Have you had multiple partners, but the basic dynamic between you and them remains the same, which in short is this—you don’t get what you want? Somehow you keep making the same mistake, either choosing the wrong person or looking for the wrong thing from the person you choose.
There is a solution and it involves choosing a different kind of partner and having different expectations about being in partnership.
What I often see in my private practice are adults who are trying to fill some hole in their hearts that is left over from their early childhood. Typically the hole is the result of feeling unsatisfied—or worse—in one of their early primary relationships—with mom, dad, or some special person.
There was something that wasn’t right in that relationship, and as children we couldn’t make it right. For one thing, we were just kids. For another, the other person had some kind of deficits.
So we grow up with a hole in our hearts. And it’s a hole that we try to fill, often for the rest of our lives. If when we were young the other person didn’t know how to love well, when we grow up we seek someone who can love well. If the other person was abusive, we seek someone to be kind. If the other person didn’t give us sufficient attention, we seek someone who is highly attentive.
However, the twist in this story is that we are drawn toward people who remind us of the person with whom this dynamic originated. If I wasn’t loved well as a child, when I grow up I am drawn toward someone who doesn’t love well and I will try to get them to love me well. It might make more sense to look for someone who is really good at loving, but that doesn’t fit with my original experience.
No, I am drawn toward someone who doesn’t love well and I will try to get them to love well. I am drawn toward someone who is abusive and I will try to get them to be kind. I am drawn toward someone inattentive and I will try to get them to be attentive.
You can see that my task is impossible. I will not succeed. Just look at the structure of this. I must find someone who is incapable of doing what I want them to do and then I will try to get them to do what they can’t do. I will fail.
This is one of the three major reasons why romantic relationships fail. I keep picking people to fulfill a childhood need, but they are people incapable of filling that need. To learn more about the other reasons why romantic relationships fail, and what you can do about this, I invite you to explore our Dating Relating Mating course.
The solution to attracting the wrong partners is simple, but not easy. It is to give up. Give up expecting anyone, ever, to fill the hole in my heart.
Learning to live with my hole is the first step. The second step is learning to satisfy the need I have—for love or kindness or attention—as best I can, for myself.
I was just suggesting to a client that he needs to take a break from women—not go right away from one woman to another—and during the break he needs to learn to care for himself. He said, “Oh, I’ve already done that. I’ve spent years alone when I was between partners and it didn’t solve the problem. I would just make the same mistake again when I found my next partner.”
I explained, “What I’m talking about is different than what you did. Because when you did this in the past you felt like a victim. You felt angry and resentful or hurt and wounded. Or maybe you were in denial. Or maybe you kept busy by distracting yourself. Or maybe you punished yourself by atoning for your mistakes. None of these are what I’m talking about when I suggest that you be alone for a while.”
He asked, “Well, what’s the difference?”
I encouraged him to ask one simple question, “What do I need to do to care for myself?” I said, “Ask that question and then do it, learn to care for yourself. The point isn’t to crawl up inside the hole in your heart; the point is to learn to live with the hole in your heart. I’m not suggesting you be alone and miserable. You can have fun and you can nourish yourself. You can learn that all the feelings that come up within you are temporary. Allow them to come, allow them to go.”
Our session was coming to an end and I offered my client a date to meet again in a month. He said, “Actually, could we meet again in two weeks?” I said, “Absolutely we can meet in two weeks and asking to do so is a perfect example of taking care of yourself.”
Yes, it’s okay to ask other people for help as you learn to live with the hole in your heart. The only rule is that you can’t ask the people—I call them the “hole fillers”—you can’t ask them for help. Because if you do you’re buying back into the myth that someone can fill that hole. Not only can’t they fill it, but the people who want that job are the people to avoid.
You don’t need to be fixed. You’re not broken. You simply have a hole in your heart from a parent or caregiver who didn’t know how to give you what you needed as a child. That’s okay. Learn to live with that hole and you will be better able to emotionally self-regulate—care for yourself—which is a sign of maturity. Then, you will attract different people into your life, not people who want to fix you or people you want to fix, but rather people with whom to share your joy and celebrate your gifts.
In our world, the world of Reology, we start with the premise that love can be easy.
If you want to explore the second reason why romantic relationships fail, read part II of this article.