Learning from Your Relationship History

Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40

Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist and her husband Charles Peck, had to explore introvert/extrovert differences in their own relationship. You can participate in the creation of their book "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40" (and enter to win a $100 Amazon gift card) by sharing your experiences in a survey: www.surveymonkey.com/s/MidlifeRelationships.

Most of us begin to think about what we want in a relationship when we start dating (or thinking about it) as teens. There’s just one problem with this: the portions of our brain that are involved in rational decision-making are not fully formed in our youth. Teenagers are more impulsive, more easily stirred by emotions, and less able to apply good judgment to emotionally charged situations than adults. The experiences and expectations of adolescence can shape our ideas about what a relationship should be like, so it is worth a look backward before we begin to consider a midlife relationship.

Think about the pattern of your previous relationships. Be aware that we all develop “stories” about our lives that help us to justify our actions and often, to put the blame on others when things go wrong. If you really want to learn from your past, this portion of your journey will probably be somewhat difficult and painful. You have to be completely honest with yourself, and focus on identifying your own behaviors and mistakes in past relationships. It doesn’t do any good to blame past partners. Don’t blame yourself, either, because blame doesn’t move you forward in life. Do, however, try to identify the beliefs and behaviors that have interfered with the quality of your past relationships.

You need some quiet time to reflect on these issues. Reflection comes easily to some people, while others may find it more of a challenge. In any case, use the tools that help you the most. You may find that writing is a great way to sort out your feelings; many people use a journal (paper or online) for this purpose. Be cautious about sharing your journal and protecting your privacy, because this part of your journey should be for you alone. If you are writing for an audience, it changes the nature of the task. You may also regret sharing your innermost thoughts before they are fully formed. If you prefer to think things through with someone else, choose a trusted friend or a therapist. You need to create a peaceful, private environment to think about your life and relationships.

Ten Questions to Guide You as You Consider Each Past Relationship:

  1. How well did I know myself before I started this relationship?
  2. How well did I know my partner?
  3. What surprised me the most as this relationship developed?
  4. Looking back, can I see there were hints of trouble ahead?
  5. Why did I miss those hints?
  6. What were the good and bad aspects of each relationship?
  7. How have my needs changed over the years?
  8. What pain am I still carrying from the past?
  9. What behaviors and beliefs do I need to change so I can participate in a healthy relationship?
  10. What information and support do I need, and how can I find it?

Be particularly careful, as you go through this process, to avoid blaming yourself for

• ignorance – we are all ignorant until we learn something!

• victimization – it’s not your fault if you were abused in any way.

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