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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Learning From Past Romantic Relationships

Looking back on past romantic relationships, do you see particular patterns that were consistent in these relationships?  It's easy to blame your former romantic partners for all the problems in those relationships or to blame it on bad luck.  What's more challenging is to see your own patterns in those relationships that you're continuing to perpetuate with each new relationship.  

Learning From Past Romantic Relationships

Looking at Your Own Recurring Patterns in Past Romantic Relationships
Not all relationships end because of recurring interpersonal patterns.  Many relationships end because  one of both people change in dissimilar ways and they no longer want the  same things.  People grow apart.  Sometimes, one or both people forget that relationships need to be nurtured and that neglect leads to the end of a relationship.

But when you can look back with a degree of objectivity, you might find that you, being the common denominator in all of your relationships, continue to engage in certain patterns that contribute to the demise of these relationships.  And, if this is the case, it's worthwhile for your own personal development, as well as the potential for having a successful relationship in the future, if that's what you want, to look at these patterns.

It's impossible to include all the possible recurring patterns.  The following fictionalized scenario demonstrates how learning from past romantic relationships can be beneficial to you.  As always, this  scenario is a composite of many different cases so that confidentiality is preserved.

Ann, who was in her late 30s, came to therapy after a recent breakup.  The man she had been seeing for two years had just ended their relationship, and Ann was heart broken.  This was the latest in a series of breakups over the years in which the man she was dating ended the relationship.

Learning From Past Romantic Relationships

Ann wanted, more than anything, to get married and have a family.  She was very aware of her "biological clock" and that it might be difficult for her to get pregnant, so she was hoping her most recent relationship would lead to marriage and children.  But, instead, just like her prior relationships, it ended in heart break and disappointment.

When she started therapy, she blamed the breakups on a combination of bad luck and poor judgment in choosing the wrong men.  These relationships all started well.  With each one, she saw the potential for long term happiness.  But, gradually, she and her romantic partners began arguing about how much time to spend together and their divergent expectations about the relationship.

What made matters worse is that, whenever Ann entered into a new relationship, she stopping talk to and seeing her friends, so that when she needed emotional support, they expressed resentment towards her that they hadn't heard from her in a while and were annoyed that she called them only when she was having problems.

Ann had a hard time seeing this because she was so immersed in whatever relationship she was in.  She thought her friends "should" be there for her, even if she'd made no effort to be in touch with them for months.

Related to her problem of disengaging from her friends, she expected that her current romantic partner would supply all her emotional, intellectual and physical needs.  Even when she had a lot in common with her current boyfriend, inevitably, there were some interests that she had that he didn't.

When her current boyfriend didn't want to take up one of her particular interests, she became annoyed  and disappointed.  This led to arguments and her expectations and the arguments led to her boyfriends telling her that they felt suffocated by her and that it wasn't reasonable for her to expect to have all of her needs met in the relationship.  But this was contrary to Ann's basic assumptions and expectations in a relationship.

It took a while for Ann to be willing to explore her basic assumptions and expectations of relationships because she held them very tightly.  She wanted her boyfriend to be her "everything" and couldn't understand why anyone who was her boyfriend wouldn't want this too.  She also couldn't understand why her boyfriends wanted to see their friends and go to sports events or other activities with them when she was very willing to take up these interests.  This also created a lot of friction in her relationships.

As we explored her history of relationships, there was no evidence to suggest that she had a string of bad luck or that these men had particular problems that contributed to the breakups.  The problem in all of these relationships was, primarily, that Ann wanted to create an exclusive dependency between her and her boyfriend, and she refused to see that this created recurring problems in her relationships.

Even if she found a boyfriend who wanted the same kind of intense dependency that excluded other people, having  such an insular relationship would have been emotionally unhealthy.  Often, sooner or later, people get bored and the individuals and the relationship becomes stagnant.  One person can't meet all your needs.

It took a while for Ann to be willing to look at herself rather than externalizing her problems in relationships.  Family history played a big part in her views.  Ann needed to learn how to be in a relationship and how to maintain and nurture her friendships.

Learning From Past Romantic Relationships

At that point, she was able to change her usual dynamics and she was a lot happier in a new long-term relationship and in her friendships.

Getting Help in Therapy:  When You're Open to Looking at Your Own Recurring Patterns in Relationships, You Have an Opportunity to Make Changes
As I mentioned previously, this is just one possible example of a recurring pattern that can cause relationships to end.

When you're able to be open and objective about the role that you play in current and prior relationships, you can change recurring dysfunctional patterns.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  

I work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many individuals and couples to overcome patterns that have created obstacles for them.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at 212 726-1006 or email me:

Also see my article:  Making Changes Within Yourself to Have the Life You Want

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