Sorry To Say, But Romanticizing A Past Relationship Can Stop You From Moving Forward

At some point, we all yearn for the past. Sometimes we even think back on past relationships that we are well aware ended for solid reasons, and even though we can logically explain to ourselves why we don't want to return to those relationships, it's still human nature to slip back into reminiscing about the past through rose-colored glasses and miss past relationships. Fortunately, significant research has been conducted on this rosy effect that can hold us back as well as techniques to move forward.

The definition of looking through rose-colored glasses, also called rose-shaded or rose-tinted glasses, is to have an idealized view of a person, situation, or experience wherein you tune out the negative aspects and instead view the entity solely through the lens of the positive elements, ultimately creating an unrealistic depiction in your mind. Again, it's normal to experience the rose-colored glasses effect from time to time, but when you get sucked into the rose-tinted spiral of reminiscing about the past by focusing only on the good attributes of a previous relationship, things can quickly become less rosy by holding you back from what's in front of you in the here and now. It's time to take off the rose-colored glasses and be present in the moment with your gaze to the future. Here's how to remove those roseate shades peering into your past relationship and put them away for good so you can move forward.

Understanding the fading affect bias

When we look back through rose-colored glasses, it might be bewildering why we're reminiscing about a past relationship, especially if that relationship has been over for a while or if it wasn't a healthy relationship. The answer lies within the fading affect bias (FAB), which is far less fabulous than its potentially misleading acronym. Having been studied for decades by cognitive psychologists, the fading affect bias is the psychological phenomenon of forgetting negative memories more quickly than we tend to forget positive memories of a person or experience, per a 2009 study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology. Researchers have spent extensive time examining the way humans process the past, finding that our observations of any point in time, particularly the past and future, are fueled by emotions.

While many people may think about the future with apprehension, fear, or anxiety, it's more likely that people will look back on the past with favorable emotions because our memories hang on to positive thoughts longer than they keep negative memories stored. When our hearts are on the line, it can be easier to romanticize past relationships to prevent exposing our vulnerabilities. While this is in some way a protective measure that our brains provide to keep us safe from becoming consumed with negativity, it can have a reverse effect when we reminisce fondly on past relationships that keep us from moving forward and finding new, more fulfilling ones. 

Our brains tend to tell us fairy tales

Building upon the fading affect bias, a.k.a. the not-so-fab FAB process in which our brains remind us of only positive memories from past experiences, another way we subconsciously keep ourselves in the past is through the emotional comfort we can derive from thinking back on former flames favorably. Known as emotional numbing, euphoric recall, and rosy retrospection, when we fantasize about past relationships through rose-colored glasses, we can romanticize prior experiences that would otherwise be painful and difficult to reflect upon.

Again, looking back on past relationships through rose-tinted shades is a way our brains protect us from painful memories. Though we can thank our brains for their efforts, changing storylines about the past by rewriting them using only positive narratives can prevent us from moving forward with our lives since it's easy to get swept up in a fairy tale, which is exactly what our brains give us through the mutual FAB and rosy retrospection processes.

To escape this roseate cycle, conscious awareness and intentional efforts towards shifting your focus to the future can take those misleading rose-tinted glasses off for good and proffer the strength to identify the past for what it is, even if those memories are painful to reflect upon. It can also help to journal during this process by writing down what is actually true and which parts are fictional stories your brain is trying to tell.

Moving forward means facing reality

No matter the past memories your brain has turned into fairy tales, whether regarding romantic relationships, professional experiences, family life, or any other situation your mind replays through rose-tinted shades, holding onto the fictional tale can keep you frozen in time. Moving forward takes intentional effort to bring yourself back to the present and propel you into the future. Mindfulness practices are effective ways to become attuned to the present moment, but don't force yourself into a new narrative without processing your emotions fully. It's important to acknowledge your feelings about your past relationship, particularly if you're able to identify the emotions you may be avoiding by rewriting history through a rosy lens.

Once you're in a new relationship, if you find yourself reminiscing about the past, idealizing your past relationship over your current one, this could be for many reasons. Some common reasons people retreat into idealizing their past relationships are that they're feeling vulnerable in exposing themselves within their new relationship and trusting someone else after being hurt in the same past relationship being retold as a fictional tale. You may feel a sense of imposter syndrome in not feeling lovable or worthy of a new partner's affection, which is again where separating the myths from facts is imperative for tossing the rosy shades and thriving. The truth is that you're 100% worthy of a great future!