What’s the Common Denominator?
Relationship patterns are glaringly obvious to outsiders but almost impossible to see when you’re in them. However, if you’ve experienced the “same situation, different face” syndrome for the past few relationships, it’s time to take a hard look at why these patterns exist.
And, what you can learn from them. Relationship patterns (really, any patterns) are marvelous gifts when you are able to identify the role of common denominator in all of the situations – you!
See if this story resonates with you:
J had several long-term relationships, both romantic and platonic, that had ended. For many years he believed that the relationships had ended simply because he and his partner had drifted apart (the same pattern happened in many of his friendships). He saw this as a sign that he was growing, and they were stagnating.
One day, though, J had an epiphany. He had been reading about the unconscious living out of childhood beliefs, and how a child’s story can live on throughout a person’s life. Somehow – he is not sure what caused this knowledge to enter his awareness – J realised that his childhood story was about liking to be alone; doing things alone; being the lone wolf, so to speak. He traced this childhood belief to being rejected by certain special playmates. His feelings of being excluded and unwanted caused him to build a protective shell around himself by declaring to others, “I like to be alone.”
J realised, with quite a shock, that he had been unconsciously living out the “I like to be alone” story in his relationships. HE was the one who unconsciously stopped communicating; checked out; fell for unavailable women; and it was he who was the catalyst for the relationships’ endings. His partners may have actually broken up with him, but it was because of his unconsciously acting out his “I like to be alone” childhood story.
Once he understood that he was acting out his childhood story, he began working on writing a new one. He made a conscious effort to be a better partner and a better friend by showing more interest in the other person, by making himself available, and by giving the love he desperately craved but unconsciously pushed away.
J realised, too, that he had unconsciously attracted the kinds of people who would help him keep his childhood story alive. Some of his girlfriends were workaholic, career-driven types who had very little personal time (perfect – he got to be alone!); other friends were very demanding of his time, always inviting him to do things, and this would make him deeply uncomfortable to the point of withdrawing and making excuses why he couldn’t join in (after a while, the friends stopped inviting him).
One of the biggest challenges in breaking relationship patterns (aside from recognising them) is figuring out how to break them. J was successful because he took the time to figure out the root cause of the pattern, and he boldly committed himself to completely changing his behaviour. That’s not easy to do!
Here are some ways to help you break your own patterns:
- Write down what happened in each relationship: who said/did what, how it ended, what stands out in your memory.
- Notice the similarities between your own behavior in those relationships. Also notice your friends’ and family’s reaction to your partners. If there is more disapproval than approval, what are you blind to that they can see? (Of course you don’t want to take to heart the words of one person, but if everyone you know keeps telling you, “this one is wrong for you” then put your ego down for a moment and consider the truth in what they say. Remember, they’re seeing you from the outside – your patterns are clearly displayed on your sleeve!
- Figure out your role in these relationships. In the case of J, it was pushing people away or choosing unavailable people, so he could act out his “I like to be alone” childhood story. Every relationship is a complex dance between two personalities, but anytime there’s a common theme, remember that you are the only constant. What is your role? What is your responsibility? If you find yourself saying, “Everyone tells me so-and-so is wrong for me, and they are probably right, but…” – look closer at the “but.” Why are you rationalising your patterns instead of owning them?
- What did you learn from this? What was the common thread that you unconsciously kept alive by attracting certain types of people and acting out your story? Relationships are mirrors of how we relate to ourselves. If you are pushing love away, do you question your lovability? Do you question your value to others? Do you believe, on some level, that you aren’t good enough and therefore (insert your relationship pattern – distant, abusive, controlling, needy, unavailable, etc.) At this stage you will benefit from the help of a therapist who can help you verbalise your feelings.
- What story do you need to start telling, until you believe it and it overrides the old one? Start telling it.
- Go easy on yourself. Forgive yourself. You did not consciously choose to repeat the same patterns over and over. They are merely the results of deeply-held beliefs you probably didn’t even know you had.
Stop reliving your past relationship blunders. You have every right to a happy, healthy relationship. Until you sort out your history, though, you’ll keep repeating your patterns, over and over again. Learn from your past, so you aren’t doomed to repeat it.
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