Former partners, past lovers or that main squeeze who got away (or you got away from)—these people can be your teachers now. Whatever happened in the past, assuming you are no longer hurting deeply about it, is like a relationship how-to course, a love laboratory custom designed for you and only you. Think about it. You were one half of those unique relationships and the outcomes that you and your partner, both individually and together, are responsible for will guide you in your next relationship.
You want to avoid repeating mistakes, and figure out what did work. First you really need to do some fine-tuned analysis of the past so you can eliminate destructive patterns, figure out where you need to grow before the next relationship and head into future relationships better prepared and more knowledgeable about your wants, needs and requirements.
With a relationship, and significant other, firmly in the past, it is easier to look at the whole scenario objectively and scrutinize it closely. Really closely—through a magnifying glass! Don’t shy away! Look at all the warts and bumps. Do not idealize it (if you were not the one who wanted it to end, you might do that). Do not demonize your former partner (no matter how bad things got, realize it takes two to take down a relationship). Look at the whole situation with open eyes and an unsentimental heart. Examine how the relationship began, how you communicated, where you were in your own development at the time, where you are now, and what it all means to you. What you find can tell you everything you need to know about who you are and who you want to be with.
Let’s take a little stroll down memory lane. Here is the homework:
- On your computer or a piece of old fashioned paper, make four columns labeled “Name,” “Positive,” “Negative,” and “Reason.”
- In the name column make a list of the “who” you were partnered with in each of your past relationships.
- In the “Positive” column, list what was good about the relationship. What did you appreciate in the dynamic between you and your partner? What did you like? What worked for you? How did you benefit? How did the relationship benefit, if it did, from the actions and attitudes of you and your partner?
- In the “Negative” column, list the less fulfilling traits of the relationship. What didn’t you like about the dynamic? What did not work for you? How were you hurt by that partner? How did you hurt him or her? What patterns did you fall into that you understand now were not helpful to your relationship?
- In the “Reason” column, look at the “why?” Be relentless in pursuing the truth about what broke you up. Why are you not in that relationship or in touch any more?
After doing the above homework for every relationship you have been in, you will have a lot of very valuable information. More importantly, you will be able to gain insight into your relationship patterns. What positive patterns do you see repeated? What negative patterns keep cropping up? What do you understand about these positive and negative patterns? How might your understanding impact your current behaviors and choices in relationships?
Analyzing relationship patterns requires discipline and honesty and will help you move forward into new, solid and resilient relationships. I strongly urge you not to “just think about” your past relationships. Writing things down has a way of clarifying things and also demanding honesty. When we “just think,” it is easy for our minds to veer away from the painful or awkward—those things we’d really rather not dwell on, thank you very much. But we have to, I’m afraid, if we are going to learn those lessons that are there for us, and move on in positive and productive ways.
Finally, do some visualization. It’s powerful stuff, no question. To do this, formulate your own vision plan for your best relationship yet. Identify and write down your requirements, needs and wants in a relationship and spend some time each day picturing what that relationship would look like. By retraining your expectations, you may find you behave, think, and feel differently. If that happens, working on achieving that vision becomes even more likely. And don’t hesitate.