Talking about the Past
Your partner is bringing the past. You sigh an exasasperated sigh and turn away. You know healing is needed but all you hear is blame. Unless you and your partner have learned new skills since the last time you tried to talk about it, you are likely to make things worse. It takes mindfulness and skill to bring up the past in a way that you can both benefit.
Mindfulness of reactivity is a good place to start. If you feel reactive as you begin, the chances of successfully addressing the past are pretty low. A non-reactive state may still include a lot of emotion. The difference is that you have the resource to stay connected to your intention to heal throughout the conservation.
When you choose to bring up a past event take time before hand for reflection. Use the basic elements of NVC to guide your reflection process.
Observation, feelings, needs & requests for you.
Identify what triggered you at the time and specifically what didn't meet your needs and the feelings associated with those needs. What actions would meet your needs in similar future situations?
Observation, feelings, needs & requests for the other
Make a guess at what feelings and needs might have been up for the other person when they behaved in a way that didn't meet your needs.
When you begin the conversation, it's important to express your purpose first. For example, "I would like to talk about our move last summer because I am wanting to understand what was going on for both of us – not to blame or judge. Would you be willing to talk and listen about how we got reactive and what feelings and needs were up for us?"
Your partner agrees and so you begin. You will be tempted to begin with all that happened according to your memory (including what you think your partner did or didn't do). If you begin here, blame, defensiveness, or argument about the details of "what really happened" will most likely result.
The paradigm shift is to care more about your heart experience than the details of the event. Beginning from your heart rather than the details might sound something like this:
"Thinking about the move, I feel sadness and pain because I was missing a sense of open communication, support, and partnership. I am trying to think exactly what the trigger for me was at the time. Hmm, a lot happened during that time, but I think one trigger for me was when I choosing a realtor and heard you say something like, "just do whatever you want". When I heard that, I made it mean that I was on my own and I just shut down around talking to you more. Would you be willing to tell me what you heard me say so far?"
Going slow and just saying a little at a time is key to creating a healing conversation about the past. When your partner reflects back what they heard, immediately thank them for being willing to try to hear you. Then fill in whatever was missing in the reflection. At this point you may not experience a deep sense of empathy. That's okay. It may take several rounds of hearing each other before a heartfelt sense of empathy can arise.
Share for no more than two minutes before you ask for a reflection. Ask for reflection only twice before switching to hear the other person. In this way you will both build confidence that you can be heard, little by little. If reactivity arises, immediately call a time out engage self empathy and whatever grounding practices you have. If you can't get grounded in that moment schedule another time to continue the dialogue.
Sometimes, for the dialogue to continue, you may need to seek empathy from someone outside of the relationship. As you attempt to heal the past continually ask yourself, "What other resources could we bring in to facilitate healing?"
Take a moment now to notice anything alive you in you now that needs healing attention. Name one resource you would like to bring in to help attend to that healing.