Why do I always choose the wrong partner?
How many bad relationships do I have to go through before I have a good one?
Do all relationships have to hurt?
I think I have a commitment phobia. Is he/she the one for me?
These are familiar and common concerns I hear from clients over and over in the therapy room. The answer to each of those concerns is a journey of exploration that differs from one person to another. However, one thing is common: the fear of pain. Some of us are fear-driven in our relationships, but others have managed to overcome this fear and enjoy the relationship they want. How did the latter reach their desired relationship goals?
First, let us start by understanding that what we learn while growing up about relationships is, what we call, our emotional programming. This emotional programming dictates the type of partners we choose and the way we love. When our emotional programming entails pain, suffering, or any negative experience, this is reflected on our relationship. So, if we are constantly choosing a wrong partner, that means we fall for people who make us unhappy, or bring out the worst in us, blame it on the emotional programming. Also, going from one bad relationship to another, means that there is a pattern of repeating destructive behaviors that makes the relationship crumble and fall. Again, blame it on the emotional programming. Eventually, we develop a commitment phobia and start wondering every time we meet a potential partner, is he/she the one for me? The result is a cycle of dysfunctional and painful relationships.
We are, however, wired to avoid pain. So how do we end up in hurtful relationships if we are wired to avoid pain?
Since 95% of our emotional programming is unconscious, we are unaware of the choices we make that get us in trouble. To complement that, we are ignorant and mindless about the art and science of relationships. In conclusion, we are scarred. However, we still have 5% that is conscious in our emotional programming that we can use to our advantage to reconstruct a positive relationship. How?
Now stop and think about those painful experiences. Why did you choose that partner? What attracted you to him/her and what attracted him/her to you? When did things start getting shaky in the relationship? What common values did you share? What values did you disagree over? What needs of yours did you suppress? What needs did your partner have that you ignored and why? Did you capitalize on the things you had in common? How did you handle your differences? What did you bring into the relationship from your previous relationship? And the ultimate question: what did you learn from your previous relationship about yourself?
Our relationship with a significant other is a fundamental part of our existence, simply because we are social creatures. We thrive during a good, healthy, satisfying relationship, and we suffer during a dysfunctional one. Therefore, we have a tendency to aspire to a fulfilling relationship and fear the pain of failing. For most of us, at least one relationship has scarred us, leaving us with this fear of experiencing pain again in our present or future relationship. Your answers to the above questions will shape who you become in the relationship. They will determine to what extent your scars have taught you. They will reflect your ability to learn and grow as a partner in a healthy relationship. Only by appreciating what you learned from your previous painful relationships, and being mindful and knowledgeable about relationships, will you be able to enjoy the relationship you dreamt of. So, let your scars be your teachers.