understanding past relationships footprints in sand

A New Year represents the beginning of a new chapter in each of our lives. For some of us, that may mean entering into a new relationship. But, what can we learn from our past to help us navigate the future? Or how can we set up future relationships better? I went to seek advice from the experts.

According to Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Becky Davis, relationships are a chance for us to learn a tremendous amount about ourselves. Therefore when we transition from one to the next, it is important to reflect on the lessons the previous relationship taught us.

Davis says that a common mistake when analyzing a past relationship is to focus externally on what the other person did or did not do. The best way to learn is to shift the focus internally on our role in the relationship instead. Davis suggests asking ourselves what role did we take in the relationship? Did we take a role that was not congruent with whom we are to appease the other person? We may realize that we were not quite true to ourselves because we wanted to make the relationship work.  Asking ourselves these questions can help organize our thoughts in a positive way to help us see what we would like to bring to the next relationship.

Davis pointed out that often times a bad relationship can leave us with a negative dialogue with ourselves. We beat ourselves up internally, therefore turning a negative relationship with someone else to a negative relationship with ourselves.

One exercise Davis recommends to her client is to listen to their internal dialogue without being judgmental. Some ways to do this are through meditation or journaling, but the important thing to keep in mind is to listen to our thoughts even if they are negative. Acknowledge them, rather than trying to suppress or ignore them. We might find out something unexpected about ourselves.

A book that Davis recommends to her clients is called You Are The One You’ve Been Waiting For by Internal Family Systems Therapy Founder, Richard C. Schwartz.

Mitch Berman, a Maui Licensed Clinical Social Worker, says it is important to set clear boundaries and make sure that you have a shared vision in a relationship moving forward into the future. Know yourself and what you want and discuss what you both want together. This should help to develop the patience to find someone who has all the compatible elements you are looking for. Berman stresses the importance of finding someone that you can be friends with as well as lovers, because in difficult times, you will fall back on the friendship.

“The heart and guts of a good relationship is that you are still working on yourself. You have time to meditate and to take care of yourself, and you have healthy boundaries and respect for one another,” says Berman.

He describes healthy relationships as a dance in which both partners move back and forth from each other. “You are constantly working on how to find that rhythm with someone to be a good dance partner,” says Berman.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Whether you are learning about yourself from an old relationship, creating a new relationship or enjoying a long lasting one each can be a tool for growth and happiness.

Mitch Berman is an LCSW on Maui. He can be reached at 808 878 3414.

Becky Davis is an LCSW in Chicago, IL who works with children, couples and families. She practices Internal Family Systems Therapy with her clients. To find out more about this kind of therapy, go to http://www.selfleadership.org. 

Image Credit: Jane Hudson Stoller

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