Some people are good at relationships. They meet potential partners with effortless ease wherever they go—on the subway, in the elevator at work, on line at the grocery store. They strike up conversations with men in bars, get fixed up by friends, and actually enjoy (ugh!) online dating. The people they encounter are emotionally available and commitment-ready, and they sail smoothly into monogamous relationships as if on command.
And then there are those who are more relationship challenged. Mystified by how to transform a Match.com profile into a boyfriend or how to meet a guy who’s not a total commitmentphobe. You probably feel like you’re trapped in an ’80s movie, forever destined to be on the outside, looking longingly in at all the couples with their hands resting in the back pocket of each other’s acid-washed jeans. How do they do it? you wonder, as you force yourself to “put yourself out there” yet again, gritting your teeth through another brutal bout of online dating.
If the relationship you so desperately desire keeps remaining just out of reach, there may be internal blocks to intimacy standing in your way. Rather than muscling through an endless barrage of bad dates and painful, short-lived relationships, take a time out to identify any deep-seated beliefs and counter-productive patterns that could be holding you back. Click through for barriers that might be sabotaging your relationship efforts—and how to kiss them goodbye.
The Barrier: Charming addict, soulful depressive, cheating narcissist—the list of your exes reads like a page out of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Or maybe you have that magical ability to walk into a room full of single men and hone in on the one unavailable guy there. Even when you think you’re picking a great guy who seems like he wants a relationship, after three dates he asks if you’re into porn and starts texting you at three in the morning, when he bothers to be in touch at all. You’ve given up on trusting your own instincts and the only thing you can count on is that you’ll always be attracted to the men who are bad for you.
Relationship Rx: Since you can’t exchange your guy-picking instincts, you need to give them a tune-up. Make a list of non-negotiable dealbreakers—all the qualities and behaviors you absolutely will not tolerate. When you meet someone new, pay close attention to potential red flags and when they start to fly, don’t rationalize them away or make excuses for them. Because your picking instincts have a delayed response time, take it slow when you’re getting to know someone so you have plenty of time to detect warning signals before becoming more involved—it’s a lot better to realize a guy has a porn addiction after the third date than on your wedding night.
Hooked On A Feeling
The Barrier: If you don’t instantly feel fireworks, you’re not interested. Anything less than off-the-charts chemistry on a date and you’re plotting your escape route. Without that high, you envision being stuck and suffocated in a boring relationship forever, as the walls close in on you and you start to hyperventilate. You know right away if it’s going to work or not based on that initial attraction, so why waste your time? Certain that the guy sitting across from you is not a match, you internally debate whether you should climb out the bathroom window, fake a family emergency, or both.
Relationship Rx: Great theory. Except that based on your checkered dating past, the instant chemistry that you crave has not actually proven to be an accurate predictor of relationship success. In fact, the opposite has been true—when you feel sparks right off the bat, it usually signifies that this relationship is going to crash and burn and probably fast. Replace your need for instant chemistry with a curiosity about who this guy is as a person, and be open to attraction that develops slowly over time as you learn more about him. Ditching the first date fireworks doesn’t mean a relationship has to be boring and suffocating—attraction that takes longer to build usually lasts longer, too.
The Barrier: You believe in fairy tales and are waiting for your prince to come. Expecting perfection in a mate, you are constantly being disappointed. All your friends’ boyfriends and husbands appear to be perfect, but when you go on dates you find yourself with these flawed human beings. You’re irritated that they can’t read your mind and anticipate all your needs, get food stuck in their teeth, and would rather talk about video games than the meaning of life—or how cute you look in your new dress.
Relationship Rx: Having expectations that no mere mortal can live up to is a sure way stay single. If you want to be in a relationship, you have to tolerate the imperfection of another human being, including his dorky hobbies and irritating quirks. He’s an actual three-dimensional person and not just a character whose purpose is to fulfill your every need. Give the sweet guy who’s a little neurotic a second date and you’ll soon find that an imperfect relationship in real life is much better than a perfect fairy tale fantasy.
Fear Of Abandonment
The Barrier: You’re so afraid of being left that you preemptively push people away. Or you let someone get close to you but every time he takes more than two seconds to return your text, you go into full-on freak-out mode. If he doesn’t ask you on another date by the time you’ve gotten home from seeing him, you’re convinced that it’s over. Never feeling safe in a relationship, you’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop and the guy to disappear.
Relationship Rx: Fear of abandonment is usually historical, rooted in childhood and compounded by experiences in past relationships. Try to bring yourself back to the present when you feel this panic arise and notice that it is probably out of proportion to what is actually going on. One of the reasons it’s so scary to perceive that you are being abandoned is that, at a fundamental level, you do not feel like you are OK on your own. Regardless of whether you are overreacting or someone actually is abandoning you, the most important thing is that you not abandon yourself. Remind yourself that no matter what happens, you are safe and will be OK with or without this person.
