Your relationships always seem to go wrong the same way. And, each time, you feel sure that if only your partner would have changed – even just a little bit – you would have been happy together.
This may feel true, but, in reality, you are most likely part of the problem. You may be picking partners with the same characteristics or interacting in particular ways that create this recurring headache. So, instead of focusing on fixing your partner, try taking a close look at yourself.
To begin with, try to identify your patterns and understand them better. People learn about themselves and others through their childhood experiences, especially those with their parents or caregivers. We learn all kinds of things from these experiences, but the most universal and deeply felt lessons are about how valued and lovable you feel you are, how emotionally available others are to support you, and the likelihood that you can trust in others to work with you. These lessons form the basis for your expectations going forward in life.
When you meet people who don’t fit with these expectations, you likely won’t feel a connection. But then there are those people who do fit with your expectations, expectations you might recognize consciously or unconsciously. You feel a sense of familiarity, are open to a deeper connection, and continue the relationship – even when there are dynamics you’d prefer to avoid.
While you might do better to pick a partner who has different characteristics, the bigger problem is often the way you respond to behaviors you don’t like. If you try to get the other person to change in some essential way (not just changing a specific behavior like putting their dirty dishes in the dishwasher), then your relationship is bound to run into serious problems, ones that you are probably familiar with from other relationships.
To nurture a happy, healthy relationship, you must respect the basic nature of your partner. Ask them to work with you to meet your needs. And, in the meantime, you must also work on your inner struggles.
Here’s a hypothetical situation: Jill felt insecure in her relationship with Dan. She worried that he would find someone better, so she often questioned what he saw in her. When she played the piano (a favorite hobby of hers), she found herself asking him – too often – how much he enjoyed her playing.
But then she realizes she’s insecure and consciously decides she wants to feel happier in her relationship. So she sets out to make some changes. When driven to ask for more praise or reassurance, instead, she focuses on her insecurities about herself. She pays attention to her abilities as a musician, noting how she feels “whole” when she plays the piano particularly well.
She also acknowledges to herself that Dan is not a really verbal guy, not given to being vocal about his feelings for her – or anything else, really. So instead, Jill opens herself to how he naturally shows caring. For instance, he often looks lovingly at her and his body language says he really enjoys her music. When she starts to feel insecurity creeping back, she reassures herself by thinking about these ways he shows his affection.
Of course, your unhappiness might be related to something totally different, such as your partner being unfaithful or irresponsible with money. Assess your situation carefully. If it is unacceptable, the answer might be to end the relationship. But if the problem is more about the issues you bring to the relationship, then look inward for a solution.
Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.