How to Break Your Negative Relationship Patterns

Michelle Jaqua

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We all have unhealthy relationship patterns that we need to break. For some of us, it can be one big red glaring flag that takes us to craziness. Sometimes, it’s small indignations that chip away at our self-respect and eventually break down our relationships.

As we walk down the road towards healing ourselves and breaking our unhealthy behaviors, it’s also important to pinpoint which negative patterns we continue choosing our past partners. We need to become aware of our bottom lines and act on them, so we don’t continue to make the same mistakes over and over.

How do we do this? First, before you even begin to venture newly out in the dating world (or even if you’re already out there), stop for just a moment, take a step back and reassess yourself. You’ll need some time to create yourself a foundation for giving and receiving love, trust, and respect with a future partner. If you’ve not been able to have this in the past, breaking your negative relationship patterns is critical before venturing into another miserable relationship.

This article is an in-depth exercise and needs a significant amount of your time to work through. You don’t want to hurry through these steps or skip through them. Make sure you take the time for yourself before you try meeting a potential partner.

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What are Bottom Lines?

They are other people’s behaviors based on your life experiences that you will no longer tolerate. Your Bottom lines are a list of what you take an undivided stand against having any further in your life.

This step-by-step exercise will set the groundwork to start you towards a healthier, more in-control-of-your-own-life dating experience.

Take your time to do this. It’s essential to be through. You’ll need to focus when undertaking this exercise, so carve out some time for yourself and start to change your life.

The Exercise

  1. Make three columns: Their Behavior/Expression of Behavior/My Reaction.
  2. List ALL the significant relationships you’ve had in your life, including parents, first boyfriend, ex-husband, and any relationships in between. You can even write down siblings or long-term best friends. Anyone who has influenced you in your life. Make some space in-between.
  3. You can make this list as long as you like. You should have at least four people on your list.
  4. Start with the first person. Usually, it’s a parent. Think through your relationship with them. It may be painful, bring up difficult memories. If you have a hard time thinking about this relationship, sometimes it’s easier to bring up pictures of the person or journal about some experiences you had with them.
  5. Identify, at random, their behaviors specific to your relationship with them. Not only behaviors but also how they were as a person or habits they had were either positive or negative experiences for you. Certain behaviors can be as broad and general as:
  • Alcoholism/addiction
  • Infidelity
  • Abuse

When you’ve identified a behavior for that person, place it into the behavior column.

6. Think of specific expressions of the above behavior, such as “had five drinks when going out for dinner “(this would be an expression of alcoholism behavior) or “wouldn’t answer his phone when he left the house/wouldn’t come home until 4am” (Infidelity), or “called me a bitch when he got mad at me”(Abuse). You get the picture.

7. Think about how the expression of their behavior affected you. Was it a positive or negative experience? How would you respond to this expression of behavior? Did you yell back, run away, get quiet, maniacally clean the house, complain to your best friend? List your reactions to their toxic expression of behavior towards you.

8. Next, write down your response to this particular behavior in the “My Reaction” column.

9. List all of their behaviors, expressions, and your reactions to their actions until you’ve exhausted your reserve. Fill up all three columns with this relationship. This may take a bit of time.

10. Once you’re satisfied that you’ve combed through your entire history with that one person, take a break. It’s a lot of mental work and can be exhausting. Then move on to the next person on your list and start over at #4. Do this exercise now before moving on to the next phase of this exercise.

11. Now that you have your worksheet, scan over it. Do you see a behavior that repeats itself in multiple relationships? Circle that behavior and make a separate list of the behavior.

12. Next, make a new spreadsheet and make columns: Bottom lines/expressions/response. This will be your shortlist.

13. Next, look over your first column. Do you see any similar behaviors? Do any of the behaviors repeat themselves? Do you see more than one person in your life who has the same behavior? Maybe an element of betrayal or disrespect? If you see a typical behavior with multiple people, write it down.

This is your Bottom Line.

