Are you continually disappointed in your relationships? Are you in the middle of a breakup, or considering divorce? Have you never had a romantic relationship that deeply fulfilled you?
It may be time for a relationship audit.
We tend to repeat the mistakes of our past relationships until we can actually identify the issues we're repeating. Only by knowing your history can you develop the awareness necessary to change dysfunctional dynamics at the moments they occur. Without this awareness, too many of us are essentially looking for love aimlessly, with no compass or means to get grounded in a healthy way.
What is a relationship audit?
Patterns in love tend to repeat. Until you are fully aware of what you are repeating, you will never have control over who you let into your intimate world.
Conducting a relationship audit means identifying these patterns—beginning with the first relationships you had with your caregivers in childhood. Reflecting upon your past and current relationships—romantic, friendship and familial—and writing down patterns you notice will help you to build awareness for the self-defeating tendencies you reenact when it comes to love. If you work at it, you will notice similar personality traits in your friends/ romantic partners, some may be healthy traits others may not.
How to Do a Relationship Audit
Take an inventory of your relationship history and identify the ways you may cast romantic partners in certain roles based on how you were treated by caregivers, siblings, or friends while growing up Reflect on the ways in which your needs were attended, or went unattended, in childhood—and consider how you may have picked partners who treated you similarly.
Then ask yourself if your parents or caregivers exhibit traits that are similar to those that attract you to your partners. Are you playing a role with partners similar to the one you played as a child with your parents? Or, alternatively, have you adopted the role of one of your parents in relationships, or even that of a previous partner?
The most important goal of a relationship audit is to identify patterns in terms of what you are drawn to in your romantic relationships and friendships; acknowledge what is healthy and what is unhealthy; and see if there is a link to how your caregivers treated you as a child.
Other questions to consider in your audit:
- What is my “type”? Who I am attracted to? On first blush, you may think all of your partners or friends are very different from one another, but typically there are personality traits that overlap and to which we are drawn.
- Does any of your childhood history get reenacted in your romantic or friendship relationships? Did you feel you could rely on your caretakers for most of what you needed, or just some? Were you overly gratified or emotionally neglected?
- Are the romantic partners you choose similar to your mother or your father in healthy ways or unhealthy ways?
- Are your relationships overly dependent, in which you need your partner people to be around all of the time? Or do you tend to be in relationships without closeness or intimate communication?
- Do you get so absorbed by your partners' needs that there is no "you" separate from them?
Why Is an Audit Important?
So-called "mirror" neurons in the brain teach us how to love and cause us to imitate how we saw love between our family members and how we received love. In most cases, this is not bad. There is usually good love mixed in with the problematic parts. What is important is to notice what might be self-defeating and work to change it in your adult life.
Love patterns repeat—and this repetition is almost always driven by a hope to gain mastery over a dysfunctional dynamic. Unfortunately, it rarely works out this way—many who continually pick the same partners begin to feel hopeless about finding true love. People continue to suffer with poor relationships until they become fully aware of how they replay a self-defeating script in their adult lives.
Self-awareness is the key to unlocking the pattern and building a new, more fulfilling relationship dynamic. In my book Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy—Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships, I describe people I've worked with who have become aware of how they do not let men know their real selves—and how this contributes to having low emotional intimacy with their partners. They say, "He doesn’t really care about me” but they do not work to let him in and be known. Once they become aware of this, they realize the power they have in setting the relationship in the right direction—or, if the partner cannot rise to the challenge, recognizes she has to let him go.
Ask yourself the hard questions. Be honest about your role in past relationships, and how you may unintentionally bring your own unaddressed issues into them. With a therapist or on your own, work through these issues so that you no longer allow them to taint the water of every new relationship.
There is research to suggest that people are drawn to mates who have similar maturity levels, abilities to communicate, and capacity for emotional intimacy. Until you do the work to improve these domains for yourself, you are likely going to land in relationships with people who are similarly deficient. As you improve your communication and emotional intimacy skills, you will become more attractive to healthier and wiser partners.
Keep the discussion going: Click here to follow Jill on Facebook or here to follow Jill on Twitter @DrJillWeber. Jill P. Weber, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy—Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships.