A common reason clients come to me for therapy is to get over an ex or help in deciding between two lovers.
I know for myself, I have gone back and forth between ex-partners and unfortunately hurt other people along the way. It wasn't until I was dumped as I was getting ready for my birthday party by a boyfriend who said he wasn't sure if he should've broken up with his ex - that I realised how much I had hurt other people with my indecision and game-playing in previous relationships.
Every week I have a new client crying in my office over a hot and cold lover. The person telling them one minute that they love them and they want to be with them, next minute pushing them away, telling them they're unsure or confused. This is incredibly frustrating and is an emotional roller coaster. The real surprise is not so much that people play these games, but the fact that we put up with it.
It's important to learn how to stop this toxic dynamic but also to identify why you've allowed it to happen in the first place.
Here's how to stop the games for good
1. Stop having sex with your ex
If you want closure in your relationship, start with your legs. If you continue to sleep with someone you're not in a relationship with, or even worse with someone who's in a relationship with someone else - it's not going to end well. It’s a total waste of time to continue having sex with someone who refuses to have a relationship with you. Either you or someone else is going to get hurt. It's better to move on and find someone you can have the type of relationship you want.
Respect yourself as well as other people enough to not do things that will cause hurt. If your ex has moved on with someone else, but you're still sleeping with them, you are just as bad as them. It is one thing to compromise, it's another thing to compromise yourself. You may think you can sit back and take all of this hot and cold, back-and-forth nonsense without being affected - but in the end, you will end up hurt and exhausted.
2. Tell your ex it's over and block them from contacting you
Be clear that it's over. Tell them on the phone, write them an email, do it in person if you need to, and tell them that you're done. If you’re not being treated with love and respect, do not sit back and accept it. You have to protect yourself, first and foremost and you should never place a relationship with another over the one you have with yourself. Learn to have boundaries and be very clear about what you will and won't tolerate.
If you keep going back and forth, you are teaching people that what you say doesn't matter and they can treat you poorly and get away with it. People get the message very clearly when you tell them it's over and then block them from contacting you. No contact is the rule if you want to move on.
3. Learn to have boundaries
What are your boundaries? Boundaries are your own personal rules you have for yourself on how you will allow yourself to be treated. I highly recommend the book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
It’s an incredible book that will teach you how to deal with people who don’t treat you with respect – and help you to get rid of the toxic people who you need to let go of. If you don’t have boundaries in your relationships – particularly with people that are toxic – then they will trample all over you.
4. Identify where this pattern in your relationship comes from
People with high self-esteem, who are secure within themselves and in relationships, do not put up with bullsh*t from people they are involved with. If this dynamic keeps coming up for you, there is a reason that stems most likely from your childhood or your first romantic relationships.
An easy way to identify where this may come from - is to do a timeline on a piece of paper starting from when you were born. What was your parent's or caregivers relationships like when you were born and write down any separations, dramas, divorces, affairs, traumas that you witnessed with the people around you? Then draw another line below that and mark the ages and dynamics of your first relationships, including traumas like molestations, being dumped, love triangles, whatever you can think of.
For most people, very quickly a pattern will begin to emerge. We tend to repeat what we watch growing up as that becomes our model for what love looks like. If there was lots of drama, breakups and getting back together while you were growing up or in your first relationships, that's what you will subconsciously believe is normal. Bringing our subconscious patterns, into our awareness, is the first step to stop the cycle.
5. Get clear about what you want
If you’re not sure what you want in a relationship, it’s hard to be clear in telling someone what you need. Do you want to be in a serious committed relationship? Or do you want to play the field? Is your ex truly the perfect person for you, or do they just seem familiar, and it seems like it’s easier to be with them rather than find some new?
Sit down and write or visualise what your perfect relationship looks like, what kind of person you want to have a relationship with, and get clear on how you want to be treated. I'm assuming the relationship you had with your ex wasn’t a perfect relationship otherwise you would probably still be in it.
Getting really clear about what you want, will help you to say no when people are treating you in a way you don't want them to. You deserve and can have the relationship you desire. Saying no to what's not working and people who aren't giving you what you want opens the door for the right relationship – with the person that will treat you with the love and respect you are worthy of. In this instance, don't recycle … Go out and get someone new, you deserve it!
Caroline Cranshaw is a hypnotherapist, founder and trainer at the New Zealand Integrative Hypnotherapy Training Institute and the author of The Smoking Cure. Find out more about her at nzhypnotherapy.co.nz. Listen to Caroline's new podcast WTF Stories & Advice.