Q. I am finding that I am getting into the same type of dysfunctional relationship time after time. The last relationship that I just had ended recently with an out of the blue text message from my partner. We had dated for 6 months, and each time we were together I felt him growing more and more distant. We would only communicate by text, and then only to arrange our next meeting, never to just chat or ask about each other's day. If I send him friendly texts, he either wouldn't answer at all or get back to me the next day. When we were intimate, he would be the most warm and seductive, but after it was all over, his eyes would grow cold and he would act all matter of fact. Sometimes I think he couldn't wait to get me out the door. Somehow, the colder and more distant he acted, the more I wanted to pursue him. I tried to look good for him, fix my hair, be totally interested and focused on him, and not make any demands. I don't get attracted to very many people as I felt for him, and I didn't want to lose him. But somehow a part of me is rebelling against being so submissive and I think it would be more healthy to stop this pattern. I have noticed that most people who are close to me throughout my life also are distant and non affectionate, as was my mother growing up who was very busy going to school and working outside the home. Is there I way I can break this pattern in relationships?
A. Your insight into the fact that this pattern may be dysfunctional is the first big step towards change. This insight means that you can step outside of automatic patterns of thought and behavior and see yourself from an objective perch. From here, you can use your insight to empower better and healthier choices for yourself. People who fall into a pursuer role in a relationship often have felt this way in their family of origin. Being with a distant, non affectionate or unavailable parent creates a yearning for connection, any connection at all. Even the least bit of attention is magnified by the emotionally starved child, and they learn to make a meal out of crumbs of attention. This unfortunate pattern becomes ingrained as a habit, and feels familiar and "at home" in forming relationships with others. So, even though it is messed up, the individual is compelled to repeat it over and over again. It feels right even though rationally it is wrong. And emotional gravitational pulls often trumps rational thought in relationships.
How do you extricate yourself from this painful pattern? You certainly don't have to have a life sentence of fleeing misters in your life. The first way out is developing a belief that there is life out there outside of painful relationships. If the relationship has to end, that is the first step toward finding yourself with someone who has a full emotional tank. This means surrounding yourself with friends who practice quid pro quo, they give to you as well as take from you in relative equal parts over time. You must come to believe that there are people who care about you that you don't have to sublimate yourself to just to keep them around, and that never works for long anyway, because relationships with takers only have a limited shelf life. From the stance of having friends, it is just one step away from finding a partner who also cares about you just as you care for him. He should have a full tank of emotional availability so that he gets joy within himself from showing that he cares about you. Believe that he is out there for you and you should not accept anything that is disrespectful or oblivious to your needs . You deserve this just as we all do not because of anything special, but just because it is the right thing.
It is difficult to break the pattern of loving that we leaned early on from parents because they are the first example we have of learning to love another. But with time and patience your insight and knowledge has the power to shatter the old pattern and you can be free. Once you know the truth, that in a sense you have been loving your partners the same way you loved your mother, you will never forget it, and you will liberate yourself to find a new pathway, the healthy pathway.