Hi, Carolyn: Many years ago, someone in my life caused me a lot of heartache. Then they moved away and I moved on fairly quickly.

Now they've come crawling back. It's only been a short time since they returned, but so far they are remorseful and it does seem they've changed for the better.

However, their return has opened old wounds. I haven't thought about these things for years and have even forgotten many details; now I'm having a hard time getting past them despite having been over them for a long time.

Things won’t work out with this person if I can’t let go of the past. So my question is, how much does the past matter as long as this person is treating me well now?

— Heartache

Heartache: I don’t know, because it’s not my past or relationship or heartache.

But you know — and your feelings are telling you it matters a lot.

What have you said to this person about your ability then, and inability now, to get over the details of what happened?

Seems to me that someone who has genuinely changed for the better will be patient and willing to do this slow walk through your feelings with you.

There are really two basic kinds of heartache: of misfortune and of intent. So, for example, a breakup when a couple grows apart is heartache of misfortune — because you just weren’t right for each other, oh well. A breakup when one of you knowingly betrays, humiliates, abuses or deceives the other is heartache of intent.

If this person broke your heart largely through misfortune, then even if the breakup itself was maybe messier than it needed to be, the forgiveness and recovery work is largely yours to do for yourself. If instead there was intent, then the work is largely theirs to have done, to become a better person — and your part of it is mostly just waiting to see whether you can believe what you’re seeing in them now.

If it’s the latter, then the best thing you can do is not rush it. That’s because moving on quickly after the object of pain relocates is fine, why not, the person is out of your life — but when the object of pain is right in front of you, then that’s a significant emotional risk because that person can hurt you again. So, you take it slowly to be sure any changes you’re witnessing prove to be real over time.

Re: Heartache: You can forgive someone for what they did in your past. That doesn’t mean you need to give them a chance to do it again.

— Forgiving

Forgiving: True. But you don’t need not to, either, depending on what went wrong and what you both learned from it.

Re: Heartache: Okay, but why bother starting a new relationship with this person? You were happy without them. So what new thing are they bringing into your life?

A hope of returning to a blissful relationship’s past doesn’t count, by the way, because you are both different people now and there’s no turning back the clock.

— Anonymous