A couple stands in the kitchen having a conversation representing how to change old relationship patterns

Does it seem like you keep falling in love with the same person in a different package, over and over again? As a couples counselor, I can tell you that many people share this sense that they’re living a relationship Groundhog Day. They leave one unhealthy relationship and find someone new and promising, only to discover that the same dynamics have followed them. When you begin to notice this, it’s an invitation to begin examining your relationship patterns and all the things you are doing (often unconsciously!) to create them. 

I know it’s tempting to buy into the myth that everything would change if you could stop choosing a certain “type” of person. Sometimes there’s some truth to this. But the way that you show up in your relationships, regardless of who you’re with, is the most important thing to reflect on. If you are in the habit of relating to others in a healthy way, then good relationships will have a chance to thrive — and connections with partners who aren’t able to participate in a healthy relationship because of their own patterns won’t get off the ground. 

If you’d prefer to listen to this one, I’ve also recorded an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. You can find it on this page (player below), or on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Uncovering Your Relationship Patterns

We all have core beliefs, automatic ways of relating, and expectations about ourselves and others that create the way we approach relationships. These are your relationship patterns. Most of the marriage counseling clients I see aren’t even aware of their patterns, because they are often very different from what they think and believe on a conscious level. Your patterns are invisible to you, and until you start to see them, you can’t change them. 

Everyone believes that they accept their partner as they are, or that they consider their partner their equal, or that they don’t expect to be rescued — but the little actions they take every day often tell a different story. If you find yourself in the same situations over and over again, chances are your relationship patterns are creating your relationship reality. 

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Common Relationship Patterns

Here are a few of the relationship patterns that I see couples and individuals struggling with all the time:

  1. A Parent-Child Dynamic

Many couples develop a parent-child relationship pattern, which leads to a lot of resentment, frustration, and can absolutely kill your sex life

The “parent” is often an over-functioner, or someone who takes more than their fair share of responsibility for and control over how things get done. They spend a lot of time telling their partner to pay their bills, pick up after themselves, or to stop some bad habit, and they feel frustrated when their nagging doesn’t create lasting change. They may have a habit of getting into codependent relationships, or they may end up in the parent role after pairing up with someone who is in the child role. 

The “child” in this dynamic may be chronically irresponsible, or have another problem that keeps them from functioning well. But other times, they’re a relatively responsible person who falls into immature habits as a result of being partnered with an over-functioner. The “child” feels controlled, criticized, and like they can never do enough. They may appear to go along with their partner’s demands, while quietly looking for passive aggressive ways to resist and rebel. 

Both partners in a parent-child relationship pattern will begin to resent each other. Over time, the romantic “spark” may die if the pattern doesn’t change. 

  1. The Victim

Some people have a pattern of showing up in their relationships as victims. They may bond with new partners by sharing stories about how other people, including exes, have treated them poorly. As the relationship progresses, they’ll begin to view their new partner in the same way. 

The victim has trouble seeing their own part in problems. They may have fragile self-esteem that makes it too painful to take responsibility, or they may be too self-absorbed to consider their impact on others. Covert narcissists usually fall into the “victim” pattern. Victims believe that they will be harmed or mistreated, and they often have a “get-them-before-they-get-you” mentality that makes them feel justified in harming others. 

  1. The Supremacist 

The supremacist believes that their feelings, priorities, preferences, and ways of being are not only correct, they’re more important than yours. They have the expectation that their partner’s role in the relationship is to support them in getting what they want, and they feel they have the right to be angry or upset when that isn’t happening. 

The supremacist may take a lot and give very little in return. When they do give, they expect a high degree of appreciation and recognition, and they feel angry when they don’t get it. They may remind their partner eternally about how much they’ve sacrificed for the relationship in terms of time, money, or effort. 

Supremacists are attractive to people who have the unconscious belief that says “If I am perfect, then I will be loved.” These folks will work hard to earn the supremacist’s love and approval, which never ends well. 

  1. The Protective Perfectionist

The protective perfectionist is afraid of judgment and rejection, and they manage these fears by judging and rejecting everyone else first. They are highly critical of others, and they have perfectionistic standards for partners that allow them to hold everyone at arm’s length. 

People with this pattern tend to have an unconscious fear of intimacy. They tend to be lone wolves who believe that they “just haven’t met the right person yet.” They believe that once they meet this perfect person, they’ll finally experience the relational nirvana they crave. 

Protective perfectionists often have avoidant attachment styles and a history of short-lived relationships, because their tendency is to end relationships rather than working through problems

  1. The Prince/Princess of Leisure 

The Prince or Princess of Leisure likes to be comfy. They focus on the things that make them feel good, and they avoid the things that don’t. 

When they’re in a relationship, people with this pattern may genuinely believe everything is fine, even when their partner is telling them repeatedly that they’re getting fed-up with the lack of responsibility and care. If the relationship fails, they may feel genuinely blindsided. They lack introspection and self-awareness, and they have trouble grasping what’s going on in the hearts and minds of others. They create a parent/child relationship pattern wherever they go. 

  1. The Martyr 

The martyr is often found in the company of supremacists, victims, and people of leisure. They need to feel needed, and so they sacrifice themselves for the good of their partner and the relationship. 

Of course, all this “giving” isn’t coming from a place of pure altruism. They expect love and loyalty in return, and they feel resentful when they don’t receive it. They may work hard to help or “develop” other people, which can create unhealthy codependent relationships and a lot of frustration for both parties. 

Support for Letting Go of Old Relationship Patterns

Ready to change your relationship patterns? Getting involved in high quality, relationship-focused therapy or coaching is a great place to start. 

Working with a therapist or coach who understands common relationship patterns can help you recognize the habitual beliefs, expectations, and actions that keep you and your relationships stuck. Then you can begin taking action to shift your patterns and start creating authentic relationships based on who you are at your core, rather than the roles you tend to play.  

If you would like to do this valuable work with a clinician on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation


Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — For more advice on building satisfying relationships, check out my “empowered connections” collection of articles and podcasts. It’s all there for you <3 

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Letting Go of Old Relationship Patterns

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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