With many of the couples I counsel, I’ve noticed men complain about women bringing up the past. Yes men sometimes live in the past too, but for some reason, this tends to be more of a female tendency. Before criticizing your partner for drudging up these events, think about why she does so. Many women want to let go of hurtful incidents, but they can’t. Think about when you wanted to let go of something but weren’t able to do so, like the comment your boss made today or your last argument with your sibling.
If you want your wife to get over the past, you need to be willing to help her move on. Telling her to forget it or let it go won’t help; this is just an attempt to ignore the problem. Your partner may hold on to painful events because she feels you don’t understand her experiences. While you may call it an overreaction, your partner has old wounds from the past, such as betrayal, hurt, disappointment, etc. and keeps repeating the points because you haven’t yet validated or empathized with her feelings.
How to validate your partner’s feelings?
Create a time where you and your partner can talk about the problem in detail. A time where you are not distracted and are fully present. Yes, you’re going to have to confront the issue if you want it to go away for good. The person who is having difficulty letting something go can start by writing down all their resentments (i.e. when your partner showed up drunk or late for an important event, when they lied, etc.). Then sit down and talk about the things that caused the arguments in the past. It is helpful when you hear these faults, in order to validate her concerns.
Validation doesn’t mean agreeing with your partner but instead means you are willing to understand your actions could be something that upset her. Just by hearing you say her feelings make sense and her reaction is normal, will allow her to get over the past. It will give her a sense of being heard and she will feel safe enough to reconnect with you. If the problem isn’t talked about and dealt with, it will constantly come up as your partner tries to connect with you.
Often a man says he can’t talk to his wife because she over-reacts and brings up the past. Having an honest and open conversation with your partner, in this manner, will calm her down and allow both of you to communicate freely. Women often complain “he never communicates.” He is more interested in working and coming home late or being on his phone/computer. This could be because he doesn’t feel safe sharing his problems with someone who is over-reactive. In turn, a woman feels she can’t trust a man because of his lack in communication and assistance in getting over these painful past emotions.
So the answer is to have the person who is hurt write down their resentments and share them. As a result they will likely become less reactive. By talking about the past we are better able to let it go and create space for making better and more loving new memories with our partners.