Common Unhealthy Relationship Patterns

There are three common and unhelpful belief systems about relationships that all of us get caught in from time-to-time. These belief systems become a problem when we start to develop patterns of relating based on them. This post examines how patterns based in fear, external focus, and control can prevent us from developing and maintaining the relationships we truly want.


When we develop relationship patterns based in fear, it is hard to form a secure and satisfying connection with others and to be fully ourselves. There are four main relationship beliefs that are grounded in fear.

We may believe that our partner will not be there for us consistently because they are emotionally unpredictable, unreliable, going to die, or leave us for someone else. We may become too clingy in our relationship or we may stay away from romantic relationships altogether because of a belief that they will end prematurely.

We may believe that, given the opportunity, other people will use us for their own selfish ends. We may fear that our partner will lie, cheat, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, or abuse us. This belief can cause us to always be on guard in our relationship or we may avoid getting into a romantic relationship in the first place to avoid getting hurt.

We may believe that our partner will not meet our need for emotional connection. We may fear that our partner will not give us affection or caring, will not listen to or understand us, or will not share guidance and strength with us. We may deny that we have emotional needs or find other sources for meeting these needs outside of our relationship.

We may believe that we are flawed or unlovable, and if our partner really knew us, they would not accept us. We may hide “unacceptable” parts of ourselves which leads to inauthentic interactions with others and superficial connections.

External Focus

We may place an excessive emphasis on meeting the needs of others rather than focusing on our own needs to a healthy degree. We may do this to maintain a connection with our partner, to avoid retaliation, or to gain approval. There are four main ways that external focus can show up in a relationship.

We may focus on how our partner is feeling and what they are needing at the expense of our own needs and feelings. This often leads to a buildup of anger inside of us and unhealthy coping strategies to manage the anger.

We may lack awareness of our own needs and feelings and we may not know how to communicate them to others. We may simply view ourselves as “easygoing” when we are actually disconnected from ourselves.

We may believe that our own needs, feelings, and wishes are not as important as those of others. This belief leads to resentment of others and reduced self-esteem.

We may believe that receiving the approval of others is more important than being authentic in relationships. Approval seeking often leads to us making unsatisfying life decisions or being overly sensitive to rejection.


When control is the dominating relationship pattern, there is a lack of trust in what will spontaneously happen. We may try to control others or ourselves. We may also show a lack of healthy self-control. There are four main ways that issues of control can show up in a relationship.

We may feel entitled to special treatment and not bound by the rules of give-and-take. We may believe that we should be able to do or have what we want in a relationship, often at the cost of hurting others. This belief leads to demanding, dominating, and controlling behavior in a relationship.

We may have exceedingly high standards for ourselves and for others. We may be perfectionistic, may follow (and expect others to follow) rigid rules, and have a preoccupation with time and efficiency. Our behavior may push others away and make our partner feel unaccepted and unappreciated by us.

We may overly control ourselves to the point of inhibiting all spontaneous action (play, affection, sexual excitement), feeling (especially anger and joy), or communication. Most often, this shows up as difficulty being vulnerable with our partner or not communicating our feelings, needs, and wishes freely. Others may view us as cold, distant, and emotionally flat.

We may not have sufficient self-control and frustration tolerance. We may not be able to regulate our emotions, causing us to be overly emotional in the relationship and leaving little room for our partner’s feelings and needs. Our partner may be “walking on eggshells” to avoid upsetting us. We may dodge all discomfort including pain, conflict, confrontation, responsibility, or overexertion. This creates issues of commitment and integrity in a relationship.

Take Action

If you notice any of the above described patterns in your relationships, it may be time to take a closer look how fear, external focus, or control became dominant for you and where your beliefs about relationships originate. Often times, we build our adult relationships based on what relationships were like when we were children. So if any of the above mentioned beliefs about relationships were true during your childhood, you may still be holding onto them even though they no longer apply to your life as an adult.

#RelationshipProblems #UnhealthyPatterns #Fear #Control #ExternalFocus

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