Without resolution, awareness, and acceptance, your relationship history may have a strong influence on your current dating life. With a past that feels heavy, heartbreaking or disappointing, dating in the present may feel very draining and trigger anxiety and fear.
Your past has a lot of influence if one of your greatest fears is having it be repeated. Therefore, you utilize behaviors designed to protect yourself, which makes it difficult to trust others and take chances toward intimacy and connection.
If the end of a previous relationship came as a shock or devastation to you, you may struggle to get close to someone new and approach dating with walls of emotional protection. If an ex betrayed you, you might be hesitant to trust a new partner and become fixated on determining if certain behaviors (for example, not responding to a text quickly) is a sign of cheating or future rejection. You might find yourself debating over giving into urges to check a potential partner’s email or phone for other clues.
If your past isn’t resolved, you may assume that the person you’re dating now will abandon you or break your trust just as your ex did, even if everything is going well in your current relationship. You may doubt if you are lovable, wonder what you have to offer, and beat yourself up about your relationship history and current singlehood. While these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are understandable as they can be protective in nature, they represent the past remaining unresolved and dictating each moment.
Here are five ways to approach dating when you have had difficult relationship experiences in the past:
Reconstruct and modify the narrative in your mind for healthy closure
It is true that you can’t erase the past, but you can take control of how you think about it, which is what matters most and drives your behavior in the present. Spend time thinking about the story you tell yourself about your previous relationships, your ex’s, and breakups. What is the feeling that accompanies these thoughts and relationship stories? If your narrative feels very negative, is filled with anger, blame, resentment or fear, see if you can modify it to feel more neutral or positive. For example, can you find the silver lining? Can you focus on what you learned about yourself, your needs, and relationships instead of staying stuck? Can you find some space to create a new and improved version of an unhealthy or uncomfortable narrative by making modifications to the story you tell yourself? Rewrite your story and change any scripts that are not serving you well.
Watch your assumptions about the past
Most of what happens to us in life is not personal. This concept can be especially tricky to believe in the relationship world because relationships involve vulnerability and breakups can by nature feel personal. Also, unfortunately not all relationship endings involve healthy closure or communication. This can cause your mind to run wild with false ideas about what happened and believe stories that may or may not be true. Your brain may naturally want certainty and closure so badly that it will create answers to unresolved questions regardless of how factual they actually are. Therefore, it is important to watch your assumptions about why an ex treated you the way he or she did or why your relationship ended, as well as how your ex is doing now, especially if you are bothered by their current relationship status. Always remember that thoughts are not facts no matter how believable they may seem.
View each dating or relationship experience as a clean slate
Work to detach yourself from previous romantic experiences and any associated emotions that cause discomfort or fear. While it is healthy to examine your part and explore possible relationship patterns, it is crucial to avoid making negative projections into the future or continuing to punish yourself because of the past. Take part in self-discovery while viewing each dating experience as a new and separate opportunity and isolating each individual experience from the rest, especially when you are emotionally triggered.
Confront your underlying fears and insecurities
It is natural to feel vulnerable in dating, especially if you’ve been rejected or hurt before, but learning to tolerate all of the ups and downs will lead you toward your goals. Simply put, facing your fears makes them less powerful. If you allow fears and insecurities to hinder you from dating and you don’t act on your relationship goals and desires, life will feel incomplete. In fact, inaction can breed even more anxiety, fear, and doubt, whereas taking action and getting unstuck leads to confidence and the ability to handle more. Work to resolve and own your fears and insecurities instead of avoiding triggering experiences, such as first dates.
Engage in behaviors that keep you open, ready and willing to experience what you are looking for
Set an intention to slowly take down any walls interfering with your ability to connect. Starting small is absolutely okay. Allow yourself to move toward your relationship goals despite any past trauma by being more vulnerable and letting go of a guarded approach. Let go of unhealthy tendencies or responses to relationship pain, such as controlling, passive-aggressive, mean-spirited or avoidant behavior, and utilize an open, calm, optimistic, and grounded approach. Take breaks if you need to, but commit to staying aligned with your goals and acting in ways that promote connection. Remember to breathe and invite love in.
Dating may not be easy and the past may be painful, but it is worth it to achieve great love and companionship. You have the power to control what you do with the past and to create the future you want. The past can end with a period and stay there or it can come with you. Choose to be empowered!