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Bringing Up Past Arguments: The History Trap

The History Trap may not be a concept that you have heard of before. However, it is a typical pattern of arguing that couples can find themselves caught up in.

To find out more, we’ve had a chat with Remainly founder and leading expert in couples psychology Andreas Løes Narum who explains how the History Trap can negatively affect relationships and the contributing factors to why couples can find themselves in one.

The History Trap Explained

Andreas explains that the History Trap is the most common trap that couples fall into.

If you are wondering what the term History Trap means, it refers to when couples tenaciously argue and fight about their perception of truth. Both partners believe that their version of events is the objective truth, when, in fact, there is no objective truth but only a subjective perception of events from each individual.

Your perception of events will be different from your partner’s. You will hear your partner's words and make your own thoughts about what intentions lie behind.

Consequently there are frequent and large differences in what you think you heard and what your partner thinks she said.

Why Past Arguments Occur

Andreas explains that when it comes to bringing up past arguments, there are two main reasons for their occurrence.

Firstly, Andreas explains it may partly be a consequence of our reptile brain needing to know the ‘truth’ for our survival. The reptile brain focuses on identifying the truth of a situation to understand what to avoid to prevent death. It is part of the brain which is not used for survival in everyday life like it was for our ancestors, but it still exists when we feel threatened.

Andreas offers an example of why we need to know the truth from the evolutionary survival of our ancestors. If your grandmother had died from eating a poisonous mushroom, it would be vital to find out which one was the cause of death, to ensure that when you eat mushrooms, you eat the edible ones and survive.

The second reason as to why the History Trap occurs is from the feeling of offence when being questioned about our version of events. It can cause couples to feel provoked about their understanding of the experience, which, in turn, causes friction.

Action vs Perception

When we recount past events, it is easy to confuse what actually happened with how we remember the event or how we interrupted what was said.

Andreas describes it as if you lost your car keys and your partner questioned ‘where are the car keys?’ However, you may have heard ‘you are an idiot’. An argument would then ensue over the recollection of communication.

The fact that you feel that your partner thinks you’re an idiot may be the real issue in this scenario, whether that was actually said or not. Therefore, it is not the car keys that cause the argument, but in fact, how you think your partner sees you, whether there is definite evidence to back it up or not.

For more advice about arguments, take a look at our article on how to prevent arguments in a relationship.

A couple sat on the floor next to one another

Feelings Behind the History Trap

Despite the apparent surface level of the arguments which usually occur in the History Trap, such as who did what, the feelings behind the cause of the arguments tend to be much more profound and often require reassurance.

For example, Andreas explains that frustrations from other parts of the relationship can often increase the frequency of the History Trap, primarily when big issues with big questions have not been properly addressed, which results in many picky arguments.

The History Trap can occur when couples are not working as a team and become confused with the ‘constitutional’ threat to the relationship. One or both individuals may need reassurance from the relationship and need to hear the other one say ‘I am there for you and trust you. We are a couple, and we are dedicated to our coupledom’.

How to Get to the Underlying Issue of an Argument

So, how do you get to the real cause of the History Trap? Andreas explains that many of our responses in times of perceived danger are automatic and, again, can relate to our reptile brain.

For example, knowing to dodge out of the way of a snake is part of our brain’s automated response, to avoid a deadly bite even before we know that a snake is dangerous.

However, in social situations, this automated response requires slowing down. In a relationship that suffers from a continuous cycle of arguing, anything can trigger the argument. Andreas explains that the reaction is already there before your partner starts talking.

This may be a time to question if relationship counselling would be beneficial for the relationship as Andreas explains it is difficult to tackle an automatic pattern which fuels itself.

However, ensuring you can get as much air as possible is a good step in the right direction, to begin with, when trying to step back from the heat of the argument and avoid an automated response.

A couple holding hands

Combating the History Trap Together

The effect of the History Trap on a relationship is apparent to Andreas; the History Trap will eat you and devour you. To avoid being submerged by the toxicity of the History Trap, you first need to accept that when discussing past events or intentions in a couple, there is only subjective truth and objective truth isn’t an attainable goal. Once this has been acknowledged, you have to learn to let go of the web of history (the previous arguments) which contribute to the arguing.

Combating the History Trap is something that must be practised together. As a couple, you must learn the concept of the History Trap and acknowledge it as a contributing factor to the arguments you experience.

Next, you must learn how to signal to your partner that you are falling into the trap and take a few steps back and try to understand the more significant issue. Is the more prominent question, actually, 'are you there for me? Do you have doubts?' This is what needs addressing, not who cooked dinner last Tuesday, for example.

A couple sat in the countryside cuddling and drinking tea

Talking About the Past Positively

Is it ever healthy to discuss past arguments? Andreas answers, yes there definitely is a time and way to talk about previous arguments positively.

Andreas advises that you ideally need to discuss past arguments while having a good time. Andreas believes that working through the History Trap as a team requires couples to practise in good weather so you can get through it when the weather turns bad.

By being aware of what happens in the History Trap in advance, you can dissect why it happens and realise which things or topics you tend to argue about as a couple. By knowing beforehand, you may discover what to do to avoid ending up in the History Trap.

Andreas informs that couples need to expect to fail from time to time when working through the History Trap. Trust of one another is integral to the process.

Remainly is a video-based advice service led by Andreas, who has many years of experience in advising partners on a broad range of topics, including the History Trap. Our videos can be accessed from the comfort of your own home and in your own time. We divide our advice into pathways, each with a different goal that can help you to build your relationship for a happy and fulfilling life. Please contact us for more information on how we can help you.

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