How to Recognize and Transform Unhealthy Relational Patterns

Publish date: 2021-09-14
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While pinpointing and dissecting all of the things that can go wrong is outside of the scope of this post, in order to get out of the abstract realm and get more specific, here we will discuss some common mistakes that we all, more or less, have made at some point in our lives.  

As you read through these patterns reflect on the things that have been present in your relationships. Next, consider transforming those things that are sabotaging you and preventing you from experiencing happiness in your life.

Here’s a playlist you can listen to relax while reading.

Common Mistakes You Really Need to Stop Making 

1- Investing Time in a One-Sided Relationship.

By continuing to emotionally and mentally invest in a relationship where the other person has long departed and is no longer present and active in your life you’re only prolonging your healing process. I get it. It’s difficult to just switch off your emotions. You might even wonder if you’ll ever meet someone else.

But my advice to you is to stop browsing the internet for answers. Understand that holding on to the idea of someone who is not available or waiting on someone who is not even capable of meeting your needs is self-betrayal and will ultimately lead you down a dark road and you will end up dealing with the repercussions years into the future.

The sooner you let go, the sooner you can start the healing process and open space for new possibilities.

If, however, you do not want to let go, the healthier way is to be proactive and take control of the situation. Get clear about what the status quo is and what you want it to be instead.

Reach out to the other person and have an open and honest conversation. Ask them if they see a chance for the two of you to come back together in whatever form that you consider to be the ideal situation. Give them a reasonable amount of time to get back to you. If they don’t, at least you will know where you stand. You will know that you tried and you won’t have regrets later. Then you can move on. 

2- Forgetting about Self-Love and Self-Respect 

We are often taught to put others before ourselves and that selflessness is a good quality to possess but only if we know that it is equally important to love and respect ourselves too. Remember you’re a person in your life too!

When you respect someone you respect their boundaries and what they say. Think about this: Do you respect your own boundaries or do you let others cross them? Do you have respect for what you say? For example, if you promise to do something, do you keep your promise or do you go back on your word?

The same applies to self-love.  When you truly love another person you accept them as they are. You show them affection, you forgive them for their mistakes, you stand up for them and take care of them.  

The question that I want you to ponder on is:  How much do you love yourself? Do you take care of yourself? Can you forgive yourself for your mistakes? Do you stand up for yourself?

It's only when you learn how to love yourself that you can teach others how to love you. Once you build a better relationship with yourself, love yourself and respect yourself, you will attract others who will treat you the way you deserve to be treated.

3- Comparing New Relationship With Old Ones

A new relationship is a new relationship. What happened in your past relationship does not apply here. Leave your past relationship in the past. Because when you look at your new relationships through the lense of your past experiences you will get the same results over and over again. If your past partner didn't understand your triggers, try telling your new partner what they are instead of expecting your new partner to know your triggers instinctively. If your old partner did something positive that your new partner doesn't do, don’t fall into the cycle of comparing the two and finding fault with the new one. Appreciate each person for what they bring to the table.

5- Fear of Being Vulnerable 

If you’re a person who has experienced a lot of failed relationships, you may be afraid of being vulnerable with new partners. Your mind generates strategies to protect you from going through stressful similar experiences. These strategies create a lot of internal resistance, external conflict, discontentment and separation.

Push through the defences by digging deeper. For example, when you remember something from the past that stirs negative feelings in you, you may think it is best to withdraw from your current partner and sort out your feelings on your own. While it is important to have space to feel, think and sort through your emotions, not letting your partner know what you are thinking can harm your relationship.

Think about a time when you were the one wondering why a partner was withdrawing without any explanation. Remember how confused you felt with the mixed singles you were receiving: 

  • Communicate your feelings to your partner and be open and transparent.
  • Don’t let your temporary mood put a damper on your relationship.
  • Even if you decide to pause things. Be transparent about the intention behind your actions. Chances are your partner is more understanding than what you have constructed about them in your mind. We often dread having these difficult conversations for two reasons: our lack of confidence in our ability to communicate what's on our mind and underestimating the other person's ability to grasp what we mean.

6- Lack of Initiative 

When we feel isolated or left out after an argument with someone we usually: 

  • Wait for the other person to make the first move.
  • Expect them to read our mind. 
  • Discipline them with unhelpful strategies like silent treatment, and projection and deflection. 

But these strategies often build unhelpful feelings and prevent meaningful connections from being made. It is best to be clear with yourself about what it is about the situation that is troubling you, why it is troubling you and what it is that you would like to be different.

For instance, if you and Susy had an argument don’t wait for her to make the first move. Reach out to her and have an open and honest conversation. Instead of telling Susy how you think she is feeling and what you think she is thinking, only tell her how you feel and what you think. Instead of expecting Susy to know how you feel and what you are thinking, tell her. Listen to Susy with the intention of understanding her and resolving your conflict. 

7- Remember That Change is Constant 

The person you met x years ago is different from who they are today and the person you meet today will be different from who they will be x years into the future. The same goes for you. You may not like things that you liked 5 years ago and you may like, need, want things now that you hated a few years back. It is important to remember that we are constantly changing and evolving. This is exactly why some couples grow apart.  

It is important to actively work on the relationship so that the two of you can grow together instead of growing apart. 

