Relationship Problems: Letting The Past Poison Your Present Relationship

Relationship problems often arise over what’s happened in the past. If you are bringing what’s happened in a past relationship into your current one, you’re likely asking for trouble.

It’s really hard to have a relationship in the present moment when you are focused on the trash of the past! When you focus on the past, you are missing the relationship that is in front of you right now. That’s a mistake.

Recently, I was working with a couple through Skype. They both said they were sure that they wanted to recover the love, trust and respect they believed their relationship began with. I wasn’t so sure if that was the case by the way they were behaving together, but we went with it.

The problem became clear quickly: every time I asked a question about their present relationship together, they brought up events in the past. Some of those events were in the deep, dark, distant past, too. These two seemed to have memories like elephants!

When I asked each of them to describe their partner as they are today, there was silence. They both had a trash accumulation problem. They were trash collectors. Each of them had accumulated and saved–almost nurtured and cherished, it seemed–each hurt, misstep, pain, and fault that they perceived in each other over their life together.

Wow! Not much question why they were miserable enough to come for relationship help. If you can only see who your partner isn’t, and add that to the unending list of “s/he done me wrongs” and “ain’t it awfuls,” then, you are perpetuating your misery. And, because you’ve told the story more times than good for you, you feel justified in your complaints, too.

BIG QUESTION: Would you rather feel justified in your anger, pain, and disappointment, or, would you rather be open to love, change, and possibilities? 

Some people love to hear your drama, and they would be very disappointed if you gave it up. Your partner–and, even moreso, you–would be relieved, though. Could you imagine not telling the same old story and dredging up the same old nasty feelings? Life would be very different!

You chose your partner for a reason. Do you remember what that reason was? You probably had many good reasons. Remember them.

Life offers pain, difficulties, and complications along with laughter, love, and occasionally, lemons. People react or respond. People make mistakes. People change. They learn and they hopefully grow. Sometimes, they hide and wallow.

You are not who you were when you met your partner, are you? You’ve changed. Hopefully, you’ve grown in positive ways. Would you really want to have stopped and stagnated along the way? Not likely. But, did you let your relationship get stuck?

Dragging the garbage of the past behind you into the present moment is exhausting. It’s heavy. It’s painful. And, it’s unnecessary. Dragging it behind you into every circumstance, taking the lid off, and letting that putrid smell out once again does you no good at all personally, and can poison your relationship. No one needs a whiff of that!

It may take getting some relationship help to be able to see each other with kinder eyes in the present moment, but you’re worth it. The relationship is worth it. And, oh,  by the way, if you don’t learn new patterns, you’ll just keep whittling away at each other, and gather worse stories to tell. You don’t want that, I hope.

Tripping on the trash of the past keeps you stuck and down. You even get tired of your story. Give yourself and your partner a opportunity to see yourselves and each other differently.

Just think: you could be skipping into the future, hand in hand, light-hearted and enjoying yourselves. Or, you can continue to pile on more garbage. Not a lovely picture, right?


When you are ready to handle relationship issues and solve relationship problems in ways that give you back the love you share, you demonstrate that you care. Get relationship help. If you could have fixed the problems, you would have done it already.

Finding solutions for relationship problems takes willingness, courage and time: the willingness to take a good, honest look at yourselves and your relationship, the courage to re-create your relationship with new insights, new skills, and new tools, and the time to make the difference. Start now.

You can work directly with Dr. Rhoberta Shaler, The Relationship Help Doctor, to move beyond your current relationship problems. Learn more HERE.  Get a free copy of the first chapter of her book, Kaizen For Couples, when you subscribe to her newsletter and podcasts HERE.

Relationship Issues: Is Your Relationship A Competition?

Relationships with partners are often competitions in disguise. Don’t want that? Here’s a little relationship advice,

When you really step back and look at them–perhaps, with a little relationship help–the main event in a relationship is the constant battle for supremacy, control, and maybe, even a little domination. Not healthy. It doesn’t feel good, but couples do it all the same.

