Relationship Warning Signs: Fighting the Last War

Relationship choices are sometimes a little bit like that old military saying that generals are always preparing to fight the last war. Meaning that they are focusing too closely on past mistakes, without realizing the dangers of a new strategy that will be inadequate for whatever lies ahead.

In the same way, we try to avoid the relationship mistakes that we made in the past, perhaps without being aware that our strategy might produce new, equally unfortunate mistakes in the future.

Let’s take an example. Suppose that your last relationship was with an authoritarian, demanding, insensitive, perhaps even somewhat abusive man. Now you want someone who won’t represent that kind of threat. Now you want someone who won’t push you around in any sense of the word — someone less threatening, and more accommodating. This might seem just fine for a while.

But, perhaps gradually, you will notice that the same person who gives-in to you, is also giving-in to others; not standing up for himself or for you; spending too much time away from you, instead doing favors for his parents or his friends. Perhaps you will feel that he is too passive and that while he won’t often say “no” to you, you have to push him to do the things that you want.

Or maybe your last boyfriend wasn’t ambitious and industrious. Maybe you had to lend him money or be his source of financial support. And, of course, you got tired of this. Now, you say, you will only date someone who is hard-working and successful. So, at the extreme, you pick a workaholic mate and hardly ever see him, and you have to do the job of raising the children you have with him pretty much on your own, even if your joint bank account looks just fine.

Or perhaps your old love was easy with money and ran up great debt. So now you choose somebody with a dead-bolt lock on his wallet, cheap in the extreme, frugal to the point of wanting an accounting of every dollar spent, and nearly every small purchase the two of you make is  treated with the gravity of buying a house.

Or your last companion didn’t pay much attention to you, seemed more interested in being with his friends or watching football on TV. So you choose someone who wants to be with you nearly every minute and gets jealous when you even look or talk to another man — a mate who wants an itinerary of your daily activities and seems interested in controlling you more than in loving you.

And, last but not least, the boring, by-the-book, ever-cautious man who you trade-in for a dashing, spontaneous, risk-taking, unpredictable, funny, charming, devil-may-care partner; someone who turns out to be just a bit too reckless and unreliable and thoughtless in the end.

The list goes on. The point is, as with so many things in life, that the opposite of what you have is often just as bad or worse, only in a different way.

Best to look at all sides of things and not pick someone at either extreme of most any dimension.

Just like King Midas, who wished for the power to turn everything into gold, sometimes you have to be careful about getting too much of what you thought would be a good thing.

Or, as Oscar Wilde said, “there are only two tragedies in  life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”

The image above is Oscar Wilde in a photographic portrait by Napolean Sarony from about 1882, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

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