It's one thing to be aware that you have negative romantic patterns you continually repeat; another entirely to actually stop those self-defeating behaviors. The good news: With will and work, change is possible. I picked the brains of a variety of leading therapists and experts to provide you with tips that prove an old dog can learn new tricks:
- Take a Cue from Gloria Gaynor. Whether or not there is a partner at your side, you will survive. Making it though a breakup without cracking up (at least not permanently) gives you an underbelly of strength. It may not yet be of industrial-strength size proportions but it's a start. To coin another lyric associated with a pop culture icon, once you emotionally own that you're gonna make it after all you no longer need a lover to make you feel whole. Ergo you no longer need to act in the old self-defeating ways.
Dr. Alma Halbert Bond, PhD, author of I Married Dr. Jekyll and Woke Up Mrs. Hyde or What Happens to Love, puts it this way, "Many people are afraid to leave bad relationship because these negative love affairs psychologically thrust them back into early childhood. Consequently, they suffer all over again the terror of potentially being separated from a parent. Happily, finding the courage to leave an adult relationship sends the message that you are no longer a helpless child. Finding a partner then becomes the gravy, not the meal."
Guess what? When you maintain such a healthy mindset, that is when love is likeliest to come knocking at your door.
- Have a One-Person Pity Party. Is grief from a failed relationship still holding you a prisoner? Suggests Dr. Kate, author of Dr. Kate's Love Secrets: Solving the Mysteries of the Love Cycle, "Give into the pain. Tell yourself, 'I will let myself grieve.' Then get out all the pictures of the two of you together and voice all those irrational thoughts like, 'No one will ever love me again.' Keep going until a little voice inside says, 'I don't care.' That's when you should take an aspirin and go to sleep."
Dr. Kate adds, "The next day when you wake up you'll be in a rational state. Repeat this ritual as often as needed. Eventually you will achieve true closure."
- Perform a Closure Ritual. You can't truly move on from the failed relationship until you emotionally lay it to rest. A symbolic gesture can be a start toward accomplishing this goal. One woman, furious after her husband left her for a younger woman, couldn't rid herself of all-consuming anger until she wrote him a letter venting every ounce of vitriol in her system. The point wasn't to send the mad missive but to complete unfinished business. She ripped the letter into pieces, flushed it down the toilet, and with that, flushed away a large part of his hold on her.
- Pretend You Are Shoe (Not Mate) Shopping. Dr. Noelle Nelson, author of Dangerous Relationships: How to Stop Domestic Violence says, "Many people devote more effort to buying footwear than to choosing a lover. You don't just box up the shoes and take them home. You try them on, see if they're comfortable, and think how they'll go with the outfits hanging in your closet. If the shoes don't pass these tests, you put them back and let another pair catch your eyes."
The author, whose website is www.dr.noellenelson.com, continues, "Break the bad habit of getting hooked on someone instantaneously. Instead of mindlessly going with the intense feelings, think about whether he's right for you. Check your prospective partner out in a variety of situations before taking him home. Don't just do a series of dinner and movie dates, go bowling, meet his friends, have him meet yours..."
The moral: The blisters that arise from wearing an ill-fitting pair of shoes fade more quickly than the emotional boo-boos you'll suffer from choosing the wrong partner.
- Don't Find a Partner Only to Lose Yourself. It's a familiar scenario. You're an independent, fun-loving, opinionated, intelligent person. Then you fall in love and become what Dr. Gilda Carle calls "a shadow of your partner." The author of He's Not All That! : How to Attract The Good Guys and Don't Bet on the Prince!: How to Have the Man You Want By Betting On Yourself, says, "This is a phenomenon that happens mostly to a woman. She loses herself so totally in the guy that all the traits that originally attracted him no longer exists. How could they when she exists solely to please him? Perhaps she's put on hold plans to go back to school or start a business because he objects." Dr. Carle cautions, "The more you give up for him, the less he appreciates you, and the more likely he'll dump you."
