Do you regret something you did when you were young and foolish? Here’s how to stop your past mistakes from destroying your relationship or ruining your life. You CAN let go and be free – and you can heal your relationship with others and yourself. But, you will have to do a little work to get there.
Here’s what a reader said about how her mistakes are ruining her marriage: “I love my husband so much but I can’t let go of the mistakes I made in the past,” says Coco How to Stop Living in the Past. “I did two really bad things before I met him and I can’t forgive myself. We got married and I only told him part of it. I’m keeping secrets from my husband and it’s ruining everything! I can’t tell him what I did even though part of me says it’s not that bad, we even know a girl who did the same thing and he doesn’t judge her. So I feel like he could forgive me, but when I get up the nerves to tell him about my past, I get too scared and once I even had a panic attack at the thought. So how do I stop my past mistakes from destroying my marriage?”
I understand how Coco feels because I, too, have made past mistakes that could easily have ruined my relationship with my husband. My mistakes, failures, and weaknesses had a disastrous effect on my self-esteem and relationships. It wasn’t until my past mistakes destroyed my last relationship that I realized I had to do something about it. Forgiving myself and owning up to my failures and mistakes was difficult, but so valuable and healing.
Do you feel the same way about your past? If your mistakes are affecting or even destroying your relationships, you need to learn how to stop your past from ruining your life. Good for you! Healing is not an easy journey, but it is valuable and healthy. You won’t regret it.
In this article, I share four tips for stopping the past from ruining your relationship. Then I share five tips from psychotherapist David Richo’s When the Past is Present: Healing the Emotional Wounds That Sabotage Our Relationships. “We all have a tendency to transfer potent feelings, needs, expectations, and beliefs from childhood or from former relationships onto the people in our daily lives, whether they are our intimate partners, friends, or acquaintances,” writes Richo.
These tips are the “5 A’s”: Attention, Acceptance, Appreciation, Affection, and Allowing; I describe them in more detail below.
Even though Richo’s book mainly focuses on dealing with your childhood so your adult relationships are healthy, his tips can apply to past mistakes as well. First, though, here are a few tips for stopping mistakes from ruining your relationship.
4 Ways to Stop Your Past Mistakes From Destroying a Relationship
This tips are inspired by Coco’s comment above, but they can help you deal with your own past mistakes. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you write about the mistake you made, you may find yourself feeling better and lighter. Bringing secrets out into the open is the healthiest way to set yourself free and heal from the past. And, the anonymity of writing here can help you be open about your past.
1. Take a deep breath and let your mistake out
The more you hide your past, the greater your shame will be. The only way to come out from under the dark shadow of your past mistakes is to talk about the secrets you’ve been hiding. Secrets are shameful; talking about them is healing. Hiding your mistakes in darkness will make you feel worse about yourself and the thing you did.
The longer you keep your past hidden, the bigger and uglier it will get. I know how scary it is to admit that you made mistakes, bad choices, foolish decisions. It’s even more difficult to share how you’ve hurt someone in the past – especially if you’re scared that your mistake will destroy your current relationship. But, the only way you’ll heal and learn how to stop the past mistakes from destroying your relationship is to bring it into the light.
If your past mistakes are destroying your relationship with yourself, read How to Love Yourself When You Don’t Feel Good Enough.
2. But first: think carefully about who you share your mistakes with
Does your “past mistake” involve cheating in your current relationship? It’s not always a good idea to tell your current partner that you cheated on him. Infidelity destroys trust in a relationship, and trust is not easily restored. There are good reasons not to talk about this type of mistake in a relationship…and the only way to know for sure if you should tell your partner that you cheated is to talk about it with someone you trust. Someone objective and perhaps even professional, such as a marriage coach or couples’ counselor.
Not all past mistakes need to be shared. This may seem to contradict my first tip on how to stop past mistakes from destroying your relationship – but every situation and relationship is different. There are nuances and complicating factors that don’t fit into a simple “do this, don’t do that” formula.
3. Square with your past mistakes (self-forgiveness)
Coco – the reader who asked for help letting of her past – is seriously struggling with the mistakes she’s made. She can’t forgive herself and she can’t talk about her mistakes with anyone, much less her husband (who she is supposed to trust more than anyone in the world).
I get it. I know what it feels like to struggle with regrets, failures, mistakes, bad choices, embarrassing and even shameful decisions. I understand the shame and guilt, the self-hatred. But the first and healthiest step is to deal with your own emotional and spiritual reaction to your mistake. You need to forgive yourself, to accept that you did what you did.
Forgiving yourself may be the most difficult thing you ever do – and the most important. You are heaping shame, guilt, and self-hatred onto your own head when you keep dredging up the past mistakes you made. You are destroying your relationship by living in the past and not moving forward. If you want to learn how to stop your past mistakes from destroying your relationship, you need to take care of your emotional and spiritual health.
Read 7 Practical Ways to Forgive Yourself for Past Mistakes if you struggle with self-forgiveness. And, remember that learning how to stop past mistakes from destroying your relationship is a process. It may take daily work to actually become free from the past, to move forward and be healthy.
4. Accept forgiveness
My biggest “secret” for forgiving myself for past mistakes was to adopt God’s perspective of me. I hated myself for who I was. It wasn’t even what I did or my failures that caused my intense self-hatred and guilt…it was my core self that I was ashamed of. I grew up believing I wasn’t good enough to be in this world. I compared myself to others and always found myself inferior in some way. Not good enough.
