Reflecting on a relationship gone sour, I think about how and why a certain pattern plays out in my life and the role I have to play in it. After all, I’m the only common denominator in all of my relationships, so while I can call the other person out for whatever pain they’ve caused me, I have to look within to fix it. So, I ask, what exactly is it that makes us choose the wrong type of partner, often in relationship after relationship? To find an answer, we must first look at where we’ve been putting up roadblocks in our own lives, and then figure out what we want, what we need and, ultimately, what a healthy relationship looks like.
Roadblock 1: We don’t know what we want
Our decision-making is pressured by outside sources, especially if we’re big media consumers. Pressure from the media isn’t new, but it’s very real when your 10th friend this year is showing off her new engagement ring. With the tendency to draw comparisons, it’s normal that you’re starting to feel antsy about your own success in love. Too often, we’re letting the outside world tell us what we want, rather than really taking the time to ask ourselves, and I mean really ask ourselves – ‘what do I want?’
For many of us, sometimes we want a relationship when it’s rainy and we’d like someone to cuddle with, but want them to go away when summer comes around. We flip flap between wanting a relationship to not wanting it to wanting it again, then feeling bad someone left when we didn’t even want the relationship in the first place. Exhausting.
When we don’t know what we want, we spend a lot of time focusing on superficial things touted as important: the physical attraction factor, what kind of job they have, the car they drive, or the clothes they wear. Then there’s having to keep perspective despite your physical and emotional chemistry, how they make you feel in the moment, how charming or exciting they are, and hobbies or interests you have in common. These things can give you some insight into a person’s personality, but little to no information about their values or who they really are as a person.
We sit between disqualifying someone based on their charm and bank balance, and whether or not we feel like being in a relationship at that moment or not. This doesn’t get us anywhere and leaves us, and likely the other person, confused. Wants are all surface level, but they stem from knowing what we need, which leads us onto the second Roadblock.
Roadblock 2: We don’t know what we need
If ‘wants’ are based on surface level decision-making, ‘needs’ are the next layer down. Needs are non-negotiable and meeting them ensures we feel fulfilled in our lives. This can easily get confused with superficial items or labels, but things like respect, love and care, the essentials to your wellbeing.
This seems sensible, but in reality figuring out what we need can be even more challenging than figuring out what we want. When we don’t know what we need, our internal compass is off, which makes it hard for us to make the right decisions that will benefit us in the long run. The good part about needs is that once we know what they are, we can meet them ourselves. The ‘bad’ part, however, is that this takes work and dedication to meet them.
With this in mind, someone with a history of choosing the wrong person or relationship has probably spent more time looking for someone else to fulfil their needs, or they may use the other person as a distraction from having to meet those obligations to themselves. When we spend so much time focused on the other person, it’s easy for us to let go of some of the things we need to do for ourselves, particularly if we weren’t doing them well in the first place.
Needs are always there, and if we aren’t accountable for them ourselves, chances are high that we are going to find someone that consequently sees your needs as a secondary thought, or who’s happy with the fact that you’re paying more attention to them than you are to yourself.
In the early stages of love, a person may seem like they can fulfil your every need, but when our search is turned outward rather than inward, we look for short-term fixes. It’s easier for you to focus on someone else and forget about you, but the downfall is that you can end up with someone who preys on the fact that you depend on them. This is not a healthy dynamic.
If this behaviour pattern sounds all too familiar, this is a big sign that you’re neglecting yourself and your needs.
Roadblock 3: We don’t know what’s healthy
The biggest problem of all is that we don’t have a healthy reference point. Maybe our parents had an unhealthy relationship; maybe we grew up thinking that love should be like rom-coms; maybe social media has affected our ability to know that relationships can be hard, or perhaps we were stung by our first partner, and never quite recovered.
Our assumptions and beliefs about relationships and what’s considered a healthy one are greatly affected by what was going on around us growing up. When we’re used to being around and witnessing unhealthy relationships, bad behaviour can easily become normalised. We don’t realise things are not healthy because we’re used to seeing them, from one partner doing the majority of housework or emotional labor, to more serious cycles like physical and verbal abuse.
The more common unhealthy behaviours that often that get swept under the rug are things like moving too fast, hanging on too long, rationalising and excusing bad behaviour, not speaking up for ourselves or not communicating effectively. These are all learned behaviours and beliefs that can dictate not only how we act with partners, but whom we choose to spend our time with.
When we’re carrying unhealthy beliefs about relationships and ourselves, we’re not attracting quality people who are also looking for a healthy relationship and care about mutual respect, trust and loyalty. We’re instead attracted to people who match our beliefs and patterns – like attracting like – both of us stuck on hamster wheel of confusion.
When we have these three components all mushed together, ultimately we become unavailable for a healthy relationship. Though none of these roadblocks are a flaw in your character – and we all do the best we can with what we have at the time – the more we learn what’s healthy, focus on what we need to be fulfilled, and eventually determine what we actually want from life and a partner, then we can actually begin to take steady, reasonable steps to achieving these goals. Suddenly, the people that we’re attracted to, and the people attracted to us, begin to change. And so do we.
Sara is a twenty-something embracing life’s lessons and the awkward growth that comes with them. She writes about changing our relationships with relationships – whether it be the ones with ourselves or others – by embracing healthy self esteem to get out of unhealthy love habits.