Wary Relationship Seekers
Is your past sabotaging your future?
Posted May 31, 2018
In today’s world of stranger-to-lover speed-connecting relationships, many people must now rely on intuition and sheer luck to find a quality, long-lasting partnership. Most often, without verifiable access to a potential lover’s relationship history, people in the relationship market are more likely to be operating in a murky and scary environment.
Even so, most of them continue to push forth, putting huge amounts of effort into triumphing over those odds. But, because they must navigate without reliable information, they too often end up discouraged and disillusioned. It is almost unavoidable for them to enter each new possibility without the cumulative wariness and fear they’ve internalized from past failures.
Being repeatedly immersed in relationship “stories” that too often turn out to be false and finding that many in-person meetings have little to do with online profile advertisements, it is not surprising that many relationship-seekers become discouraged over time.
In the last decade of my 40-year career, I have seen these accumulated experiences exponentially grow. It concerns me deeply because, once they take hold, they can prevent those who hold them from believing that quality, long-term relationships are actually possible.
These cumulative losses become negative biases that not only stop people from continuing to look for new possibilities but keep them from being open to potentially different and positive experiences. They drive people to rely only on what they have previously experienced rather than on what might be possible if they opened themselves to new data.
Sadly, going into each new relationship, armored with these self-imposed, potentially sabotaging limitations, people tend to repeat past behaviors. The cumulative failures take their toll. Over time, they begin to create the wary attitudes that create the endless loop of relationship heartbreaks. And, though these self-protective biases feel as though they are an insurance against future losses, they more often fuel them.
You can actually identify if you are one of those weary relationship seekers who has slipped into these limited views of what relationships can become. If you hear many of your opinion sentences begin with strong and final-sounding opinions, you may be unconsciously locking yourself into these negative biases.
Listen carefully to your responses when others challenge or contradict your statements. Ask yourself, when that happens, whether you feel instantly defensive, holding on even more tightly to what you believe. If so, it doesn’t mean that your opinions aren’t true for you. They are, sadly, based on your actual experiences. But, if you let your past disappointing relationships define the limits of any future ones, you will doom yourself to only see what you already expect to happen. Once those blinders are in place, you can no longer be open to seeing something new and more hopeful.
Gathering data and continually sifting it to protect yourself from harm is a natural human process, and some conclusions are warranted. But carrying negative expectations into each successive new relationship will make new losses more likely. Suspicious and wary new lovers surreptitiously and continually test one another and are then far less likely to explore options that might actually work out.
Even more distressing is the fact that the longer people hold self-protective, armored views, the more difficult it becomes for them to challenge them over time. If they have additionally been programmed that way from early childhood, their cumulative experiences may actually become self-fulfilling prophecies. I have many times seen biased views handed down from generation to generation, dooming their believers to just repeat what they have observed.
Many of these negative relationship biases become buried within the unconscious and manifest as a person’s personality. In order for them to be unearthed and open to new challenges, they must be recognized and re-examined in a new light.
Much of what I do in my work with individuals and couples is to simply question the veracity of locked-in biases in a non-judgmental way so they partners can search together for these roots and where and when they were formed. As the origin of their opinions and attitudes emerge, many people are surprised that they have self-limited in that way. They are eager to re-examine and re-create their views to open themselves to the possibilities that can happen.
Negative Relationship Biases
Here are some common negative relationship biases and how they sound when people express them. As you read them, ask yourself if they apply to you or your past partners and where they may have originated. You might want to get something to write on as you read the following:
1. They are often stated as inherent generalities. “Men are just that way. They can’t understand how a woman feels, and never will. You just have to accept it and work around it.”
2. They are finite. “Don’t bother trying to change a woman’s mind. Just agree with whatever she says, and then do what you want. Most of the time she won’t even notice.”
3. They are unchallengeable and defy anyone who questions them. “You might have found one or two people who can make a relationship work long-term, but they aren’t really telling you how trapped they feel.”
4. They are not based on extended research but are presented as if they are formed by all-inclusive knowledge. “I’ve read a lot about this and it is the truth,” or “Everyone I’ve talked to feels exactly the same way,” or “You can find so many articles on the Internet that back this up. They’re everywhere.”
