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Why Do We Repeat Negative Patterns in Relationships?

It’s helpful to apply self-awareness to improve emotional response to relationships. Glenn Stok studies this and discusses his research.

Why Do We Keep Making the Same Mistakes?

Why Do We Keep Making the Same Mistakes?

The purpose of this article is to learn why some people repeat patterns of selecting inappropriate partners and harm their relationships with mistaken emotions.

I’ll also discuss what’s needed to change one’s attitude to eliminate that senseless, repetitive activity and seek an emotionally rewarding relationship.

Why We Keep Making the Same Mistakes

Repeating particular patterns that are not beneficial to our well-being could be a sign of a troubled past. For example, we may have an unresolved issue with prior relationships, and we are trying to reconstruct the same situation repeatedly in an effort to understand its cause.

It’s possible that we feel comfortable with a particular arrangement and have the need to create it over and over. We do this even if it doesn’t lead to a constructive future.1

That could result from failure to think things through and get in touch with our specific needs. If we don’t consider our values and future desires, we could very well be stuck in a pattern of repeated mistakes with our relationships.

What Happens When We Repeat Negative Patterns?

We tend to get involved with the same type of partner that doesn’t offer a rewarding future but somehow resembles the person who negatively affected us.

We seek these types of partners to try to resolve the problem that is subconsciously still affecting us emotionally. If we haven’t alleviated the issues that troubled us in the past, we might go on through life trying to fix the conflict in our minds that resulted from the unsettling experience.

We might have forgotten on a conscious level, but it’s still making us choose the wrong partner, treating our partner poorly, or merely failing to commit to an ongoing relationship.

Why Do We Repeat Toxic Relationships?

The same issue I’ve been discussing causes us to get into toxic relationships. We have a subconscious need to repeat comparable experiences so as to change them. For example, if we had unresolved issues with toxic behavior in a partner or parent, we seek relationships with similar partners.

Toxic people have a lack of concern about their impact on others. As a result, they fail to consider anything other than their own needs and wants.2

Have you grown up with parents who thought more about their own concerns and didn’t consider their impact on you? Or maybe you had a relationship with a partner who functioned that way.

That’s a toxic experience, and later in life, you subconsciously have a need to fix that. So, you seek partners that behave similarly, hoping to learn what’s behind it.

What Causes Unresolved Issues?

A negative occurrence in childhood with a parent or troublesome encounters with early dating can leave a never-ending memory of something we need to resolve. So we try to replicate the experience with our new partner to correct the feeling that left us feeling a lack of a positive conclusion.

These early life mishaps can be many other things, such as something that went wrong in our school days. For example, a teacher or student that blamed you for something you didn’t do.

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Some people never recover from the negative things that happened in their past. Nevertheless, those experiences set the stage for where we are now and how we conduct our life.

These experiences might have traumatized us in the past. And if we didn’t process the issue in our mind to put it away and not let it affect us anymore, we could possibly continue trying to resolve it throughout life.

The following video is an excellent explanation of all this. It’s worth the five minutes to watch it.

How You Can Stop Repeating Negative Patterns in Your Relationships

The patterns of repetition in our life occur because we make them happen. We find ways to repeat similar problems to change them once and for all. But that isn’t the way to accomplish that. Instead, it tends to be the theme of our “life story!”

How can we learn to understand our theme and change it? We need to do that so we can make life more meaningful with the ability to create optimistic scenarios and growth?

I’ll describe three exercises you might deem helpful, so your past no longer has control over you.

1. Acknowledge the Past

If you can acknowledge that everything about you results from your past experiences, it will help you move forward without regret.

You’ll need to recall the troubling events hidden in your subconscious so that you can put them to rest. Try to do that by thinking about it when you have a quiet moment. You might consider this as a meditation, but whatever works for you is fine.

The last time the feelings of those events existed might have been when you were too young to understand them in the way you can today. Maturity empowers you to accept the hurt and injustice of it all. However, while the feelings remain hidden, you are not erasing the effects of the problem created by the experience.

Once you remember troubling events that happened when you were young, you can think through the progression of events as they occurred. Then, when you become aware of these things, you can analyze them with the mature attitude you have now.

2. Understand the Past

It can help to examine early relationships that troubled us. That might provide the information we can learn from to understand how they affect our present behavior.3

Our brain is protecting us by not allowing us to see the links between early-life events and how we are functioning now. As a result, our lives are affected by forgotten memories of troubling experiences when we were young.

