I have traveled to India several times. One thing that always amazes me is the traffic and the way people drive there. A given four-lane road may contain seven actual lanes, consisting of cars, trucks, scooters, pedestrians and cows. Despite the seeming chaos, it seems to work for the locals. In one car I was riding in I noticed there was no rear view mirror. I asked the driver about that and will never forget his response. “I don’t care about what is behind me, only what lies ahead”. In his mind if all the drivers behind him had the same attitude he would be perfectly safe.
One thing that I have come to notice in working with couples in marital distress – they are all focused on the past. They are quick to point out the flaws and the misdeeds of their spouse. Give them sufficient time and they will provide a list of infractions going back for years. I call this “Living in the Rear View Mirror”. Couples in this state have a hard time seeing where they are at the moment; they certainly aren’t able to look ahead. When you encourage a couple like this to consider what could lie ahead of them, they are often unable to do so without looking to the past. For them, the road ahead looks exactly like the road behind them, but in their minds it will only be worse.
Couples in healthy (dare I say, Shocking) marriages remember the past, but they don’t live there. They have an understanding that while they may have been through some rough patches in their relationship, that is strictly behind them. While they make an effort to learn from such seasons, they don’t assume that they are doomed to live in them forever. They have a strong sense of moving forward. Their destination is up to them and they work diligently to make sure they continue to head in the direction they’ve chosen.
Couples focused on the rear view mirror are score keepers. Individuals in these relationships will typically tell you (sometimes in agonizing detail) how they are behind in the sick game they are playing. Their spouses have treated them far worse than what they have done in return. So consciously or not, they feel the need to even the score by lashing out with demeaning words or unkind actions. The self-implied rules they live by prevent them from moving forward in any meaningful way.
The reality is, you can’t change the past, you can only learn from it. Regardless of who did what to who and how many times, it’s time to stop the game without declaring a winner. It’s time to throw that game in the garbage, so that it can never be picked up and played again. It’s time to declare a new, intentional future. Draw a line in the sand distinguishing your old way of living from your new. Create a few positive, proactive rules to keep you on track. Jointly decide where it is you want to go and begin planning your route to get there.
For those of you that prefer literal directions over analogies – ask yourselves, “Where do we want to be (relationally) in the future?” Pick a time period, one month, six months or one year. Define what you want to look and act like at that time. Then determine the steps you need to make in the near term in order to achieve that goal.
If you are in a marriage that is living in your rear view mirror, I would encourage you to do like that Indian driver and tear it out. Focus on the road ahead and work to get to a better place.