8- Mishandling Conflicts

Disagreements and conflicts are normal when people with different views interact with each other. What’s not normal is to bottle things up, sweep them under the rug and act as if it never happened.

A healthy relationship dynamic is where two adults are able to sit down and openly share their opinion on the subject matter and come to some sort of agreement even if that means making a decision, together, to disagree and make peace with it. A healthy relationship is where both individuals feel their side of the story is heard, understood and validated.

Supposing that you are in a healthy relationship dynamic, when conflict occurs it is important to create space between you and the event by stepping away from the situation to cool off and resume at a reasonable time when the both of you feel grounded in your own emotions, feel safe to share your experience as well as being open to receive what the other party has to say about their experience.  

  • Listen openly with the intention of learning about the situation from the other person's perspective. 
  • Speak in alignment with your intentions so you can deliver your message with clarity. 
  • Speak your truth about how the other person’s behavior is affecting you.

When bothered by someone's behavior 

  • Create space between you,  the person and the situation so you have freedom to feel and think your thoughts through.
  • Recognize the source of this interpretation. Ask yourself about the meaning that you are giving to the situation. What do I believe to be true about their behaviour? 
  • Realize what you specifically need in order to overcome this interpretation.
  • Come up with a strategy to get your needs met without expecting perfection instead of progress. For instance, when you would like to get a message from your partner on their break time at work. Communicate openly, point out the vulnerable emotions that these situations are stirring up in you. Phrase things from your perspective “When …...happens I feel ….. (e.g. when you don't take initiative I feel a lack of interest and excitement for engagement) I would appreciate it if we would...  (e.g. equally take initiative to stay in touch a little more often).

Ending unhealthy relationships

Unhealthy relationship dynamics create a lot of emotional injury and will evolve into toxic ongoing cycles.

No one really likes to talk about the elephant in the room but we have all stayed in unhealthy relationship dynamics and most probably some of us will keep doing so. Staying in unhealthy relationships for too long can lead to isolation, self-doubt, lack of security and trust, depression, and low self-esteem. 

Because our environment directly impacts our emotional world and we articulate our emotions through words, you yourself can potentially develop unhealthy patterns and become toxic towards other people too.

If you notice the other party is 

  • Invalidating your feelings, needs and requests.
  • Constantly feeding off your opinions to improve aspects of their life without doing the same in return. 
  • Projecting and deflecting their internal conflicts on you. 
  • Behaving poorly when you ask them to take responsibility for their mistakes or when you ask them to show accountability they give you the silent treatment,  are passive-aggressive, or use other forms of unhealthy communication patterns.

It’s time to evaluate your own psychological state and assess the health of the relationship. Any relationship where you need to :

  • Pull away to draw someone back
  • To compromise on your values and principles
  • Continuously  blame yourself  

is an unhealthy one.

Getting on the Right Track 

In order to work towards a better relationship that is fulfilling, you need to first understand what a successful and happy relationship would look like to you.

Create a detailed picture of your ideal relationship detached from a specific person by asking yourself:

  • What would you be hearing, seeing, feeling in this relationship?
  • What are they hearing, feeling, seeing when interacting with you?
  • How would this relationship appear to an outside observer?
  • What are some of the things that need to be satisfied in this relationship? (e.g. things like affection and intimacy, presence, gratitude and appreciation, safety and security, deep conversations, authentic and open communication, commitment, reciprocity, responsiveness, empathy, compassion, growth, and etc.)

Write down whatever comes to your mind. Once you have written everything down it's time to determine:

  • Which qualities are necessary to have and which ones would be “nice to have”? 
  • What would you like to see more or less of? 
  • What does each quality mean to you?
  • What would demonstrate that each quality is present and alive in the relationship and why? 

Some of your beliefs about how a successful relationship should be can rob you of the experience. So get rid of unreasonable expectations and instead work on establishing clearly defined responsibilities that hold you and the other person accountable.

This could be challenging if you have not established healthy personal boundaries. Healthy boundaries are the principles, guidelines, and agreements that we establish to protect our deepest values.

For instance, you may be in a relationship where the other person believes a good relationship is one where the two of you keep in constant contact every day and that it is a sign of closeness and trust for them to know yours and you to know their day-to-day schedule and whereabouts. This may not be the case for you.

Such a relationship dynamic could quickly become frustrating for you as you will need to allocate time in your busy schedule to update your partner on your every move. This may lead to resentment, disappointment and ultimately end the relationship. It is also why setting healthy boundaries is important.

Lack of boundaries will lead to:

  • Hurt feelings and cause stress.
  • Unreasonable expectations.
  • Your wants and needs to be overlooked and you may end up doing something you did not want to do.

Having boundaries gives you a sense of identity and boosts your confidence and self-esteem.

So be clear with yourself and others about what you want and need and what your boundaries are.

  • You need to communicate your boundaries to prevent disappointment. 
  • Don’t anticipate failure. 
  • Stick to the “3 strikes and you're out” rule. Give people chances but not unlimited chances. 

Now that you have a map. Get real with where you’re in your relationships today.  See how you are currently developing trust and respect in your relationship. Question your preconceived notions, respect your values and establish healthy boundaries.

Share with me your thoughts, feedback or questions here.