Relationship experts share their best tips for breaking old patterns.
When it comes to your romantic past, the saying “history repeats itself” may feel especially relevant. That's because it can be really tough (read: nearly impossible) to break old patterns and avoid falling for the same type of person, again and again. As a result, those relationships fizzle (or crash and burn) in similar ways. Sound familiar? If so, read on for six expert tips on how to finally find someone who's just right for you.
Rather than picking apart failed affairs to figure out what went wrong between the two of you, try turning your attention inward. How you feel about yourself affects the kind of S.O. you choose, says psychologist Kelly Campbell, PhD, an associate professor of psychology and human development at California State University, San Bernardino. When people have problems with their self-esteem, for example, they end up with partners who treat them poorly, because that’s what they think they deserve. "But when they love themselves and think of themselves in a positive way, they won’t tolerate being treated badly,” she says.
To disrupt an unhealthy cycle, Campbell recommends taking a break from dating, to rebuild a loving relationship with yourself. You may want to consider working with a therapist, or reading a good self-help book. (Look for one by an author with a PhD, she urges.) But little self-care actions will help too, says Campbell, whether that's going on long runs or buying fresh flowers for your desk.
Make a list
Unless you have a clear sense of who you’re looking for, it’s easy to end up with someone who doesn’t make the grade, says Terri Orbuch, PhD, author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship. She recommends literally jotting down 15 essential qualities for your mate. And be specific: “People often tell me ‘I want someone who’s funny.’ But what does that mean? Do you want someone who’s sarcastic? Who makes you laugh? Who’s fun to be around? Or who tells jokes all the time?”
You want to paint a mental picture of your ideal partner, Orbuch says. “Otherwise you won’t even know that person when you see him or her."
ID your deal-breakers
It’s also key to pinpoint the traits and qualities you’re not into. “We all have deal-breakers,” says Orbuch. “Whether it’s a person’s smell or height or a habit like smoking.” Again, she suggests making a list and being super specific. Though it's best to pick just two or three major non-negotiables, she says. (After all, nobody's perfect!) The idea is to be honest about what you want and require in the long term.
“You need to have a standard that you’re living by,” Campbell points out. “Otherwise you’re at a big risk to keep getting let down.”
Be clear about your life values
Think the importance of family, whether you want children, how you feel about healthy living. "Identify what those mean to you, and how important each one is," says Orbuch, so you can decipher if a potential partner has similar values early on. You can do that by talking openly about values, of course, and also by picking up on telltale hints. For example, observe how your he treats siblings to get a sense of how he feels about family. Or notice how much she tips a waiter for a clue about her approach to money.
Ask family and friends what they think
At the start of a new relationship, it’s easy to see your boo as #flawless. “When you’re in love, rationality goes out the window,” says Campbell. “You have rose-colored glasses on. You see your partner in ideal terms and minimize their flaws.” That’s when your family and friends can help you weed out ineligible bachelors or bachelorettes. “They see things more objectively, so if they say, ‘You need to watch out for this person,’ you should probably listen,” says Campbell. In fact, she adds, research shows that friends and family are "actually better predictors of relationship outcomes than the person."
Listen to your gut
Even when you're head over heels, deep down, you can sense when something isn't right. You know yourself better than anyone else (no matter what that one dysfunctional S.O. told you). So when you think you spot a red flag, don't ignore it, advises Campbell. Follow your instincts. If you’re confident, honest about what you want, and love yourself enough to seek it out, “the rest will naturally fall into place,” she says.