When we’ve had what we might term “bad past experiences” and we realise that we’re in the beginnings of a much healthier, loving relationship, it’s not uncommon to feel as if we need to confess to our unavailable and shady relationships. Next thing, this sudden urge triggers anxiety and self-criticism. We fear that our new partner will judge us and decide that we are our past self [that made the “bad” decision], and then we beat ourselves up as we play out the judgement and inevitable breakup in our head. 

If you’re in a relatively new relationship and have anxiety about confessing to your relationship experiences, halt. 

You need to get clear on 1) why you have a burning urge to tell this person right now this minute and 2) why you think that this is material to your current relationship?

Much as you might be able to recall your shame about these relationships with ease, you’re not in those relationships anymore. You’re also not the same person.

Your anticipation of judgement and a possible breakup is also based on a very flawed premise: that your new partner is perfect. I can assure you, they aren’t, and nor do they need to be. 

In fact, believing that they’re perfect or that you are somehow “bad” because you don’t have a glowing relationship CV indicates that you don’t know this person enough yet and that you are putting them on a pedestal.

Likely, you’re also looking for something to prove to yourself that you’re not worthy of your happiness with this person. Perhaps you’re also trying to have a sort of ‘gotcha’ moment where you get to prove that they’re not so amazing or that you didn’t deserve them anyway.

I don’t know the ins and outs of your “bad past experiences”. I can tell you this: Whatever you’re referring to (e.g. involved with a married or attached person, being in a long-term booty call, experiencing mistreatment from a shady person) is an experience. You’ve labelled it not just as “bad” but as a marker that you are a “bad” person. 

Yes, these are relationship experiences that maybe you’re not proud of or that made you feel like sh*t about yourself. They are, however, just that—relationship experiences—not a measure of who you are as a person.

You got into those relationships based on the knowledge, awareness and self-esteem you had at that time. In fact, being in these relationships forced you to confront old pain, fear and guilt. You’ve had to start treating yourself with some love, care, trust and respect. Hopefully. 

Like me and many millions of people, you were involved in a difficult and painful relationship. You’re not proud of it, but who the hell would be, bar your garden-variety sociopath or narcissist? You made an error in judgement because you’re human and because of where you were at the time. You’re not supposed to continue suffering over your relationship past. You have to allow yourself to move forward with healthier boundaries rather than keep doing penance for it. People do smaller prison sentences for actual crimes than the time you’ve held this over you.

Also, lovely as this person is and may be, they have things they’re not proud of. Right now, because you’re wearing rose-tinted glasses to look at them on their pedestal, it’s hard for you to imagine that they’re a flawed human being just like you. And if they don’t think they are and want to have control over the narrative of your past or clobber you over the head about it, your problem won’t be that you had those past experiences; your problem will be that you’re with a controlling partner. 

Here’s the thing: Your current attitude reflects something beyond nervousness and embarrassment about what happened. It’s shame. Its presence is a sign that you need to deal with the residue of your past relationship so that you can be present in this relationship.

Have an honest conversation with yourself about this new relationship and your anxieties.

If you are happy in this relationship (and I’m not doubting that), what’s driving you to create this specific problem right now?

  • Is it that you’re so happy and things are going well that it’s made you nervous of losing this person? 
  • Or, have you noticed something about them that has registered as a sign of being judgemental?
  • Are you self-sabotaging? Or do you have reason to believe that they’re this terribly judgmental person with an unblemished past and a desire to control you?
  • Is it that you don’t trust your new part enough yet to feel that you can trust them with your personal life? If so, that’s OK. Be honest with yourself about that. It’s possible to be enjoying a new relationship and also not know them well enough yet. That takes time.

This person isn’t the arbiter of your worthiness. Your anxiety grants them the power to forgive your past when, actually, that’s down to you. What you need to work on is forgiving your younger self for being human. Make your peace with your mistake. It’s not something that should or needs to be lingering over you years later. So make your peace with it so that you can talk about it if and when you want to. When you have compassion for who you were and are genuinely allowing you to learn from those past experiences with healthier boundaries, even though you will, of course, sometimes have a level of anxiety about sharing these aspects of your past, you will also have the boundaries to disclose from a place of loving and respecting yourself, not shame. 

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.
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