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Read My Mind

Bringing Up The Past

by Dr. Robert Glover on May 27th, 2013.     24 comments

couple-fightingIn close to thirty years of working with couples as a marriage therapist, I’ve witnessed all kinds of dysfunctional and ineffective fighting styles. In my own two marriages, I had my share of dead-end and destructive arguments (or non-arguments, which are just another form of ineffective fighting).

A good, clean, respectful, focused argument can do wonders for a relationship. A good fight can help a couple solve problems, understand each other, get through difficult situations, and become aware of their own individual shortcomings and blind spots.

However, there are many ineffective ways to fight. Blaming, jumping from topic to topic, avoiding, remaining silent, name-calling, manipulating, threatening, lying, denying, running away, and being violent are a few.

If a couple spends enough time together, another classic of bad fighting – bringing up the past – is sure to become part of their toxic arguing repertoire.

A member of my eight-week course “All The Way In” recently made a post on the online discussion forum:

I've kind of been stewing on this since I wrote it, and a couple things are bubbling up for me. First, how do you get over that "never forgetting" thing? I often find it hard to communicate with my wife, because I'm afraid of saying anything I'm not certain of, knowing that everything I say can and will be held against me.”

Here is what I wrote in response.

By nature, women are security-seeking creatures. Therefore, their deepest need is to feel safe.

Countless things cause women to feel unsafe, and pretty much everything Nice Guys do mess with a woman’s sense of security (even though we think we're pretty good guys).

Bringing up the past is a way some women try to feel safe (unconsciously). It's like if they can remember past hurts and betrayals, they will be more aware if similar things happen again.
Of course, we men just feel attacked. 

But here is the real issue that I've seen tear up countless relationships.

READ CLOSELY:

  • The woman makes an emotional statement, coming from a need for safety, connection, or passion.

  • The man, though, hears it as a factual statement and starts arguing the facts.

  • She feels unheard and invalidated, and her sense of security dies even more.

  • He feels unjustly attacked, convinced he is with a woman who is crazy, likes to argue, or lives in the past.

  • He withdraws and holds more back.

The cycle goes on an on.

Men, how can you tell if your woman has just made an emotional statement (as opposed to a factual one)?

Usually, it has an "always" or "never" in it, or it is grossly over/under-stating or distorting something.
If these aren't enough clues, here’s how you can be 100% certain your woman has just made an emotional statement:

  • It makes you feel crazy.

  • You want to argue the facts.

When you feel this way (crazy and/or argumentative), take a breath, and try to listen for the emotion your woman is expressing – not the facts.

She'll feel heard and loved.

Robert

P.S., Guys, want more tools for becoming a good Ascertainer in your intimate relationship? Check out my eight-week online class, All The Way In.


Topics: Consciousness Relationships

24 Comments

EddieNYC says ...
I believe it was John Adams who said that "Facts are stubborn things."

If a person, male or female, is willfully ignorant of the facts, or in denial, or just not interested in learning the facts, then communication and conversation is going to be damn near impossible and probably not worth the effort. It reminds me of that saying, "Don't confuse me with the facts; my mind is made up!" (Once again we see the flaws of the myth of Feminism, and their alleged desire for Equal Treatment).

You can lead a horse to water...

Lastly, in just about any kind of relationship, if a person is consistently bring up the past, especially after the issue was resolved or forgiveness was expressed, then it is probably a good sign of a disturbed or immature person, and also a lack of mutual trust and respect in that relationship. Which means that the relationship has deteriorated, and it's time to leave.

I've been through this and it hurts like a dagger to have past mistakes consistently thrown in my face. If there is one thing I refuse to deal with,
it someone throwing a guilt trip at me. There is nothing positive or productive to be gained from remaining in a toxic relationship.

As a man, am I also responsible for managing someone else's feelings, insecurities, and anxieties??

Phydeau says ...
EddieNYC, I think Robert's answer assumes that the woman is also working to fight fairly too. Otherwise I'd agree with you -- a woman who constantly brings up the past in order to "score points" is not fighting fair and is not worth being in a relationship with.

But emotions are real too, as real as facts, just in a different way. If you ignore emotions, YOU will not be worth being in a relationship with.
Serge says ...
"She'll feel heard and loved." Ehhhem... What about other side of conflict? Man's need for emotional safety, i.e. absence of drama, nagging and so on is as important as woman's need for physical safety.
If a woman makes an emotional statement, which comes in a form of attack, because she feels insecure, then it's HER problem. SHE has to find a way to deal with her insecurities and emotional outbursts, not anybody else.
It looks like Dr.Glover tries to make his readers feel inadequate (again) to make some sells. Bad move I have to say.
Brian says ...
Serge,

I like the point you make about a man's emotional security. Just as women need to feel physically secure, we should not have to worry about drama, and needless conflict.

