A New Way to Look at Your Romantic Relationship

Is your romantic relationship stuck in the past? It's time to refocus.

Posted Feb 25, 2019

Mayur Gala
Source: Mayur Gala

Is it possible for a significant other to help their partner overcome negative experiences and behaviors and pave the way for more positive present and future sexual encounters? It sure is! Of course, it’s helpful to have open discussions about problems, but if your partner is in denial about certain behaviors, we have some new information that may help you work towards improving your relationship.

Understanding how our view of time perspectives affect us

When our time perspectives are skewed, usually in the negative zone, not only are we affected, but the people we come in contact with—families, friends, co-workers, even an innocent store clerk—can be affected as well.  

Many approaches to therapy, including self-help, focus on a person’s history and how past events affect their thought processes. But we’ve found that constantly reliving past adverse experiences can have extremely negative and enduring effects on people. For instance, a person may be stuck between a traumatic past experience (“past negatives”) and a hopeless present (“present fatalism”). If they do think about the future, it’s usually negative. Time perspective therapy (TPT) instead focuses on balancing a person’s past negatives with positive memories of the past, their present fatalism with some present hedonistic enjoyment, and making plans for a bright, positive future.

You may recognize your significant other—or yourself—in the following examples of how TPT might work in a romantic relationship.

The Past Negative Lover

Past Negative partners hold themselves back 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 want to recall 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 lovable 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. You want to become ever more sincere and compassionate partners
  • 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-seated 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-medication never solves any problem, it only suppresses it and creates its own new problems. Otherwise, if there is no positive movement, 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 and together you will decide which to experience.

The Present Hedonistic Lover

The Present Hedonist may not be partnership material at all, as generally they are looking for brief hookups 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 but heads up—they rarely seek it.

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 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. Also, you might visit our website with the goal of discussing which time zones each of you currently fit, and what changes might help to optimize your relationship. 

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.

Now what?

Hopefully, if you needed some help with your romantic relationship, you are now a little better equipped to understand how and/or why things may be the way they are between the two of you. We also hope the above examples are helpful and that you can start working towards your brighter future - together - in the Now.


Zimbardo, P., & Sword, R. (2017). Living & Loving Better. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarlanding

Zimbardo, P., Sword, R., & Sword, R. (2013) The Time Cure. San Francisco, CA: Wiley. 

Zimbardo, P. & Boyd, J. (2008) The Time Paradox. New York, NY: Free Press.