Stuck in the past

Learning to form new relationships without dwelling on exes

Whether brief, long-term, casual or serious, past relationships can affect new ones with current or future partners. Although it is never recommended to hold onto the past, it can be unavoidable to think about how much former partners have impacted the way someone views intimacy.

An article published in The Everygirl says there are two harmful qualities that pondering past relationships can leave on current ones: restricting joy and preventing growth between a person and their new partner.

However, people learn from their mistakes and there can be some benefits to looking back on the past. This can include learning what one enjoys and what to avoid in the future.

Tracy Dumael, 21, has seen both the positive and negative effects of comparing her past relationships to her current one.

“I’ve learned all the things that I like or want in a relationship by being with very different people,” she says. “Although, it can be detrimental because sometimes you might try to find what your partner lacks but the former partner had more of.”

Similarly, 21-year-old Ashley Marciano has discovered what she prefers in a partner after her former relationships ended.

“I’ve noticed a pattern when I compare my past relationships to my new one and it mostly revolves around wanting to be understood with what the relationship needs, as well my personal wants and expectations,” Marciano says. 

It is not uncommon for people to notice these patterns. According to a PsychAlive article, the way people perceive or understand relationships earlier in life serves as an “internal working model” for the way someone seeks out relationships later on.

Sakshi Barhee, a registered psychotherapist and couples therapist based in Toronto, says the relationship between parents and family is the earliest exposure people have to emotional and intimate partnerships.

“If someone who was brought up in a family where they feel insecure because one of the parents cheated, or there’s been a divorce, that could play a huge role,” Barhee says. “So subsequently, in their next relationship, they will be fearful.”

Negative patterns in the past can also disrupt the development of new relationships. Barhee attributes this to the insecurities of an individual, such as when they feel unseen or unheard by their partner.

“Most of the time when our nervous system is flooded, we tend to go into fight mode or flight mode,” she says. “But when we think of core patterns, it is the need to connect. When you’re not able to communicate that and you’re overwhelmed by negative feelings and triggers, you tend to engage in that same pattern over and over and over again in every relationship.”

Bahree says that recognizing this cycle of doubt, insecurities and fear can help to secure more fulfilling future relationships.

As for anyone who feels overshadowed by a recent breakup, Marciano recommends taking some alone time in order to heal and recuperate.

“Entering a relationship isn’t something that should be rushed. What comes first is yourself,” she says.

Dumael agrees and suggests that focusing on one’s own self and their own needs should be the number one priority. She also says that going on “random dates” just to fulfill an empty feeling that a previous relationship filled isn’t beneficial. 

“The time will come when you’ll be satisfied with what you have, which is yourself, rather than depending on another person,” she says. “And if it is the right time, the right person will come to you at the right place.”

About the author

Alyssa Bravo is a former reporter for Youth Mind. She is a coffee fiend and likes music, movies and food. She wishes to travel to Italy and Greece, and hopes she’ll live to see the day the Toronto Maple Leafs win their 14th championship. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her watching videos of dogs or baby pandas.

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