Lessons from past love relationships

To quell the pain of an ended love relationship most individuals create a story line in which they fault their former partner’s behavior or nature to be absolved from accountability for this loss and to preserve others’ positive regard. Is there a way to assess past relationships as lessons toward improved future ones?

When we struggle to master certain tasks in school, jobs or everyday life we often seek guidance from experienced others who can recommend changes to improve our competence. In relationships, we seldom use the same method. Since we perceive relationship termination as a failure and are concerned about being viewed unfavorably by others we tend to hold the partner responsible and thus obstruct learning wise relationship lessons.

When asked about “what happened?” we may politely respond, ”It did not work out,” or begin a recitation of what “he, she did/did not or was/was not”. It may behoove us to assess the lessons we have learned about ourselves as partners and how we can improve as mates.

Dr. Terri Orbuch, a research professor at the University of Michigan who has studied couples for over 25 years reports her divorced and re-partnered subjects’ recommendations for healthy love relationships: “1. Boost your spouse’s mood by showing love through cuddling, kissing and stating your love, you are your partner’s best support for feeling better about him/herself, validate the mate’s ideas, competency and credit him/her for making life more interesting and exciting. 2. Talk more often about money not only during tax time and financial difficulties. 3. Get over the past, let go of anger, hurt, sadness or grief. 4. Abstain from blaming the spouse. Use the word “we” rather than “you” to reach a solution. 5. Reveal more about yourself. Communicate daily, at least 10 minutes a day.”

Here are some lessons you may have already learned from your previous relationships:

1. Love is necessary – but not sufficient to secure a lifelong love connection.
2. There is no “perfect match” – there are only successful matches created by ongoing efforts by both mates.
3. A loss of any dating, marriage or friendship connection is devastating and is not a reflection of one’s desirability.
4. Breakups are not caused by either partner’s unworthiness but mainly by mutual insufficient relationship efforts.
5. Intimacy is created by daily expressions of positive verbal, physical and emotional exchanges.
6. Competition, negativity, discrediting or devaluing a partner destabilizes the security of your union.
7. Sincere mutual praise, appreciation and admiration bolster both mates and is essential for marital harmony.
8. Emotional and physical fidelity secures stability and mutual happiness for both mates.
9. Every pair is unique and special. Comparing yourselves to other couples is unwise, inaccurate and may be destructive to your union.
10. Parenting your children need not be identical – it needs to be loving and child – centered.

Practicing these lessons that you have already acquired in previous relationships will help you succeed in your current one.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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