After a relationship fails we are hurt, we try to process what happened, and then we resolve to not let that same thing happen again. As humans, our brains are wired to learn how not to get hurt. We are far better at remembering what went wrong than what went right. We make rules in our head that say something like, “I will never trust a man with my money again”. Or, maybe, “All women will cheat on you if they get a chance and I’m not going to let that happen again.” It might be a smaller rule, “I won’t reveal so much about myself early in the relationship.” This is what just happened to me after I “broke up” with a woman after our first date. There are soooo many rules that we create in our heads to protect ourselves. It’s natural, its almost unconscious.
The Walls we Build
Here’s the problem: we build these rules around us. We become a complicated set of rules that our next partner has to navigate. Think of them as walls. We box ourselves in. With each relationship we have more walls. The prospect for a great relationship gets harder and harder. If we find someone we like, we are looking for a hint that they might violate a rule. Not even actually do it but we trying to figure out if we can trust them. Can you feel safe? Are they going to be like the last relationship you had? Are you trying to find someone that is NOT the person you dated? In other words, are you trying to find the antithesis of your previous partner(s). If you were with someone that liked to dance and drink, are you looking for someone that is more of a “home body”?
So you might be thinking, “I just won’t create those rules”. Or, I will just try to ignore them. Guess what? That doesn’t work either. You can’t let go of your experience. Your past is still there. And we are wired to make rules. That is like suggesting “From now I won’t breathe.” Our brains will instantly try to make up rules any time we feel threatened.
How to break the cycle
So what can you do? The first step is to be aware of your rules. Don’t let them be walls. Rephrase rules in your head as something like, “I will be more careful with who I trust.” “Yes, my ex had an affair, but not all women do that.” In the case of my recent “break up” I was glad that she was vulnerable and shared her issues. If she had hidden them from me I would have been upset. I don’t think dating should be a game of battleship. “Try to find my issues, while I try to hide them. It will be fun!”
Also, if you start a relationship with someone, simply be vulnerable and who you really are. Share your walls that are now fences and that you hope to make lines in the sand. If you were hurt by something in the past and you know it triggers you. Talk about it in your new relationship as simply an investigation. We all have these triggers. We all have our weak spots. It isn’t something you have to hide. It’s hard to do but it is the foundation for a great relationship.
Keep in mind, that I’m not saying you shouldn’t have boundaries. By all means you should, however, there is a difference. Boundaries are not based on fear. They are clearly communicated to your partner up front. They are not secret thresholds.
And if you don’t learn to soften your walls and your rules, you very likely will repeat the past. It sounds simple and yet it takes a commitment and self awareness every day to see the rules we have created.
We talk more about Triggers in our Divorce Recovery Classes. If you would like to know more about our classes you can click here.