Why do some single thirty-something women have recurring relationship problems? Is it their fault… or are they just choosing the wrong partners?
Lisa (not her real name) sought therapy after a string of unsatisfactory relationships with men she had met at various functions.
The relationships were characterised by the partner controlling every aspect of their relationship and, in some cases, the bullying of Lisa.
Lisa admitted she allowed each unsavoury relationship to continue too long, and she had even re-connected with some of these men after they had broken-up (which meant she was subjected to the same poor treatment all over again).
Internet dating had further punished her self-esteem.
Lisa wanted to understand why she allowed herself to be a ‘door mat’, particularly as she is smart, social and successful and did not deserve the poor treatment she received at the hands of these men (not that anyone does). She also wanted to find a ‘circuit breaker’ she could use to help herself break free if she found herself in another abusive relationship.
This is not an uncommon story by any means. I have many clients – mostly single thirty-something women just like Lisa – who have strikingly similar relationship problems.
If you are in that same position, what can you do to ‘break the cycle’? Here are a few strategies that might help, depending on your particular situation:
Your first step is to consider the history of your relationships. Have many of your relationships generally broken down for the same reason? If you can identify a pattern, you will have a better idea of what is operating within you that is driving a particular behaviour. That puts you on the right path to being able to change your behaviour.
Do you have a negative voice inside your head telling you each relationship is doomed? If you do, stop listening to it. Your inner voice parallels negative experiences from your past and reflects these onto the present relationship. Its goal is to keep things in a place you feel comfortable with, where you do not have to challenge how you feel about yourself and this present partner. Unfortunately it has a habit of assuming the worst, to help you feel in control of the outcomes. However, this keeps you from challenging yourself to grow from new experiences. By challenging your inner voice you may learn to become more compassionate with yourself and your partner. Aligning yourself with your critical inner voice forms a self-denial that limits your ability to enjoy your relationships and, ultimately, your life.
Forget your perfect relationship ‘type’. Decide from here on in your type is going to be someone who truly loves and respects you. Decide you are worthy of this type of love. Open your mind to dating someone who is different from someone you typically choose. Maybe he isn’t whom you’d generally pick but you might be surprised how attraction can change when given a chance. Furthermore, mix it up, change you online profile, change your dating site or change where you go to meet people.
Do you do most of the nurturing in your relationships? Ask yourself: has this worked out for you in the past? Has making your man your ‘project’ ever worked for you? Stop falling for who he ‘could be’. If you feel you need to take care of him in order to get him to where you think he should be, you are probably setting yourself up for failure. Understand that someone who doesn’t ‘need you’ can actually be a good partner. This is generally a more emotionally stable man who can give you the love and support you need in return for your love and support.
Write a list of traits men possess, and categorise them under these headings: Must have; Nice to have; and Deal breakers. If you meet someone who does not tick most or all of your ‘Must haves’ and possesses even one of your ‘Deal breakers’, move on.
Be open to sharing your strengths and vulnerabilities. Being able to share vulnerabilities can help show another that you are ready to reveal yourself to someone more intimately, in order to grow emotionally with that other person. In time this will increase your self-esteem and self-worth.
If you focus on past perceived failures or negative encounters and alter your behaviours and expectations around these, chances are they will turn into self-fulfilling prophesies. For example if you fear getting hurt in a relationship, you may tend to put up emotional walls with your next partner, and this may prevent you from connecting with them. This, in turn, can sour the relationship and you may end up being hurt. Which is exactly the outcome you were trying to avoid.
Are there types of men you should put on your ‘avoid-at-all-costs-radar’?
Yes there are. But those ‘man types’ usually differ for different women. I would like to suggest the following, though, as examples of ‘treat-with-caution’ man traits for your consideration:
He has a long history of short-lived negative relationships, or refuses to discuss old relationships, or blames the women in his life for his failed relationships
He has very poor relationships with his parents and/or siblings
He does none of the nurturing in your relationship
He doesn’t respect or listen to you
He substantially dominates the decision making process in your relationship
He is easily angered
He is not apologetic when he hurts your feelings
He has vastly different values and life principles than yours
He doesn’t share his feelings and vulnerabilities with you