The idea that love is always a happily-ever-after affair makes for interesting rom-com plots, but it isn’t reflective of reality. Many people have multiple romantic relationships throughout their lifetimes. They end for various reasons, sometimes by mutual consent — and other times, with fireworks.
If your previous romance ended with screams and tears, treat it as a learning opportunity. Take an honest look at your role — not blaming yourself but discovering what you shouldn’t do in the future. Here are five tips to avoid bringing the problems from your last relationship into your new one.
1. Identify Your Triggers
Think about the last time you behaved in a way where you frankly disappointed yourself. What were the circumstances surrounding the event? Do you remember feeling overwhelming fear, anger or rage without fully understanding why? Reflecting on such occasions can help you understand your emotional triggers.
An emotional trigger is an exposure to a stimulus that causes memories or physical reactions to past severe or sustained trauma. This stimulus need not be external or even directly related to the previous event.
For example, extreme stress at work creates the same physiological conditions in your body — like excess cortisol production and sweating — that existed when the prior traumatic event occurred. Your boss may be nothing like your abusive parent, but you could feel triggered all the same from the neurochemical cocktail swimming through your bloodstream.
The power of knowing your triggers is feeling more in control of your behaviors. German psychologist and neurologist Viktor Frankl writes that true freedom lies between a stimulus and your choice in how you respond. Recognizing “I’m triggered” allows you to step back, give yourself a minute — or several — and consider the best way to react. It’s far better than acting out impulsively and hurting your partner without understanding why.
2. Understand Your Attachment Style
Your attachment style forms early in life and revolves around your relationship with your earliest caregivers. There are four types — one secure and three insecure:
- Avoidant attachment style: Individuals with this style tend to shy away, even pull back, when relationships get too close. Their caregivers often ignored them as infants when they attempted to socialize or get their needs met, leading the child to believe they can’t depend on anyone. They may seem aloof, even cold.
- Anxious/ambivalent attachment style: This attachment style is evidenced by fear that the other person won’t reciprocate the affection and attention. As adults, these individuals may become clingy. They may act like the stereotypical “helicopter” parent with their children.
- Disorganized attachment style: This attachment style emerges when the infant is traumatized by their caregiver but has no choice but to rely on them. As adults, some individuals might go to extreme measures to avoid ending relationships or, conversely, turn as cold as ice with seemingly little provocation. They desperately want to get close to others but lack the requisite trust and ability to do so.
- Secure attachment style: This attachment style represents healthy attitudes toward personal relationships. These people can form trusting bonds but are equally capable of walking away if the situation turns toxic.
If you fall into one of the insecure categories, work with a trusted therapist. They can help you identify the underlying patterns emerging from your attachment style and toward a more secure way of viewing the world.
3. Spend Some Time Alone
You’ve heard people say, “You have to love yourself before you can love others.” While this statement may or may not be true, you should have a secure feel for who you are, what makes you tick and what you enjoy before getting into a romantic relationship.
Sometimes, human beings rely on their partners to meet their needs too much. Remember, you have to bring something to the table, too, or resentment could simmer. Maybe your new partner does seem to want to spend every weekend fishing, which you despise — but have you tried suggesting doing something else?
Spending time alone helps you cultivate your unique interests. When you connect with someone, you’ll feel equally comfortable spending Saturdays solo or heading out on adventures together.
4. Define Your Needs, Wants and Deal-Breakers
Even the perfect partner can’t anticipate your every need and want. You must communicate what you’re looking for — spend some time deciding what qualities you want in your next relationship.
Are you looking for a bond that deepens into marriage, or do you want to spend more time soul-searching first? What are you willing to sacrifice for the right person? For example, would you give up your dreams of a farmhouse in the country if your mate adored urban living, or would that be a deal-breaker? What if you want children and they don’t, or vice versa?
Knowing what you want doesn’t make you a bad or picky person — quite the opposite. It helps you avoid future resentment by keeping you from getting too attached to people with whom you may not have a realistic shot at a future. It’s kinder to you and your potential partner by sparing you unnecessary heartbreak.
5. Spend Time in Therapy
In a perfect world, every man, woman and child would have access to a therapist — and take advantage of this amenity. Who survives their childhood without any scars? Working through your past traumas and merely discovering who you are and what matters to you can help you find the relationship you want.
If you have access to a therapist, why not book a session or two to discuss your last relationship? They can help you process any lingering emotions and decide what you want to do differently next time. If lying on a couch isn’t your cup of tea, check out some of today’s apps.
Strengthen Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships
Some things in life demand repeat performances, but unions that ended badly aren’t among them. Avoid bringing the problems from your last relationship into your new one with a few mindful tips.