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  • Writer's pictureMaya Kollman

Should We Live in the Present and Not the Past?

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

As human beings we have the unique ability to remember the past, experience the present and anticipate the future.  This only becomes a problem when we get stuck in one of the tenses.  If we always live in the past, we are often overwhelmed by resentment and regret. If we only live in the present, we have no awareness of the consequences of our actions.  If we only live in the future, we will always be in a state of worry.  

In contrast, if we have the flexibiliity to move from one tense to another, we can get the benefits of each tense.  We can visit the past to discover things about our histories and to learn frorm our mistakes.  We can visit the present and be with what is happening right now which is all we really have.  We can visit the future to dream and vision.

Often couples live in different tenses.  Instead of learning from each other so they can benefit from each tense, they tend to fall into conflict because they are experiencing life so differently.

Let’s look at Susie and John to understand how being stuck in one tense causes conflict and how they have turned this around to learn from one another.

Ten years ago, John fell into a deep depression.  He was unable to work and couldn’t be present with his family.  Susie felt abandoned and alone.  Today, John through the help of therapy and trauma work is no longer depressed, but Susie because she is focused on the past is always waiting for the depression to come back and constantly seeing signs of it even though John is reassuring her he is not depressed.

John lives in the present. It is one of the ways he has managed his depression.  When ever he thinks of the past he is filled with regret and when he thinks of the future he worries.  Their conflict arises when Susie wants to talk about her pain of the past.  John resists and only wants to focus on what is happening now.  

The conflict seems never ending so they decide to go to an Imago therapist.  They begin to explore using the Intentional Imago Dialogue what this conflict is all about.  Through the dialogue they discovered that Susie’s childhood was filled with things that were unexpected.  There was episodic conflict between her parents and these conflicts would sometimes turn violent. She coped with this by always remembering what had happened to not be caught unaware.  John grew up in a family where the past was full of secrets and the it was dangerous to wish and hope because promises were often broken.  John’s adaptation was to live only in the present unaware of his impact or his history.

Through these discoveries John and Susie began to have compassion for each other’s histories and deeply understood why they each adapted the way they did.  Through the help of the Imago Therapist they were able to see each other as teachers.  John could learn to appreciate the past and the future, and Susie could join him in the present moment and learn to be more intimate. 

The therapist helped the couple come up with concretes ways they could learn from one another.  She provided them with exercises and dialogues that helped them explore all three tenses. 

For example, for the past she asked them to remember falling in love.  She also encouraged them to look at old photo albums and to talk about the pictures to grow a deeper understanding  of their histories both of their childhood and their marriage. 

For being in the present she offered them the stem of “as I am doing this what I am experiencing”.  She invited them when they were doing an activity to stop and notice what was happening inside them and to name it.  She also encouraged them to become more aware of their senses.  She devised an exercise where they each had an orange and peeled it together feeling the roughness of the skin.  Then they smelled the orange.  Then they began to eat it.  In each step they reported to each other their experience. 

For the future, she had them create a relationship vision.  She showed them the first 10 minutes of the movie UP and talked about how this couple was able to have an amazing relationship because of their dream.  The dream never came true but because they both thought about it, talked about it, envisioned it they created a rich and meaninful life.  Together they crafted a vision that included both what they wanted that existed currently and also what was not there yet.  They both made collages about this vision, sitting together and cutting out pictures.

After six months, they had become a team.  They both were able to be more flexible about where their mind went and if they found themselves stuck in the old way, they were able to use the dialogue to work through it.

So, since we have this amazing ability, the ability to live in all three tenses, it makes sense we should use all three so we can have a rich and full life and a growing connected relationship.

Looking to use dialogue to create a healthy relationship? Attend a Couples' Workshop

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