Thriving in Relationships Despite a Painful Past

Thriving in Relationships Despite a Painful PastMaking love last is a concern for anybody with a relationship history that has included disappointment, pain and loss. How do we do it differently the next time around?

What starts for so many as a blissful connected loving state often turns into sadness riddled with problematic behavior and seemingly un-resolvable conflicts. How can we learn to have lasting, productive and satisfying relationships? While innate chemistry and compatibility are important, creating fulfilling relationships that last, is far more complex than that. Is it possible to learn to create connections in which love can flourish? Not only is it possible, it is necessary.

It is necessary to look at successful relationships as a developmental milestone and life skill. Just as other tasks in life require knowledge and practice, learning to create the context for a successful relationship also requires the development of specific abilities, awarenesses and skills. (Assuming that you have a committed partner you can work with.)

How we know somebody else is related to how we know ourselves; how we construct our own reality. We live in stories; we carry our unconscious stories as roadmaps that most of us are not fully aware of. We live not just in current “reality” but also through acts of imagination and meaning making. When we experience the unweaving and understanding of our own stories and how we identify ourselves, we become capable of re-envisioning ourselves and allowing for new stories to emerge. For example, if someone were always attracted to “sad” women, because he was re-enacting (unaware) the story that his “sad” mother needed his help, as he becomes aware (often through therapy) of that story and its impact on his romantic choices, he can change his story to one that serves him better. The importance of self-reflection becomes clear. It allows us to understand our role in repetitive self-defeating choice patterns in our romantic relationships.

Relationship patterns also are influenced by our fears around connection and safety. We live in bodily and emotional connection to others. We are born through wombs and are nourished at breasts as infants. We experience love through emotional connection and touch. When our attachment needs are threatened, we move into fear and behaviors which attempt to help us to maintain safety and connection. Many of these behaviors however, sabotage the very connection we seek.

Instead of responding out of fear, we can look at our actions. Are we building bridges, or burning them? Are we caught in loops of behavior that we cannot control? Love cannot flourish when we behave in ways that break connection. Being disappointed with our partner is not the problem; it is the dialogue we have, both with our partner and ourselves that matters. The choices of behaving and thinking that we learn to make in the context of our pain and disappointment can allow us to create a satisfying love.

Making love last also requires curiosity, both about our own reactions and the reactions of our partner. Love cannot flourish if we blame, criticize, or do not take responsibility for our own responses. Love cannot flourish when we do not allow ourselves to be vulnerable or behave in a way that the other cannot be vulnerable with us. Because of this, habitual patterns of behavior that create safety and routine, but reduce risk and openness, while necessary for aspects of our lives and our relationships, can diminish connection.

A relationship is a living breathing entity created by two individuals. Creating a relationship is a commitment to the process of that relationship, thus it must continually be nourished. Nourishing a relationship requires the courage to take risks, to be vulnerable and curious rather than defensive. It includes the ability to tolerate and share uncomfortable feelings and experience ambiguity. Making love last includes a willingness to witness oneself and one’s partner with both compassion and openness.