how do you break the cycle of poor relationship decision-making?
May 25, 2012 6:36 AM   Subscribe

How have you stopped the cycle of poor decision-making in relationships?

When I reflect back on relationships, I'm quick to point out mistakes, misjudgments, fear of acknowledging feelings, fear of having faith in possibilities, etc. (With me, I'm always the one to break up, and often prolong the pain/prevent healing by constructing long, difficult hot-cold pseudo-relationships afterwards, sometimes longer than the actual relationship itself.) The main problem I see: I've had these kind of "epiphanies" for years, and the issues they pertain to continue to happen, again and again.

At what points in your relationship-creating life have you reached genuine turning points with the type of conflicts you create (and presumably thrive off of)? How do you transition from somewhat superficial self-knowledge to genuine wisdom? I know this is a vague question, but I feel mefi insight will shine through here. or, if it's too horribly vague, I apologize.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I started a blog to write down my feelings (with private access filters for the personal stuff, of course). That way when I'm caught up in the heat of the moment and thinking of breaking up with somebody I care about, I can read about the good times, remember them more clearly, and factor that into my decision-making process. (Or conversely, if I'm thinking about getting back together with an ex, I can read up on the bad times and remember all the reasons that would be a horrible mistake.)

It's not a cure-all, but bringing older memories of good or bad times gives you more data points to factor into your decisions, which in turn helps you make much better choices.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:52 AM on May 25, 2012

Oh god, I feel like learn the same lessons over and over again. Most people do. It's only after the fact of thinking this time was somehow "different" that I realize "damn it! I did it again!"

Part of this is confirmation bias of course. Honestly, each time I've found myself in the kind of situation you describe, deep down I realize what I am doing but I am not honest with myself. That or I try to explain it away. It's REALLY hard to break patterns like that because at some point you have to face yourself and be brutally honest. Doubly hard because your nature is fighting for you to preserve the way you've always done things. Really consider: are there times during your past when you've realized this but somehow kept doing it anyway? It's rare to be completely blind to it. More often, we just go into preserving the patterns because it's what we know and make excuses/fool ourselves into thinking "this time" it's something different.
posted by Katine at 6:55 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

For me, when I had enough pain, I stopped. My pattern was to get into a relationship even though I saw red flags before the relationship actually started.

Once I realized that I was better off with no relationship than with yet another sucky one, I was better able to walk away from the "opportunity" (oy).

Now I have a strong gut-level reaction and I get out of Dodge when I see red flags - I don't think I could even allow myself to Do It Again, at least not that same pattern.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:09 AM on May 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

There are a couple of really simple things that I think about whenever dealing with relationship stuff.

1. You get what you settle for. You have to be brutally honest about whether or not you're settling. If so, you'll never be happy.

2. If it doesn't fit, don't buy it. Okay this is technically for outfits, but it works great with relationships as well. Think about this. You see a jacket on the sale rack, and it's adorable! It has pleats, and a belt in the back and it's in your size. You try it on and there's something not, quite right about it. It hangs funny. The color doesn't flatter you. It does nip in at the waist though... That's where you get into trouble. You narrow your vision such that you see only the part of the item that works, ignoring the majority of the the things that don't work. Best to put it back on the rack and let someone for whom the jacket is perfect get the deal.

3. If it's right, it's easy. No one believes this one until they finally get it right. Most people think relationships have to be hard, but it's not true. Think about this. When you make a new friend, you know right away that you like the other person, that they like you and you have lots of common interests. You find each other interesting and you're happy in their company. Now, there may be some complexities, but for the most part your friendships involve interactions with people who enhance your life. Somewhere along the line, some people believe that relationships are hard, and require lots and lots of work. It's crap. If you're putting more effort into shoring up a romantic relationship than you would a friendship, it's not the right relationship for you. You shouldn't lay awake at night wondering about something the other person said. You should feel completely comfortable asking questions about your relationship, there shouldn't be any mysterious behavior. It's all out in the open and easy.

