Patterns in relationships & breaking free from “your type”

I spent 15 years dating men that were “my type” with the hope of discovering my soulmate. But I uncovered my childhood trauma instead.

Throughout my 20s and early 30s, I shared with my girlfriends how downright uncanny it was that so many of the guys I dated were basically carbon copies of each other.

Their careers, hobbies, family issues, insecurities – and their birth order. I noticed several specific patterns, including a brief phase of dating men who were first-born twins. Not just one, but several guys I dated, couldn’t whistle. You can’t make this stuff up.

Our culture teaches us that we’re born liking or disliking certain traits, as if our type is genetically ingrained in us. How many times do we decide the fate of a new prospect by answering the question: “are they my type?”

But as relationships came and went, I began to wonder: if this type of man is my destiny, then frankly why am I not happy in these relationships?

Finding a life coach

I felt confused and unable to find a path forward to happiness. I began to explain my frustration about feeling stuck in multiple areas of my life with close friends and colleagues. One day at work, a coworker pulled me aside and recommended that I speak to her life coach, Arda.

She credited Arda – and a lot of hard work – with helping her tap into her own power. He helped her dig deep and undergo truly life-changing personal work to imagine a new reality for herself. Her conviction was contagious. I immediately emailed him to request an appointment.

Session after session, we began to peel back the layers of my type, the caricature that I’d unconsciously been seeking for most of my adult life. Arda taught me that patterns like the ones I’d noticed aren’t serendipitous signs from the Universe that I’d found my soulmate.

Quite the contrary. These patterns are cycles formed by fear, insecurity and trauma. When carefully studied, they can illuminate your past, delivering insights into a totally unknown part of yourself, your inner child.

With Arda’s guidance, I painstakingly examined my patterns. They exposed how I saw myself and revealed made-up stories that I’d believed about myself for as long as I could remember.

Believing the lies

These lies can be hard to detect because we have believed them for so long. So many people grow up believing they’re unlovable, that love is conditional or that they’re not smart enough to achieve their dreams.

These lies reflect our biggest fears. Whether or not we like what we believe, they are our truth, and challenging that truth is scary. But until we address them, we unknowingly seek out circumstances that reinforce our beliefs, allowing the lies to spread. Like many people, I attracted a type of partner who would allow me to continue to perpetuate my lies because it felt familiar and comfortable.

My patterns

For me, the pattern of dating men in finance reflected my need to live a safe, conventional life. As a child, I never quite fit in with my conservative environment, and I lived in fear of being exposed as eclectic and odd. So I made life choices that put me on the “right” path: a college education, a corporate job, health insurance – to find an equally stable and conventional partner. I attracted “normal,” successful men so that I would feel normal and successful.

I also exclusively dated firstborns. During the process of getting to know myself, I read The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are by Dr. Kevin Leman. As with most studies on human psychology, there are nuances to Dr. Leman’s findings, but in general, first-born and only children tend to feel the most pressure from their parents to be perfect. They also are high-achieving leaders. At the time Dr. Leman published his book, 28 out of 44 U.S. presidents were firstborns or functional firstborns. These children often adapt to the pressure they feel by becoming organized, reliable, type A perfectionists.

I am an only child – what Dr. Leman affectionately refers to as “super firstborns,” effectively a first born on steroids. As an only child painstakingly attuned to the needs of my parents, I am incredibly skilled at anticipating my partners’ emotional needs: preventing downturns and calming turbulence. Giving at all costs without taking. I see this pattern in so many of my female loved ones, too.

Because I was hiding my true self, I felt powerless and unknowingly sought out a partner to impart a false sense of power by association so that I could hide from my own strength. I could rely on someone else to be decisive, have a plan and take risks. I attracted leaders so that I wouldn’t have to lead.

The final pattern I noticed in my relationships was related to family trauma, specifically brought on by an overbearing, well-intentioned, hyper-critical parent. This upbringing yielded highly functioning men with anxiety and extreme emotional needs.

In the early stages of a relationship, because of my conditioning, this role felt familiar, comfortable and safe. “If he needs me,” says the fear, “then he won’t notice that I’m not loveable. He will rely on me to bring him stability. I will make myself indispensable.”

Then, like clockwork, I began to feel drained, unfulfilled, resentful and unseen. I attracted men who needed me so that I would feel needed. For me, this pattern was the most dangerous trap of all.

Breaking free

Now, many years into this work of self-discovery, I am married and in a relationship that is more expansive, joyful and deeply fulfilling than I could have imagined. My husband is my balance. He helps me recognize and address my lies and celebrate my truth. And while I see some of the old type in him, there’s one critical difference: he does his own work. I help him identify his patterns, but he doesn’t rely on me to fix him. I give a lot in our relationship, but I’m allowed to take a lot, too.

Lies don’t just show up in romantic relationships; you’ll find them at work, in interactions with friends, in your decision making and pretty much everywhere else.

Here’s where it gets tricky: society often rewards our coping behavior. You might skip a meal because you’re busy finishing a project at school or work. Or you might offer to host your extended family for the holidays even though you desperately don’t want to. Or you might fail to set boundaries with a toxic friend who’s going through a tough time. These transgressions, however minor, are warnings that you’ve lost your way. They are micro-indicators of more complex justifications, tradeoffs and prioritizations. Over time, they can erode your self-respect and deplete your soul.

But the beauty of the work of self discovery is that once you notice your patterns and you let them reveal the lies you once believed, then you begin to surrender from the grip they have on your life. Your knowledge is freedom.

In this over-programmed, frenetic world of ours, we don’t always make time for yoga, meditation, journaling, wellness retreats or even quiet reflection. But surely we can make time to notice our patterns and listen as they whisper our truths. The journey of self love begins there.

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