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We cannot emotionally complete our past until we are aware of what our patterns are. If we don’t understand our patterns, habits and beliefs, we bring our emotional baggage into the next relationship and our relationship history will keep repeating itself.
The first practical step to achieve clarity is to examine the relationship history. Let’s look at Robert and Ellie who just broke up.
This is Robert’s Relationship history:
Robert grew up with a critical and controlling mother. He often felt like he could do nothing right.
1997, Grade 7, Emma
Emma was the first girl I kissed. She told her girlfriends that I was a bad kisser. I felt embarrassed and like a failure.
1999, Grade 10, Hannah
I had a long-time crush on Hannah before I finally asked her out. We went to the movies. I wanted to be respectful, but she made fun of me for not trying to feel her up in the dark theatre. I felt embarrassed and like I can’t win, no matter what I do. I didn’t ask her for a second date.
2000, Grade 11, Lara
At my brother’s 19th birthday party, I got drunk and hooked up with Lara. After the party, I was too embarrassed to call her. A month later she had another boyfriend. I always regretted not having followed up with her.
2001/2002, Grade 12, Veronica
I went out with Veronica during my grade 12 year. We broke up twice because she nagged so much. I always felt that I wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted somebody who talked more and was more secure and more self-confident.
Anne and I had a long distance relationship for the first three years. When we both ended up in Toronto after graduating we moved in together. Luckily, we only rented an apartment. Within three months, it was clear that we could not live together. She was a neat freak and I was constantly walking on egg shells, trying to keep everything tidy and clean. She also didn’t like my friends and I allowed her to control who I spent time with. She drove me nuts and I broke up with her when I met Christina. In fact, I had an affair with Christina before I moved out of the apartment Anne and I shared. When Anne found out we had a huge blow out with her yelling and kicking me out.
Christina was much more easy going than Anne. At first, we had a lot of fun together, partying and going dancing a lot. Eventually, Christina also started nagging. She was very high maintenance. She often complained that I wasn’t making enough money. That made me feel inadequate and angry. I liked her less and less. She would get very angry at me when I forget to tell her something. She would even throw things at me. Her yelling reminded me of my mother. I totally shut down when she yelled. She even went through my pockets, phone and computer to snoop after me. I stopped sharing with her. After one huge fight, I swore I would never trust her again. I moved out to live with my brother Frank until I met Ellie.
I thought Ellie was different. She seemed so understanding and non-judgmental at the beginning. She was younger than me but she also wanted to buy a house, not a ridiculously huge house like Christina but a townhouse, a good investment. We both had stable jobs and it made sense to buy something together from the start. Most of my buddies and even my brother were getting married and it felt like Ellie could be “the One”.
There were some signs early on though that she needed to know everything about what I was doing. At first, I gave up some of the stuff I like to do but I soon felt trapped like I had felt with Anne and Christina. I also felt that I couldn’t do anything right. Ellie always wanted to talk and that usually meant she was unhappy with something. I didn’t want to have another failed relationship, so I just started telling her that I had to work later some days to have some time to myself. I felt like my needs didn’t matter.
During the summer of 2016, Lara reached out to me on Facebook. I knew Ellie was checking my friends on Facebook so I never added Lara, instead I started communicating with her in secret. I knew Ellie would insist on meeting her as well. When I met with Lara for lunch for the first time, I felt so good. I finally had somebody I could talk to about my issues with Ellie. Her husband had cancer and she also needed somebody to share with. I felt like she appreciated me. I felt what I hadn’t felt in a long time: good enough and capable. We first met once a month but in 2017 we started meeting once a week.
A friend of Ellie’s saw us and when she found out that we had been meeting in secret, she totally lost it. I understand why Ellie feels betrayed but I don’t know how I could have had my own needs met and also make Ellie feel happy and secure. I am moving out as soon as our house has been sold.
