesses

People often blame themselves for the failure of a past relationship, second-guessing everything they may have done wrong. While you probably did make some mistakes in your past relationships, it's important to remind yourself that everyone does. Even if you had done everything perfectly, that doesn't mean you would still be together with the same person. Not every relationship will last for a lifetime. If you focus too much on not repeating past mistakes, you may miss what's really going on in your new relationship.

Moving On

According to Kolakowski, you should try to learn from your past relationships without confusing them with the present. Acknowledge that the wounds you've suffered in the past are affecting your ability to have happy and healthy relationships now. Lehr says that taking responsibility for your own actions while accepting the pain you've experienced is a prerequisite for moving on with your life. If you find your emotions being triggered by events from the past, remind yourself that the present is not the past and that you can choose to handle things in a different way.