Recurrent patterns in relationships

Over time, many people come to feel that they are repeating similar patterns across different relationships. These patterns can be difficult to see clearly when you are in the middle of them, and often emerge when reflecting back on your relationsnhip past. People frequently seek help from a psychologist when they suspect that they are in the process of repeating an old pattern in their current relationsnhip, or after a relationship ends, and they would like to learn from their experiences and create healthier interactions in relationships to come.

Recurrent patterns or themes in relationships typically happen outside our awareness, often unfolding relatively subtly and gradually. This can make it difficult to detect your own contributions to your patterns, to understand underlying causes, and to work out how to change.

Common patterns that people seek help with include:

Fearing that others will leave, abandon, or reject you. This can lead to seeking reassurance or acting in ways that you think will make the other person stay. Another way of coping with abandonment fears is by shutting off from others to avoid anticipated pain, or by sabotaging a relationship before the other person has a chance to leave.

Placing others' needs and wishes before your own, and acting in self-sacrificing ways, or being overly concerned with keeping other people happy. This can lead to feelings of exhaustion, anxiety, lack of fulfillment, resentment, and anger. It can also lead to feeling smothered or overshadowed by others in relatoionships.

Placing exceedingly high expectations on yourself or others or a relationship, and frequently feeling disappointed, dissatisfied, or that things don't measure up.

Being easily angered or irritable in relationships: finding that others readily "push your buttons", leading to frequent arguments or harsh words, which often leave simmering feelings of resentment and/or guilt in their wake.

Difficulty committing, trusting, or opening up in relationships. This can cause panicky feelings as you start becoming closer and more intimate with others. It can also lead to an urge to flee or distance yourself, and can cause you to subtly place emotional barriers between yourself and others.

Feeling negative or pessimistic about relationships: assuming ahead of time that relationships will fail or be unfulfilling. This often manifests and thoughts such as "What's the point?" or "It's not worth the effort".

Being drawn to people who mistreat or neglect you, or perpetually fearing that happening. Alternatively, being inclined to interpret others as attacking, humiliating, or putting you down, and experiencing frequent conflict or misunderstanding around this theme.

Being drawn to people who are "out of reach" or unavailable, either practically or emotionally.

Perpetually feeling that others do not meet your needs: feeling a chronic lack of empathy, support, guidance, nurturance, or encouragement from others.

Becoming overly dependent on others, either for emotional wellbeing, sense of self, sense of worth, or for practical reasons such as feeling unable to make decisions, go places, or undertake activities on your own. This ultimately eats away at self esteem, exacerbates anxiety and feelings of vulnerability, and interferes with cultivating your own abilities and potential. Partners may also become frustrated and tired of taking the initiative.

Fearing betrayal, and feeling jealous and possessive of significant others. This is often associated with over-interpreting the meaning of innocuous events, such as your partner talking to someone at a party. People often cope with their fears of betrayal by attempting to restrict their partner's activities, or by checking on their partner, for instance by looking through their SMS or e-mail. Jealousy and possessiveness can be a particularly destructive force in a relationship, leading to spiralling conflict, insecurity, and resentment.

A psychologist can help you to discover what patterns are at work in your relationships, what drives them, and how they play themselves out in your thoughts, feelings, and actions. With this knowledge you can then learn how to rework your patterns, and create new, more healthy styles of interacting.


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