To forestall this destructive cycle starting up again with a new relationship, Dr. Carle suggests, "Remember the I part of I love you. It's healthy, not egocentric, to consider your needs in a relationship. Also remember how awful it felt to be a slave to the whims of your ex. If you sense warning signs that you're starting down that love junkie road with a new partner, heed these signals instead of ignoring them because it feels so hedonistically wonderful to be in love. The reality is eventually you'll wake up from that passion haze and be miserable. Who needs that?"
- Know Thy Patterns. The key to finding the right person is to be the right person. Figuring out just what you've done right and wrong in relationships past will enable you to do better in relationships future. How do you develop that knowledge? Chart out a romantic resume of your love history. After one woman wrote out the details of four failed romances she realized not only that she kept picking men who couldn't commit, but that she wasn't always answering her lovers' needs either. In two instances when they'd asked her to do small favors, she'd refused.
By writing out your relationships, you'll clearly see what you got out of them, didn't get out of them and how they affected you. This will help you realize your romantic strengths and also how to overcome your weaknesses.
- Know Thy Self. Understanding your romantic patterns is one piece of the puzzle. Another is to understand yourself and what's important to you. Dr. Noelle Nelson explains, "The biggest mistake many of us make is to adopt an image of our ideal mate that's been shaped by the media, our mothers, or our friends. What if, say, you're not career driven and you've been manipulated into seeking out workaholics?"
There is a better way. Explains Brendan Tobin, a personal and professional success coach and author of Yes You Can: Extraordinary Results From Ordinary People, "To find the right mate, you need to put pen to paper and develop a plan based on true self-understanding. Once I realized that my pattern was to date women who needed to be rescued, I sat down, admitted to myself the ways I'd contributed to the breakup of those relationships, who I was now (i.e.: a guy interested in finding a woman who is strong in her own right) and wrote down the qualities I wanted my next, hopefully, last partner to possess. I am now married to my ideal woman."
- Divorce Yourself from Your Parents' Negative Influence. Attraction is an esoteric concept. Too often we find ourselves craving or not craving someone because he or she unconsciously triggers memories of our parents. Anne Teachworth, MA, Director of the Gestalt Institute in New Orleans (www.gestalt-institute.com) says, "Our parents' method of relating is imprinted on us for better or for worse. But you can rewrite that imprint and change the sort of person you are attracted to."
This sounds like a tall order but Teachworth has a plan. "Let's say that you typically choose members of the opposite sex who are emotionally closed because that's how your dad acted with your mom. Remember a scenario between your parents -- perhaps featuring your mother begging him to talk to her, and him refusing. Mentally revise the way the scenario played itself out. On paper write down the revised version which has your dad being expressive and giving. Read this scenario over and over each night like a bedtime story. Create new scenarios starring your new emotionally open dad." Teachworth concludes, "If you do this at least 12 times you will notice a difference in your attraction pattern."
- Stop, Erase, Replace. It takes 21 days to change a bad habit regardless of whether that habit is smoking or repeatedly choosing the wrong type of romantic partner. So says Megan Johntz, an LA-based psychotherapist and public speaker. Johntz, whose website is www.meganjohntz.com, explains, "Research proves that you can literally reform the makeup of your brain in that time frame by creating new neural pathways."
It works like this: When you get the unwanted thought (I'm only attracted to lounge lizards who invariably cheat on me. Straight-laced guys are boring), stop it. This can be accomplished by screaming at yourself, STOP, STOP, STOP; visualizing yourself writing the thought on a blackboard, then erasing it; or seeing the intrusive thought on your computer screen, then hitting Ctrl, Alt, Delete. Replace that thought with I want a true, solid person who will love only me the rest of my life. Pummel that thought into your head: Write it out 500 times, scribble in on post-its you attach all around your house, record yourself saying this new belief and play it over and over while you sleep.
Johtz promises, "After you create these new mental patterns, you really will notice a significant change."
- Be a Pollyanna. Keep telling yourself, "All I'll ever meet are losers," and the prediction will prove an accurate one. Before you set out your shingle as a fortune-teller, consider that what you are is not psychic, but victim of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Need more advice? Check out all of our articles on getting over a breakup.