Why Do We Keep Having the Same Bad Relationship with Different People?

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And Why Is It So Hard to Break Up With Them?

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In my experience, February is a big breakup month. Maybe it’s just that you were trying to get through the holidays without thinking too much about what’s not working in their relationship. Maybe you didn’t want to be alone on Valentine’s Day. Maybe you broke up at the beginning of February because you or your partner didn’t want to face the expectations of another Valentine’s Day. Maybe you broke up because after dashed hopes of getting a proposal on Christmas, on New Year’s, and again on Valentine’s Day, you’d finally just had enough of waiting.

If you just broke up, it might take a month or so before you’ve stopped stalking them on Insta, and watching all your favorite sad movies on Netflix. Once you come back up for air, then you are probably ready to re-evaluate your relationship, so that you don’t make the same mistakes all over again.

When you start to examine your last relationship, you may be distressed to realize that you had the same toxic dynamic that you have had in all your previous relationships. This is no surprise—trust me, it’s what we all do. Until you do the hard work to figure out what went wrong and what you can do to change things the next time, you are bound to repeat the same relationship patterns over and over again. Correcting this dynamic is easier said than done!

Why Do We Date the Wrong Person?

1.  We date “the wrong person” because we have unresolved issues from our past.

 If you have issues from the past—abandonment, never feeling good enough, feeling invisible, being blamed for everything, etc.—and you haven’t done some serious digging then you are bound to repeat patterns that reflect these issues. I’m a therapist, so naturally I am going to tell you that the best way to address these issues is therapy. I can tell you that I have worked with many, many people who find peace of mind and new, better relationships after doing this valuable work.

2.  We date “the wrong person” because we are ever hopeful, and we don’t really pay attention to the negative signs.

It’s biology, actually. Our brains are programmed to fill in the information we don’t have. But our brains make educated guesses based on what we see, right? Not really. The problem is our brains can get hijacked by our emotions, and hope and desire are pretty powerful. We truly hope we’ve finally met “The One”—God knows we don’t want to have to spend one more second on Bumble or Zoosk. So here’s what your brain does:

Your brain makes up what you don’t yet know yet about someone, and it makes up all good stuff.

If they’re gainfully employed, and they don’t yell at the waitress or spit when they talk, you go home after the first date and start naming the children. Okay, it’s an exaggeration, but you know what I mean. In fact this is such a common tendency, that a short story in The New Yorker, “Cat People”, written about this very topic, went viral as soon as it was published.

But here’s how our brain really sabotages us when we’re dating:

When we get information that contradicts our wonderful image of who they are/should be, we minimize and rationalize it.

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“He just cancelled our date (again) because he works so hard. It makes sense that he’s had to cancel so many times given the demands of his job. And he’s always very sorry and apologizes profusely.” Or, “She only threw a fit when I didn’t call her last night because she was lonely. I should have texted her at least. It’s not her fault I work hard and only can see her twice a week; it makes sense that she’d be really upset all those times.”

These situations aren’t deal-breakers, but they are definitely red flags, and we should watch carefully to see if they are established patterns of behavior, or one-off’s. If somebody is repeatedly cancelling plans with you, they may not be ready for the demands of a serious relationship. If someone regularly has a fit when you aren’t available, then they may not have done the hard work of learning how to manage their own anxiety, and instead expect you to manage it for them by responding to them whenever they are anxious. Unsurprisingly, people with these exact characteristics tend to find each other, and many of the individuals and couples I see have relationships that follow this pattern.

What else do we do in order to keep dating the wrong person?

Yup, as you can see in the above examples, not only do we tend to minimize the red flags, we make their bad behavior our fault. This certainly doesn’t help our self-esteem, either. If we continue to ignore these red flags, and continue to make the bad behavior our own fault, we can get caught up in a toxic relationship cycle of trying to “be good enough” that the other person won’t treat us this way any more.

Here’s why these kinds of toxic relationships are compelling.

We try harder and harder, and feel lousier and lousier about ourselves. Eventually we are in such a slump that we don’t have remotely enough energy to break up, and we are stuck in the dysfunctional relationship dynamic. If the other person breaks up with us, we feel awful—we clearly weren’t good enough for them.

if this is the way you feel after a breakup, please get some professional help from a therapist or a relationship coach. You don’t need to feel this way!!!

 If you just went through a breakup, you are undoubtedly mourning the loss of your partner, even if the relationship wasn’t a good one.

This will confuse your friends and family. “But she was awful to you”, your friends protest. “We never liked him anyway; he was such a loser”, your family tells you. They are amazed that you are so sad. Even if you don’t feel terrible about yourself after a breakup, you are going to be deeply sad about the end of your relationship, even if the relationship was terrible.

Why am I so sad after the end of a terrible relationship?

You are not alone. Everyone is sad after the end of a relationship. You think you miss your partner. Your ex is prominently featured in all those dreams you had of what your future would look like. But here’s the real truth:

Your relationship is over, but your dreams can still live on.

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The trick is to keep the dream, and change the face in the movie in your head. It’s just that simple, but it’s far from easy.

One thing you can do that will help move you along this path is a simple, but detailed visualization.

Set aside about 5-10 minutes every day (if you want it to really help, consistency is key!) when you practice visualizing your brilliant future. Where do you live? What are you doing? Do you have pets? Kids? Is your family nearby? Imagine this future in as much detail as you can. Try to experience the emotion you would actually feel in the moment. Immerse yourself in this world and delight in it. Imagine how satisfying your work is, how happy you are to come back to your darling home at the end of the day. Imagine the smell of your favorite food on the stovetop, or the fire crackling in the fireplace, or the waves crashing on the beach. Imagine the sights, the sounds, the feelings. Create this world and immerse yourself in it.

The more you practice this visualization, the more you will realize that you can have the future you want without your ex. If you are feeling particularly lonely, you can stop and do this visualization to remind yourself that though every minute is not wonderful, you do have an excellent future ahead of you.

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Could You Use Some Extra Support?

Recovering from a breakup is not easy, and it will generally take you longer to get over it than it will take your friends and family to be sick of hearing about it! A relationship therapist or coach can walk with you through this process and help make it real if you are struggling to do it on your own.

Please give me a call at 323-999-1537 or send me an email at amy@thrivetherapyla.com to set up your FREE phone or in-office consultation where we will talk about your specific situation and how therapy can help. You can move past this breakup and have the brilliant life you deserve!