Think through the history of your life, from the moment of any adverse occurrences. Notice the theme that developed. Observe how the initial experience has such a strong influence on you today.

What complicates things is that there may very well be multiple events that don’t seem to be connected. But they build on themselves to add to your “life story.”

Thinking about the pattern that emerged may help you better understand where your life is headed.

3. Forget the Past

You see, your brain is struggling to forget the past. But in so doing, it is leaving you with the desire to understand it. So, therefore, you keep repeating the same things. In the end, you feel disappointed because you’re not moving forward with a future you thought you wanted to have. And you find yourself merely repeating the same pattern.

The proper way to forget the past is to bring it to the surface first, get in touch with it and examine it. Feel the pain. Try to figure out how to move beyond missed opportunities or the hurtful feelings of injustice inflicted on you in the past.

Say to yourself, “Those things happened, and there is nothing I can do about it. I need to give myself the life I want. I recognize how the events of the past are unresolved. I appreciate the fact that I cannot change that. But I do know that I can do what’s necessary to create a future from this point forward merely by living life as if the past struggles never happened.”

Once you do that with a conscious effort, it will help eliminate the effects of a troubled past.

In Conclusion, Create a New “Life Story”

You may never resolve the issues that troubled you in past relationships, especially anything that occurred in childhood. The best you might do is eliminate its effects.

Now that you know what’s been affecting you and causing you to pick the wrong partners, you’ll be on a path to changing the narrative of your life story.

Focus on finding a partner you can work with on developing a committed relationship. One who is trustworthy and who you appreciate for their values.4

Remember to keep in mind what your desires are with a relationship. Focus on that rather than the need to resolve problematic issues that have haunted you all your life. You can do it. Your life story is in your control.


  1. F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W. (October 31, 2015). “Why Do You Keep Making the Same Relationship Mistakes?” - Psychology Today
  2. Karen Young. (Retrieved June 12, 2021). “When Someone You Love is Toxic – How to Let Go, Without Guilt” -
  3. Kate Hardenberg. (Oct 29, 2018). “Why Do I Repeat the Same Relationship Mistakes?” -
  4. Terry Gaspard. (08/30/2014). “How to Avoid Making The Same Relationship Mistakes Over And Over Again” - The Huffington Post

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Glenn Stok


Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on August 28, 2021:

Thank you, Liz. I’m glad to hear that I succeeded at writing about this in an easy to understand format. I always try to reach that level of achievement. Thank you for that feedback.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on August 28, 2021:

Oh, McKenna, what a terrible memory from childhood! Things like that are difficult to get over. Parents should have their children’s backs and follow through with defending them against abusers.

I can understand how one carries that lack of defense with them into adulthood. Your story is an example of what I talked about in this article—how we seek specific partners hoping to fix the unresolved issues of childhood.

Thank you for giving us that information, and I'm sorry to hear about your struggle.

Liz Westwood from UK on August 27, 2021:

This is a very useful, thoughtful and thought-provoking article. It is interesting and illuminating to take a step back and view relationships in the light of this article. You make very valid points in an easy to understand format.

McKenna Meyers on August 27, 2021:

Wow, Glenn, this really got me thinking about behaviors that I've repeated in relationships throughout my life. One of the most significant is that I expected my partners to speak up for me, defend my honor, and have my back. That comes from a traumatic experience during childhood when I was abused and my parents didn't follow through by having the abuser punished. I've unconsciously set up several men for failure by having this unreasonable expectation of them. Today, I try to stand up for myself and not put that job onto a partner.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on August 27, 2021:

Misbah, thank you for your intuitive comments. You’re right that we can learn from our past, even though it’s not easy. It takes a lot of willpower to overcome the emotions that are hidden in our subconscious.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on August 27, 2021:

Pamela, you picked up on the crucial points very well. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Rebels. on August 27, 2021:

Mr. Glenn, Thank you so much for writing such an informative and well-written article. You have made some excellent points. There is always something hidden in our memories that continues to bother us in our daily lives. I don't think forgetting the past is easy, but learning from it is something possible. I like your concept of starting a new life. Without a doubt, it is difficult, but it is worth trying. ;) Thank you for sharing this beautiful hub. Stay safe and healthy.

Blessings to you!!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 27, 2021:

I think you are probably right about " subconscious need to repeat comparable experiences". It is a bit sad.

I really like the idea of creating a new life story. Repeating behavior that didn't work makes no sense. Thanks for. very informative article, Glen. We are certainly in control of our own life story!

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