Home > divorce, Marriage, Psychology, relationships > Are You Stuck in an Unhealthy Relationship Pattern? Part Three

Are You Stuck in an Unhealthy Relationship Pattern? Part Three


clones_1This is part two of Are You Stuck in an Unhealthy Relationship Pattern? and Are You Stuck in an Unhealthy Relationship Pattern? Part Two. The last post examined how self-doubt and fears contribute to unhealthy relationship patterns, but that’s not all.

Preferred “problem-solving” techniques that you default to when things go awry in your relationships also contribute to a dissatisfying relationship pattern. You may not even be aware of how you typically respond when things go wrong. Oftentimes, these techniques worked in the past, but are  probably keeping you from having the kind of relationship you want now. More often than not, they’re a form of avoidance or digging in your heels and doing the same thing even harder that didn’t work the first time.

For example, do you:

  • Hang in there no matter bad it gets?
  • Focus on your partner’s positive qualities and try to remember only the good times as things get worse and worse?
  • Focus on how good the sex is and ignore the problems?
  • Ignore the problems until you’re forced to deal with them?
  • Try to work around the problems?
  • Keep giving it your all and remain hopeful despite all signs to the contrary?
  • Try to be patient and loving while you receive nothing in return?
  • Try to fix your partner’s problems?
  • Try to be forgiving and understanding despite your partner hurting you repeatedly?
  • Avoid confrontations?
  • Deny there are any problems?
  • Defend your partner’s behaviors to others?
  • Make excuses for your partner?
  • Give up on the relationship before trying to fix anything?

Some of these techniques may still be effective in specific situations from time to time; however, it’s better to use them judiciously because they’re probably doing you more harm than good. Many of these strategies are a form of “magical thinking.” By relying on them, you avoid dealing with the reality of the situation and never fully develop a good healthy mutual dialogue about difficulties.

These behaviors are primarily avoidance techniques. Ultimately, they only serve  to undermine your chances of a satisfying relationship because they’re really just ways of beating yourself up and ignoring your needs and right to be treated well. If you consistently take the blame for everything in your relationship to avoid confrontation because you fear it will lead to a break-up, you need to consider the quality of the relationship and whether your partner actually values you.

The fear of opening yourself up, being taken advantage of or rejected also add to a dissatisfying relationship pattern. Whenever you doubt yourself or are afraid of being hurt, you may approach relationships in an unproductive manner, which guarantees the outcome you most fear. For example, a woman is afraid the man she began dating will reject her and break her heart. Without realizing what she’s doing, she begins to push him away and acts distant. As a result, the man doesn’t think she’s interested and stops calling her.

Consider if you have any self-defeating behaviors that you engage in when you’re feeling vulnerable, fear that a potential partner may reject you or worry that your relationship is ending. At these times, do you have a pattern of:

  • Trying to rescue or save your partner?
  • Putting more into your relationships than you get out of them?
  • Pursuing the other person while he or she acts in ways that create distance?
  • Not expressing your feelings or needs to your partner or potential partner?
  • Pushing people away who try to get close to you?
  • Feeling like you can’t live without the other person?
  • Becoming dependent and clingy?
  • Becoming cold and distant?
  • Becoming angry when your partner doesn’t respond or behave the way you want?
  • Becoming upset if you don’t get your way or feel like you’re being ignored?
  • Censoring yourself and freezing up?

Consider if your choice in romantic partners is based on past relationships and subsequent faulty beliefs, fears and self-defeating behaviors. If so, it’s probably contributing to the difficulty you have establishing and maintaining a healthy relationship. It’s natural to want a satisfying intimate relationship. However, when you seek intimacy from individuals who aren’t capable of reciprocating due to your earlier relationship programming, you end up following the same pattern without questioning the futility of it. You would spare yourself a lot of pain and disappointment if you start to challenge your beliefs and fears and make different choices instead.

For example, let’s say you want some bananas, but instead of going to the supermarket, you go to the hardware store. You go back to the hardware store everyday and each time you’re surprised that they still don’t have any bananas. It’s ok to want bananas, but you’re never going to find them at the hardware store. In fact, you’ll drive yourself bananas if you keep trying to do so. Perhaps this example seems absurd, but so is choosing the same kind of person with the same kinds of issues over and over again, hoping for a different outcome.

The logical conclusion is that if you really want a healthy and loving relationship, you need to reality test your self-defeating relationship beliefs, fears and behaviors and choose a different kind of partner. Or, if you’re currently in a relationship with the type of person you’re usually attracted to, assess how ready he or she is to change before going any further. If you’re in between relationships, I strongly recommend that you try to understand if your attraction to this kind of person is a way to repeat and master (repetition compulsion) earlier relationships (i.e., with your family) that are unresolved in your mind.

