Dear Love Rabbi,
I’m in my 30s. I’ve had several serious, long-term partners, but never have I been in a relationship in which I didn’t feel extremely ambivalent – both about the other person and the prospect of embarking on a lifelong partnership together. As soon as I’m involved with someone seriously, I tend to become hyper-critical of them and become fixated on the aspects of their personality I don’t like. I often compare them to my previous partners, despite the fact that things clearly didn’t work out with said partners. So what’s the deal? Is the problem with me? Am I too critical and scared of commitment to be in a lasting, serious relationship, or have I simply not met the right person yet?
Tortured in Toronto
Thank you for your honesty and your trust in me. Lately, I’ve been hearing this question quite a bit. Relationships seem to be confusing to a lot of people. Maybe that’s why marriage and relationships books have become so popular.
Let’s try to figure this out together. Since we’re being honest, I think the first thing you need to say to yourself is: “I am the common denominator of all my failed relationships.” It’s important to take ownership over your past relationships and the choices you made, or didn’t make. If you blame everybody else for your challenges, you’ll be stuck in a prison of your own making.
Now the ball is in your court. You’re in control and you have the power to analyze and understand your challenge.
Do you know what you’re looking for? Have you ever sat down and asked yourself, “what is it that I am really looking for in a relationship?”
Today, most people either have no idea what their partner should act like – they just go meet people and “guess and test” – or they daydream about a Prince(ss) Charming who doesn’t exist outside of fairy tales. If you’re looking to get into a long-term relationship, you need to have a realistic idea of the qualities you are looking for.
‘When people have irrational fears, the conscious mind comes up with all kinds of excuses and reasons to justify that fear’
Whenever I meet with a single person who’s seeking a relationship, the first thing I do is go through a process of discovering what that person really wants. I’m not talking about the small stuff people can get hyper-critical about. I’m talking about the big stuff – what kind of person your soulmate should be.
Once you know what you are looking for, you will have to ask whether your subconscious is scared of something, which is causing you to find fault in your partners. When people have irrational fears, the conscious mind obsessively comes up with all kinds of excuses and reasons to justify that fear. We don’t like to face our own irrationality, so we hang it on an excuse.
Why might you be scared? The culprit is usually relationship trauma. Often we don’t have good role models for long-term commitment. On the contrary, many people have divorced parents and have thus witnessed first hand how things can go sour. If this is your problem, you need to do two things.
First, get past the trauma by realizing that it’s not your fault and that you don’t have to repeat the mistakes of your role models. History is not doomed to repeat itself. Identify what went wrong and how you will do it differently. (A therapist can help with this.)
Second, find a new “marriage role-model” or mentor and discover how great commitment can be. Find happy couples and soak in their story for a little while. Discover for yourself that successful and loving relationships really are possible.
There is nothing more satisfying than the love, unconditional acceptance and joy of a long-term relationship. You won’t understand it until you’ve been in it for a few years.
You’ll have to trust me on this one.
Got your own question for The Love Rabbi? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org