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The Art of Revisiting Past Conversations

You had a painful exchange with your partner.  It happened fast and you both moved on to the next thing.  You told yourself to just let it go, but it keeps on hurting.  You find yourself rehearsing imaginary conversations about what you might have said in the moment.  You want to revisit it, but you're afraid to hear things like:  "You're too sensitive.", "Oh my God, can't you let anything go?!", "Now what?!", "I let go of that, why can't you?", "Have you been holding onto that all this time?"  While you dread hearing something like this, you also don't want to abandon your own needs and build up resentment.  What can you do?

Perhaps the most important part of revisiting past conversations is setting up a safe space.  This means having a standing agreement with your partner that revisiting past conversations is something you both agree to do without comments like those quoted above.  Even if your partner tends to let go of things quickly or simply doesn't remember interactions, you can ask for space for your style of processing.  Here are some elements you might include in that agreement:

At a time when there is not a conversation to revisit, let your partner know that sometimes you process slowly and don't have a response to something in the moment, but might have one days later.  This is just the way you work and you are not intentionally holding something back.

Share your values around honesty and caring and that coming back to a conversation is one way to express these values.  Reassure your partner that revisiting a past conversation isn't about criticizing or finding fault, it's about wanting to connect.  

Agree that you will ask your partner if it is a good time to check in on a past conversation rather than suddenly launching into it.

Once you are actually revisiting a past conversation there's a few things that will help you get the resolution and connection you're looking for.

When you bring up a past conversation, it can seem like the rug is being pulled out from under for your partner.  S/he thought everything was going well, but all along you've been holding anger and hurt, or so they think.  You can help to prevent this perception by letting your partner know how much space in your consciousness this has taken.  For example, you might say, "There's something that's been hanging around in the back of my mind that I'd like to clear up."  or "There's something that I thought wasn't a big deal, but then it keeps showing up like a sticker in caught in my sweater."

Give your partner the benefit of the doubt.  Your ability to stay connected to your partner's goodness brings a sense of grace and generosity to your interaction.  If you are not able to do this, spend more time in self-empathy or empathy from another.

Bring your own clearly articulated feelings and needs and curiosity about what was going on for your partner in that past conversation.

Arguing about each other's memory of the past conversation will NOT validate your experience or meet anyone's needs.  Even you are revisiting a past conversation, you can only create connection in the present moment.  This might sound obvious, but arguments about what happened come from the idea that if you perfectly recreate the past you can recreate a new past and thus feel better because now your feelings and needs are valid.  It's not true.  Your feelings and needs are valid.  Whether you misperceived something or not, your experience is valid.

Lastly, end the conversation with clear and specific do-able requests about what each of you might do differently in a future similar situation.  

This might seem like a lot and you might think, I shouldn't have work so hard just to be heard in my relationship.  Perhaps you are longing for ease, fun, and harmony.  Only you can decide how much of your energy you want to devote to given relationship.  At the same time, if your partner is willing to cultivate this consciousness and skills with you now, the fruits will be a deep sense of collaboration.  These conversations will just keep getting easier.


Take a moment now to reflect on the agreements you and your partner have about how you will approach hot topics.  Do you have implicit or explicit agreements?  How do you make it safe for each other to revisit past hurts or any sensitive issue?

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1 Response

  1. Oct 16, 2015
    Joan Hanna

    Thank you for your generosity LaShelle.
    Having just had a melt down connecting past childhood abuse and a comment my partner of 50years made.
    I had to do some pretty hard and insightful work on myself to get grounded. In reading your words here
    I felt encouraged about some new tools in my box to
    not run away or push away in conversation.
    I will print this out, one copy for him and myself...
    for a future reminder.
    you do great work.

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