I do take exception though to your comments about Dr. Glover. I don't think he is trying to make anyone feel inadequate, nor is he trying to make some sells. Like many other readers, I'm sure you check out his blog because you are interested/curious with what he has to say.

Brian.
Serge says ...
I guess, you are a part of this site staff. It's clear that these articles are SEO optimized. I don't know who writes them, maybe not Dr.Glover, but a hired marketer with no morals. What I know after reading them is that in every one of last four author tries to capitalize on flaws like need for approval, putting up with bad behaviour, feeling unworthy to have a womans attention and so on, which Dr.Glover supposed to help such called "nice guys" to overcome.
Manipulation sell tactics actually do more harm than good, because they discredit those using it and create doubt in quality of their products. And it's strange to see them being used by DOCTOR, who supposed to follow a code of ethics.
Eric says ...
Serge, After four posts that you find unethical, why do you keep reading? If you don't feel "safe" here, perhaps like you're under too much pressure to buy things, maybe you should find another web site to read.

By the way, the very purpose of this web site is for the Doctor to promote his classes. Naturally he's going to sell stuff. If you feel entitled to free advice, go to the NMMNG forums where men discuss these issues, for free.
David says ...
Serge, what code of ethics is Dr. Glover breaking. Your posts make zero sense dude.
Elizabeth says ...
My boyfriend and I have been together for almost 5 years now and I've realized a pattern when we fight he always brings up mistakes i have made in the past or insults or comments I have made in the past and jump from subject to subject avoiding the reason we are fighting to begin with and gets agree almost like he builds himself up with all these past memories and he ends up being the angry offended one. Although he carries on with all this i don't and have not brought up or thrown in his face every little thing he has down to me. I try so hard to stick to the subject at hand and whats going on in present time but he just wont stop bringing up the past and pointing the finger like he does it to turn the attention away from him so he wont have to take any responsibilities for his actions. what do i do?
Matthew says ...
This article is very frustrating for me to read. Nevertheless, in dating countless women throughout my twenties and into my thirties, I believe what Dr. Glover proposes is about the only way to successfully create a relationship that has in it trust, compassion, and gives one energy instead of taking it away.

I am in a monogamous relationship for the first time in awhile for a little over a year. She is unbelievable, 95% of the time. However, the emotional outburst or two a month is almost too much for me, because, as a few men mentioned before, I really do not think it is my responsbility to literally take responsibility for her emotions. Nevertheless, I have found this to be the one area in my life, after dating many women, that just is the way it is , and considering the circumstances, giving up this one part of my ego, when I am strong enough to do it, is the only way to make peace with the situation.

It takes so much practice and work because it can make me extremely resentful and angry, but it really is not about you, and if most men would be more patient, and work like I am trying right now to not respond to a personal attack or to getting baited into a fight, a woman will feel more trustworthy and safe with you.

However, men need to be careful and realize that responding to their outbursts by being level headed and not taking it personally allows her herself to feel safe in the relationship, and it is thus not you supplicating or seeking approval, or not defending yourself when you feel or actually are being attacked. You allow her to do the work. If one is patient, and makes the effort for a couple of months to not respond in anger or fight back, a good woman will respond with confidence in not just you, but herself in the relationship. I agree with what other men have said in reference to it being her responsibility.