Competition. It’s got the not-so-good, not-so-loving trifecta. It’s:

  • tension-producing
  • fear-inducing
  • trust-reducing

What’s attractive about that?  It’s destructive and exhausting. Yet, it persists.

How do you stop competing in a relationship you say is based on loving each other? It requires a good deal of self-reflection!

When couples come to work with me, I can almost see the bubbles over their heads. Each bubble says, “If my partner would just see the errors of his/her ways, and change, we would be great.”  Unfortunately, although that may seem amusing for a moment, it’s the way it often is.

You want the issues to be because of the other person’s failings, flaws, and frustrations. Why? Because you don’t want to think that you are part of both the issue and the solution! It is highly likely that both of you have some changes to make.

Here’s the good news and the bad news: Change starts with you, not with your partner, if you want to put an end to the destructive competition in your relationship. 

Take some quiet time. Sit down and ask yourself these essential questions:

  • Is there a way that I am inviting competition in my relationship by my words, my actions, my demeanor, or my stance in life, and in my relationship particularly?
  • Do I turn everything into a debate?
  • Is my first inclination to find fault, rather than see the good?
  • When I’m really honest with myself, do I have a big need to be right?
  • Am I only happy when I am winning?
  • Am I on guard and look for ways to prove my partner is wrong?
  • Do I have a glass half full or half empty outlook?
  • How much of the time am I focused on what I appreciate and love about my partner? Is that enough?
  • Do I have my back up and something to prove that keeps me concerned, vigilant, and on edge?

Sit with that list. Come back and re-visit it. Let these possibilities sink in completely. You’re doing this to get better acquainted with yourself so that you can bring those insights to improving your part in your relationship.  It can help you release the need for competition.

Now, what if you read that list and your immediate thought is “That describes my partner perfectly!”

That’s a good moment to look at yourself clearly and ask:

  • Am I fueling it?
  • Am I matching it?
  • Am I enjoying it?
  • Am I wanting to run from it?

We were shaped. We come by our traits, behaviors, and patterns from the people who raised us, and others who influenced us, usually before we were twenty years old.  That’s why we begin by looking at the various cookie cutters we met in life that left us in the shape we’re in. No, not through deep psychoanalysis, but by having an insight or two that can help us realize we can choose to do life differently.

We do not have to stay in the shape we were stamped with. It doesn’t have to be what we were “cut out” for any longer. We can change, grow, and transform.

If you only focus on your partner’s shortcomings, nothing will change. You’ll defer the blame, but it doesn’t stop the pain. Only looking within makes that difference.

If your relationship is a courtroom, boxing ring, or jousting tournament, you’ll never be happy. Where there is a focus on winning or losing, you cannot find love, safety, honesty or respect, and those are the cornerstones of a healthy relationship.

What does competition and “one up(wo)manship” do? 

  • It is destined to leave you single, lonely, or at least, with a lack of the intimacy you likely crave.
  • People will shy away from you because they feel unsafe with you.
  • Constant debate leaves you exhausted, worn down, and wounded.
  • The need to be right means that no one around you can also be right, and that is a losing strategy.
  • The need for control leaves others wanting to cut the strings and stay far away from the puppeteer you want to be.

If your relationship is a competition, you two need to be discussing, understanding, setting and maintaining healthy boundaries. Otherwise, no one will be happy–especially in the long run.  The self-reflection required to set and establish your personal boundaries is imperative. There is no quick fix or easy solution to that.

For now, be aware. Is your relationship a competition? If so, is it what you want? If the answer is no, get the relationship help and relationship advice you need to put an end to the tournament. You are best to get some professional relationship advice, because it’s almost impossible to put an end to the competition on your own.


Here’s today’s Relationship Advice Coupleology Podcast: Is Your Relationship A Competition? 

RIGHT NOW: You can also get a great start with my book, Kaizen for Couples: Smart Steps to Save, Sustain, or Strengthen Your Relationship,  and you can subscribe to Coupleology: Vital Tips for Relationship, coming to your inbox weekly.