Next week, I’ll post Part Four in this series, which will examine how self-defeating attitudes contribute to unhealthy relationship patterns, so please check back.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Private Consultation and Coaching

I provide confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. My practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit Services and Products for professional inquiries.

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Photo credit:

Clones on lostartofblogging.

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  1. Free at Last
    April 12, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    Hello Dr T… Wow! this article has been a real eye-opener for me. What I thought were important advantages – having been brought up by emotionally healthy parents in a low-conflict environment, having a very patient character and having had formal management training in conflict resolution – can in fact be serious disadvantages in a relationship with a highly narcissistic person and/or just plain unsuitable partner. My background results in my hitting 7 out of 14 items in your first list.

    I ignored these three articles in my first intensive study of your site last week, as I didn’t think I had a pattern of being stuck. But fully half of my past relationships have been with unsuitable women; I stayed with them for way too long, and now I understand exactly why.

    From this point forward, I’ll continue to use my skills and patience when developing a relationship, but I’m going to keep my eyes firmly focused on the “reciprocity gauge.” If it’s not changing or exhibits a downward trend, I’ll be out of there quickly.

    I cannot thank you enough for all the knowledge and wisdom you’ve posted here. I think you’ve already earned your place in heaven, and I hope to eventually see you there.

  2. Chrissy
    August 18, 2009 at 12:22 am

    Hi there, I do not know her, just a fan of her book LOL!
    I’m just glad I found this blog to stop by and blab about this book I loved.
    Since you know her have you read her book? Did you love it too?

  3. Chrissy
    August 15, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    Everyone gets stuck. It’s part of being human. Maybe you’re stuck in your career, finances, health or relationships. Or maybe life dealt you a bad blow like a layoff or divorce. The real question is this: What are you going to do about it?

    I bought this book that helped me through all of the above, called “YOU UNSTUCK” by Libby Gill.

    It’s designed to give you the hope and tools to get you past your sticking points. This book is dedicated to helping people overcome limiting assumptions and undermining behaviors so they can make real and lasting change , something if you’re like me… need help with.

    • shrink4men
      August 15, 2009 at 10:53 pm

      Hi Chrissy,

      I know Libby from when I was Managing Editor at PeopleJam. Tell her I said “hi” and she’s welcome to plug me on her website as well.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

  4. August 1, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    I have a problem that I have discovered in my present relationship. I have been in this relationship for nearly for four years now. I have been reading a lot about relationships e.g. manipulation, deception, personality disorders, relationships, you name it. My relationship has been one hell of a ride, two good years and two bad years. Four the past two years I have been trying to find out what is wrong with the woman I love. This woman has cheated on me a lot. This woman has abused me emotionally. This woman lies to me daily. I have taken personal loans to satisfy our relationship, I have done it all. Im not a professional but I think she displays NARCISSISTIC behaviour. I come from a good back ground, I should say. I think my parents provided me with a lot. But my parents were very strict, even today I am still afraid of doing something that will “hurt” them and Im 37 years old. My father is a straight forward person and my mother seems to have “narcissist” behaviour. Yes,once in a while growing up in my childhood my parents would smack me. But its not the smacking that is a problem for me but what they used to say to me which is more similar to “narcissist” behavior. But I love my parents. Im presently living with them becuase I dont have financial means to live my own life, Im in debt. In my previous relationship I had a daughter with a woman who i think has “narcissistic” behaviour. For a fact I love my daughter but I cant provide for her. All this time I have been trying to find out what is wrong with other people. What is wrong with this and that? BUT WHAT ABOUT ME? I need help cause I think there is something wrong with me.

    • shrink4men
      August 3, 2009 at 11:47 pm

      Hi Duncan,

      I’m sorry to read you’re repeating the same painful relationship dynamic over and over again. I may be wrong, but from what you’ve written you appear to be recreating an emotionally abusive relationship pattern established between you and your parents in childhood.

      I encourage you to:
      1. Take a break from romantic relationships, dating and flirtations.
      2. Prioritize all of your issues. Start with your financial situation and work your way up the ladder. Living with your parents can’t be a healthy choice. Consider a roommate situation. Once you’re physically stable, begin to zero in on the psychological/relational issues.
      3. Find a therapist or a support group that offers a sliding scale fee.
      4. Start setting small, achievable goals for yourself and work toward them.

      I hope this helps. Please check back and let me know how you’re doing.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

  1. February 12, 2011 at 6:24 am
  2. December 2, 2010 at 10:53 am
  3. November 17, 2010 at 2:50 pm

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