5. They are absolutely non-amenable to any other viewpoint. “Don’t bother telling me that there are good men out there who are available. The good ones are taken and aren’t going anywhere. You can tell me it’s not true as much as you like, but I’m just not buying it. Believe me, I’ve been out there.”
6. They are typically opinions expressed with pessimism, cynicality, bitterness, or wry sarcasm. “I don’t know why I ever thought that any woman could love me for myself. It’s actually true that the pocketbook is what matters, and that’s never going to change.” Or, “You just have to get used to it. No relationship lasts. It’s all about lust and fantasy. That stuff is bound to wear out over time and the same crap happens.” Or, “You bet I’m jaded. Why shouldn’t I be? My mom told me that guys can’t sustain love for anyone women so they’re bound to cheat and you just look the other way if you want them to stick around.”
7. They are strongly justified. “If you’d been at the other end of my love life, you’d feel exactly the same way I do. You can try as hard as you want, but I can tell you that this is the way things are for me because I’m me, and because I have rotten luck, and because I never had a chance.”
8. They activate irritation and reactivity if questioned by the listener. “You keep trying to tell me something that just isn’t true and you’re really starting to piss me off. What are you trying to do, just make me feel like an idiot? Obviously, you don’t like my attitude and I’m not going to change the way I feel, so cool it, okay?”
Underneath their biases, the people locked into limited viewpoints are neither hopeful nor emotionally okay with those restrictions. They commonly tell me that they feel powerless and pre-defeated. Entering each new relationship with those cynical expectations, they often sabotage each succeeding relationship without even realizing they are doing so. Those undermining behaviors typically manifest in one or more of the following ways for people:
1. Testing potential partners for so long that those initially participating lovers eventually get tired of it and leave. “I know how hard you are trying to make this work, but you just can’t seem to treat me how I want you to.”
2. Seeking partners who try to make up for all of their prior relationship losses but eventually give up. “I knew you would stop loving me. Every guy I’ve ever been with tells me I’m ‘the one” and then starts looking around. Why don’t you just leave now and get it over with?”
3. Succeeding in convincing their partners that they have just been too damaged to change and aren’t worth being with. “Let’s face it. I have a lot going for me, but I just cost too much emotionally. I’m ‘too dramatic,' or 'too hard to please.' I think I’m not worth the deal so just get out while you can.”
4. Consciously or unconsciously provoke their partners to reject them because they expect they will anyway. “I know I’m being an asshole, but it’s who I am sometimes. You’ll just have to take it or tell me to hit the door.”
5. Too fearful of the possibility that they will temporarily put aside their biases, re-open their hearts, but then risk more avidly returning to their prior self-protective modes if the relationship fails. “Okay. Maybe I’ve been too wary. I love this guy a lot. I’m going to put down all my walls but, if I get hurt, they’re never coming down again.”
6. Exiling themselves in advance of expecting to be rejected but secretly hoping that their partners will fight for them. “I know you’re too good for me. I should probably end this before you have to face telling me you’re through.”
7. Assuming that their partners can’t or won’t change in order to rationalize their own need to leave the relationship. “He’s got a lot of good qualities, but I just can’t seem to get past the bad stuff and I know he won’t want to hear that from me. I might as well get out while I can.”
Break the Cycle
There is no way to form opinions about life’s probabilities without experience and no way to approach new experiences without being affected by history. Good relationships beget good relationships beginning from early childhood, and, sadly, bad relationships more often portend more bad ones.
Unless people realize that those emotional and mental “programmings” are amenable to challenge, they are doomed to live out the endless cycle of repetition without change. And, unless they can separate out what they expect to happen from what might be possible, they will only be able to see what they have already surmised.
It is crucial to walk gingerly where trauma creates self-protection and how important it is to drop those walls only after mastering boundary-sustaining skills. Relationship seekers who want to open back up to new possibilities must see a world beyond those who hurt and those who have been hurt. Unfortunately, consecutive disappointments tend to make people feel there are only those two possibilities.
The most successful way to engage in new life experiences is to begin each one with a healthy sense of self-awareness and self-preservation, but without the assumption that things can only turn out a certain way. Negative biases emerge from consecutive disappointments and can easily become emotional blinders to possibilities of personal transformation.
Once identified and historically validated, all programmed attitudes and behaviors are amenable to challenge and change. If you are willing to look for your own locked-in assumptions or limitations and open up to challenge and change them, you are ready to begin the journey to new possibilities.