Inability To Set Boundaries
The Barrier: A tried and true people pleaser, you agree to everything. Your main goal in a relationship is to be that easy, breezy low-maintenance girl with no needs of her own. You live in fear of being seen as selfish or even worse, difficult. So you find yourself agreeing to meet up with a guy when you know you really need Me Time, or going out in a group with all his college buddies when what you want is a night with just the two of you. And then there are the favors like picking up his dry cleaning, dropping off his cat at the vet, and revising his resume, which leave you wiped out when it’s time to focus on your own tasks. Without boundaries, you risk either being depleted by fulfilling others’ needs at the expense of your own self-care, or having to erect impenetrable walls to protect yourself and your energy.
Relationship Rx: Flex your boundary-building muscles by saying, “No!” Declare it The Week Of No and decline every request that you don’t truly feel excited about doing. Say no when your neighbor asks you to take care of his bird over the holiday weekend, your best friend asks you to spot her $20 at dinner, and your co-worker asks if you would mind reading the first draft of his sci-fi novel and giving him detailed feedback. Turn down invitations that don’t feel joyful and fun. You don’t even need to offer an excuse—you can say no just because you want to! This will be uncomfortable at first so give yourself room to do it messily and awkwardly. And then devote all the extra time you have to taking care of the things you need to do.
Difficulty Expressing Feelings
The Barrier: To protect yourself from being vulnerable, you stuff down your feelings and act like you’re always “fine.” When a guy you’re seeing does or says something that upsets you, you pretend it’s “no big deal.” Most of the time you don’t even know how you feel until long after the triggering incident, when it’s too late to bring it up anyway. You’re terrified that expressing any sort of dissatisfaction will lead to conflict, which will in turn bring about the demise of this relationship. Instead, you become so dissociated you feel numb and checked-out—when you’re not depressed, resentful, and infuriated from all those bottled up feelings.
Relationship Rx: Being yourself and expressing how you feel is not optional in a relationship—it’s essential for true intimacy to develop. Override your knee-jerk reaction to say that something upsetting is “Fine!” and pay attention to the sensations in your body. Your emotions will give you clear signals if you get quiet and listen. When you feel a tightness in your chest or an uneasiness in your stomach, trust that something is definitely notno big deal. Once you’ve identified your feelings, practice expressing them to the person you’re dating, friends, and family members. Again, let yourself do this imperfectly. You can even start off by saying, “I feel really uncomfortable saying this but …” or “I don’t know why but I feel upset about what you just said and I need a little while to think about it.” Over time, it will become easier to identify and articulate your feelings, and this will lead to closer bonds, deeper intimacy, and better relationships.
Need For Control
The Barrier: Your motto is My way or the highway and no one can do things as impeccably as you can. Feeling an uncontrollable compulsion to control, you micromanage everything from a first date to your new love interest’s career. When a guy excitedly tells you about the date he’s planned, you can’t help but offer (forceful) suggestions to tweak it—it would be better to meet earlier, see a different movie, go to another restaurant. At his apartment you tell him he should keep his dishes in that cabinet and organize his sock drawer this way, and you take it as a personal affront when at your place he doesn’t abide by your systems. It’s one thing to express your preferences, and it might even be more fun or efficient your way, but if you are constantly controlling every aspect of a relationship from the get-go, the other person is going to get sick of being bossed around and call it quits.
Relationship Rx: Pick your battles and let go of the rest. If you have a massive aversion to horror movies, say so, and that you’d prefer to see a rom-com or animated feature. If you have a sensitive digestive system and can’t stomach Thai food, let him know. But if you don’t have a strong opinion on something, just let it slide. Give another person the opportunity to have his own ideas and opinions. You might be pleasantly surprised by how much you enjoy giving up the burden of being in charge all the time and letting someone else take the lead once in a while. And if he offers to wash the dishes after dinner and puts them away in the wrong cabinet, try to appreciate his efforts instead of criticizing his methods. It’s a relationship, not a dictatorship, so it requires the ability to compromise and relinquish some control. But in doing so, you’ll gain far more than you give up.
The Barrier: Like most of the population, you grew up in a dysfunctional family. And the love portrayed in the movies, on TV, and in co-dependent “I’ll die without you” songs doesn’t help. You’re an expert at chaotic, painful relationships but don’t have a clue what a healthy relationship even looks like, let alone how to cultivate one. A hard worker and diligent student, you long to do dating and relationships better—if only you knew where to begin.
Relationship Rx: Get to work with the DIY project of building your own template. Find a dating mentor—a friend, coach, or therapist who is in a healthy relationship or knows what one looks like. Ask lots of questions and for advice about how to handle dating situations you find yourself in. Learn about the kinds of behaviors that are helpful to intimacy and those that are harmful. Read books on the subject to expand your ideas about what is possible in a relationship. There are a lot of dating and relationship books that perpetuate dysfunction so look for ones that promote relating mindfully instead, like If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path. With the new knowledge you garner, you’ll be able to let go of unhealthy patterns as you piece together your very own template.
Original by: Jennifer Garam