Can a Past Relationship Affect Present Relationships?

Fears or feelings from your previous relationships can creep into your current relationship.
... Hemera Technologies/ Images

Perhaps you have an ex that you had thought was a perfect match, yet due to unforeseen circumstances, the relationship didn't work. You had opened yourself up, allowed yourself to be vulnerable and your heart was broken. The pain of the experience may have left you with a reluctance to fully open yourself up to love again. An awareness of your past, how you feel about it and why you feel the way you do provides an opportunity to make peace with your past and move forward without dragging emotional baggage into your current relationship, says Les Parrott and Neil Clark, cited in the article, "Losing Your Emotional Baggage" on the website.

1 Past Feelings Can Resurface

The past can be brought to the present when you have a current need or desire and are experiencing a feeling similar to what you have felt in the past, says Faith Deeter, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of "6 Ways to Overcome Your Painful Past" on the PsychCentral website. For instance, you may have felt unloved in a past relationship and are again experiencing that same feeling. You may bring up the time your ex failed to invite you out with his friends, which made you feel unloved. While this situation has nothing to do with your current situation, you are acting on the feeling of having been unloved. Though you are bringing up something from your past, you are trying to tell your partner what you currently need, says Deeter. This current need is to feel loved. Unfortunately, needs aren't always communicated in a productive manner. For example, a need to feel loved may come across as an accusation that your partner doesn't spend enough time with you. If you are having a difficult time letting go of the past, think about and then identify your current need, suggests Deeter.

2 Emotional Reactions Can Be From the Past

Be aware of your emotional reactions and how they can be a response from unresolved past issues. If you get upset about something your partner says, the hurt could be coming from a past memory or feeling that was triggered from what he said, says Deborah Ward, author of "Respond to the Present, Not to the Past" on the Psychology Today website. For example, if your partner mentions that he finds another person attractive, you might overreact to his statement if a previous partner cheated on you. You may take a completely innocent comment and interpret it as a threatening statement. Learning to recognize your triggers is key to controlling your reactions. Recognition can be accomplished through awareness of your feelings and your body's response, says Ward. Your heart might beat rapidly, your hands might shake, you might sweat or you might tear up. These bodily responses indicate a feeling of fear and that you might once again be hurt, says Ward. It's important that you respond in the present and not let your past dictate your response.

3 Not Separating the Past From the Present

Past bad relationships can be a means to learn and grow, but they can also cause problems in your current relationship, if the issues weren't resolved. For instance, a state of depression can negatively affect your current relationship, causing you to withdraw from your partner. When you are depressed, maintaining a connection may not be a priority since you may be consumed with feelings of sadness and hopelessness. However, it is important that you don't carry issues from your past relationship into your current relationship. You may find yourself acting possessively or creating issues in your present relationship that aren't real, says Shannon Kolakowski, a psychologist and author of "The Hidden Issue That Could Affect Your Relationship" on the Huffington Post website. For instance, if your previous significant other betrayed your trust, you may carry trust issues into your current relationship that aren't warranted. It's important to be able to separate your past hurts from your present relationship by focusing on the present, says Kolakowski.

4 Seeking Professional Help

If you are currently in a relationship that is plagued by issues from your past, it's important to resolve those past issues. It can be beneficial to talk through your past with a licensed therapist or psychologist. They can help you find the root of your underlying issues and work through them. Don't let your past rob you of your current happiness.

Stacey Elkins is a writer based in Chicago. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and a Masters in social work from the University of Illinois in Chicago, where she specialized in mental health.