How To Stop Repeating Unhealthy Relationship Patterns

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Have you ever had a relationship “deja vu” moment?

Something will happen, and it’ll seem like you’ve danced these steps before, in almost the same scenario. 

Chances are that’s because you have.

This isn’t only for romantic relationships, either. You may have found that you’ve repeatedly dealt with the same types of issues in friendships or with housemates, over and over again.

So why does this happen?

In simplest terms, we’re prone to repeating unhealthy relationship patterns, whether we’re aware we’re doing so or not.

As such, we end up in a holding pattern that we need to break free from unless we want to keep whirling in circles forever.

We Repeat Patterns In The Hope Of A Different Outcome

Are you familiar with the quote: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”?

Albert Einstein gets credit for having said that, but regardless of authorship, the adage rings true.

Scientists intentionally repeat experiments in the hope of achieving consistent outcomes to prove a hypothesis. When it comes to interpersonal relationships, however, we may unintentionally repeat our behavioral patterns. 

Many of us have comfort zones that we like to wallow in, and even though we may have long outgrown them, we drift back into them because they’re far more cozy than the big, scary unknown that change brings.

Sadly, those comfort zones don’t allow growth to happen…

Think of them like eggshells around baby birds. Those shells are protective and safe when the chicks need them, but if they don’t break free once they’ve outgrown them, the shells will trap them inside and suffocate them.

We don’t want that.

Why Do These Patterns Keep Repeating?

First and foremost, we need to take a look at where these patterns originated. This will give us greater insight on how to stop them.

As an example, let’s imagine someone who grew up with a narcissistic parent who always put them down, and never recognized their accomplishments. 

It’s more than likely that person will gravitate toward narcissists when it comes to dating, or housemates, or even close friends.

They’re familiar with the narcissist’s behavior patterns, and on some deep level, hope that this time, this person will see them for who they are, and appreciate them properly.

It rarely works out that way, however. 

The injured person will end up being hurt again by similar circumstances, and will inevitably try again with someone new. Like a charming new narcissist, hoping that this time, if they just do things a bit differently, and love a bit harder, this person will love them.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

How to break this cycle:

If you feel that this is the type of situation you keep repeating, you need to be really self-aware about the choices you’re making, and the people you’re interacting with.

Do you seek validation and praise from the people around you?

Are these people supportive and kind? Or critical and judgmental?

Who are you trying to prove yourself to?

What do you truly want out of this situation?

Are these people really healthy for your personal growth and well-being?

Do you honestly want these people in your life, or are you just seeking desperately needed recognition from them?

Making Mr. Or Ms. Perfect

Another toxic situation that some people may keep repeating is one in which they’re trying to create their dream partner.

These folks are often attracted to one particular “type,” and then try to adjust their partner’s personality, behavior, etc. to better suit their preferences.

An example of this would be someone who’s really drawn to a partner who has particular facial features and skin tone. Once in the relationship, they’ll make suggestions about how the partner should color and style their hair. Maybe take up a certain hobby, or change their clothing style.

Basically, they treat this person like a doll: one they can dress up and adapt to be the companion they’ve always wanted.

Situations like this aren’t just disheartening – they’re disturbing.

The person who’s trying to change the one they claim to love really doesn’t have any interest in the one they’re with.

They’re just trying to fill a dream lover-shaped hole in their lives, and will just get frustrated and disappointed when their partner doesn’t bend to their demands. 

This partner could very well be the ideal person for them, but because they don’t look or behave a certain way, they’ll break up and move on to the next target.

How to stop this cycle:

Determine where this particular yearning is coming from.

Are you trying to re-create someone you lost? Or did you fixate on a particular “type” when you were younger, and are now determined to manifest that into reality?

Have you really gotten to know previous partners? Or have you just seen them as a means to finally achieving your dream?

Do you think this is a healthy approach to partnership?

This one may require the help of a professional therapist or counselor. People who try to mold others into what they want them to be may have deep-seated traumas that are best unpacked with the help.

Be gentle and patient toward yourself, but also acknowledge that if you really want to break this cycle, you’ll need backup.

Learn To Recognize Your Patterns

If you find yourself thinking that you always seem to end up in the same unhealthy, unfulfilling relationship circumstances, grab that handy journal of yours and make a list.

Write down all the things that your previous partners (or friends, or housemates) have in common. Be as detailed as possible, from physical attributes to food preferences, behaviors, etc.

Are there traits that all of these people have in common?

What was your relationship with them like? For example, what activities did you do together?

Were conflicts with them similar? If so, what triggered them?

How did the two of you deal with conflict, either together or as individuals?

Identify the various problems you had with the relationships, including how you behaved toward them, and how they in turn behaved toward you. 

This might get uncomfortable, so keep tissues handy if you need them.

Generally, if a person finds that they keep repeating the same unhealthy relationship patterns, it’s because on some level, they’re choosing to do so.

That can be very hard to face, and even harder to rectify, but acknowledging our own roles in our life stories is the only way to make real change happen.

As such, we need to ask ourselves the difficult questions, and answer them honestly. 

Do You Really Want To Be Here?

If you’re reading this article, you’re likely contending with an unhealthy relationship.

Alternatively, you may be analyzing past situations with the hope of breaking your pattern.

If you are, in fact, in a relationship that you think may be unhealthy for you, then it’s best to ascertain whether you actually want this relationship at all.

Some people don’t want to be in their current situation, but find it difficult to make (or stick to) a decision about it.

So, what type of relationship do you truly want?

What kind of partner do you want to have?

And even more importantly, what kind of partner do you want to be?

Ask Yourself Very Difficult Questions About Your Relationship(s)

Be very clear about the type of relationship you’re going after.

If this is a romantic partnership, do you want companionship with an intimate friend? Or are you looking to build a lifelong partnership?

In cases where you’re cultivating a new friendship with someone, determine your comfort zones and boundaries. This includes how much information you’re willing to share with the person, how much time you want to spend together, etc.

Be honest with yourself as to what you want out of your relationship at this particular point in time. Not what the other person is demanding, or manipulating you into, whether it’s via kind overtures that seem to demand reciprocity, or with guilt trips.

Keep checking in with yourself, and respect yourself enough to ensure that what’s unfolding is what you want. 

By clarifying your own needs, priorities, and life goals, you’ll have a better sense of the direction you should be heading in.

Most likely, it’ll be in an entirely different postcode than the one you’ve been spinning around in for some time.

Pack your bags, because you’re ready to make real change happen.

Still not sure what to do about the unhealthy relationship patterns you keep repeating? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.

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About Author

Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.