With so much media advice available today, it would seem that most in the dating market would have found the relationship they want. Yet, most of the people I’ve seen have enthusiastically studied many resources on how to find a quality, long-lasting relationship, and still have not been successful. They valiantly struggle to keep their negative pasts from influencing their hopes for the future.
Though it may be totally understandable for discouraged daters to become bitter or cynical, they realize that those attitudes can put off a potential new partner. They want to stay positive and open, but often can’t help facing the next relationship more cautiously. A negative expectation can feel more self-protective, like emotional armor to insulate against the next feared heartbreak. Sadly, that same protection can become a prison.
When I work with people who have unsuccessfully participated in the dating search for some period of time, I can discern where they lie on the continuum between hardening and hope. Through those observations, I’ve seen how those attitudes and the behaviors that accompany them influence their relationship success.
To keep hope up and cynicism down, the goal for each “wounded dating warrior” is to find the right balance between self-preservation and continued openness as they enter a new relationship. Learning from the past and practicing more successful techniques for the future can help even the most legitimately wary relationship seeker hope again.
How to Leave Relationship Failure Behind
To let go of past failures and succeed in future partnerships, you’ll need to courageously explore and examine why you haven’t yet found lasting love. This deep searching can be uncomfortable, but it is the most promising way to make your next relationship really work.
Following are seven lists for you to fill out. The more you write on each list, the more the exercise will benefit you. When you are done, you will have a much more realistic view of what you need to do to find the relationship you desire.
1) Similarities List
No matter how each of your past relationships may have seemed different from one another, there are always similarities. There are four categories under your “how-my-partners-have-been-similar” list. Write as many thoughts or memories as you can under each one.
What physical characteristics you have traditionally looked for in a partner.
What personality characteristics or behaviors you’ve consistently sought.
What you are looking for in terms of who that person is in the world (friends, ocation, family, etc.).
What kinds of interests that person has (spiritual, intellectual, physical, sexual, and emotional).
2) Hope List
On this list, write down what you have always hoped would happen in your ideal relationship. How would your partner treat you? In what time frame would the stages of the relationship materialize? How would your partner feel about your family, beliefs, friends, past relationships, the work you do, and the things that are important to you?
Remember. The more you put on each list, the more you will understand how your thoughts and feelings have defined your search for a partner.
3) Disappointment List
What has disappointed or disillusioned you in your past relationships? Has it been about the person’s disappointing behavior, misleading information, or negative surprises? Has he or she not responded the way you expected when you shared your own thoughts and feelings? What were you led to expect that didn’t happen the way it was promised? What did you find out about these past partners that you could not have predicted?
4) Ideal Relationship List
How would you describe a perfect relationship?. What would you look like as a couple to others? How would you handle conflicts, crises, or disappointments together? What would love-making be like? How would you and your partner parent together someday? What about spiritual beliefs and financial commitments? How would the household chores be prioritized? If one of you were in need, how would the other respond?
5) Personal Failure List
This list is very hard for many people, but critical for your future relationship success.
Write down how you believed you may have contributed to past relationship failures, (even if you thought your partners were more at fault). Be as honest as you can about any of your personal liabilities as a relationship partner. If you were somehow able to have every person you’ve ever loved or been loved by in the same room, and they were to be absolutely authentic, what would they say in common about you that ultimately caused them to leave the relationship?
6) What I Need to Leave Behind List
From the five lists you’ve comprised so far, look carefully at the way you’ve repeated behaviors that haven’t worked in the past, and where your expectations have not been realistic. Let go of any attitudes or beliefs that may have sabotaged your past relationships. Write down how you can more successfully change the things you can and to accept the things you can’t.
The most important attitude to leave behind is stereotyping future partners that might stop you from seeing beyond your past biases. Even though it is normal to use past experiences to help predict future ones, rigid expectations can keep you closed to possible adventures you have not experienced before. Use your past for lessons, but don’t allow it to determine your future.
7) What I Need to Take with me Into the Future List
Go back to that hypothetical room full of your old flames. With the same truth serum, each will now tell you what they truly loved and treasured about you, even if it didn’t turn into a long-term relationship. Also gather feedback from other social sources like honest friends or family members, mentors who have guided you, and your own sense of who, and what, you believe a wonderful person truly is like.
On this list, write down any attributes, attitudes, behaviors, values, or accomplishments that you are proud of. Though it may be hard to believe, many people are more comfortable listing what is wrong with them than what they feel good about. Don’t hold back here. This list should contain those qualities that make you feel valuable, desirable, and worthy to anyone.
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The last part of this exercise will help you in what you look for in a partner and how you present yourself to that person.
1) Sum up each list. Try to get to the essence of what it tells you about yourself.
2) Decide what attitudes, ideas, and behaviors you are going to leave behind and what you want to take through your window to your new relationship process.
3) Make a plan as to how you are going to practice your new behaviors.
4) Now, put yourself aside for a moment, and pretend instead that you are going to look for a perfect partner for your dearest friend. This will help you maintain a useful perspective.
5) Present who your “friend” is to that new partner with authenticity and pride.
6) Tell that person everything that is important about your “friend” and what kind of partner he or she is looking for.
7) Now imagine the most perfect responses that potential partner would have to what you’ve shared with him or her.
8) Make the decision as to whether you should pursue the relationship.
Hopefully, you are now much better prepared to begin your next relationship with a greater chance of success than you’ve had in the past. You’re clear about who you have been, who you are now, what you have to offer, and what you need in return. Your clear and honest awareness of self will help you determine whether a new partner is right for you from the beginning of the relationship.