How to Make Peace with Our Partner's Past

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I like to imagine that my partner emerged from his mother’s birth canal the day before meeting me, a fully clothed and functioning 41-year-old man. Of course, that wasn’t the case. When we met, he was just getting out of a 15-year marriage, and along with an ex-wife and a child, he came with a storied past filled with ties to people and memories, some of which were negative, or filled with resentment. I had to figure out a way to integrate into his life, and to make peace with his past, one to which still pokes its head around in our day-to-day lives.

When we enter into a relationship with someone who has a family, an ex-spouse, or even just a reputation, oftentimes, that past becomes a part of our relationship, and we need to figure out how to navigate those relationships and circumstances that can feel awkward. It requires immense mindfulness and presence; it can be easy to fall into the trap of harboring hostility towards our partner’s exes, or judge how our partner should have acted before we even met.

It is a process to choose to extend love, rather than withhold it; communicate, rather than withdraw; or let go of judgments, rather than holding on to them? It all comes down to perception. We must shift our perception because it is our perception that creates our external reality. We elicit from people how they behave towards us with our thoughts of them and energy towards them. When we extend peace and love, we heal our relationships on an energetic level, which then ripples out and affects how they interact with us. Our perception of our partner’s exes, past relationships, and circumstances will either create space for peace, or space for fear and judgment. It’s up to us shift energetically when we have feelings of jealousy or insecurity, and here’s how we do it:

1.Step out of our conditioned roles.

The way that we view circumstances and people is a learned response; our minds absorb things our parents have said, movies we’ve watched, and cultural norms. For example: How many movies have been made about a new girlfriend and an ex-wife becoming friends? None. How many books have been written about the peaceful dissolution of a marriage? We have associations with how we believe we should feel about our partner’s ex, or how we should behave. Unconsciously, we react out of those conditioned responses, instead of becoming aware of how we actually feel. It could be the most natural thing in the world to meet our partner’s ex-spouse, however, we have been trained to believe that the encounter will be awkward, and so, that’s how it plays out. We fall into roles: the role of mother, wife, ex, new girlfriend, casual date, etc., and we act according to the picture we have in our minds of those roles. In order to find peace, we must be willing to step out of our conditioned responses and become present to how we truly feel.

2.Decide to see exes through new eyes.

We must be willing to see our partner’s exes through our own eyes. It’s easy to listen to stories and form negative perceptions, but we must separate the perceptions our partners formed in the past from our view of what is going on in the present.

If our partner is unwilling to let go of the past, we can choose to release it, and to focus on the present, instead of past stories and grievances.

3.Be willing to see the person’s innocence and forgive.

In A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson says, “Shaking our finger at someone doesn’t help them change. If anything, our perception of someone’s guilt only keeps them stuck in it. When we are shaking a finger at someone, figuratively or literally, we are not more apt to correct their wrongful behavior. Treating someone with compassion and forgiveness is much more likely to elicit a healed response.” People respond out of fear. When we are afraid, we can act aggressively, or without compassion. If there is someone in our partner’s life who isn’t coming from a place of love, it is our job to see the truth, which is that we are all connected, and everyone has been hurt in the past and said things or done things that others could have deemed as wrong. It is not our job to judge, but rather, forgive. Forgiveness brings the ultimate peace, whereas judgment is the gateway to resentment, anger, and other feelings that cause illness and mental unrest.

4.We commit to healing.

A Course in Miracles says that in any moment, we have two choices: fear or love. We can choose to act out of fear, which means that we contract, withhold love and forgiveness, judge others, and hold them apart from us, or we can extend forgiveness, and choose to see them anew, through the eyes of love. Every choice we make that comes from fear puts us in a state of misalignment, which affects our ability to experience peace. We can commit to healing, meaning, we can commit to seeing our partner, as well as his past, through the eyes of love.

Everything is a story. We must let go of our story and step out of our conditioning in order to find peace with our partner’s past and move forward.