Your mistakes in the past may have been the result of how you felt about yourself. You felt bad, so you did bad. And, those mistakes are negatively affecting how you feel about yourself today – and they’re destroying your relationship.
The secret to learning how to prevent those past mistakes from ruining your relationship is to accept God’s love and forgiveness. He created you just the way you are for a reason, and He loves you deeply and unconditionally. Your mistakes don’t change how He feels about you. What worked for me – what changed my life – was writing down how He sees me. Can you try this? Close your eyes, and picture yourself as God sees you. What do you see, who are you, how old are you, what are you wearing and doing?
You are forgiven; your mistakes are removed as far from you as the east is from the west. Can you forgive yourself? This is the work you need to do. Then – once you have tasted sweet self-forgiveness – you will be ready to tackle the problem of not letting your past destroy your relationship.
How to Stop Your Childhood From Ruining Your Relationships
Your childhood has a direct and lasting effect on your current adult relationships, so it’s important to pay attention and make connections. This comment from a reader illustrates this concept perfectly – her husband is allowing his childhood to destroy his marriage:
“I have always known that my husband had a strict upbringing, but I recently learned that he and his siblings were emotionally and psychologically abused,” says Muriel on How to Survive a Loveless Marriage. “From the outside it seemed like their family life was great. He went to the best schools and attended a top university. He was an excellent student, and today has a great job and a fabulous career. My husband is the youngest in his family and he saw how his older siblings, mainly the boys, were treated. As a result he was so afraid of his father’s wrath and being in the line of fire, he worked very hard to maintain excellent grades and stay out of the limelight. But his past childhood is destroying our marriage and it’s not even his fault. How can I help him stop his past from ruining our relationship and our kids’ lives?”
In When the Past is Present: Healing the Emotional Wounds That Sabotage Our Relationships, David Richo describes the importance of talking to your partner about your past. He believes that the more aware we are of our past childhood histories – and our past mistakes and failures – the healthier we’ll be in our relationships. Why? Because our first intimate loving relationship was with our parents.
And, in our relationships with our significant others we always look for fulfillment of what we missed out on. We also look to receive more of what we received in our childhood.
Richo encourages us to think about how the following “5 A’s” affect our self-perceptions and relationships:
These concepts may help you learn how to stop past mistakes from destroying your relationship, but they are geared towards your childhood. It’s important to learn how you’re carrying the past into the present – even if you don’t think you are. Notice your past mistakes and experiences, but don’t let them sabotage or destroy your relationship.
Each of the “5 A’s” below include questions. Take time to write down your answers – don’t just think about them. There’s something about the act of writing that is healing and therapeutic! Take it a healthy step further, and discuss your answers with your partner.
How were you shown attention when you were a child? What kind of attention do you need and seek now? Do you want the same type of attention you received as a child, or do you need more or less?
This is the hardest concept to practice in a relationship – and the one that is most closely aligned with the idea of preventing the past from destroying your relationship.
Accepting your partner for who he is right now – without judging or attempting to change him – is a huge challenge! It’s especially difficult if you don’t love and accept yourself. When you were a child, were you accepted? If your parents didn’t accept you, you’ll have trouble accepting your partner.
This ties in to the idea of accepting that you made past mistakes in your life, and not allowing them to destroy your relationship.
How did your mom and dad appreciate each other? Did you show their appreciation to you? Did they celebrate and praise your efforts, or only your biggest accomplishments? How (and if) they appreciated you has an effect on your current relationship. Lack of appreciation can destroy a relationship, especially if it’s connected to your partner’s past mistakes.
How did your parents show affection? Did you feel loved, were you told you were loved, were you hugged? If you parents didn’t show you much affection, you may unconsciously pressure your partner to show love in the way you need to be loved. Or, you may put up barriers between you and your partner because you’re not used to being loved or receiving affection.
“The way we were first loved and the ways we have been loved ever since form our definition of what love means to us,” writes David Richo, in How to Be an Adult in Love: Letting Love in Safely and Showing It Recklessly. “Some people really feel loved when someone gives them a gift. Others experience it when people stand up for them. Still others feel loved when someone goes the extra mile to help them. If our mother showed love by holding us in our pain or joy, without engulfing or controlling us, that will be the behavior that always feels like love to us.
We feel love now as we first received it; we give love the way others gave it to us. Thus, since love is unique to each person, we read and write love, receive and give it, in the style designed by our past experience. Yet, like good handwriting, our unique signature can be read by others.”
He’s talking about the love languages; if you haven’t heard of them, read Examples of Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages.
One of the most important tips on how to stop past mistakes from destroying your relationship is to allow yourself to be human. Were you allowed to make mistakes as a child? Do you allow yourself to be your flawed, imperfect self? Are you allowing your partner to be his own imperfect self? The opposite of allowing in a relationship is controlling. If you try to control your partner, you’re operating out of fear.
Those “5 A’s” (Attention, Acceptance, Appreciation, Affection, and Allowing) are important in every relationship…even your relationship with yourself. We need to give ourselves these 5 A’s so we can have healthy relationships. And, part of giving yourself the attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing you need is to learn how to stop the past from destroying your relationships or ruining your life.
If you feel insecure and anxious about your partner’s reaction to your past mistakes and failures, read 5 Steps to Overcoming Insecurity and Fear in Your Relationship.
What do you think about these tips on how to stop past mistakes from ruining your relationship? Feel free to share your experience. While I can’t offer advice, I do read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share your experience. Writing often brings clarity and insight, and can help you process your feelings.
“We were born with four words engraved on our bodies and in our hearts: Love me, hold me.” – David Richo.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.