4 Hard Truths About Bad Relationships
Recognizing these psychological facts can help you own your part and heal from the cycle.
“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.” — Carl Jung
There’s no life hack that teaches us as kids how to not be like our parents or caregivers when we grow up. There’s no workshop we can take that teaches us the hard truths on why relationship red flags are there in the first place. And even if there was some masterclass on it, most of us would probably call bullshit and say that we didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know.
We glide from one relationship to the next, pointing fingers, or blaming our ex, while reciting the mantra, “…if only”.
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If only we felt heard by our partner…
If only we got the respect we deserve…
If only we didn’t keep chasing after the very thing we claim to hate…
Yet, we find ourselves going from one shallow, superficial, and toxic relationship to another. We ignore the red flags because they feel comfortable. Familiar. Even comforting, especially if it’s all we’ve known. We continue pointing fingers, avoiding our own self-awareness and holding tight to the belief that if only we keep cycling through relationships, we’re bound to find the “perfect” life partner.
4 Hard Truths About Bad Relationships We Need To Stop Repeating
How You’re Raised Is How You See Relationships. This should be the most a-ha! moment for all of us. Yet, it isn’t. For whatever reason, we don’t make the connection that how our caregivers engage in their relationships is what we learn about ourselves and our relationships. If we grow up seeing mom value a relationship over her own self-respect or self-worth, we’re vicariously learning that it doesn’t matter how badly she’s treated in a relationship as long as she has one.
Fast-forward into our adult lives and we can pick up right where mom left off. We can find ourselves pushing our needs away, going from one bad situation to a worse one, all while continuing to avoid and deny any problem exists.
Nope, nothing wrong here..
There’s a fine line between healthy inter-dependence, and unhealthy co-dependence in our relationships.
When we betray ourselves and our own basic needs for the sake of not being alone, we’ve crossed into unhealthy territory. The longer we stay in this territory, the harder it is to find our way out.
Thinking That Settling Down Or Having A Baby Will “Fix” You. Turn on any rerun of Maury or Jerry, and you’re watching some girl full of teen-angst who thinks that getting pregnant will be the answer to fix everything wrong in her life, from her lazy boyfriend to feeling unheard or unseen by her family. One of the biggest reasons for this pattern is that they’re looking for someone to love them unconditionally, and naively think that things will be great if only they have a baby. No, having a baby won’t make her boyfriend grow up or man up. And, no, having a baby won’t make her family any less self-absorbed.
The reality is that there is now a lazy boyfriend and a potential deadbeat dad, an emotionally unstable family, and a girl who’s having to re-prioritize her life. While still feeling unseen and unheard.
Yet, this dynamic isn’t limited to kids without support or direction. Growing up, I knew a guy who couldn’t be alone. Like, ever. He was always in some stage of a relationship — idealizing one partner, devaluing them sooner or later, and replacing them a week after that. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. The irony is that he was like his own family who played out the same situation and had the same mindset in their relationships (see #1 above). But, good luck driving this point home with him.
The thing is, he believed that if only he settled down with the girl he was with, he wouldn’t continue his cycle of idealization — devaluation — discard. Playing into this agenda allowed him to stay in denial about his own unprocessed pain while getting involved with seemingly worse relationships, while becoming more toxic himself. Because our relationships are based on where we are in our own growth, if he is refusing to heal himself, his relationship choices will inevitably reflect this.
Aside from being brutally misinformed, this type of dynamic does nothing to heal or repair his deeper issues such as fears of abandonment or rejection, an insecure attachment style, patterns learned in an unhealthy childhood, or in reaching acceptance with himself.
Devaluation is still going to be there, even if covertly and behind his partner’s back until he chooses to dive deeper in understanding himself, his own pain and his own motivations. The urge to discard will inevitably still be there especially when devaluation triggers fears or unmet needs. And, having to up the ante in distractions will still be there, along with finding another emotional bandaid once the new thrill wears off.
