After years of failed relationships, Tim finally discovered the real reason he couldn’t find “the one,” and it came as quite a shock.
Throughout Tim’s first few sessions, he was all about his relationships. At 37, he had endured a dozen failed relationships and was coming off the heels of one more. He was eager to change this pattern and create a stable relationship and family of his own; he had grown up with caring parents, married almost 40 years, and could not imagine going through life without a partner.
I began noticing some patterns in his discourse throughout our sessions. For starters, he tended to blame the failed relationships on the women: “Mary was a heavy drinker and wouldn’t change,” “Suzanne cared more about going out with the girls than me,” “Janis was shallow,” etc. Secondly, he followed every negative comment with a positive one: “It’s cold and wet outside, but hey, we could be in Michigan where they’re receiving a blizzard right now!” or “My secretary forgot to finish the report I needed for court. But, at least I’m able to afford a secretary!”
Together, we started exploring the reasons behind these two patterns. Turns out, examining his role in the failed relationships and sitting with negative comments were both extremely painful to Tim, and as a result, he avoided both.
This led us to discuss the source of his negativity fears. Tim learned in high school and college sports that focusing on the negative is counterproductive and leads to failure. Focusing on the positive is the way to win anything!
These “positivity only” beliefs were so embedded in Tim’s mind and behavior patterns, it was difficult for him to see how they could cause harm. While there is surely some merit for positive thinking, I explained that in order to fix problems, we must first understand them. We can’t hope to treat a cancer, for example, unless we face the painful reality that the tumor is indeed a cancer. We cannot fix the cracked walls and safety of a house until we face the awful news that we poured the foundation incorrectly. In Tim’s case, his fear of negativity prevented him from fixing his broken relationship patterns.
Tim ultimately agreed to try doing things differently — to let negativity in as a source of information. “What do I have to lose?” he said. We started by examining his role in the relationship problems and discovered that Tim had been unable to admit the women were flawed even though “I knew in my gut around date number two or three.” Tim’s inability to sit with negative thoughts, such as Mary drinks too much or Suzanne is insensitive, caused him to ignore red flags. The women didn’t match his ideal of a long-term partner, and yet, he dated them anyway.
The most painful realization? This problem cost Tim years, maybe decades, of wasted time and energy. First, Tim got angry, then sad, but in the end he was able to use the information to change his approach to dating.
Tim often joked that he was “speed dating my way to a wife,” but in a matter of months, and dozens of dates, he found a woman who did not set off any alarm bells on the second date, or the third, or the twentieth. No, she wasn’t perfect, but she was able to talk about her flaws in an empathic and thoughtful manner, which made the flaws tolerable. Weeks led to months, and Tim and Sandie eventually got engaged.
Tim no longer forces himself out of negative thoughts. Instead, he’s learned how positive things often come from rolling around in the negative.