However, if you have been patient for a few months, have used love and integrity and are truly acting out of benefit for your significant other, and she still responds negatively to you, this is the time to walk away.
James says ...
I feel like the majority of the time it's the woman's fault. I have been married for ten years and I will admit, I have made some mistakes in the past. I asked God and my wife for forgiveness, which brings me to the question of why does she still bring up her past hurts? Every time she brings up the hurt I try to be understanding and sympathetic, but at the same time I should not have to continue apologizing for something that I have asked you to forgive me for. It's so frustrating because things could be going perfectly fine, then that's when she starts to panic and puts up a barrier and then we start from day 1 all over again. I don't want to leave my kids and become a weekend dad, but at the same time I don't want to stay unhappy. I'm so fed up to the point now we don't sleep in the same bed, don't have sex, and rarely talk to each other. I just want to be happy. What else can I do? I've tried counseling, encouraged her to get help and take care of herself but it seems like nothing will work. Help please!
chiefsinner1 says ...
That is one reason why my first and only Marriage failed, I and my Ex-wife would use past mess up's to justify our bad choices and or hurting one another. She could never admit her being wrong ,and could never forgive. I would admit my wrongs but hold onto her hurtful words and attacks.
Needless to say it all crumbled and fell to nothing. But now I accept a woman's feelings and try to listen, but as I am reading here on this new site Nice guys finish last. I was even at the point of wanting to teach my sons to mock women , ridicule their feelings, steal from them and hit them, for I have seen women respect those men more then a nice guy.
Without saying anyone with a right mind knows it would be crazy to teach your sons that behavior. As i knew it sounded crazy typing it and thinking it. But the frustration of women finding shit better then chocolate rich pudding is mind blowing. But reading on this site I have seen my NICE GUY lie has been blinding me to who i am ...a victim.
Tired of being the victim, want to be a leader for my sons and for a woman , so that i will learn I am worth respect and deserve respect. For i have none for myself now, though I go around bragging of how good i am too women. open the door for them, listen and respect their feelings, now i admit my shortcomings and ask for forgiveness. What help I hope to receive from this site , for I have had no leading from my dad in being a man. Hence I reference myself as a guy, unable to place Man as a title of myself.
Margy says ...
I'm quite surprised reading some of the answers on here. It seems that when we're arguing it's every man / women for himself.
I was reading the post looking for answers as to why I constantly bring up the past. What makes me want to drag up crap that logically should stay in the past where it belongs but emotionally comes blurting out of my mouth regardless of how hard I try to keep it in because I feel relief when I say it.
What I know is when I do it I'm looking for protection. I want the man I love to be strong for me and tell me everything will be ok. When I'm upset I'm not angry at him nor am I trying to blame him, even if at times it sounds that way, I just need a sounding board and for him to make me feel safe and secure just as Dr Glover suggests. I don't work for him by the way nor am I trying to promote anything. I'm simply saying that it isn't YOU it is the woman or man who is bringing up the crap, it is THEM. But instead of making them out to be stupid and wrong or playing the one-up-manship game wouldn't it make more sense to try and understand where their pain is? To help them? To be the bigger person at that point?
A few people have said that it's 'her' responsibility and 'why should I have to sort her out' type of stuff. Why not? If you love that person, why not?
If you bought a car and it had a problem you would try and sort it out until it was fixed. If you couldn't fix the car you would probably get rid of it. But what if the next car had the same problem or the next one after that? Would you stop driving? Would you blame the car for having a problem? The car is just being what it is, a car it's just doing what it knows how to do. Will you learn how to repair it, keep buying new cars or start walking everywhere?
To finish off, I'm not trying to be sexist or cause arguments. I admit that I'm the one who brings up the crap (hand up!) and if you were my other half I would want you to keep loving me (faults and all) because I love you. Just saying...
Pastor Clifford Short says ...
My wife and I have been thru these type of discussions several times. She brings up the past, I ask her what is bothering here and listen go the whole story. From this I gleen generally that she is feeling insecure about our finances, sad about our kids actions or some other current unresolved topic. Once I hear the story and ask a few questions, I understand what is really bothering her. It just takes a good ear and a sincere desire to show her and reassure her that the topic is under control, or that it will be OK. Love is a powerful tool to resolve an argument. Read Psalms 17:9, and 1st Corinthians 13:4, find out what love is and is not. Use this as a foundation when discussing a touchy or hot topic with your spouse. It works.
dec says ...
I came to this article after reading Glover's book. The book helped me. Thank you for it. This article is not meant for a recovering Nice Guy. It goes in the opposit direction: removal of respect, integrity, and borders. Any person resents past events and eventually will need to bring it to present. The point, the BPD border, is how often and how is this done. Whether this is done for blaming, derail a conversation, or hurt the other, then, it is not acceptable. Does it feel crazy? Then it is crazy and better move on.
Mary says ...
I think some of the gentleman here are really working toward good relationships and they are married to immature and highly emotional women.

What this article doesn't cover, or take into consideration, is abuse. I would bring up past hurts in arguments because they were from a pattern of abuse...the exact new hurt would be similar, but not the exact same, as an old, unresolved hurt. One that was never apologized for or acknowledged, and was basically committed again.

The hurt would fall into the same category as an old one...for example, financial irresponsibility. How are you supposed to forgive if it continues occurring? How can you take the high road?

