Karen Sherman, Ph.D.So you've finally gotten past the old relationship, licked your wounds, and sworn you've learned your lessons. You've starting dating again and you're even taking it slowly. Though you've healed, the hurt from the past is still vivid in your memory.
And then, suddenly, there he or she is! There's just something about this person that feels right. For all the people you've been going out with, this person seems different -- there's a comfort level you don't experience with the others. And so, you start to shun the others and make a more definitive commitment to this person.
And you're happy. Yes, this could be "the one"!
But then, a few months into the relationship, you start to realize that though your new partner seemed different from your last one, he/she really isn't different at all. The more you get to know the person, the more you recognize the same underlying traits. Maybe he/she isn't generous with money or not emotionally expressive or makes unilateral decisions.
And you ask yourself, "How could this happen again?"
Patterns from the past
The truth is, we tend to be drawn to the same types over and over again. That's because they remind us of someone in our family of origin, which accounts for the initial feeling of comfort. Generally, there's an unresolved issue you're hoping to resolve in the relationship. Please note that all of this is happening at a sub-awareness level.
Here are some examples: Let's say you had a very strict upbringing. You might be attracted to someone who's controlling, so you can replay this earlier issue and no longer feel restricted. Or, if you had a parent who was emotionally shut down, you might be drawn to someone who gets upset when you're emotional, so you can rework feeling comfortable when you do express your feelings.
I believe that part of the reason this happens is because we have learned certain patterns in our childhood to help us adapt to our family of origin -- these are our survival tools. If they work -- that is, we feel we are loved by our parents -- we continue to use them. Using the examples above, we become compliant to a controlling father or try to hide our feelings from a non-expressive mother.
And, we continue to do them, without thinking. We start to function mindlessly, as if we are on "automatic pilot."
How to avoid "dating déjà vu"
So, how can you stop this pattern? The key is awareness. Here are five tips to help you steer clear of another hurtful relationship:
1. Be self-observant.
Ask yourself, after you've gotten to know someone, what are the traits in them that you were initially drawn to? It's likely that these are the very aspects of the person that bother you -- ones that you say you don't want in another relationship.
2. Be analytical.
What issues from your childhood does this person reflect?
3. Consider doing some personal work.
By working on whatever the unresolved issue is for you, it will no longer need as much attention through someone else.
4. Be aware.
Everything you want to know about someone is there right in the beginning. You just have to pay close attention and not be blinded by your emotions. That's why your friends can see a trait that you might not.
5. Work it through.
Is the overall relationship a good one? Remember that everyone has issues. If each of you learns to accept and respect the issues of the other person, the relationship can be quite healing for both of you.
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., a specialist in relationships for over 20 years, offers teleseminars and is co-author of "Marriage Magic! Find It! Make It Last." S