Does Your Partner Live In The Past, Present or Future?
Just because something is important to you at a particular time, don’t assume it’s also important to your partner at that very moment. We’ve all been shaped by our experiences, and while it can seem that two people diving into a new relationship are in the same place, sometimes that can differ greatly based on circumstances. That’s why as you build a life together, knowing your partner’s natural frame of mind around how they view time and planning will be a valuable key to avoiding potentially frustrating conversations down the road.
For example: Let’s say you read a great online article about how vacation homes are all the rage, and you think how lovely it would be to buy one since you’ve been dreaming of living by the water since you were a kid. Knowing you aren’t married (or even own your own home yet), it would be unreasonable to think that you could buy a vacation home now, so you turn to your partner sitting beside you on the couch and say, “How do you feel about buying a vacation home in 10 years?” He’s caught off guard by the question, because 30 seconds earlier he was trying to figure out how to pay off his student loans and get out of debt. Seeing your enthusiasm, he tries to engage...but with the distraction of his current predicament, he responds with a less than committal, “Sure, Babe: That sounds nice. Maybe down the road.” Since you were unaware of where his brain was centered, you sense his frustration and take it as a sign that he doesn’t want to discuss it further, so you disappointingly mentally file the topic under “D” for don’t bring this up again.
Situations like that play out with couples every day. And since timing conversations is key, a major relationship-hack is knowing where your partner spends most of their mental energy: in the past, present or future. Because if you two don’t live in the same temporal plane by default, you’ll need to find a way to dabble in your partner’s space—and help them explore yours—so you can align on your path forward.
In our experience, there are three different types of headspace thinkers. Does one of them sound like you? Your partner? Do you have a few traits of all three? Read on….
Some people are consumed by their own personal “story”: they allow themselves to be defined by their past, and in some cases, they may have a hard time moving forward. Sometimes it’s because of something positive—maybe they enjoyed early successes in their childhood that defined their sense of value and purpose (i.e., sport achievements, musical prowess, etc.). and sometimes, they're downright scaredto move past their history—even if it was painful—because they don’t know who they’d be if not for the scars the wear like medals…which may be a collection of unresolved hurts that could resurface as you explore your future.
What we’ve learned through our personal experiences (and in therapy, too), is that if someone spends a lot of time and energy on the past, they're potentially holding on to something unresolved—positive or negative—and are attached to the story of how they got to this spot in life. If you see your partner in this description, it’s possible that their personal experience has defined them, and contributes in a large way to their sense of who they are and their value in this world.
Does your partner spend most of their time living in the moment? They likely feel most comfortable and productive focusing on current efforts and goals. Sure, their past has influenced them; but they don’t dwell on it, and are distracted (maybe even annoyed) by having to dig up history. There's no time like the present for this group…which may also mean they’re so content with where they are, they're unwilling to break out of their routines and safety zone. Maybe it’s that they want to accomplish something big (or maybe they're in “survival mode” after some major life upheavals…overwhelmed, and just trying to get through the day). Regardless, “Today-ists” often seek quick satisfaction from their actions and are selective in how they spend their energy. They may lack creativity, and seek comfort over possibility. Thinking too far ahead scares them...so they turn their attention on being fully alive and available in their current state.
Visionaries tend to be motivated by self-improvement and the promise of something different than their current state. These people are fixated on being the best version of themselves, and they prioritize happiness later over happiness now. Think of them like point guards or chess players...always looking a few moves ahead, and just this side of impatient with having to compromise their pursuits. Folks who are future-centric are passionate and can be somewhat impulsive, because they are unrestricted by the notion of having to pay their dues now to achieve success later. This is a mind-over-matter group, filled with folks with little patience for spending unnecessary time and energy on old news.
As you can see, knowing where your Love spends their mental state can be hugely helpful in approaching decisions about your future…and by being aware of their capacity to operate from different relationship time zones, you give yourself an advantage when you ask them to talk with you about topics that are not their tendency. The last thing you want is to enter into a conversation about the future when your partner is stuck dwelling on the past…and bringing up lingering issues or topics with a future-looker will bring frustration and dismissiveness.
Here are three things you can do and say to help mentally prepare your “dweller” or “today-ist” partner to time-warp forward and talk about your tender topic on a timeline that suits your needs. (And if the shoe’s on the other foot and you need to better learn how to be present for your Love, try these tips on for size yourself….)
Start with conditioning your partner to be open to discussing a topic that is important to you by thoughtfully giving them a heads-up that you’d like to talk about something in particular…and, give them an idea of what you're interested in so they aren’t worried about what to expect. (Need a hashtag to remember this one? How about #blindsidingisbad.)
Next: Ask them when would be a good time for them to engage in the conversation. Doing this acknowledges that you're trying to give them the space they need to prepare for what will hopefully be a productive (and maybe even fun!) conversation. You’re not losing any of your power by giving them some control over the convo’s “when.” Think of it like insurance that the talk is going to take place during the best possible time.
Once you’re finally talking, be exceptionally open and honest about your topic, and give your partner time during the conversation to listen, to respond, and to possibly mentally shift their opinions about what you have to say. Trust and safety here is key. You both have to feel like you’re being heard.
If you're getting impatient about your future and you're living with someone who is most comfortable in the present, don’t expect them to bring up day-dreamy plans. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to explore possibilities with you; it just means it isn’t their natural tendency. Try not to harbor resentment about it. Instead, recognize it, and work together to find a way to bring up topics that help your partner out of their comfort zone. Because out of our comfort zones is where the magic happens.