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Eight Reasons Why Partners Bring Up THE PAST in Arguments

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Eight reasons why Partners Bring up THE PAST in arguments


Do you or your partner bring up the past in arguments? Do the same old topics about things that happened in the past keep creeping up into your conflicts and arguments, thus changing the course of the argument, escalating it, and making it ten times worst? When bringing up the past in a fight, you are adding fuel to the fire. So why do we do it? 


Before we get into the why? Please subscribe, share, and like. So why do couples bring up the past in relationships? Well, let's jump right into it. 


  1. They don't want to be wrong 

    • In relationships, arguments can form a battlefield where one person is right, and the other is wrong. Well, past mistakes, especially the larger ones, can be used as ammunition to say, "Oh yeah, well, you are wrong now because you've been wrong in the past." Let's take sally and Peter as an example. Sally could bring up Peter's mistake of lying in the past as a trump card. An easy way out of an argument, an easy way to win. The couple could be arguing about Sally not showing up on time, and she could say, "Oh yea, well, at least I'm honest and haven't lied to you." Her reply isn't focused on the situation at hand, but once she says that whatever argument Peter had before becomes smaller and insignificant. 

  2. They have not forgiven + are still hurting 

    • If the arguments tend to go back to one specific thing that a partner has done wrong, it's because the other partner hasn't forgiven and is not over it. The pain still exists in the hurt partner's heart, hiding under the surface, playing on replay in their mind. Although some can keep it under control and compartmentalized the majority of the time, when the volume turns up emotions, like in an argument, the pain may come out like word vomit. Bringing up the past often speaks to unforgiveness. The person who has been wronged in the past has not truly forgiven the other and is possibly still hurting. Wounds take time to heal, and there is no "right" healing schedule. However, claiming to be over a conflict and then having it be brought up repeatedly clearly indicates that problems and pain still exist. We often underestimate how much time and work it takes to forgive others. We think that we are over it so that we can quickly move on; however, what we may have done was swept it under the rug. If you find yourself dredging up things from the past, it's a good idea to look deeper and ask yourself if you are truly over it yet. If no, and you have claimed to your partner that you are over it, apologize for the confusion and own your pain and where you are present with how you feel about the past conflict. I think some of the confusion our partners could feel is that we tell them that we are over it, but we aren't. It's ok to say that you are still healing from the conflict. 

  3. It's used as a power-play for control

    • Bringing up past mistakes can be used as a form of control. This control is established by making your partner feel guilty or vice versa. Guilt is a powerful emotion linked to shame and makes us feel bad about ourselves. Keeping a roster of things that our partners have done wrong and then unleashing this roster when in arguments with them will certainly remind them of the worst version of themselves. It will hit them where it hurts and act as a control mechanism, as it traps them in their mistakes and makes them feel helpless. 

  4. It's a diversion technique 

    • Bringing up the past acts as a diversion technique or distraction from the real problem at hand. For example, let's say that you showed up late to your partner's work dinner. When they speak to you about it and are upset, you respond, "Well, you were late to my best friend's birthday party." It's easy to distract and divert attention from things we have done wrong and avoid taking ownership of our mistakes. When we make mistakes, it's good practice to own that mistake instead of diverting blame back onto the other person. 

  5. They feel hypocrisy is at play 

    • One reason the past can be brought up in relationships is that one partner feels hypocrisy is at play. The pot is calling the kettle black situation. For example, if Peter gets mad at Sally for staying out all night. But Peter has stayed out all night in the past and lied about it; Sally could bring up Peter's mistake as a form of defense. She could feel like Peter is being a hypocrite and use his mistake as an example to show this. "Why do you get to tell me this when you have done this?" 

  6. Punishment 

    • Mistakes in relationships, especially big ones like infidelity or anything dealing with betrayal, are tricky to heal through. They cause resentment in the person who was harmed. Resentment is sticky as far as emotions go. It's like black tar that blocks the love connection. If the harmed person turns to resentment, they may bring up the past because they want to punish the other partner. They are still angry inside and hurt; one may think the other person deserves to feel the same pain. Bringing up their mistake is a way of yielding that resentment, a scorpion sting that strikes swiftly to administer the pain one feels from being betrayed. One may think, "if I am in pain, then you will be too." Unfortunately, tit for tat doesn't turn out well. Bringing up the past during an argument decreases the chance of working through it and can severely damage the relationship. 

  7. They don't feel understood 

    • Part of forgiveness and moving past conflict is recognizing that the person who made the mistake understands the pain that was caused and is sorry for it. If the past is being brought into arguments, it's possible the person harmed doesn't feel understood or heard and doesn't feel like their partner gets what they are going through. So the hurt person brings it up during arguments. However, that isn't a good time to get partners to understand because their defenses are up, and it often makes arguments ten times worst. 

  8. They don't want you to make the same mistake 

    • Bringing up the past in arguments could remind the person who made the mistake not to make that mistake again. If they keep being reminded of their mistake, maybe they won't make it again. However, that often backfires. When the partner in pain keeps bringing up the past, it aggravates the wound and does not allow it to heal completely. Therefore, the wound itself becomes infected, thus causing more pain and discomfort. Some feel that if they are still getting punished for what they did, why not do it again, or worst, end the relationship? Everyone has a threshold of guilt that they can carry. It's important not to push them too hard for too long. 


So, what can you do? When is the right time to bring up something about the past eating at you? Create a calm, separate time to discuss it. If it's important and it weighs on you, it deserves a special time and special attention. Create a conversation about that alone and talk through it fairly. Stay on topic. If you don't make space for it, it will bubble up into other conversations, and your partner will be defensive and feel not safe enough to hear you. No one likes to be blind-sighted, and when we bring up old stuff, it can feel like that. 


As you constructively bring the past up, focus on your partner's feelings. Let them ask questions and answer them as best you can without shutting them down. 


It's important to let your partner know that you are bringing up the past to understand better and create a better future, not solely focusing on and poking the pain of a wound that is doing its best to heal. When speaking about the past, create goals for the future. What about the past can lead you to a better relationship? Do not look at what happened in the past as an anchor to hold you in stagnation but as a tool that will help bring deeper healing to your relationship. The old stuff will keep coming up until you take the time to talk about it. 

But that time is not the middle of an argument about something completely different.


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