Difficulties in past relationships or a lack of closure can impact current relationships. One example is when a woman has been cheated on in her previous relationship. It is not uncommon for her to have trust issues in her next relationship. The problem is, there is no violation in the current relationship to warrant the lack of trust and as a result, the new relationship struggles. When we lose trust (or never established trust), we cannot create or maintain intimacy. Trust by definition is having faith that the other person will be there for you. When this is lacking, it makes sense intimacy and connection would suffer.
Often a woman fears being hurt again. Therefore, she becomes hyper vigilant, looking for signs of betrayal. Unfortunately, when a partner attempts to reassure or dismiss, this is perceived as defensive and therefore is not soothing for her. Or it might be that the woman constantly voices her insecurities (that her new boyfriend is cheating, that she is not good enough) and this creates distance in the relationship because he eventually tires of being falsely accused/ trying to reassure.
Another common example is when a woman compares her current boyfriend to her ex. It is not uncommon for us to remember our previous relationships as either all good or all bad. In this instance, the dynamic often plays out with the ex on a pedestal and new partner failing in comparison.
The underlying issue is the woman cannot move on in her life. What is holding you back? What is keeping you from moving forward? Often, fear of getting hurt (again) keeps us stuck.
So what can you do? Instead of voicing the fear or stating the comparison…voice the need. We tend to focus on what we fear or what does not work, instead of what we want. What we focus on gets bigger. Women often seek reassurance due to insecurity. Unfortunately, hurt and fear tend to skew the communication, such that our needs do not get directly communicated; as a result, we often do not get the desired response from him (i.e. we want him to move closer, but he pushes away). We want to feel attached and secure, but our words and behaviors do not communicate those underlying desires and so we do not get the connection with our partner that we long for.
How do you move on when you haven’t fully let go of the past? You can’t. When we ruminate about the past or have anxiety about the future, we are not living in the present. The reality is, when we let ourselves compare past relationships to current ones, we are not really in the current relationship. We are holding a part of ourselves back and we are not able to accept the current partner for who he is and understand how he and I might work together. So what should a woman do when she finds herself in this cycle?
Try a Journal. Spend at least 10 minutes a day writing. You might start with something as simple as “I do not know what to write today…” but sit down and do it. Make the time and space to write. It is important that this is a pen to paper exercise and not a computer “blog” as our brain makes a meaningful connection when we write versus type.
When you find yourself feeling insecure or starting to compare in your current relationship, catch yourself. Ask yourself what behavior has triggered your fears. Often times if we can understand events that trigger us, we can dispute them (for instance, you get triggered when your boyfriend tells you he is going to the gym because your cheating ex-boyfriend would say that and then go elsewhere). When you are aware of something, you have the opportunity to confront and challenge it (“just because my last boyfriend lied about the gym, does not mean my new one is”). Also, you can make a ‘behavior request’ of the new boyfriend. In this case, for example, request you go work out together or if he is going to be late coming home (from gym, work) that he text you. We cannot make our boyfriends responsible for how we feel, but it is okay to let them know how they might possibly reassure, which fosters trust and deepens the relationship.
Come up with a ritual to say goodbye to the previous boyfriend/ relationship. Possible ideas include writing a eulogy for the relationship; offering forgiveness (this does NOT mean doing this in person), write a story about the relationship (be sure after the part about the bad relationship ending that you write what happens next, ie, I am now in a relationship with a kind and supportive man), consider what purpose or meaning the previous relationship has in your life (i.e. I learned to trust my instinct).
If you find yourself stuck in the past, it may not be time for you to move on. Romantic love is one thing that can take us out of grief, but it does not mean the grief is gone. Crushes are fun distractions, but if you are not truly open to another to be cared for in a loving way, you are more likely to attract more of the same (unhealthy relationships). It is okay to take time to focus on you, to heal. Grieving is a natural process, and it does take time. If you find you are still stuck and ruminating about the past, then individual therapy might be a good resource for you.
Therapy can help us process hurts with the goal of healing, and feeling stronger and more confident in ourselves. It can provide an opportunity to explore patterns of past relationships and understand why you might feel stuck. Therapy can also help you uncover your self-limiting beliefs. If you have a belief that you are not good enough (and that got validated by your ex-boyfriend cheating on you) or that you are not worthy, you will struggle to attract healthy relationships into your life. Therapy can help you learn how to challenge these mistaken beliefs and create new, affirming beliefs. Therapy can also help you learn to love yourself and learn to be open to people who can love and respect you too.