Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Dangers of Engaging Old Patterns with New People in Romantic Adult Loving Relationships

Patterns in romantic adult loving relationships not only are inevitable, but also can be troubling. For example, in his on-line article, “Relationship Patterns Don't Lie,” Bob Grant, L.P.C., says, “Many men and women know the definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result) and in spite of this knowledge they continue to date or marry the same type of person while expecting a different result.” In my recently published contemporary romance novel, Fear of Feeling Loved, Marcia realizes that part of the difficulties she and Jack are having is because she is bringing some of the dysfunctional patterns from her previous relationship into their relationship.

Interestingly, in one of the two companion self-help books I currently am writing, My Adult Loving Relationships, I address this phenomenon directly. I talk about a woman I refer to as Bea, a 40 year old woman who had been engaged three times and married twice, who came to see me because she was having difficulties in her relationship with her new boyfriend, Hector. Unfortunately for Bea, all of the previous men in her life, including her father, were non-trustworthy and emotionally abusive types of people. She once said to me, “The only way that I could deal with my dad and the other men in my life was to not believe them or trust them when they would say anything to me. If I would believe them and trust them, they would let me down and I would get hurt.”

A major difficulty that Bea was having, nonetheless, was that Hector considered himself to be a very trustworthy individual. Moreover, he was growing frustrated with Bea because she constantly acted as if she did not trust him. She said to me, “For example, the other night Hector said to me, ‘Bea, no matter what I do, you do not seem to trust me or think of me as a trustworthy person. You never give me a chance. I always have been open and honest with you. I have always followed through on anything that I said I would do. Yet for some reason I do not feel trusted by you!’” Obviously, Bea was scared. She liked and loved Hector very much. She wanted to continue to enjoy her relationship with him. However, it became clear to her that she was having some difficulties in trusting him.

During our second session, I said to Bea, “It might be that you are operationalizing and continuing to use, your old patterns with new people?”
Bea replied, “That is exactly what I said to Hector. I am so afraid of being disappointed and hurt by someone because they are not trustworthy that I have trouble trusting anyone. Interestingly, Hector said to me, ‘Please try to remember, Bea, I am not anyone – I am Hector!’”

As Bea was able to learn some new ways of dealing with people, she was able to learn to take some risks and to be more trusting. It is interesting to note, however, that one time when Hector told her that he would come over to her house by 7:00 o’clock and did not show up until 9:30, she talked with him about it and realized that: (1) Hector was a human being who would occasionally forget what time he said he would arrive; and (2) it did not mean that he necessarily was an untrustworthy person – he was just human. To wit, she said to me, “That old cliché, ‘to error is human,’ is very appropriate for me in my life. For once in my life I feel that I am in a relationship with a person who is basically trustworthy, and my sense is that as long as I continue to act trustingly toward him, things should be okay. Hector is being very patient with me too, and that certainly has been very helpful.”

I am happy to share with you that things must be going well for Bea because the last time I saw her was when I ran into her in a shopping mall – she was proudly wearing the engagement ring she had recently received from Hector.

Treating each individual as an individual and not using old patterns from old relationships as the only way of dealing with people, is occasionally a difficult thing to learn. Being willing to take some risks, being aware of the basic nature of the person with whom you have a current relationship, and being sensitive to “how you are responding to your new person” versus how you “learned to respond to people in your past,” is critical.

Question: Have you ever had difficulties because of engaging “old patterns” in new relationships?



DH said...

I think I miss out on alot of the things that I am looking for in a relationship. I am so grateful for my husband, but I have preconceived notions, thinking things like "he won't understand how I feel" or "he wouldn't be interested in something like that" and slowly I am learning that he does understand and he is interested. It is me, not giving him that chance or opportunity to be different than those in my past. And much like Bea, I forget that I am not living in the past with someone else. I owe him the courtesy of at least asking him how he feels about something and when I remember to do this, I am pleasantly surprised at his answers! DH

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello DH,
When similar things happen and similar feelings emerge, it’s not uncommon to think, “Oh well, here we go again… he (or she) is just like… (a someone from the past).” However, with maintaining awareness and an open-mind, self-reminders (e.g., “Not all men [or women] are the same,” etc.), we can change how we deal with a person. It seems like you’ve been working on it (as well as yourself) and you’re seeing the results. Good for you!
Thanks for sharing.
With all best wishes and regards,