Using Relationships To Run From Yourself. One of the biggest wake-up calls is when you realize that you’ve been using relationships to run from yourself. You blame your ex as being “crazy”. You point fingers and say if only you didn’t attract habitual cheaters. You “chase” one relationship after another as a momentary bandaid. Yet, all the while, you’re refusing to see that the perfect partner doesn’t exist, and that you’ll continue being hooked into this loop until you begin taking responsibility for your choices, your part in the cycle, your habits, and your own unmet needs that you’re “hoping” a relationship will fill.
Sure, a relationship does fill the void for awhile. It distracts us. It temporarily pushes away intrusive thoughts, our cruel inner critic, or all the crap we don’t want to deal with because we’re caught up in idealization. In pedestals. And, in adoration.
Then, the same slow burn starts bubbling up. We begin feeling indifferent. Unhappy. Anxious. We distract ourselves harder. We kick up the kink in our relationship to try and ignore the things that are driving us nuts about our partner. Or, we bury ourselves in one hobby after another hoping that if only we could push away these feelings, everything will be fine and go back to how things were.
This is how cycles based on emotional avoidance and addiction begin.
The reality is that you know what you do in order to push away what you don’t want to deal with, whether it’s numbing yourself with alcohol, excessive workouts, or discarding one partner for what was on the side. And, you know why you do it. We all know why we do it. To avoid our own pain. To stay knee-deep in denial that we’re nothing like our mother or father. Or, to ignore our unmet emotional needs because it’s too painful to face.
The goal should be how — how to recognize when we’re slipping back into a habit instead of living with intention. How to separate emotional addiction from authentic connection. And, how to change our mindset and beliefs about ourselves and our relationships, so we’re choosing quality over quantity. The fact is, nothing and no one will permanently fill an emotional void within us. No amount of money, success, or material things can buy happiness and authentic connection with someone. Growth is an inside job. And, it’s up to us to rise to that challenge.
Bad Relationships Are Not “Only” Romantic Relationships. Driving this point home is that by the time we’re putting two-and-two together with our relationship history, the pattern is longstanding. But, it didn’t start with our current partner or our ex.
Bad relationships begin in childhood. With our immediate family. We learn what mindsets, beliefs, and patterns are deemed as acceptable — which shape how we see ourselves and our relationships throughout our lives. Inter-generational trauma is based on this psychological dynamic in which patterns learned by one generation are taught and carried with the next.
If we grew up being ignored, silenced or emotionally neglected, we can learn this as “normal” relationship behavior in our adult lives, where we find ourselves attracting and being attracted to partners who unconsciously allow us to replay these early wounds. Similarly, if we had a parent abandon us, we can find ourselves attracting partners who do the same, or where we find ourselves re-creating situations where we are abandoned.
If we saw our caregiver using his partners to make himself feel valued or wanted, we learn. We begin piecing together that relationships are based on opportunity, or getting what we can, and moving on. Sadly, this is how kids learn about hypocrisy; if their caregiver is saying one thing about relationships while doing its opposite, the message a child hears is based on what they see.
Owning Your Part
Freud calls it “repetition compulsion”. Maslow calls it unmet needs. Jung calls it our Shadow. Skinner would say it’s based on reinforcement. And, Bandura says it’s based on modeling and imitation. Whatever we choose to call it, the outcome is the same: we become unconsciously motivated to sabotage our happiness and shoot ourselves in the foot.
Is this because we watched mom (model) for us her toxic patterns and we learned (imitated)? Is this because we haven’t made peace with our Shadow, or because we were conditioned in childhood to believe we don’t deserve better than what we were taught?
Granted, no volatile or unpredictable upbringing is a child’s fault. As kids, we learn by proxy on what is expected, or seen as accepted. Yet, we begin making associations that if only — we were better, or smarter, or more attractive, or more successful — we would be “fine”. What happens is we begin pairing our value and worth based on relationships.
We start attaching our sense of Self to our relationships, and if we aren’t in a relationship, we feel lost.
..which perpetuates the cycle.
Relationships can be tough. They require full emotional investment from both partners. They require diving deeper into our own unresolved pain, and in having those tough talks with our partner. Yet, if one partner is on board with emotional growth, while the other isn’t, as painful as it may be, it’s better to walk away and choose our Self.
I mean, isn’t this what growth is about, anyway?…
CONTRIBUTED BY Annie Tanasugarn, PhD
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