We spoke to Sheila Herron, an Ottawa-based clinical social worker and a regular contributor to the SMARTLife Wellness Blog, about how to find lasting love. Herron counsels individuals, couples and groups about overcoming personal obstacles along the route to a happy, lasting relationship. "The only way to stop repeating the same pattern is to get to know why it developed in the first place. From there the work becomes based on developing a healthy relationship with oneself."
1. Avoid the parent trap
"We are all shaped by our past," says Herron. "Our experiences growing up can guide us toward a healthy relationship or they can lead us toward a dysfunctional relationship." It makes sense that people model their ideas of a good relationship on that of their parents, the first romantic relationship they probably ever witnessed. Others force themselves into relationships that are opposite from the ones they grew up watching.
"Whether consciously or unconsciously, we are attracted to those who are familiar to what we experienced growing up," says Herron. "We choose people who are somewhat familiar, or else we choose to believe we choose someone who is different. Patterns do tend to be repeated." If you can come to terms with why you're gravitating toward one certain personality type more than another, you will be well on your way to finding the right partner for you.
2. Switch from a "me" to "we" mindset
If you find yourself depending on your romantic partner too much, or being controlling, it's important to take a step back and evaluate. "Relationships are a constant balance between being an independent individual and connecting with your partner and being part of the 'we,'" says Herron.
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"Being stubborn and inflexible represents a need that is alive. Compromise is a necessity in a healthy relationship. When someone is acting as a doormat, they have an underdeveloped sense of themselves as an individual, and believe that their views and needs are not important," Herron adds.
Ask yourself if this is the right person for you, or whether you may require more emotional depth than that individual is able (or willing) to offer. "If you need control at all times, then the relationship is not likely to be a happy one," she says. "Even those who love and cherish us the most will hurt our feelings or awaken feelings of insecurity from time to time."
3. Give yourself a reality check
The real dating world can be intimidating, so it can feel much safer to make the depictions of relationships in books, romantic comedies and TV programs your benchmarks for couple behaviour. This makes it easy to dismiss potential partners on the basis of them not living up to a fictional standard.
"In my practice, when I meet someone who holds onto the belief of the 'perfect' partner, they are inevitably single, or soon to be so," says Herron. Seeking a blueprint for maintaining a healthy relationship in popular culture means rejecting real-time reality-based love for an ideal that does not exist. "Unless we have a tolerance for human imperfection, we will not be in a relationship -- at least not a happy one -- for long," says Herron. "Perfection is a myth, and a dangerous one to entertain."
The good news is that none of these obstacles is impossible to overcome, they only require devoting a bit of time to doing a personal inventory. "Not repeating the same patterns over and over takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness," says Herron. "What did we learn in our family of origin? Is this issue representative of our core values? What is it we are trying to control and why? The answers often relate to some very early experiences growing up."
Recognizing your own needs and using your self-knowledge to successfully navigate these hurdles will help you discover your best match and the satisfying long-term relationship you deserve.
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