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8 Ways to Get a Relationship Back on Track

Some of us are too focused on the past, or the future. Time to reconnect.

In this column, we address how a significant other can help their partner overcome negative experiences and behaviors and pave the way for more positive present and future sexual encounters. Of course, it’s helpful to have open discussions about problems, but if your partner is in denial about certain behaviors, the following tips may help you work towards improving your relationship. Hint: Communication and compassion are keys. (Learn more about how a man’s time perspective can positively—or negatively—affect intimate relationships.)

The Past Negative Lover

Past Negative partners hold themselves back in some way due to any number of reasons—past abuse, neglect, or betrayal; religious upbringing; poor parental role models; narcissistic parents; divorced parents, the list goes on. If your partner is stuck in the past, they may be incapable of feeling pleasure or enjoyment from sex or any intimate relationships. They may keep you at a distance—emotionally, physically, or spiritually. You may remind them of either of someone good that they miss, or some loser they don't, from their earlier life. Here’s how to help:

  • Problem: Your partner may feel they do not deserve to be loved.
  • Solution: When the time feels right, sincerely tell your partner that you love them; expound on their loveable aspects. Make this a subtle but daily practice: "What I really like about you is the way you listen so openly and non-judgmentally."
  • Problem: Your partner may think something bad will happen if they feel pleasure or "let go." They may feel uncomfortable sharing intimate thoughts and feelings with you.
  • Solution: This situation requires trust, and building it takes time. Assure your partner that you are trustworthy through word and deed. Do not judge them; use compassion and patience. Make clear that you understand it will take some time for the two of you to be able to openly share stuff that has been private and hidden, but that the wait is worth it.
  • Problem: In order to be intimate, your partner may have to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Solution: There is a good chance one of the other problems listed in the first paragraph are at play here. As mentioned earlier, this may stem from a deep seeded personal problem and time will tell. If you feel the relationship is worth working towards or saving, have a heartfelt conversation with your partner and urge them to seek outside help. Also make clear that such self-meditation never solves any problem, it only suppresses it and creates its own new problems. Otherwise it may be best to move on.

The Past Positive Lover

Past Positive partners have many pleasant memories from the past. They may feel they’ve been lucky with love. A Past Positive may be widowed or divorced; they had a great relationship with their former spouse and are basically optimistic about finding love again. Here’s how to help:

  • Problem: Your potential partner may be afraid they won't be able to have another special connection with someone since their partner passed away, or after separation or divorce. They may feel like being with someone new would betray the memory of their loved one and feel guilt over moving on. They may be shy about putting themselves “out there."
  • Solution: This will take some time and understanding on your part, as well as the development of trust on the part of your partner. It’s important not to represent yourself as a replacement; no one can replace the previous partner. But you can be an important part of the new chapter in this person's life, someone who adds depth to their story without replacing the good old days.

The Present Fatalistic Lover

Present Fatalist partners believe that whatever is meant to happen will happen. In other words, they think that if they're destined to find “The One,” then that partner will magically appear, or that person will find them. Since they expect fate to dictate their future, they have a difficult time making decisions. Being passive, they sometimes let great people pass through their lives and remark that the timing wasn’t right. Here’s how to help:

  • Problem: Your partner is wishy-washy about whether or not you are "The One," though you make clear that you are confident that with a little work, the two of you would make a great couple.
  • Solution: Rather than bombard your Present Fatalistic partner with reasons why you are "The One," wait for appropriate circumstances to present those instances of positive connection, and insert well-thought out reasons why you two are fundamentally a good match. For example, if your Present Fatalistic partner brings up failed past relationships and how they didn’t work out, you can lend a sympathetic ear followed by discussing the strong points you both bring to this new partnership.
  • Problem: Your partner has difficulty making decisions—where to dine, which bill to pay, what movie to watch, what to wear, etc.
  • Solution: If you are a strong Type A personality, this situation may be perfect for you, as he or she leaves all the decision making up to you. But if you’d like to help your partner strengthen their own decision-making abilities, help them lessen the number of choices. For instance, instead of mentioning a number of restaurants or films to go to, simply suggest only two favorite options.

The Future Oriented Lover

Future Oriented lovers often find healthy, long-lasting intimate relationships. They often lose their virginity later than those in the other categories, and are often more mindful about having protected sex. The flip side is that they often put relationships and sexual experiences off in favor of other professional goals. Workaholics often fall into this category. Here’s how to help:

  • Problem: During relaxing, romantic, intimate times, your Future Oriented partner doesn’t seem to be in the present moment; they're easily distracted.
  • Solution: You become the distraction by playfully engaging your lover. For example, when your partner starts to wander off emotionally, and then physically, nothing is more attention-getting than being physically touched. He or she has to learn to enjoy fully the pleasures of the moment. We recommend joint massages, followed by talking about what you each liked most about the experience. As you learn about your body you also learn about your partner's and can give each other positive attention.
  • Problem: Your partner is a workaholic who seems to be putting career before your relationship.
  • Solution: This is a difficult conundrum—workaholism is an addiction and a tough, if not impossible, habit to break. You can help your partner by insisting on setting aside time to be alone together. Make it crystal clear that this special time is to be respected and honored—and that they need it as much as you do. The frequency and length of this time depends on your situation; it might be every day, week, month, or every few months.

The Present Hedonistic Lover

The Present Hedonist may not be partnership material at all, as generally they are looking for brief hook-ups or one-night stands. They live in the moment, seeking different sensations and pleasures, living more in their bodies than their minds. They usually don't want the responsibility or aren't mature enough to handle long-term relationships. Partners in this category can be serial monogamists—the passion heats up quickly and then fizzles just as fast. Since they crave novelty, you may not endure on their hit list. Present Hedonistic lovers may have social problems that require professional help; learn more here.

NOTE: The personality types listed above are extreme and stereotypical. Most people are a combination of time perspectives. As you can see, Past Negative and Present Fatalist perspectives may require more help than Past Positives, while extreme Present Hedonistic personality types are likely not in the market for ongoing relationships, and Future Oriented lovers may want to be your long-term partner but will need to be reminded of your importance in their lives.

Visit our Psychology Today blogs to get a fuller appreciation of how to create a more balanced time perspective in your life.

Take the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory to discover your personal time perspective.

See The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective (Zimbardo, Sword & Sword, 2012, Wiley Publishing); for strategies to reduce stress and improve communication, visit and

Visit our website to view a free 20-minute video, "The River of Time." You’ll learn self-soothing techniques as well as how to let go of past negatives, work towards a brighter future, and live in a more compassionate present.


  • The Demise of Guys TED Talk by Phil Zimbardo
  • The Demise of Guys: Why Boys are Struggling and What We Can Do About It by Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan, 2012. Kindle edition;, search The Demise of Guys
  • The Secret Powers of Time with Philip Zimbardo, RSA Animate. View here.

More from Rosemary K.M. Sword and Philip Zimbardo Ph.D.
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