How to Break Unstable Relationship Patterns

Image Credit: Tiny Buddha

By Jess Chua | Tiny Buddha

“Being willing to accept responsibility for the situation you’re in is the first step to a more fulfilling love life.” ~Renée Suzanne

Remember the haunting ballad “Foolish Games” by Jewel?

Jewel wrote the song when she was sixteen. She kept a serious journal, and said in an interview that a verse in the song was “about a relationship that I was dramatically involved in on paper.”

That pretty much sums up my first relationship, which was a dramatic pseudo-relationship in many ways. I was sixteen going on seventeen, hopelessly romantic yet shrewdly skeptical of love at the same time. My emotions were wild and intense, and that was what I thought “real love” felt like.

This drama followed me throughout the few but memorable relationships I had in my twenties. When a partner was rude to me or put me down, I’d think that I somehow deserved it or that it was a challenge to do better with a quick-witted comeback. I’d tell myself that the other person needed “space” to “calm down,” without giving as much care or thought to what I really wanted or needed.


Mind games and second-guessing are part and parcel of an unstable relationship.

As Anita wrote in a forum comment: “Maybe you are testing him each time you withdraw—will he go after me?” In my mind, I’d rationalize it as the need to be “reaffirmed” that I was really what the person was looking for in an ideal partner.

All of the unstable relationships I was in ultimately failed.

In hindsight, it’s no wonder why!

I had constantly attracted and been attracted to partners who lacked commitment, reliability, and emotional stability. Things would blow hot and cold on a regular basis in either direction (“She’s So Cold,” by The Rolling Stones, was yet another song with lyrics I could relate to).

When I reached my early thirties, I started putting in more effort to break out of these negative relationship patterns. I realized that I had to accept responsibility for being in horrible relationship situations that I thought no wise and sane person would ever put up with.

I’d like to share what I learned in the hopes that my experience may help someone else who’s desperately trying to move forward from a troubled dating history.

5 Lessons About Breaking Unhealthy Relationship Patterns

1. Observe your thoughts and their actions.

When I observed myself, I noticed that my own thoughts about love and relationships were full of negative or anxious associations. I believed that it was close to impossible to be in a healthy relationship or that I would always be attracted to unstable types.

This anxiety carried over into my behavior on a daily basis. I was always skeptical to the point of being paranoid. Being too trusting is a fault, but I saw how the other extreme could be just as damaging as it didn’t give me much of a chance to see the good side of others. I couldn’t expect my relationships to improve if I had such low confidence in ever being in a fulfilling relationship.

I also had to recognize when someone’s words and actions didn’t line up. A glib speaker might be able to use words to perfectly express or explain something, but it’s a person’s behavior that really matters at the end of the day. A partner who proclaims they’re the greatest is an egomaniac if they fail to see how their hurtful words or behavior affects you.

2. Get clear on your boundaries.

Think about what makes you feel sad, uncomfortable, drained, or diminished as a human being.

My list of personal boundaries includes the following:

  • I need a partner who’s financially responsible.
  • I need a partner who won’t resort to belittling my mind and opinions should we have a clash of opinions.
  • I need plenty of alone time to rest, recharge, and dedicate to my creative projects.

You need to understand what your personal boundaries are so that you can maintain them. More importantly, it helps you keep a distance from people who don’t respect your limits.

Boundaries don’t exist because you’re selfish or because you want to make life difficult for others. Boundaries are a form of self-care for your mental and emotional health. If this makes things “difficult” for others, perhaps they’re not the people you should be spending most of your time and life with.

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