I was a significantly different person three years ago. I was a senior in high school and I had no idea where I wanted to go to college. I had different friends, different clothes, and different goals. However, I was also struggling with heartache. This emotional pain was mostly coming from a place of insecurity and rejection. Thankfully, time has brought growth, happiness, and clear skin (oh, I almost forgot — a pandemic, too). Of course, the past may be history, but there are still memories that stay with us.
Gearing up for the back-to-school season with the world reopening, you may be tempted to start testing the waters of new relationships again. But there’s likely more than a few of us who are still hesitant, not only because of changing guidelines and the reemergence into an in-person dating environment, but also because of our bad past experiences with partners. You don’t want your old flames ruining your new shot at love, so it’s time to answer the million-dollar question: how do past relationships affect new ones?
Why We Have Patterns In Relationships
According to Business Insider, there are tell-tale signs that your old relationships are affecting your current ones: whether you gravitate toward the same type of person in your future relationships, you hesitate to trust your partner, or you find yourself having communication issues, our past experiences with hearbreak can shape our future approaches to romance. If you are like me, you identify with more than one of these signs.
You may know exactly what your own pattern is. It might look like avoiding nice people because you accept toxicity, or having a bad experience during sex and being scared to try again. Maybe you feel you always self-sabotage relationships, but don’t know why. In many cases, chronic cases of bad relationship patterns call for more professional intervention. However, that is not to say we shouldn’t do some self-reflecting.
A couple weeks ago I met a person who, by all means, was amazing. It was the first time I had a mutual connection and, to put it cheesily, a spark with someone since high school. Despite this, I found myself avoiding communication with him. I was too anxious to look at his texts, so I wouldn’t have to respond. I didn’t understand why, but I knew this required some thought because, deep down, I didn’t want to pass up this chance.
The phenomenon that occurs in relationships where we repeat similar behaviors and habits is called repetition compulsion. Repetition compulsion occurs without our intention or awareness. And why does this happen? It feels familiar. The patterns occur because they feel comfortable to us. So, how can we effectively cope with this change to break out of our patterns?
How To Break The Pattern
I decided to ask a professional who could speak to the Her Campus audience directly. Jessica Kaplan is a licensed marriage and family therapist who has worked in the field for 20 years. As her title suggests, she’s focused on relationships, marriages and families. Part of her job involves “recogniz[ing] problematic behavioral patterns or faulty beliefs that lead to unhappiness.”
According to Kaplan, we need to change our perspective of the past. We should try to see each relationship as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves. We can learn “what we want and don’t want in a partner, how to set healthy boundaries and advocate for our needs, how to determine if it’s safe to be vulnerable with a person, how to establish equality within the relationship, and how to set realistic expectations for our partner.” If we are able to think of past relationships as part of our growth, then it becomes easier for us to stop letting them control us.
I asked Kaplan about my own situation. I explained my past experience dealing with disappointment and rejection. I also described my compulsion to push people away. “Hitting bumps, challenges, and heartache in our early relationships is normal. It’s important to try to not look at the past relationship (or one’s behavior and feelings with regard to that relationship) as a failure or regret. Instead [we need to look at it] as an important part of one’s journey in learning how to establish healthy intimacy,” Kaplan told me.
Ultimately, Kaplan helped me realize a lot more than my own psychoanalysis did. The past that took me a while to recover from still lives in my mind as both regret and as a familiar situation. All of us must accept and appreciate the past because it taught us a lot. Now, it is time to let it go and seeking what we truly want. After all, change brings us all closer to happiness. If not for change, life would be stagnant and our best selves, partners, and experiences would not be out there waiting for us. So, with that, I am off to go text a guy!
Jessica Kaplan, Marriage & Family Therapist