self-sabotage

Dating Protocol Considerations to Avoid Painful Past Patterns

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According to the most recent data from the American Psychological Association, the divorce rate in the United States is around 40-50% for first marriages. As you might guess it is higher for second marriages and on up from there. You would think with those kinds of repeat numbers, you would slow the process down so that you don’t repeat the second time around the agony you experienced the first time. But, it doesn’t work that way. 

The relief of getting away from the agony of a relationship that hurts and the need to fill the emptiness of being alone, and without the intrigue of a romantic relationship, overpowers perspective and contemplative consideration. Add to all of that the rush of oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine that comes with the honeymoon feeling of a new relationship, and you have a cocktail kick that blows past rational thought and deliberation. It all contributes to why the likelihood of failure in a second marriage is higher than the first. 

Analytically, we can figure it all out. Yet, even after enlightenment we go against what we know and plunge down the same rabbit hole we just escaped. 

Why is this? There are many reasons. People carry with them old tapes of mistaken beliefs learned from their family of origin that create relationship sabotage. Why consider something that might spoil the fantasy relationship I think I can have in the here and now? Many people choose to run from what hurts and never want to stop and scrub the wounds that come from betrayal and various forms of intimacy disability. All this makes sense. It’s just that doing the same thing you have always ever done, doesn’t work toward healing a broken heart that comes from a dysfunctional relationship. 

So, here are some considerations to think about regarding relationship healing, before engaging the next exclusive romantic relational experience.

1. Take some time to catch your breath. You have been running so hard to fix the hurt of the old relationship in ways that did not work, or you are running as hard as you can to get away from the relational pain. Take a time out and catch your breath. Relationships in distress or pursuit burn a lot of emotional BTUs. How much time do you take? One size doesn’t fit all. Some people need 6 months; others need a year. The time you need is unique to you. After you have calmed the chaos, the amount of time you need to heal before engaging in a serious new relationship will vary. The point is to catch your breath before rushing ahead. 

2. You will need time to grieve. How much time? Again, it varies. The rule of thumb is that you will need more time than you are thinking about right now! You will need time to grieve what used to be and no longer is. You will need to grieve what never was that you hoped would have been. You will need to grieve the reality of what is. It’s hard to engage in grieving when the oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine are rushing through your veins with someone new. Most of us don’t know how to grieve deeply. We cry, feel empty, might get drunk, and on we go to the next relationship. But, there’s the need to go deep and feel the hurt of the sadness of what will never be again. Relationship ties undone with family, the loss of the good times, the hurt of the pain, and the impact on others (kids particularly, friends, relatives, etc) all must be embraced experientially before moving on to something new in a serious relationship. The truth is that you will need to create space in your life to grieve and let go of what used to be periodically for the rest of your life. It isn’t meant to grovel in the pain of an old relationship. Yet, recognizing painful experiences in past relationships and letting go is a part of the pattern of being an adult. The time it takes you to sufficiently grieve will vary and you will be wise to consult with counsel and to live in consultation with support people. 

3. Learn to be with yourself. When you end a relationship there is an empty spot. There is a great temptation to fill it in with another relationship, work, travel, and a lot of other activities. Our culture provides so much stimulation that you can just go from one high to the next. But, you won’t heal yourself that way or know who you really are by doing a blitz on stimulants that come from dating and other activities. Embrace the winter of your life and learn from it.

4. Unravel the patterns that sabotage intimacy. If you don’t you will keep doing it and likely blame the other party for your relationship unfulfillment. Some people can date and unravel this self-sabotage behavior at the same time through counseling and group support. Most of us cannot. If you have never been in a riptide current at the beach, you would be wise to stop swimming and learn from those who have experienced and managed the riptide. Ignoring this suggestion is how many people drown in the next relationship doing the same things as before. Unraveling your self-sabotage pattern that contributes to relational failure is difficult. You will need to address unresolved family of origin issues that contribute to the way you do relationships today. Soren Kierkegaard was right when he wrote “Life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood backward”. To move forward and not self-sabotage you will need to look backward and understand what brought you to where you are today. On the other hand, it’s easier to blame your past partner and keep truckin’ wondering why you keep hooking up with partners who hurt you.

5. Sex is always an issue: If you are stuck in the juggernaut of sexual addiction, sex has become an organizing principle of your life. Any reason is a good reason to be sexual. Most likely your behavior is about objectifying another person. Objectification is a way of using another person to get your needs met without dignity and respect or consideration of others. Non-addicted people can objectify as well. If you use another person’s space to meet your needs without proper scrutiny of that individual’s needs then you are objectifying that person. Some people say no sex for 6 months or 1 year after a breakup! Maybe so or maybe not! It makes sense to discipline your tendency to accelerate physical connection so that with moderate speed you are better able to distinguish the difference between intensity of feeling and true intimacy. All too often with oxytocin, adrenaline, and dopamine in control, people thicken the plot to an unhealthy relationship by mistaking intensity for intimacy. In this equation, addicts can’t get enough of what they don’t need and many non addicts adopt an unspoken mentality that my half plus your half will make us a whole! On the contrary, you take what is and make it less because the other person cannot supply your basic need for self-care, so 1/2 + 1/2 = 1/4, not a whole. 

6. Don’t forget the impact on other key relationships: This doesn’t mean you don’t date. It just means that you don’t date lacking sensitivity to the community of people who provide support and who respect and love you. This includes careful considerations about dating others who were once romantically involved with your friends, family, or workmates. Most companies have policies that govern romantic relationships at work. However, not all are the same and many people try to bend the rules to engage in romance. It’s important to be careful and considerate in comprehending the consequences of romance in these situational dynamics. Children need to be carefully considered. Bringing a new person in and out of their lives can be very destructive to them without thoughtful consideration of their care. Each of these impacts requires consultation and accountability with people who are in your support group. 

We are all designed to experience connection with others. How we engage romance requires thoughtful preparation and consideration so that the charm that wells up within does not become harm that hurts others.