Learning From Your Mistakes

Never underestimate the power of the familiar. Unless you do some very hard work, you're a sitting duck for a rerun. Before you go looking for love again, here are some things to think about.
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Depressed woman talking to her therapist
Depressed woman talking to her therapist

In the early 1900s, Harvard philosopher George Santayana said it well: "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it." He said it so well that it has become a cliché. But cliché or not, some people just don't learn. They divorce a person who is abusive, a user or a loser and promptly get involved with the same kind of person all over again. It's as if the former spouse just magically zipped himself or herself into a new skin and was out there waiting for the unsuspecting ex to step right back into the old relationship.

Never underestimate the power of the familiar. Unless you do some very hard work, you're a sitting duck for a rerun. Before you go looking for love again, here are some things to think about:

1. Take time for healing. Yes, it's hard to be alone. Trust me, it's harder to find yourself right back in the same kind of painful relationship going through the same kind of painful divorce. Instead, take some alone time to get to know the most important person in your life -- you. Figure out why you're so afraid to be alone. Figure out why and how you connected with someone who ultimately hurt you or someone you had so little respect for that you cheated. Knowing yourself is the first big step toward taking care of yourself.

2. Until you do number 1, don't trust your instincts. As one of my friends said in a moment of self-awareness, "If I'm attracted to him, he's probably bad for me." She was right. She had an unerring radar for narcissists who were quite charming (as narcissists are) but who ultimately loved themselves more than they cared about her. She came to understand that there was something about those guys that reminded her of the father she had adored but who never gave her the time of day. The part of her that was still longing for the love and approval of a narcissistic dad translated into her involvement with narcissistic partners. Like her dad, these men were only interested in her adoration, not in her. Like her dad, they each moved easily on to the next woman who could give him an even bigger and better adoration fix. She wisely decided she had work to do before she started dating again.

3. Beware of the old stuff in a new disguise. A colleague of mine told me of one of his clients who had married and divorced three alcoholics in a row. She did her therapy. She swore she'd never get involved with another alcoholic. So the next man she married was a high-powered corporate executive who only had an occasional glass of wine at dinner. Yes, she had the appearance of a different marriage with a different kind of guy. Yet she ended up just as unhappy. She soon discovered that she had married a workaholic who was just as emotionally unavailable to her as the alcoholics.

4. Be willing to be uncomfortable during the process of choosing differently. Whatever your issues, it will be a new feeling to take care of yourself. You may need to learn to stick up for yourself, or to insist on your right to be treated well and cherished, or to have equal say in a relationship or to not foot all the bills. Just because something feels "wrong" doesn't necessarily mean that it is. It may mean that you are truly giving yourself the gift of doing things differently.

5. If you find yourself doing the same 'ol, same 'ol, hit the eject button and get some therapy. Finding more of the same is not evidence that all men/women are like your former partners. Its only evidence that you once again fell into the same trap. A therapist will help you gain new insight into your vulnerabilities, will help you rebuild your damaged self esteem and will be a source of support and encouragement while you shed old patterns and make better choices.