Are you guilty of bringing up the past during a heated debate? Do you remind your spouse of a mistake he/she made a decade ago? If so, it is unlikely to be helpful. If you continue to be angry about something that happened years ago, the middle of an argument about a completely unrelated subject is not a good time to bring it up.
Some people struggle to forgive for past indiscretions. Whether it was a major infraction like an affair, or a more minor one like forgetting your mother’s birthday, carrying around anger about the past is not healthy. This anger often tends to resurface whenever the person feels angry again. Perhaps you are arguing about what to do on Saturday night and your spouse says, “why should we do what you want? Clearly, you don’t make good decisions! Remember when….” Bringing up the past in this situation is likely to lead to an even larger disagreement.
Sometimes such tactics are used to divert the subject. If your spouse confronts you about why you didn’t follow through with calling the insurance company, responding with, “the same reason you didn’t follow through with buying me an anniversary present” is a ploy to remind your spouse of their problems. It doesn’t address the question of why you didn’t call the insurance company and does nothing to resolve the problem.
Sometimes bringing up the past is used to show your spouse that perhaps what you did is not so bad in comparison to what he/she has done. Saying things like “well at least I didn’t…” is also not likely to be helpful. It does not address your behavior, but instead tries to show that your behaviors are insignificant compared to what he/she has done to hurt you in the past.
The past can also be used to punish. Whenever someone feels hurt, depressed, lonely, or rejected, they may bring up past issues. Perhaps a spouse is planning a weekend away. His wife thinks she will be bored and lonely so she reminds him of his past to try and make him feel guilty and not go. Also it can be used to convince a spouse to let you spend more money, make the major decisions, and get your own way.
If you have difficulty letting go of the past, perhaps you aren’t able to forgive. It might mean accepting that you can’t trust your partner. If that is the case, then it’s important to ask if you want to live that way. If you want to try to move past something but don’t know how, consider therapy. It may be able to help you deal with your hurt in a productive way.