14. Next, go to the “Expressions” column and look at the true expression of that general bottom line behavior. Did they hide, cause fights, or run away as a way to deal with their behavior?

15. Now go to your “My Response” column and do the same thing: look for patterns of your behavior in reaction to these negative behaviors you’ve experienced from others in your life. Find the connected patterns you see in yourself and write them down in the third column.

16. Now you have your list! Look at your Bottom Lines, the behaviors you experience with these behaviors that set you off, and how you react to this behavior.

17. This is now the first page of your Relationship Bible. From here forward, every time you go on a date, meet a new person, have an interaction with a person you already know, or venture into a new relationship, these are what you call your Bottom Lines. These are the intolerable situations from your past that you no longer want to repeat. They will show up as specific behaviors (from your second column) known as “Red Flags.” If you’re unsure if you see red flags or not, you need to start checking yourself. Are you feeling on edge or that something isn’t quite right? Are you exhibiting any of your own negative behaviors that you’ve listed in column three? These are your own red flags and your negative behaviors in your relationships that lead to relationship failure.

These are the patterns you want to break. Because you want to feel safe and happy, not crazy and hopeless, in your next real relationship.

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Make a Written Contract with Yourself

The last thing you need to do, and this is the absolute most crucial thing: Make a contract with yourself. Write it down. Date it. Sign it. Do it with blood if you must (but it’s not necessary).

Your contract is this: when you see a bottom line emerge while you’re dating a potential partner, you take action to end the relationship and not return to it later. Period.

I’ll repeat this because sticking to your Bottom lines is part of building the foundation of a loving and trusting relationship. So, again:

Make a written contract with yourself. Write down that when you see one of your Bottom lines emerge in someone you’re dating, break off that relationship. Do not return to that relationship later. Then date it, sign it, and keep it close to you.

Why is this self-contract so important? Because without making an obligation to yourself, you’ll stare a blazing red flag in the face, then you’ll ignore it. You’ll start negotiating with yourself that the person has good qualities too, or maybe you misread the behavior, or you believe there is potential with this person when there really isn’t.

You’ll second guess yourself. You’ll think it’s okay to let this one little behavior on your bottom line slide, just this once. You will want to stay. You’ll find yourself making excuses for the other person.

Even if you decide to leave, you have a high chance of going back to that person. Your former self will crave them and want to want to be with them. And you might do that because leaving was painful and you’re lonely.

Before you know it, you’re in an unhealthy, miserable, toxic relationship…again. And you’ll have a more difficult time getting out of that relationship the longer you stay in.

You have to trust that you’re making the best decision for yourself. You must have a deep knowing of who you are and what makes you tick. You have to see that it’s better to leave rather than continuing with that person (as you have with others in the past. You will have to see that doing this will waste your time, make you miserable, and throw you backward in your healing process.

This won’t be emotionally easy. Breaking negative patterns is painful, and this will hurt like hell. But it’s worth the pain to come out on the other side as a more confident person who knows what she wants for herself.

Taking action requires trusting yourself. You have to trust that your Bottom lines will guide you. That’s why this exercise is so important because you’re excavating profound, painful experiences and coming to terms with the fact that you will have to start saying no to people.

If you keep doing this, you’ll start becoming a healthier person. Someday, when you see a bottom-line behavior, you’ll turn around and leave the relationship without a second thought. Over time, this will become second nature, and you’ll be wiping off your brow with a “phew!” knowing that you dodged a bullet.

Go slow in a potential relationship.

When you first meet someone, go slow. Spend real quality time with that person, get to know who they are. Get excited! Also, be aware and stay open to everything. Because when we meet someone new that we really like, our tendency is to only see the good. That’s okay. Enjoy them. Approach this new person with positivity and love.

Know that when you’re dating, you’ll most likely not fall in love with the first person you meet. Or maybe even the hundredth person. But all of these people are important because your interaction with them will show you what you want and don’t want in your new adventure towards healthy love.

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Lake Oswego, OR
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