Learning From Past Relationships
Originally Published: July 5, 2016
Revised: July 5, 2016
Throughout our lives, one of the main things that shapes who we are is our relationships with others. Whether it’s our relationship with parents, siblings, friends or significant others, the connections we make with those around us has an impact on who we will become and the choices we make. Whether negatively or positively, past relationships can deeply affect how we view and act in our current ones, and recognizing why we’re acting or feeling the way we are can help us improve our relationships. I was particularly interested to see how this can happen when it comes to romantic love. Read on to see what impact past relationships can have on new romantic relationships.
Never Good Enough
Brian, 17, from Garfield, NJ, had been cheated on in his first relationship with a girl he cared a lot about.
“This relationship where I was constantly lied to and hurt eventually had some negative effects on the relationship I was in following it,” he explains. “I was very fearful. I was paranoid. It made me feel as though I would never be good enough for my partner.”
What Brian experienced is something a lot of us, myself included, have gone through. After leaving an unhealthy relationship, the thought that you don’t deserve to be treated well often comes up. This comes from a natural tendency a lot of us have to blame ourselves when things go wrong.
I personally have not had the best relationship track record either. I used to chase after people who didn’t care for me nearly as much as I did for them but who took advantage of how I felt anyway. When you constantly feel like you’re the one who isn’t good enough, it can affect your self-worth. It can also lead to the development of anxiety, where you’re constantly worried that others have an ulterior motive for wanting to be around you. That can be damaging to friendships and relationships because a constant train of worry can be tiring to a lot of people. However, it’s important to recognize that you aren’t at fault for being treated the way you were and you deserve just as much respect and care as you’re giving.
We have an opportunity to learn from our past experiences, whether they’re good or not-so-good.
The Effects of Cheating
After getting out of an unhealthy relationship, trust can be affected deeply as well. Cynthia, 18, of Harrison, NY, had also been cheated on, causing her to deeply question her trust in others:
“When that kind of stuff happens to you, it’s so hard to fully give yourself over and commit to another person because you don’t want to be embarrassed again. It’s so hard to trust people.”
Where she once wore her heart on her sleeve, she now feels she has to stay guarded and protected in order to prevent being hurt again.
When we feel like there is a possible threat to our emotions, we will often put up a wall to try to block the bad things out. But when you build that wall, you’re usually putting up a “Keep Out!” sign for all the good things that may come your way, too. Living that way is difficult, and just because one person betrayed you, that doesn’t mean others will too. Being able to open back up to others and feeling as though you can trust someone again is a difficult but necessary process.
Remember to Communicate
Troubles with communication can also happen as a result of past relationships. Leah, 16, of Elko, NV, dealt with an abusive relationship that continues to affect her ability to speak up in her current one.
“I had an ex in the past. He wasn’t the gentlest…. I was afraid to talk to him because when I did, I’d get hurt. That creates a major issue with my current relationship because I am afraid to speak my mind and show any emotion but happiness towards him.”
What Leah is talking about here is abuse. If you are afraid to talk to a partner for fear of being hurt in some way, whether that be emotionally, verbally, physically or sexually, that is a sign you are in an abusive relationship. (If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, visit loveisrespect.org for help and other resources.)
Being able to talk freely to your partner is a key part of any healthy relationship; when you lose that, you lose the most important link between you and your partner. Without good communication, you’re forced to make assumptions about what your partner is thinking and feeling, which can lead to confusion, tension and arguments.
Of course, the news isn’t all negative. Past positive and healthy relationships can make for better and deeper communication between partners and even between friends. When you’re exposed to things like being made to feel good about yourself, being genuinely cared about and having your thoughts and ideas validated rather than rejected, it opens you up to other people and experiences you might have otherwise shut out. Also, being exposed to healthy relationships in your past helps you to recognize signs of negativity and abuse in newer ones.
Alicia, 17, from Ridgefield Park, NJ, was in a positive relationship for almost two years, one that eventually ended on good terms. Because of this positive relationship, she was able to recognize that in another relationship, she was being verbally abused. Her girlfriend was constantly putting her down and emotionally manipulating her. She was able to see that it was abuse, partially because she had been exposed to what a healthy relationship was.
Past relationships affect the decisions we make and ways we act in future ones. We have an opportunity to learn from our past experiences, whether they’re good or not-so-good. When relationships go badly, it’s easy to want to shut down and close ourselves off from other people. Unhealthy relationships can be damaging, but you don’t have to sit in that rut forever. You can get yourself out of it and start living life for yourself and those who will treat you as you deserve to be treated—with kindness and love.
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