Regardless of repeated patterns, each new relationship is unique and every past one holds both positive and negative experiences. Sequential relationships feel to most relationship seekers as if they are trying out a series of potential settling places, each of which offers reasons to stay and reasons to keep exploring.
That means, of course, that the partners in all relationships are on trial, always compared to the past, and subject to being more or less valuable in the future. To believe anything else is a romantic myth that can make intimate partners less aware of how much energy, time, commitment, and skill they must be willing to give to keep their current relationship as alive and meaningful as they can.
One of the standard questions I ask my established relationship partners is, “Where are you the most alive and present in your life?” Way too often, even in the presence of each other, they spontaneously and innocently answer that they are the most involved and excited about their lives somewhere other than in their relationship. Yes, of course, they value their partners, but they have somehow become more like backdrops on the stage rather than central performers. Their committed relationship is a place to regenerate so they can give the best of themselves elsewhere.
Worrying about losing one’s partner is a terrible state of insecurity. It tends to make a person careful not of offend, devoted to constantly being what the other wants, and constantly watching out for any potential competitors. That state of hyper-vigilance is not only exhausting, but not interesting or attractive. People who live in those fears are constantly concerned about loss, and continuously look for reassurance. Not only do these insecure partners live in a state of painful anxiety, but their commitment of so much energy to that fear of potential loss robs them of the time and opportunity to develop what value and specialness they could bring to a relationship.
Do people sometimes leave a current relationship to return to an old one that now seems better? Do some leave relationships prematurely unfinished, and then want to find closure before they can truly commit again? Do even committed partners often wonder if there is someone better out there for them? Do all relationships wax and wane in terms of satisfaction? Do some ex-partners resurface and actively attempt to gain back their old relationship? Are there intimate partners who regret leaving some relationships behind even when they are committed to a current one? Are some relationship partners pretending to be committed but are internally searching for a way out of their current one?
Yes. Those potential threats are always there. Whether founded on legitimate concerns or not, the fear of their presence will drain the positive energy of a relationship, actually making it more prone to defeat at the hands of those enemies.
Some currently committed partners stray, deceive, or behave in ways that eventually destroy a relationship. And there are many who never do. In the four decades in which I’ve practiced as a relationship therapist, I can unequivocally say that the major reason people do not do things that threaten their current relationship is because they do not want to lose it. Every currently committed partner is faced with multiple options to choose new loves as life goes on, but intimate partners who absolutely cannot imagine being without their current partner, simply do not allow those temptations to grow. When they experience them, they put energy back into the relationship they’ve chosen.
Insecure relationship partners who constantly worry about a past or future person who might threaten their current partnerships will, too often, be preoccupied with that potential loss. And, partners who are secretive, unavailable, and uninterested in providing love and support, are more likely to increase insecurity in the other. That is a deadly combination and a sure predictor of relationship failure.
Past relationship betrayals, the inability to be a courageous and open communicator, insecurity of one’s own worth, being with a partner who is “more marketable,” the inability to get the love one needs, indicators that the other partner is bored or losing interest, or diminishing interest in being together, are all potent stimuli that will increase the fear of loss. Each of those must be addressed by both partners in any relationship that has the chance of long-term success. They are so important that they should be addressed as early on in a relationship that the new partners are able and willing to do so, and continually in on-going committed partnerships.
The most crucial thing to remember is that past or future people can only threaten a relationship that has lost its own unique magic. The energy lost in living in insecurity needs to be put into keeping the best parts of a relationship alive and thriving, while continuously adding new and challenging dimensions. The art of creating a great relationship can be learned. Nurturing the positive parts of it, and diminishing what doesn’t work is a necessary component. Fear of loss is the greatest enemy to that path.
Here are some related articles that might help. You can get to them by going to my website, randigunther.com. Or, you can find them by their individual titles on Psychology Today Blogs. I welcome any comments.
Dating a Man who is Separated but not yet Divorced
Should you Rush Into a Relationship?
Are you Withholding Love?
Is Lying Part of Loving?
Coming Home – When Old Loves Rekindle
10 Important Questions you should ask a Potential Partner
Class Reunion Scrambles – Return to Old Loves
Why Can’t I Let Love in?
Virtual Infidelity – Am I being Unfaithful if I don’t Touch
How can Romantic Love Transform into Long-Term Intimacy?
What Causes Boredom in Intimate Relationships?
And, my ebook, HeroicLove.com