5 Ways To Stop Repeating Relationship Patterns 

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Examine your own childhood and upbringing

In childhood, we learn how to relate to others – we learn what a family is and what love looks like. We develop good and bad habits. As adults, we use these relationship models as a guide to pick a partner. It seems counterintuitive that as adults we would look for the same style of family “love” that caused problems in our childhood, but the theory of repetition compulsion predicts that we will, in fact, be drawn to this kind of relationship in the hope that the outcome may be different. The unhealthy patterns we develop in childhood impact not only our choice in partner, but also how we relate to them.

Action: Try asking yourself these 3 questions. What did you need most in your childhood? How did your parents respond to these needs? Are you looking for your romantic partners to meet the same needs?

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Accept your own part in the dynamic

The first step is to be aware and understanding of your role in your painful or unhealthy relationship dynamic. You have to be willing to change what you have been doing in the past in order to create an experience that feels completely new to you. Blaming yourself is not beneficial, but accepting your part in the relationship breakdown is essential.

Action: Start by looking at your last relationship and think about every step (big or small!) where you could have made a different choice. Now play out each of those scenes using your alternate choice. By doing this, you begin to take responsibility for your mistakes ­– until you do that, nothing can change.

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Examine your expectations about intimate relationships

Disney, Hollywood romcoms and teenage novels have all contributed to give us unrealistic expectations when it comes to relationships. The roller coaster of emotions, last minute plot changes and the grand gestures we see in fiction don’t often happen in real life. When we compare our relationships to those in books or movies, we can mistake security in our partner as being predictable and boring. A healthy relationship isn’t built on constant excitement and emotional curveballs (which is actually exhausting). Instead, when you find yourself in a truly secure relationship, you can take comfort in the fact that your partner is going to be there with you through all the ups and downs, and all the little moments in between.

Action: Make a list of your favourite movies or books  from when you were a teenager. Now think about the lessons or “truths” you took away from them – do any of them link to your expectations of romantic relationships?

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Try not to compare your relationship to others

With social media at our fingertips, it’s hard not to get caught up and feel jealous of seemingly perfect lives as we scroll through perfectly manicured photos. Relationship envy is toxic because it puts you in the mindset of being sad about what you don’t have, instead of appreciating what’s right in front of you. It’s important to remember, people are more than what they “post”.

Action: Take a break from social media and focus on the genuine off-screen connections you have in your life.

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Focus on the things that you can control

The only thing that you have control over is yourself, your own choices, actions and behaviours. We can’t control the outcome of our relationships. In fact, focusing on what we can’t control makes us less effective and potentially leads to the relationship outcomes we fear the most. Whilst we can’t always choose how we feel, we can always choose how we act. We can take control of our responses and be the type of partner we want to be. We can shift the dynamic and outcome of the relationship by changing our half of the interaction.

Action: Think about how you can get your needs met in any given situation by altering your behaviour or responses. Use the STOP acronym. Stop. Take a step back. Observe and take stock. Proceed mindfully.

Remember, relationships are one of the most rewarding human experiences. If you play an active role in breaking relationship patterns that don’t benefit you, you are giving yourself a better shot at finding (and keeping) a healthy long-term relationship.



Editor’s Note: This post was first published in April 2019, and was updated in April 2020.

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