Most people have heard the old joke about the doctor who sees a patient hitting himself in the head with a hammer. He asks the patient, “Why are you hitting yourself in the head with a hammer?” The patient replies, “Because it feels so good when I stop.”
It may be a joke but, metaphorically, it is what many people do in their love lives…only they have not yet realized that they can stop. Some don’t even see the hammer in their hand and need a good friend to point it out.
Why Do People Stick to Relationship Patterns That Don’t Work for Them?
An article entitled “Changing Perspectives on the Past: Autobiography and Analysis of Transference” by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. and Jolyn Wells-Moran, Ph.D. on the MentalHelp.net website explains that people often repeat relationship patterns in their lives that may have them relating to partners the way they related to a parent, for example. These patterns are called ”transference relationships.”
According to these doctors, “That they occur is a testament to the main way that people learn; through assimilation (by making sense of new things by reusing what you already know about old things that are similar).”
So why do people hold on to these old relationship models if they can cause trouble? Dombeck and Wells-Moran explain that sometimes the solution is simply a matter of realizing that one is no longer a child and consequently, has more options.
If a person has had a traumatic experience or been subjected to emotional or physical abuse at a time when her self-image was being formed, it makes sense that the effects would be life-long. Therefore messages that she is shy, stupid or deserving of abuse may have to be re-examined from a rational adult viewpoint in order to overcome them.
According to these doctors, “what you need to do is to examine the conclusions you’ve made about yourself, your situations and your relationships and decide if those conclusions hold up under scrutiny. If they seem exaggerated or biased, then correct them as best you can using your adult knowledge and experience to restate them more accurately.”
Some Steps to Making the Next Relationship a Healthy and Happy One
First, it is never pleasant, or easy for that matter, to look objectively at past relationships and to accept responsibility for some of what went wrong. Identifying things that were done or that could have been done in a brutally honest way is like noticing the proverbial hammer in one’s hand.
After this honest look at the past, it may be tempting for a person to to allow herself to be overwhelmed by negativity, thinking that there is no way to ever get it right. Attitude is everything, however, and with the attitude that every mistake is just another learning experience, anyone can overcome a blighted history to start again with a fresh slate and a deeper well of wisdom.
The next step is to make a commitment to be true to oneself. Desperation or fear may lead someone to play a role in order to impress a new partner. No one can keep up an act indefinitely. Energy would better be spent finding out whether or not the new relationship will work based on who two people really are.
At this point, if something doesn’t feel right it is important for a person to listen to her intuition. Is it because one of those old relationship-devastating patterns is beginning to rear its ugly head? Resist the urge to throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble. Relationships take work. Instead, look back at those earlier, unsuccessful relationships and realize that now is the time to try something different. It’s time to stop hitting oneself with the hammer.
Finally, just as relationships are ongoing, the work to keep them healthy needs to be sustained. There is a wealth of helpful advice out there on how to keep a relationship alive and how to communicate effectively with a partner.
In order to improve our lives we need clear goals. This stands for our relationships, too. It is easier to find what one is looking for when one knows what that is. Figure it out and go for it, after all, what is there to be lost but something that wasn’t working anyway?