Week 6: Repeating Patterns in Romantic Relationships

Some of the most painful and difficult patterns – our romantic relationship patterns!

Repeating patterns in intimate relationships are one of the most significant contributors to our quality of life – relationship stress has an immediate impact on our physical health, productivity, and emotional state.

What to do Next:
  1. Watch videos (0601, 0602) and read the article (Why Do We Repeat The Past In Our Relationships?).
  2. Take the online quiz to assess your attachment style
  3. Discuss with your accountability buddy
    a) the video and article content and

            b) your attachment style
  4. Send any questions to your coach before the Q&A call
  5. Attend the live Q&A call
  6. Continue practising Emotional First Aid techniques and Emotional Pressure Release
  7. Optional – watch additional video (0603) and read additional article (Attachment Trauma in Adults)
Multimedia Course Content

Video 0601: Repeating Patterns in Romantic Relationships

Particular patterns which manifest in intimate relationships.

Video 0602: Trauma Bonding

A relationship expert describes the paradoxical process by which we can become literally addicted to a person who actually scares us, and believe that we are simply in love.

Quiz: What Is Your Attachment Style?

Why Do We Repeat The Past In Our Relationships?

According to psychiatrist and researcher Bessel van der Kolk, “Many traumatized people expose themselves, seemingly compulsively, to situations reminiscent of the original trauma. These behavioral reenactments are rarely consciously understood to be related to earlier life experiences.”

Optional Additional Multimedia Material


“We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us. But if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong. Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way.

But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. And it isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems—the ones that make you truly who you are—that we’re ready to find a lifelong mate.

Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: it’s got to be the right wrong person—someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.””

Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe

Video 0603: Dysfunctional Relationships

In this fascinating interview, Ross Rosenberg (psychologist and recovering co-dependent) talks to Sam Vaknin (psychologist and high-functioning narcissist) about narcissism, codependency, and other attachment disorders.

Attachment Trauma in Adults

Developing emotional self regulation skills is fundamental to recovery from attachment hunger.  Most people with a history of neglect or abuse have some difficulty dealing with stress, accessing feelings and may be prone to mood swings.  Mood swings may seem mysterious, but in fact do not come out of the blue.  They stem from painful unconscious emotional and cognitive triggers that cause fear, self criticism and shame.  The key here is to work backwards to discover the source of the pain, and to cultivate tolerance and compassion for emotion(s) while understanding the source of trigger.

  1. What repeating patterns can you identify in your relationships? 
  2. Can you identify any of your relationship patterns being related to an attachment style?
  3. Do you recognise different attachment styles in other people you know?

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is a repeating pattern always emotional, or can we have mental repeating patterns as well?

A: It is quite common to find ourselves having repeating patterns in our thoughts. There are a few reasons why this happens, and they can usually be traced back to an emotional root.

If you go around in circles when trying to make a decision, this is an indication that you are not in close enough contact with the emotional system, because it is emotion that casts the “deciding vote” in any decision, even a decision which seems unemotional (such as whether to go to the dentist on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning).

If you find yourself ruminating (going over and over a situation in your mind), it is usually the result of an emotion. Often, it is anxiety, but it can also be unresolved grief, which can manifest as anger, guilt, or sadness. We may not be directly aware of the emotion, because the constant thinking suppresses our direct awareness of the underlying emotion.

We can also develop repeating patterns when our analytical mind and our emotional self are in conflict. We may only be consciously aware of the analytical side of the argument, and our emotion-driven actions may seem like “self-sabotage”, “fear of success”, “fear of failure”, or “procrastination”.

Q: Is the ‘disorganised’ attachment style the same as ‘anxious-avoidant’?

A: No, the “anxious-avoidant” person has a consistent pattern of avoidant attachment. Someone with disorganized attachment will switch back and forth between different attachment style, sometimes quite rapidly, rather than having a fixed style. Disorganized attachment is relatively rare, and it results from having carers who were extremely unpredictable.

Q: When I do the exercise to identify patterns, it seems like I am the same as my parents in some ways, but exactly the opposite in other ways.

A: Yes, we are very creative in how we handle our subconscious drive to repeat and fix our childhood situations. Sometimes we fall into the same (or similar) coping strategies that our parents use, and sometimes we swear to ourselves never to be like them.

Whether you are flowing with it or reacting against it doesn’t matter – either way, your childhood imprint is shaping your coping strategies today.

Healing and freedom emerge when you resolve the childhood emotional pressures, release the stuck emotions, and become free to respond flexibly and appropriately in the present moment.

It is a surprise to many people how much of what they thought was “just the way I am” is actually coping strategies for stuck childhood emotions. 


15 + 2 =

Additional Exploration

References, optional further study and additional practices

Academic References

Carnes, P. (2015). Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships. Health Communications, Incorporated.

Levine, A and Heller, R (2010) Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment  TarcherPerigee

Streep, P. (2017, January). 5 Reasons Unloved Daughters Choose the Wrong Partners.

Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Amir Levine and psychologist Rachel S. F. Heller reveal how an understanding of attachment theory – the most advanced relationship science in existence today – can help us find and sustain love.

The wounded part of you will look for a different outcome with people who resemble the caregiver who was involved in the wounding in the first place. Why? Because we always go for what we already know. It feels familiar, it feels like home. We have a program inside that intuitively says, “That’s love.”

Pia Mellody explains how a lonely childhood can lead to falling in love with a fantasy – and the damaging effects of this addiction and withdrawal cycle.

For people with a trauma history, fear can be mistaken for excitement in intimate relationships.  Unfortunately, a state of high anxiety can become the glue that binds people together in unhealthy relationship bonds.
~ Glynis Sherwood, MEd

When a relationship becomes an addiction, genuine love is impossible.

About Mary Ainsworth

Mary Dinsmore Ainsworth (née Salter; December 1, 1913 – March 21, 1999) was an American-Canadian developmental psychologist known for her work in the development of attachment theory. She designed the strange situation procedure to observe early emotional attachment between a child and its primary caregiver.

On the basis of their behaviors, the 26 children in Ainsworth’s original Baltimore study were placed into one of three classifications – secure attachment, anxious-resistant insecure attachment, or anxious-avoidant insecure attachment. Each of these groups reflects a different kind of attachment relationship with the caregiver, and implies different forms of communication, emotion regulation, and ways of responding to perceived threats.

Later writers have simplified the terms to secure, anxious, and avoidant attachment, and added a fourth category – disorganized attachment – to represent a group which switches unpredictably between different attachment styles.

A 2002 Review of General Psychology survey ranked Ainsworth as the 97th most cited psychologist of the 20th century. Many of Ainsworth’s studies are “cornerstones” of modern-day attachment theory.

While the pioneers of attachment thery believed that attachment styles were determined early in life, we now know that the brain makes new neural pathways throughout life. Attachment styles, like other coping strategies, can be rewired into healthier, more sustainable patterns through the proper application of emotional intelligence skills.

“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.”

Deepak Chopra