By Dr. Kevin B. Skinner
Repeats are nice if you are the Los Angeles Lakers or Lance Armstrong, but when it comes to unhealthy relationships, forget it. Nobody wants to repeat the same mistakes over and over. However, when it comes to relationships, far too many people marry for the second or third or fourth time and find that they have married the same type of person they previously divorced.
Recently, I was talking with a very discouraged woman. She had been married many times and was sick and tired of marrying the same type of man. Each husband had their own unique qualities but her marriages were the same. Her husbands were emotionally unavailable and she didn’t know how to communicate her needs to them without pushing them away. For many months this woman had done some intense soul searching. She had read every book she could on relationships. She had sought professional counseling. She sincerely wanted to break the cycle in which she found herself.
Finally, she came to the conclusion that she needed to look at her own patterns. She began asking questions such as, “How have I contributed to my relationship problems?” and “What type of man do I need to marry to break this cycle?” and “What are the things that I must have in my relationships before I get too involved?” As is the case with most self-exploration, she realized that she hadn’t ever analyzed what she wanted before getting into a serious relationship. Even more important she found that she had ignored many of her own needs because she was always trying to please the people she was dating. This new awareness helped her see that she had dismissed many “red flags” that had occurred early in her relationships because she felt such a strong need to be wanted by someone.
With well over 50% of all second marriages ending in divorce, many people who have experienced multiple marriages are beginning to wonder whether they can find the intimacy that they desire. Many become depressed and lose hope. They ask questions like this, “Will I ever find someone to be happy with?” Or “Is there something wrong with me?” Many people have asked me these questions and I have pondered how to respond. I believe the following ideas will help answer these questions.
Whenever we get stuck in patterns that we don’t like or that are unhealthy for us, we have to learn how to break the cycle. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t learn from history you will repeat it.” Therefore, one of the best ways to create change in your life is to sit down and do some personal self-analysis. Questions you may want to ask yourself include:
- Do I seem to date the same type of people? Make a list of the characteristics of the people you date. Are they emotionally healthy or un-heal
- Do I do the same unhealthy things in my relationships (i.e., become jealous, become overly critical)?
- What do I need to change to be more successful in my relationship
- Do I date people who are in need of me? Are you caught in the cycle of fixing others?
As you review these questions take some time to write down your answers. Look at them seriously and identify the things that you need to change to be more successful in creating the necessary changes in your life.
Have you ever wondered what a healthy relationship looks like? In our class “Behind the Dating Mask,” we ask this question. It is very interesting that in almost every class one or two participants raise their hand and say that they don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like. If you don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like, it will be very challenging for you to create it. You need to identify what happens in healthy relationships. Here are a few questions for you to consider.
- What are the characteristics of a healthy relationship?
- What can I do to make my relationships better
- Have my past relationships been healthy? If not, why? If yes, what was happening to make it good?
Once you have written down your answers to these questions, practice implementing them in your everyday interaction with those who are around you. In general, people who know how to have many healthy relationships succeed in their dating and marriage relationships.
Create a Safe Environment
One of the most important elements in every relationship is creating an environment where two people can grow. If you look at your past relationships, you will probably find that the environment wasn’t safe. By safe I mean you couldn’t express yourself without worry or concern that what you said would be rejected or dismissed. A safe environment is what makes two people willing to try.
Consider the friendships that you have. Is it not the environment or the climate that makes you open up and feel safe and valued? The goal for each relationship you form should be to create a safe environment so you can grow and develop in your relationship. If you find that you are in an unsafe environment you should give serious thought to why you are willing to stay in an unsafe environment.
If you are dating someone and would like to assess whether your relationship is healthy or not, I would invite you to test your relationship. You can do this at (http://www.testyourrelationship.com) This relationship assessment tool will help you identify whether your partner is capable of having a healthy relationship. You will learn to identify the “red flags” in your relationships so that you can look objectively at the people you date. It will also allow you to assess the climate of your relationship.
Good luck on breaking your cycle of unhealthy relationships.
Dr. Kevin B. Skinner is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Family Life Educator. He has taught dating and relationship classes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Brigham Young University. Dr. Skinner’s goal is to help individuals and couples learn how to improve their relationship skills.
Questions can be directed to Dr. Skinner at (801) 224-2525.