Vijayeta Sinh Ph.D.

Life in Balance

Are Past Relationships Putting a Damper on Your Current One?

How your relationships continue to impact you long after they're over.

Posted Oct 11, 2017

Carlos R/Stocksnap
Source: Carlos R/Stocksnap

Much of who we are is shaped by our experiences, our successes, and mistakes; our relationships, our past as well as our present. How we were treated by others—who uplifted us and made us strong and secure, and who hurt us and wounded our hearts and minds. Relationships, for better or for worse, can be the wind beneath our wings allowing us to soar to great heights or the string that holds us back, keeping us stuck, making it difficult for us to find our voice and our strength.

In therapy, clients often talk about the unimaginable pain and suffering that they've experienced such as being cheated on by their spouse, losing their mother at a young age, having been abused by a caregiver, experienced violence at the hands of a partner, having been victimized at school, experiencing the death of a sibling, the shattering of hopes and dreams by a vengeful teacher, the neglect of a father, and the list goes on.

Haunting memories of pain, shame, and trauma can trickle into our everyday life and bring with them hopelessness, hurt, and anger. People describe feeling "changed" and that "things can never be the same"—that they can never be the same again. They may approach others cautiously or approach without caution, or avoid altogether. They may ruminate over the relationships they never had or obsess over the relationship (or person) that they would like to have in their lives. In short, their ability to have "normal" relationships is significantly impacted. Moving from one relationship to another, they fail to understand what exactly is causing their relationships to fail, why others cast them aside, or why their needs remain unfulfilled.

Looking for their spouse or partner to heal them, making them "the one," holding them to high standards of taking care of them (emotionally and otherwise) or never really perfecting the art of holding and letting go. And when one does not understand oneself, one truly cannot begin to manage the complicated dance that a relationship is. They keep the search going for the "special someone," the person who will be their spiritual partner and understand and accept them completely and fully. 

But relationships are never unconditional. Even those between parents and children. We may love our kids unconditionally but having healthy boundaries means eventually saying no if as adults they keep seeking money or other resources continually from us. Hence, this search for the perfect partner is endless. The one with whom we have mindblowing sex, share similar passions and interests and the guy/gal who will finally check off all the boxes on our list and come whisk us off our feet like a knight in shining armor or a princess descended from the stars.

Interpersonal theories of depression posit depression as related to and caused by problems in the way we interact with others (Coyne, 1976b). Indeed, as social beings, it makes sense that we are impacted by others, and in turn impact others. As rates of depression in the country soar, the utilization of anti-depressants by medically insured women and men have grown by almost 29 percent and 28 percent respectively in a decade, as reported by the Medco report titled, "America's State of Mind." It also found that one in five adults take a prescription medication for mental health issues.

Hence, now seems like a good time to start learning to understand our internal mechanics, nuanced perceptions, interpretations, and deficiencies. Not only because doing so directly impacts our chances of having successful, thriving relationships but because those relationships in turn directly impact our own mental health, wellbeing, and happiness.

This means making a commitment to refine our way of being in the world. It means taking a risk. Taking a chance on yourself. Of course, not everyone is ready for or believes they need to. But the small change you make has the potential to make such a big impact on your life, and the life of others-that the question becomes, why would you not?

If you choose to be brave, here are some questions to think about for your next therapy session:

  • What is the impact of this relationship/person/experience on me? How has it changed me? What did the relationship mean to me?
  • Am I truly ready to let go of this person/experience/relationship?
  • What do I fear most about losing this person/experience/relationship? What makes it hard to accept its loss? What has its cost been to me?

May the force be with you!


Coyne, J. C. (1976b). Toward an interactional description of depression. Psychiatry, 39, 28–40.

America's State of Mind, A report by Medco:

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