If you are one of the many relationship seekers who have been repeatedly disillusioned in the past, you may understandably be wary of future relationships. It is difficult for most people to keep believing in lasting love when they have experienced too many failures.
With so much advice available today, it would seem that most in the dating market would have been able to find the relationship they want. Yet many people have enthusiastically studied resources on how to find a quality, long-lasting relationship, and still have not been successful. They valiantly struggle to keep their negative pasts from influencing their hopes for the future.
Though it may be totally understandable for discouraged daters to become bitter or cynical, they realize that those attitudes can put off a potential new partner. They want to stay positive and open, but often can’t help facing the next relationship more cautiously. A negative expectation can feel more self-protective, like emotional armor to insulate against the next feared heartbreak.
Sadly, that same protection can become a prison.
When I work with people who have unsuccessfully participated in the dating search for some period of time, I can discern where they lie on the continuum between hope and hardening. And I’ve seen how those attitudes and the behaviors that accompany them influence their relationship success.
To keep hope up and cynicism down, the goal for each wounded dating warrior is to find the right balance between self-preservation and continued openness as they enter new relationships. Learning from the past and practicing more successful techniques for the future can give even the most wary seeker hope again.
How to Leave Relationship Failure Behind
To let go of the past and succeed in the future, you’ll need to courageously explore why you haven’t found lasting love yet. This deep searching can be uncomfortable, but it's the most promising way to make your next relationship work. Following are seven lists for you to complete. The more you write on each, the more the exercise should benefit you. When you're done, you should have a much more realistic view of what you need to do to find the relationship you desire.
No matter how each of your past relationships may have seemed different from one another, there are always similarities. There are four categories on this “how-my-partners-have-been-similar” list. Write as many thoughts or memories as you can under each one.
1. What physical characteristics have you traditionally looked for in a partner?
2. What personality traits or behaviors have you consistently sought?
3. What are you looking for in terms of who your partner person is in the world (friends, vocation, family, etc.)?
4. What kinds of interests would that person have (spiritual, intellectual, physical, sexual, and emotional)?
On this list, write down what you have always hoped would happen in your ideal relationship: How would your partner treat you? In what time frame would the stages of the relationship materialize? How would your partner feel about your family, beliefs, friends, past relationships, the work you do, and the things that are important to you?
Remember: The more you can put on each list, the better you should come to understand how your thoughts and feelings have defined your search for a partner.
What has disappointed or disillusioned you in your past relationships? Has it been the other person’s disappointing behavior, misleading information, or negative surprises? Has he or she not responded the way you expected when you shared your own thoughts and feelings? What were you led to expect that didn’t happen the way it was promised? What did you find out about these past partners that you could not have predicted?
"My Ideal Relationship"
How would you describe a perfect relationship? What would you look like as a couple to others? How would you handle conflicts, crises, or disappointments together? What would love-making be like? How would you and your partner parent together? What about spiritual beliefs and financial commitments? How would the household chores be prioritized? If one of you were in need, how would the other respond?
This list is very hard for many people to complete, but it may be the most critical: Write down how you believe you may have contributed to past relationship failures (even if you believe your partners were more at fault). Be as honest as you can about any of your personal liabilities as a partner: If you were somehow able to have every person you’ve ever loved or been loved by in the same room, and they were to be absolutely authentic, what would they say in common about you that ultimately caused them to give up on the relationship?
"What I Need to Leave Behind"
From the lists you’ve completed so far, look carefully at the way you’ve noted any repeated behaviors that haven’t worked in the past, and at where your expectations may not have been realistic. Let go of any attitudes or beliefs that may have sabotaged your past relationships. Write down how you can more successfully change the things you can and accept the things you can’t.
The most important attitude to leave behind is a stereotyping of future partners that might stop you from seeing beyond your past biases. Even though it is normal to use past experiences to help predict future ones, rigid expectations can keep you closed to possible adventures you have not experienced before. Use your past for lessons, but don’t allow it to determine your future.
"What I Need to Take With Me Into the Future"
Go back to that hypothetical room full of your old flames. With the same commitment to the truth, each will now tell you what they truly loved and treasured about you, even if what you had together didn’t turn into a long-term relationship. You can also gather real-life feedback from sources like honest friends or family members, mentors, and, of course, your own sense of who, and what, you believe a wonderful person truly is like.
On this list, write down the attributes, attitudes, behaviors, values, or accomplishments that you are proud of. Though it may be hard to believe, many people are more comfortable listing what is wrong with themselves than what they feel good about. Don’t hold back now: This list should contain those qualities that make you feel valuable, desirable, and worthy to anyone.
The Final Step
The last part of this exercise will help you in what you look for in a partner and how you present yourself to that person:
1. Sum up each list. Try to get to the essence of what it tells you about yourself.
2. Decide what attitudes, ideas, and behaviors you are going to leave behind and what you want to take through your window to your new relationship process.
3. Make a plan as to how you are going to practice your new behaviors.
4. Now, put yourself aside for a moment, and pretend instead that you are going to look for a perfect partner for your dearest friend. This will help you maintain a useful perspective.
5. Present who your “friend” is to that new partner with authenticity and pride.
6. Imagine telling that person everything that is important about your “friend” and what kind of partner he or she is looking for.
7. Now imagine the most perfect response that potential partner would have to what you’ve shared with him or her.
Hopefully, you are now better prepared to enter your next relationship with a greater chance of success than you’ve had in the past. You’re clear about who you have been, who you are now, what you have to offer, and what you need in return. Your clear and honest awareness of self will help you determine whether a new partner is right for you from the beginning of the relationship.
Dr. Randi’s free advice e-newsletter, Heroic Love, shows you how to avoid the common pitfalls that keep people from finding and keeping romantic love. Based on over 100,000 face-to-face hours counseling singles and couples over her 40-year career, you’ll learn how to zero in on the right partner, avoid the dreaded “honeymoon is over” phenomenon, and make sure your relationship never gets boring. www.heroiclove.com