‘Honestly Unable’ Asked:
Dear Dr. Zoe: I fell in love with someone as a very young girl. Truly in love. My mother interfered and separated us keeping me in the dark. I cannot seem to stop thinking of how it could have been especially because my marriage has been difficult and my husband distant and aloof. How do I stop thinking of what could have been? Please help me.
Dr. Zoe Answered:
I hear the pain, sadness, and loss in your voice. I’m grieved that you have gone so many years ruminating over this lost relationship.
We often glorify things from our past. That relationship in your mind is untouched by the reality of life. Your mother intervened, for good or bad. That relationship wouldn’t have been perfect (simply because none are) but you never got a chance to see that relationship from the lens of adult life.
You are in a difficult marriage now, imagining that you would have been happily married to your old love. I am saying this bluntly with the hopes that you will take a step towards healing in this area.
Life doesn’t work so well when we lie to ourselves. I’m pretty sure that there is no hope for a relationship with your long lost first love, so let’s deal with what you actually have. Do you want to work on this marriage or stay in a fantasy world? To be honest, I get it, fantasy worlds can be so much better than real life in the moment. My fantasy world is simply breathtakingly amazing and it sounds like yours is too!
Your marriage is not difficult because you lost your first love. Your marriage is not difficult because you only had one soul mate and you can’t be with him. Your marriage is difficult because you are so distracted by what could have been that you aren’t willing to take the hard, necessary steps to fix it.
If you live long enough, you will have some regrets. Everyone at some point has to make the choice—to live in the past or to live in the present. Your childhood love experience is gone. It’s okay to grieve it. In fact, I want you to grieve it because feeling your feelings is healthy. But just be clear that what you are grieving is the loss of a dream and fantasy. What you have in the present is real and has the possibility of being great because it’s never too late to fix it.
You will heal through offering forgiveness.
And by the way, it’s also time to consider forgiving your mom—not for her, but for you. Most parents do the best job they can, but in the process, we hurt our children because we are humans and that’s what humans do.
It’s easy to blame your mom. That relationship can forever be frozen in your mind as perfect and she destroyed that. I would be angry too. But the relationship will always be perfect because it never ran its course as it was likely to do—as your marriage has.
Very few women end up happily ever after with their first love. Honestly, your mom may have made the right choice in getting you away from this relationship. You said you were a very young girl. She interfered because you were a child and that’s her job as a mom.
There may have been things she was able to see as an adult that you were not able to see as a child. Maybe she didn’t make the right choice and her interference kept you from growing through the experience of your first love. Either way, she hurt you. And you heal yourself by forgiving her.
So, how do you stop thinking about what could have been?
You focus on what is. You apply your energy towards what you can control. Focusing your energy on other things when your life is falling apart around you is a wonderful distraction, but it is not productive.
Everyone at some point has to make the choice—to live in the past or to live in the present.
You can practice through stopping behaviors by making a list of things you can do in the present to improve your marriage. Put them in your phone. Here are a few ideas:
1. Confront your husband about your dissatisfaction in your marriage. It’s scary, but you will never have change until you address the problem.
2. Tell him what you need.
3. Ask him what he needs.
4. Look up tools to increase healthy communication in your marriage.
5. Schedule a session with a couples therapist.
6. Set up regular date nights.
Every time you start to think about your long lost love, tell yourself, “Stop!” Then, look up the list in your phone and do one thing on that list towards improving your marriage.
And just so you know, we all have thoughts about the long lost loves and the paths we didn’t choose. It’s healthy and normal to wonder and even venture off into a fantasy or two. You just can’t live there because there’s so much life to be lived here and now in the real world.
No judgment here, just encouragement. You can have a beautiful, vibrant life full of joy and contentment, even with a boatload of regrets. I do. You just need to create it. You’ve got this! It just takes a little grit and grace!
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