Robert’s former partner Ellie also has a Relationship History:
When Ellie was five, her parents divorced. Her dad left and remarried. Ellie felt unwanted by him and his second wife. Her own mother was depressed and Ellie had to take care of her emotionally.
1999, grade 8, Ben
Ben asked me if I wanted to be his girlfriend. We hung out a couple of times each week. I felt proud and totally trusted him. Six weeks after he asked me to be his girl, he told me we couldn’t hang out because he had a “family thing”. The same evening, I saw him in town, kissing Anne-Marie, who everybody knew was “easy”. I felt really stupid that I didn’t know that he had lied to me. I felt rejected and betrayed.
2001-2003, grade 9 & 10, Michael
Michael and I were friends first. He had a lot of problems at home. I was a good listener and I felt he needed me. When he and his family moved away, I was devastated. He had promised to stay in touch but he didn’t. I felt huge sadness which felt very similar to the feeling when my dad left.
2005, grade 12, Adam
I was dating Adam for six months. During prom night he got drunk and I felt embarrassed by his behaviour. I was glad that he moved away for university.
I met Brian at university. He was a year younger than me. Each time I brought up wanting to get married after university, he said he wasn’t ready. In 2010, he moved into my apartment because we felt we could save money. Things went downhill from there. We had different schedules and he liked to be out late partying. I felt anxious when he was out with his friends. He felt I was asking too many questions and that I was too boring.
When I first met Robert, I loved that he was older and more serious. He liked that I listened to him and helped him solve some problems. He also seemed to try so hard to make me happy. I felt special. It seemed like a good decision to buy a house together but over time Robert retreated. He stopped sharing with me and talking to me. When I tried to talk to him about problems, he usually got defensive. I felt unimportant, not heard and rejected. Each time he stone-walled, I felt anxious and pushed him even more to be honest about his feelings and needs and to open up. We accumulated many issues that Robert refused to talk about. I felt rejected. When I found out that he had weekly lunch dates with his high school friend Lara and confided in her regarding our problems, my entire world collapsed. I am sure he is in love with her. I feel replaced and betrayed. Robert substituted me just like my dad replaced me with his new children. I broke up with Robert because I cannot trust him again.
When we read those relationship histories carefully we can see unresolved emotions and repeating patterns for both partners, as well as limiting beliefs and habits they have learned. Robert’s unresolved emotions and patterns are feeling not good enough, feeling embarrassed, feeling criticized and feeling trapped. He believes that his needs don’t matter and his habits are to be secretive and to close up with his partner the more he feels controlled. Instead of addressing his needs he tends to move to the next partner who initially seems more understanding, only to find himself in the same cycle after a while.
Ellie’s patterns are to feel not heard, embarrassed, excluded, rejected, unimportant and replaced. She believes that she has to be a good listener and to be needed like her mom needed her. Her habit is to push when her partner retreats and to be controlling due to her fear of being replaced.
Both Robert and Ellie re-created what they most fear. Robert continually experienced feeling trapped, being controlled and feeling not good enough. Ellie repeatedly experienced feeling left out, rejected and replaced. Their issues fit into each other. Their relationship was an opportunity and incentive to resolve those issues and heal their old wounds.
The romantic relationship history is a discovery action. Discovery and completion are not the same. The exercise helped Robert and Ellie to remember all their past relationships in ways they had not looked at them before. They examined each of them for uncompleted emotions and the beliefs learned through the experiences. However, intellectual knowledge is of limited value. At the end of each relationship, we are left with unrealized hopes, dreams, and expectations. There are always things which we wish had been different, better, or more. Robert and Ellie need to do some deeper work on completing the relationships, including taking responsibility for their part, forgiving the other people and themselves, clearing out lingering emotions, and completing unfinished communications.
When a relationship ends, it is most of the time impossible to achieve completion in a direct communication with your former partner. Russell Friedman and John W. James, the founders of the Grief Recovery Institute, have developed a very practical program to complete the relationships we have experienced and to clear out our baggage before we move into the next relationship.
The book “Moving On” is available on Amazon.
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