Liliana* spent many years in an on-off toxic relationship with a partner who was controlling until she had the courage to say “enough is enough”. It was hard initially making the break and she spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on what had kept her in that unhappy place and in a relationship that was doomed from the first few months.
She then started to feel that she was getting ready to be in a place to date again and possibly find love again, but she swore to herself that she would not like to repeat her old habits and repeat the relationship history in the future.
Single and looking for love? We are wired for connections and having that special someone to spend our lives with.
Whether you have been single for a long time or have come out of a relationship recently, in order to attract the right kind of energy and a person, it is good to take some time to reflect on yourself and how you are in a relationship. Perhaps you have been in a toxic relationship in the past and are considering whether to take a step towards finding love again.
This is the third part of the of the Toxic relationships: Recognising, healing and moving on after a toxic relationship. The first part looked at the signs of a toxic relationship and the second part focused on healing after a difficult relationship. This post will hopefully inspire you to reflect on how you could prepare emotionally for a new relationship so that you don’t repeat unwanted behaviour patterns.
Why should you prepare for getting into a new relationship?
Us humans collect “emotional baggage” during various life experiences. Some of us have been hurt or neglected in early relationships with our parent(s), and these can have a detrimental impact on how you view relationships in general if you have had a difficult upbringing. You have formed different relationships with each of your parent regardless of whether or not they were present in your life when growing up. John Bolby’s original ideas on early relationships have been applied to adult relationships too. Heller and Levine (2012) wrote a book about attachment styles are relations.
If you had parents who were emotionally responsive to you as a child, who took care of your needs and provided emotional and physical safety, your view on relationships is quite relaxed. This called the secure attachment style or adaptation. In a relationship, it is easy for you to trust that the other people are there for you and arguments do not derail you or distress too much you.
If your parents at times provided a secure haven for you and where present with you, but then at times found it difficult to look after your emotional needs. For example, you shared great holidays with your parents and on a day to day basis, your parent(s) were often too busy and emotionally unavailable to you. This is called the ambivalent attachment style or adaptation. As an adult, you may be anxious in relationships and worried that you are rejected or in some ways left behind. You may focus on looking after the needs of the other, so that you wouldn’t be neglected. You may easily interpret any sign as rejection. It is important for you to become aware of this and slow down, observe and wait to see if your observations are accurate. You may also be interested in reading “What will they think of me” 7 Tips for overcoming the pay of social anxiety.
Children of parents who are not emotionally available to their children (avoidant attachment style or adaptation) can become dismissive in relationships, because they have learnt that no matter what I do, others won’t hear me or come to me or help me. You may be very self-sufficient and it is hard for you to let people in your world. You long for a relationship, but it feels too emotionally risky. When you are in a relationship, you may feel trapped if the other person is asking you to show attention to them. If this rings a bell for you, you may be also interested in reading this post I recently wrote about “When being fiercely independent leaves you feeling alone and isolated”.
If you are often attracted to a person who is very independent and emotionally unable, Levine suggests that one should not confuse the anxiety you may feel in a relationship as excitement and dismiss secure attachment styles as boring.
The fourth attachment style is the rarest, but very relevant to toxic relationships, as many individuals who end up in toxic relationships come from difficult family dynamic backgrounds. If you grew up in an environment where you were scared a lot of the time and there were not many supportive adult figures to look after you, you may have developed a more disorganised attachment style or adaptation as a child. As an adult, you may be really frightened in a relationship ending up either clinging on to your partner or openly rejecting them. Your relationships may feel like they are exhausting and hard work most of the time.
The chances are that a relationship becomes toxic if both partners have grown in family environments where there was a lot of anxiety and fear due to, for example, abuse of any kind and these relationship models are replayed unconsciously in adult relationships.
When you prepare for a relationship, get to know who you really are and what kind of experiences have affected your views on relationships, it is more likely that you will attract someone who is compatible with you.
Reflection points for preparing to be in a new relationship:
1.Assess: How are you finding it being single?
- Not bothered either way?
- Stressed and worried that you will never be able to find someone who would accept you?
- Something in-between the two above?
- Scared that if you meet someone and you will repeat an old relationship pattern?
It is important to understand your “why” for having a relationship. If it is, for example, because you cannot bear the thought of being on your own; you feel unfilled as a person until you are in a relationship. Or you feel content with being who you are, but you would like a partner to share your life with.
In the former case, this may not be the best time for looking for a relationship as you may attract the wrong kind of energy and find someone who is looking for a co-dependent relationship and a person who is willing to give up their all to be in a relationship. In the latter case, it sounds like you are getting ready to be in a relationship. These are just two examples and you may be in a very different situation.
2. Reflect on how your relationship with parents or other early caregivers have impacted your choice of partners in the past and what you are looking for in the future.
- What type of dynamic are you attracted to?
- What type of dynamic with a partner would be supportive for you and bring the life you would like to have?
3. Assess your emotional needs in a relationship
- How would you like your partner to respond to you emotionally?
4. Focus on yourself
- Become aware of your feelings, physical experiences, and your needs
Tip. For example, regular meditation and daily reflection on what your needs helps you to know the real you.
5. Ask yourself: How am I looking after myself (emotionally & physically) and how comfortable are you about being you?
6. Reflect on your style of relating with a romantic partner.
- What are you like in a relationship? (Think about what kind of attachment adaptations you hold with a same-sex parent and an opposite sex parent)
7. Assess your dating mindset: Your mindset and beliefs about dating and yourself may stop you from attracting the right kind of energy and person into your world. I have written this list of 7 Dating Mindsets to understand when you are looking for love that you may find helpful to consider and reflect on when preparing for a new relationship. You can find it in the Resource Library.
If you feel that you are carrying a lot of extra emotional baggage from previous relationships or struggle to let go of a previous relationship, it might be helpful to address these in therapy and support for yourself before embarking on new relationships.
*The case of Liliana does not refer to any actual either past or present clients but is a collection of stories I have heard over the years.
Heller & Levine (2012). Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love