4. Don't be afraid to cut your losses. Sometimes things start out great and then turn to shit. Through no fault on either side, people grow and change and what used to work, doesn't anymore. A lot of people think that because they've invested X years into the relationship that it would be throwing it all away if they broke up. So they stay, even though they're not happy. This becomes especially true as you age, "I don't want to be 50 and still dating!" Dude, I hear you, but every minute you stay in a non-working relationship is one more minute of your life you can't get back.

5. Alone is just as good as in a couple. This is the hardest thing to believe. Most people think that if they aren't in a relationship that there's something wrong with them. Society has pounded this into heads, especially if you're a woman. Our friends may pity us. You have to overcome this notion. The only reason someone should be in a relationship is because you are so head-over-heels, crazy about someone. So many people hit a certain age, and feel the walls closing in. You hear people panic about biological clocks, and not wanting to die alone all sorts of stuff. Now, this all may be an issue, but none of it should compel you to be with someone who is one iota not right for you.

Learn to love your life as it is. Love your friends. Love your apartment. Love your little rituals. It's your life, you don't get any unspent minutes back at the end of it!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:45 AM on May 25, 2012 [63 favorites]

Ruthless Bunny's manifesto is terrific. I particularly like this part:

You should feel completely comfortable asking questions about your relationship, there shouldn't be any mysterious behavior.

If you're spending hours on the phone with your friends agonizing over your boyfriend/girlfriend, and doing CSI level forensics on every damn thing they say or do, then it may be time to bounce. Your long-suffering friends will thank you. (Goddamn I hate being the sympathetic ear to those interminable and obsessive "What did he MEAN by that?" convos!)
posted by quivering_fantods at 8:20 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

How do you transition from somewhat superficial self-knowledge to genuine wisdom?

I read a ton of AskMe questions - probably the most helpful thing for me. Search for a topic and then just read and read - even situations that don't apply. There are some brilliant bits of wisdom shared here. I actually save little snippets of quotes that strike me as particularly sharp. I buy books that get recommended here. Used copies off amazon are often cheap and really worth the effort, if you're serious about working on yourself. I also really like Dear Sugar.

Figuring out what your heart wants is a big step. Then take responsibility for it. When you know what you want, it's easier to see where your needs aren't being met, so you don't shoehorn yourself into a relationship that you think you can make work. Sometimes the only way to really hear yourself is to be alone for a while. Learn to take care of yourself before you try to take on another person.

I learned how to leave the past behind. At a certain point, past mistakes just become a story you tell yourself over and over that locks you into a role. But you aren't that story, and you can break free at any time. Give yourself permission to move past your mistakes (and other's mistakes). I used to spend a lot of time ruminating and blaming myself for not seeing XYZ or reacting a certain way. While I think some of that resulted in useful insight, now I just don't see it as an important thing to do anymore. It won't protect me from heartbreak.

Accept that there is no safe relationship. You choose to trust. You choose to be open and love. It's strength on your part. Even if it all goes to hell, at least you have represented yourself honestly and truly. That's about the best you can do. Your only constant companion is you, so you'd better choose to do right by yourself before you do right by anyone else.

I spent a few years single, abstaining from dating. I don't recommend it to everyone, but it made some things really super clear for me. I know myself better and I have a much better appreciation for the good things that come in my life.
posted by griselda at 10:25 AM on May 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

Also, unrequited love.

Love somebody and don't "win" them. You learn it doesn't matter if they're in your bed or someone else's. You just want them to be happy. This will color all my future relationships. It makes it blatantly obvious why all my past relationships ended up foundering and crappy. We weren't out for mutual happiness. We were out for self happiness and we wanted the other person to provide it. Can trace just about all the problems back to that.

So yeah, being single and then wanting someone who was impossible to have. Years of not-fun, but it did cut to the core of what was important and drastically changed my approach and what I want from a relationship.
posted by griselda at 12:29 PM on May 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

Go to therapy. If you don't have the extra cash and can't get a doctor's referral, do your homework and find affordable therapy options. They're out there.

A therapist can offer you objective, informed insight about the situations you've been in and help you come up with ways you can make changes. Without knowing it, you may find other areas of your life improving, too. Sometimes we need to talk it out, and we find that we have more resources within than we knew!

Best of luck, and remember, we all make mistakes!
posted by Pearl67 at 10:49 AM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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