Wednesday, January 4, 2012

This Relationship Corner: A History of Bad Relationships

I'm a big believer that your first bad relationship should be considered a mulligan. It shouldn't be held against you, because we're all entitled to a relationship mistake. When we're starting out in life, we don't have a lot of direct experience that tells us whether this friend, girlfriend, boyfriend, is actually a horrible person who we need to keep the hell away from. Sometimes we don't even realize that we're in a bad relationship until we get out of it, or when we catch a glimpse of someone else's good relationship and see what we're missing. It can be an eye-opening experience and might make us more cautious or wary about future relationships.

That's why this first bad relationship shouldn't be held against us. We had no idea what was going on. However, when we have a second, third, or a long string of bad relationships, that's another matter entirely. Then, I hate to say it, we don't get off the hook so easily. We bear a lot of responsibility for these bad relationships for one simple reason: we are the common denominator in all our bad relationships.

Today, I'm going to address this history of bad relationships. We're going to explore what we need to understand about what's going on and how we can right the course of our relationship history.

The first thing we need to admit, if we've got a history of bad relationships, is that we bear much responsibility for our history. We chose to date and/or marry this person. We got into all of these relationships willingly, so that means that we are somehow, consciously or unconsciously, choosing bad partners for ourselves. If we refuse to accept any responsibility for our relationship history, we are doomed to repeat it.

I've seen this firsthand. Years ago I knew a guy who was incredibly angry and bitter about women. No matter what topic you'd bring up in a conversation, from coasters to why Die Hard is the best Christmas movie of all time, he'd turn the conversation to why women were evil. It didn't surprise me, then, that this man was fresh off his third divorce. It also didn't surprise me that he took no responsibility for anything he did. He blamed his three exes and refused to consider his own flaws, and that's the worst mistake anyone can make.

A bad relationship, as unfortunate as it is, can be very instructive for all future relationships. We learn to recognize the signs and red flags so that you can avoid making future mistakes. When we end a bad relationship, what we need to do first is take some time to figure out what went wrong. Dr. Phil, among others, calls this a "relationship autopsy." We figure out what killed the relationship, and finding cause of death may take some time.

The first thing we need to look at is what role your actions played in the relationship's death. This will require some honesty and introspection. We're going to have to confront our own inner demons and admit to our flaws. If our history is especially bad, we might need to seek help from a counselor or psychologist. A neutral third party will be able to see what we're blind to. We all have our blind spots, and if we can't see why we keep making the same bad choices, we're never going to change.

As we conduct our autopsy, we need to make certain that we don't continue to date. One of the worst things to do after a bad breakup is to jump right into a new relationship. If we keep leaping from person to person, we will continue to blindly repeat those same patterns. We will never give ourselves the chance to figure out what went wrong, and we will be doomed to repeat our mistakes. Taking time out is very important.

There's another reason we need to take time out. Part of the problem may not just be with our behavior and choices in relationships. It might be a problem within ourselves, and we are using relationships to ignore that problem, or falsely believing that being in a relationship will cure all our troubles. If we are unhappy and depressed when we're single, for example, being in a relationship won't magically fix us. A relationship won't cure our insecurities or fix any of our other deep issues. We take that baggage into our relationships and it will be a weight around our necks and pull us down.

If we have a string of terrible relationships, then, we'll need to take some time to figure ourselves out, because once we get ourselves on the right track, we'll be in better shape to enter into a better relationship. There's a saying that "water rises to its own level," and when applied to relationships, it means that we tend to gravitate towards people a lot like us. If we find ourselves being attracted to and dating a lot of screwed up people, chances are it's because we are just as screwed up. When we get yourself healthier, then we'll be better able to find healthier matches and actually find those healthy people attractive.

That's often part of the problem. When we are presented with the choice of a healthy, stable relationship and an unhealthy one, we might be choosing the most unhealthy person we can find. We might be drawn to the wrong type, and we need to figure out why that is. There's also the possibility that the wrong type is drawn to us and the right type is keeping their distance. Again, if that's the case, we need to take some time out and figure out what's going on with us.

We also need to look at any unhealthy patterns you keep repeating. Where did we meet our new boyfriend or girlfriend? If we keep meeting at bars, for example, then let's stop meeting people in bars. Change things up and look for different people. We might also want to change how we approach a relationship. Do we go full speed ahead the moment someone is interested? It's possible the other person is telling us that he/she is an unsuitable match, but we barrel on ahead and try to force every one of our relationships to work, even though it never works out like that.

Some of you might be thinking that I'm only talking to people who date psychotics, that it's not a bad relationship until they set your house on fire. Or that unless the other person is abusive, it isn't a bad relationship. (I'll talk about abusive relationships soon, as that's another animal entirely.) The truth is that no one has to be crazy or abusive for it to be a bad relationship, it could be that the two of us are simply so ill-suited for each other that it ends badly. My point is that only considering the other person's faults isn't going to snap this bad-relationship streak of ours. We need to look at ourselves, our patterns, our behaviors, and the choices we make that keep returning us to the same situation again and again.

This brings me to a fictional character who I find to be a perfect illustration: Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother. Ted is supposed to be the poster child for romance, as he's following his heart and will eventually meet the woman of his dreams. However, right now, he is the poster child for bad relationships and a guide for what not to do.

Over the course of the show, Ted is looking for "the one." While looking for a good long-term relationship can be healthy, Ted keeps sabotaging his own efforts. One of his big mistakes was to pursue a long-term relationship with Robin. He wants a wife and kids. She doesn't want to get married or have kids, and Ted knew this from the outset yet kept going. Of course their relationship ended, and while it wasn't necessarily a bad relationship, it was the part of a pattern of increasingly bad choices.

He began dating Stella, a single mother, and rushed into getting engaged after only a few months. By forcing them to go too fast, too soon, he guaranteed that they would end badly. (She left him at the altar.) He continued with a string of bad relationships, and as soon as he felt any kind of spark, he'd try to hurry them along rather than take time to determine if this woman was going to be a good match. None of them went well.

Ted's excuse for all these relationship mishaps is that he's just pursuing "the one," and that's what blinds him to his problems. He thinks that finding his match is simply a numbers game and that he needs to keep blindly dating every woman he can find because eventually his perfect match will turn up. In television and movies, this strategy tends to work. In reality, this sets you up for failure.

Ted believes that when he finds "the one," his soulmate, the perfect woman, all his relationship problems will be solved and they'll have a perfect relationship. As I've already established, this kind of thinking is dangerous because no relationship is perfect, and this makes people jump ship as soon as there's trouble, and that's what would most likly happen to Ted in the real world. He'd meet his perfect woman, and when the romance faded, they'd have regular relationship issues. Rather than deal with them, Ted would just break up with her and keep chasing "the one."

I realize that it's hard to look at a long string of bad relationships and realize that we are the common factor, but that's exactly what we must do if we wish to break the pattern. If we do the work and become someone healthy, someone who attracts other healthy people, it will be worth it. We can break free of our self-destructive habits, and the first step is to admit we have them.

No comments:

Post a Comment