I brought up the past to raise a pattern of really bad behavior. He would shut down and say I wasn't allowed to bring up the past, which I believe is manipulative and indicative of a personality disorder.

His brother did the same thing to my sister in law...repeated infidelity. if he began to engage in similar behavior (texting women, flirting) she naturally brought up the past. He told her she wasn't allowed to.

I left the marriage. So did she. We are happy we did, and lucky we had good jobs so we could leave abusive marriages. I think some men engage in abusive behavior and don't own up to it.

These two refused counseling, stating that we would just bring up the past. In my opinion, if the past keeps recurring, it's fair game.
Aaron Gray says ...
Reading this article I find myself seeing my marriage in very harsh clarity. My wife and I have been married for almost 10 years, with most of this taken up with doctors visits, hospital and emergency room visits, and a lot of health scares. Because of this, hardly a month goes by without at least one "knock down drag out" fight, where I end up sleeping on the couch. We have 2 young children, and we do a fair job of keeping this away from them, fighting in our room, or getting a friend to watch them so we can take it to the car. Most times it is about mundane stuff (finances and the like) But I also find myself being charged with everything that I have done wrong, large and small, of which I can do nothing to change. And a lot of it is as old as our marriage. The latest thing, the Nuclear Argument, as I have called it, was me not showing up to a hospital visit when she was admitted to the ICU in January of this year. This was done in a hospital around 30 miles from our apartment, and came up out of a bad medication interaction during a hospital stay. I can't remember why I didn't show up. This caused her to become profoundly depressed, and rightfully so. I make no excuses for not visiting her, and go into my own depression and anger mood when it gets brought up. At first I apologized, and tried to do better, but it's hard to show you have changed when it doesn't ever happen again. Since then it has been her default, go-to argument when she is looking for security and safety, as the author has stated. After 6 months of having it paraded out as her fall back method of taking control of the situation, I have begun retreating back into myself even further. I can't change what happened, I can't absolve myself of the guilt, and I can't get her to see that it is both unnecessary and ridiculous to keep using it if she wants to actually engage me in any conversation. I'm beyond my point of empathy, and want nothing more than to be rid of it. What can I do?
I'm looking for honest opinons, not snarkey attacks.
AlaskaWoman says ...
All Dr. Glover is saying is that women want to feel loved. And to do that men can understand where a woman is coming from by listening and empathizing. For example, "You sound upset, would you like to talk about it.." That's a good start. Using empathy really helps women feel safe. Also, relationships are not one sided. Women should also listen, be slow to speak, and empathize with where men are coming from. Putting themselves in men's shoes. A good relationship that lasts is when both people's needs are met, there is honest open communication, and both people are self-less. Good luck all, including myself.
Bill says ...
I think in the illogical craziness disputes you can rephrase the it's not my issue it's hers into it's not my emotional distress it's hers. Treat her as if she is wounded. You're not in distress she is. It seems to me that often the words are just what flashes through her mind as she's trying to elicit an emotional response from me. Stand calmly and let her vent her crap out. Look her in the eyes and show her some compassion and empathy for her distress. How about after she's done saying her piece you tell her that you're there for her and that she should do what she needs to do to feel better. JMO
Bill says ...
I almost forgot. I find myself much less reactionary when my cake is good!
Anonymous says ...
Why is it always the woman who brings up the past? I am looking for an article about men who bring up the past. My current fiancé feels the need to compare everything to how it was with my exhusband. Just because he is better (my ex was abusive), he suddenly thinks he is perfect! That I have no need to be upset with him. I should be lucky to have him instead. I can't deal with this mentality anymore. How do I get him to stop this behaviour in an argument? I am worried we won't last because of it and I love him so much.
A Woman... says ...
I found myself on this blog because I have been feeling low lately related to an old issue in my relationship, and have been trying to think whether it's fair to bring it up or not. I'm also interested in myself as to why it comes up again (every so often it rears its' head and I always struggle within myself whether it's fair to bring it up or not). My partner usually notices I'm being a bit 'off' but I never know HOW to talk about it in a way that he can relate to and not feel 'attacked'.

