How to Learn from Your Past and Make Healthy Choices in Love

How to Learn from Your Past and Make Healthy Choices in Love April 21, 2024

Dear Terry,

I’m in a relationship with a man who doesn’t respect me and treats me poorly. I keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again and don’t know how to change this pattern. He won’t end it because I do a lot for him but it rarely seems like he thinks about me or considers my needs.

I desperately need your advice because I have two children, ages two and four, and I don’t want them to suffer as I deal with so many of my relationships breaking up. My kids have two different dads and I want stability for them and myself.



Dear Claire,

Your problem is fairly common. When you get close to someone new, it can bring unresolved issues from your past to the surface. Over and over again, I’ve seen relationships sabotaged or crumble because one or both partners are unaware that they bring a backlog of hurts, fears, and ambivalence from their past into present interactions.

The first step in getting out from the shadow of your past is to gain awareness. Relationship experts Gay Hendricks, Ph.D. and Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D. write, “A close relationship is a powerful light force, and like any strong light it casts a large shadow. When you stand in the light of a close relationship, you must learn to deal with the shadow.”

Perhaps it’s because your intimate relationships bring the possibility of love and closeness, that you are confronted with wounds from our past. For instance, you might overgeneralize your fear of being hurt in the past. But in spite of your on-again, off-again romances, you can’t seem to pull away from guys who are unavailable or toxic.

With great intensity in her voice, one of my clients said, “It’s almost as if I’m drawn to difficult men. It’s like I’m so familiar with that adrenaline rush that I get from being in a bad relationship, I don’t feel comfortable with a guy who treats me right.”

Some people are addicted to pain in a relationship. They might even end a relationship that is good for them. You might fear that when you open up yourselves to others, they will hurt you and you will lose out on love. Fear of relationship failure is something you know well. Many times, even in the most blissful of moments with a partner, there is a lingering thought in the back of your head that the relationship will not work; that it will come crashing down on you.

What is it that keeps you in a cycle of pursuing self-destructive relationships and sabotaging healthy ones? For many people, pain is a familiar feeling. Conflict is what’s comfortable. Dealing with an unavailable man or woman is in our wheelhouse. A partner who wants nothing more than to be with us and make your own happiness or top priority is alien.

The following steps will help you move on from the past and make healthier choices in present relationships:

  • Gain awareness of past hurt and adopt a more realistic perspective of it. This might mean talking to your parents about their marriage or taking a closer look at your own relationships.
    • Acknowledge the damage that was done by your partners and shift to an impersonal perspective that’s focused on healing rather than blame yourself.
    • Find ways to move on by writing a new narrative for your life — one that includes partners who are trustworthy and willing to work on building a committed relationship.
    • Examine your expectations about  intimate partnerships. You might be more focused on your dream of how a relationship should be rather than the reality of how it is, ultimately leading to disappointment.
    • Focus on the things you can control. Accept that you can’t control the past but can exercise the power of choice today.

Like all challenges in life, greater awareness and willingness to work on an issue can spark change. The good news is that can you unlock your past and make conscious choices about what you want out of life and relationships.

Twitter, Facebook, and, Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.

Terry’s book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.

I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry 

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