Understanding past relationships: Getting back into dating and relationships can be a fun, but anxiety provoking time. Perhaps your dating experience hasn't been that great. Or your past relationships have been pretty bad. You may recently broken up with a person and find yourself questioning things. There are many natural questions people will ask as they get back out to dating after a break-up: Why did we end? What did I do wrong? What did they do wrong? Why are my relationships the same? One of the most important questions to ask after a break-up though is: what can I learn from this? For many the natural response might look like “oh I learned that I should NEVER date that type of person again”. Such a reaction is understandable, however you want to start looking at every aspect of the relationship. Ask yourself:
- What worked? What are some things that you really liked that they did?
- What didn’t work? What are some things that you really couldn’t stand?
- What are some of the mistakes your partner made? What are some that you may have made?
- Why did we stay together?
- What was the relationship doing for me?
- How did the relationship hinder me?
- What skills did I gain from this relationship?
- How am I a better person for have dating this person?
As you go through these questions what are some of the feelings coming up for you? Do you feel angry reviewing the past? Or do you feel upset? In what context are they coming up? Such as getting upset often because your partner didn’t get back to you quickly when you texted them. Perhaps you found it difficult to say no to your partner and set boundaries. These questions can offer an understanding of yourself and a new frame of looking at how to approach dating again. One of the most important and difficult questions to ask are the things that you need for yourself so that you feel safe, secure, and understood within a relationship.
Sometimes these needs are informed by our attachment styles, which influence how we look at relationships. Making a list of about 10 needs/wants will help you to refocus more upon finding partners that are a better match for you than the next shinny person. Some of the things you put on your list should be negotiable as we unfortunately can get everything we want, but a couple things (3-4) should be non-negotiable. Be realistic with what you put. Putting something like “needs to look like David Beckman or needs to look like Beyonce” might be a little extreme, but something like “tries to be fit” might be more realistic. An example of this list might look like:
- Needs to text me back when I text them (non-negotiable)
- Needs to like being out in nature
- Needs to keep fit (non-negotiable)
- Need to allow for my own space (non-negotiable)
- Would like them to like sports
- Needs to be aggressive in bed (non-negotiable)
- Needs to have a secure job
- Would like a brunet
- Needs to like going to art museums
- Needs to get along with my family
Having this frame of reference will help narrow your field to be more attentive to those that might be a better fit for you. Some things may not hit right on the dot, but the most important things to focus on are the non-negotiable. As you start picking up on the patterns of people you are attracted to this list along with the questions you went through will provide an easier guide to hopefully finding a better partner. As per the slowness of dating, this may take sometime, but it will be more true to what you want and need. Being honest with yourself is the best way to guide you.
Before you start upon the big ocean of dating, make sure you have gone through each of the steps before. Have you built a security net of friends and others? Have you started doing things for yourself? Have you reflected upon your needs? If you find that you haven’t done these things yet then you may not be ready to start dating again. The most important thing to remember is to NOT get rid of these things when starting a new relationship. If ever you start to or if your partner forces you to, then you may want to reevaluate the relationship.
As you start dating again though, make sure you keep the list of needs in the back of your mind. Watch out for any red flags that may be pointing in the direction of things that your ex did that you did not like. This can be difficult in the puppy love stage of meeting someone, but it’s important to remain skeptical. You may also be inclined to compare the new person to your ex. This is natural, but don’t let it be a guide for the people you choose. Each person is different and even if two people may seem similar, they can be completely different. Being true to who you are, what you need, and what you want is one of the best ways for getting over a break-up.
If you find that you are having trouble in any of these steps or getting over a break-up, contact The Center for Growth/Sex Therapy in Philadelphia. We can help you explore the relationship and help guide you to understanding yourself and what you need from a relationship.