In relation to the above discussion, I will say that this issue crops up for me when I'm feeling a bit insecure, or patterns of behaviour remind me of the earlier problem (even if they're actually quite different - if there is a similarity, or a feeling of slight disconnection etc, it all comes back to mind). I very much relate this issue cropping up with me feeling negative emotions. Those emotions serve as a sort of cognitive filter, and anchor me to that previous worry and upset. On occasion, particularly when my partner notices a change in my mood and asks about it, this has led to a revisiting of the previous hurt, and I don't think he gets why I'm referring to it. In his head, it probably seems like a closed issue. But it's something I never quite felt I got an adequate explanation for (perhaps there isn't one to give). He inevitably feels hurt/angry/defensive and responds accordingly, making me feel more upset and worried. I think what I need from him in that time is an acknowledgement of my emotions, and why they are there. Drawing me in for a big hug and saying 'Look, I'm sorry again that what I did back then hurt you so much. But that was then and I promise there is nothing like that going on now. I learnt from my mistake and you are my focus.' That, instead of getting defensive, would make a world of difference to me. But I also recognise his right to get defensive if that's how he feels. So what to do? And then I end up over-thinking it and not even talking about it any more... which I recognise isn't healthy. It is something that I think I need to address before I can move on. A full honest acknowledgement of what was going on at the time so I can understand and build from it. Reading my own post back, it's clear I do need to talk to him some more, but it's how to do that without it automatically being an attack.
For Aaron Gray says ...
To Aaron Gray:
"me not showing up to a hospital visit when she was admitted to the ICU in January of this year. This was done in a hospital around 30 miles from our apartment, and came up out of a bad medication interaction during a hospital stay. I can't remember why I didn't show up. This caused her to become profoundly depressed, and rightfully so. I make no excuses for not visiting her, and go into my own depression and anger mood when it gets brought up."

You've acknowledge she was hurt and that it's her right to feel that way, which shows understanding and care. I would hazard a guess that the real issue for her is something along the lines of "he didn't show up... he's getting sick of me being so ill... he doesn't love me like he used to... I must be such a burden on him... and now he thinks I'm mad at him when really I'm just worried about 'us'.. and ironically, every time I'm feeling worried and sad/angry/hurt, this is the thing I keep going back to and making it worse... he'll be sick of me... etc... etc.." i.e. insecurity. I may be wrong but I think most of these types of argument boil down to that. And remember that insecurity ultimately relates to: not wanting to lose someone and fearing that you are doing so/will. It's a cruel irony that often, these moments when we feel most insecure, lead us to act in ways which end up reinforcing those fears.

You mention how you feel angry and depressed when your wife brings this up. Again, hazarding a guess here, you feel angry at yourself. You don't understand why you didn't show up. And you hate that you made your wife feel neglected, insecure etc.

My suggestion (and it might be awful but if *I* were your wife I think it'd help) would be: don't wait for the next fight to bring this up. At some point when the mood is neutral, go up and give her a BIG hug - the kind you gave her when you first started dating. And while she's cuddled in close, say something along the lines of "I know we have our arguments, but I want you to know that I love you so much. I know you felt very hurt about me not visiting last time you were in ICU, and I'm hurt about it too. I can't come up with a good reason why I didn't, but it has made me realise that we have been a bit disconnected lately and I'd like us to both work on that. What do you say?"

You have two kids together, and have cared enough to stick it out this long through some bad times. What happens in the future is up to the decisions you make now. I believe from what you've put that it sounds as though you have scope to have a good and loving marriage. Pick your battles wisely. Remember, patterns of behaviour can only continue if everyone keeps doing what they've always done. How can you change your side of the dance, and how might that impact the outcome? Of course, your wife has responsibilities and a role too, but you're the one who wrote here... :-)
Tom says ...
My wife and I have been married for nearly 30 years and in nearly every argument we have — at least 95% of them — within the first few minutes of a disagreement about anything, she’ll pull out the record books and cite my mistakes from 15, 20 years ago or more -- I understand that, in her mind, it’s relavant to what we’re (apparently) arguing about because it’s how the past (error, whether real or perceived) is making her feel in the here and now. Example: We had a discussion yesterday about when (Bill) Clinton was first running in the early 90’s and neither of us were fans. She told me (in the discussion) that she told me then that she didn’t trust him. I agreed and told her, yeah, we didn’t She corrected me, “NO, I told YOU” that I didn’t trust him. I honestly didn’t remember it either way, but was just (I thought) agreeing with her that even then, he was untrustworthy. She took this as me invalidating her, not giving her credit for having good ideas, and two hours of being yelled at later and having the Ledger of My Past Mistakes read at me, I was left wondering what the hell had just happened. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if, on my deathbed in the future, she’s still bringing up things from yesterdecade that I did — or didn’t — do to upset her.
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