How to change unhealthy relationship patterns
Are you stuck in a cycle of unhelpful, self-sabotaging patterns in romantic relationships? Do you always fall for unavailable people and avoid those who are ready to commit? Do you end up in a push-pull dynamic? If so, I know how you feel. I also know there's hope.
Here are some of the unhealthy relationship patterns that I used to get stuck in:
I found emotionally unavailable men ridiculously attractive and I fell at the feet of commitment-phobes.
I couldn't bring myself to fancy people who were available, willing to commit, consistent and kind. They were dull in my book.
I pulled people to me and then, once they were close, I pushed them away.
I kept myself incredibly busy with my career and didn't make time or space for love.
I kept a flame burning for exes, despite there being no chance of the relationship ever working out.
I could go on, but let's leave it at that for now!
Can you relate, I wonder?
I imagine that some of you can because whenever I write or speak about this topic, I hear from women and men who have similar unhealthy patterns and are just as frustrated as I was. In fact, an article I wrote on this topic two years ago has consistently been my most read post on this site: Understanding the Push-Pull in Relationships.
And the latest Psychologies magazine (March) addresses the question of unhealthy and healthy attachments in relationships, so there's clearly an appetite for these topics. We want to understand more.
So if you're stuck in a cycle of dead-end and dysfunctional relationships, you're definitely not alone.
But how do we change?
Let me start by saying there is hope. I spent years feeling baffled about my relationship patterns. Everything else in my life seemed to be going pretty well - I had a great career, a wonderful social circle, and I was healthy and fit - but I just couldn't fathom the love bit.
Until I saw the light. Until I understood where I was going wrong. Until I got the right sort of help and support. And until I found the courage to change.
When I did, I fell in love with an emotionally available man. I committed to him. And I got married six months ago.
Unfortunately, I can't fit my entire solution into this single post, so I'm going to focus on three crucial steps: Awareness, Acceptance and Accountability.
I can't stress how important this is. Without awareness, we cannot change. Awareness doesn't come overnight. It takes time. But we can take steps to increase our awareness.
Firstly, we have to be open to seeing the truth. Some of us will have to extricate ourselves from denial. I was in denial about the truth about my relationship patterns for years - I kept blaming other people. It was always their fault. What was wrong with them? Until I realised that I was the common denominator in all my failed relationships. Ouch.
Next, and this will help with seeing the truth, we have to step inside. Look inside ourselves and our hearts. Spend time with ourselves, in silence, in meditation. Explore our feelings and our past histories through journaling, drawing, painting or collage.
To increase our awareness further, we can read books (you could try mine, which also comes with a further reading list at the end), watch webinars (I have three in my How to Fall in Love series), speak with friends, relatives, counsellors, coaches or therapists.
This is a big one too, and it covers lots of areas, starting, of course, with self-acceptance. We need to accept all of ourselves - our past choices, any mistakes we believe we've made, our patterns of behaviour, our looks, our bodies, our idiosyncrasies.
We also need to accept that we're going to make mistakes. I used to believe that I needed to sit cross-legged on a mountain top in Tibet for twelve months, meditating throughout the day, until I'd reached inner peace, balance, harmony and self-love. Only then could I go out there and look for a relationship.
But that wasn't realistic. I might have returned in a Zen state, but knowing myself, as soon as I came into contact with an attractive man, my hard-won harmony would go out of the window. I needed to learn by doing, by practising dating and relationships, not by removing myself from the world.
Crucially, though, I needed to create my healthy foundations first. If I tried to date too soon, when I was wobbly inside and lacking in confidence and self-belief, I'd end up in a mess. I'd get hurt or I'd hurt someone, or both.
And by choosing the wrong person, I'd confirm all the unhelpful core beliefs I'd been carrying around for years - that men will abandon me or hurt me; that love is to be avoided at all costs - meaning I'd never want to try again. So it is important to take time to feel as grounded as possible first, and to gather as much awareness as possible in order to give ourselves the best chance of success.
Once we feel more sure of ourselves and less shaky inside, we can head out to date.
We need support. When I look back at all the things I've achieved in recent years, from writing my book to falling in love and getting married, I haven't done any of it on my own, in isolation. Of course, I find it very tempting to isolate. It's comfortable. It feels "safe". But it doesn't help me to change my behaviour. All the good things I've achieved in my life have happened with the support of others.
So how can you get support? Where can you get support? How can you buddy up with someone who's on a similar personal development journey? Would you like to seek some professional support?
When you're tempted to go it alone, think back to some of the things you've accomplished in your life to date. Did you achieve those things in isolation, without support? Or did you have someone to be accountable to?
So three key questions for you to ponder:
- How can I increase my level of awareness about my relationship patterns?
- How can I increase my level of self-acceptance?
- What kind of support do I need in order to heal, grow and change, and where can I find that support?
If you can answer those three questions and keep taking baby steps in the direction of your dreams, you will transform your relationship patterns and achieve the desires of your heart.
I know this from experience.
One final thing: remember that the closer you get to your dreams, the louder your inner saboteur will shout. It will tell you to stay small and to stay safe. It'll tell you not to prioritise yourself and your dreams. This is inevitable.
But by knowing it will happen, we can be ready for it. We can tell our inner saboteur to take a hike and get on with investing in our future happiness.
***Free Resources, Courses & Upcoming Events***
* Watch my free How to Fall in Love Webinar series:
* How to Fall in Love - Laying the Foundations small group course for women with group coaching and 1:1 coaching. Starts today! Monday January 20th. A few spaces left. For £50 off, use the code Psychologiesgift at checkout or contact me at email@example.com if you'd like to join the course without the 1:1 or the group calls.
* How to Fall in Love Dorset retreat, Feb 28-March 2. Book by midnight on Monday January 20th for the earlybird rate (saving £50). Three spaces left. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to check availability.
* Download the first chapter of my book, How to Fall in Love, for free here.
* Join my free Facebook group Being Real, Becoming Whole for inspiration, hope, and life and love tools.