Recognizing the unhealthy pattern of my previous relationships | Tara Blair Ball

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My first boyfriend was skeletal with shoulder length strawberry blonde hair. He liked going to raves and before games.

I played the “Who Can Shout Louder?” game for over a year with the next guy i dated.

After him was a substance abuser who almost took me down with him.

Then one who cheated on me over and over again with a woman I met.

Then one who made up entire aspects of his personality just to screw me over, and then another who treated me so badly for so long that I don’t even know how I finally had the strength to leave.

When I dragged myself to therapy after all those terrible relationships, I finally heard exactly the advice I needed to start looking at and addressing my own relationship issues.

It will sound strange at first, but read on.


The small office of Dra. Cynthia reeked of incense and was decorated with lots of bright colors and affirming quotes.

As soon as I sat down on his couch, he asked me, “So why are you here?”

After I had been talking for probably 15 minutes straight, he cut me off.

“Tara?” she said


My nose was ringing.

I need you to hear me when I say this,” he said.


Then he gave me exactly the advice I didn’t know I needed to hear:

“Water seeks its own level.”

I looked at her like she was crazy. “What? Water?”

“Water seeks its own level,” he repeated.

Then she said, “Let me ask you this: Did you keep going out with these guys after you knew things weren’t going well?”

I wiped my nose. “Well, yes. Sometimes for years.”

“You think you were sane while you were hanging out with them?”

I thought about it for a second and said, “Well…no.”

“You weren’t likely to be,” he told me. “In fact, you’re probably more likely to be just as sick as they are.Because you left it out, you had a part.”

I then argued with her, “What do you mean I played a part? So-and-so was abusive!”

“It was, but… you kept going out with him. You knew there were red flags early on that you ignored. You had a role to play in that.”

I looked at her like she was crazy again.

Regardless of whether I felt comfortable admitting it at the time, I have stayed in each of these relationships long past when I should have. That meant there was something in me that made me do this.


“Water seeks its own level” means almost the same as “birds of a feather flock together.”

What I learned is that we will be attracted to like-minded people.

A healthy person will never date an unhealthy one, especially not long term.

When we look at the person we dated a long time ago and judge them as “crazy” or “bad” or some other negative adjective, we need to take a long, hard look at ourselves.

Personally, I had gotten a few things out of dating the men I had.

I had been able to be a victim and evoke pity in the people around me. I confirmed how terrible I felt about myself by letting people treat me just as terrible, and I had deflected and avoided dealing with my own problems and issues by hanging out with people I thought were “worse” than me.

When I looked at my relationship problems this way, I was shocked.

Those men hadn’t been the problem.

I have been.

If I had been healthier, I would never have dated them. Especially not for years.

So what was there to do?

“Raise the water level,” my therapist told me.

What she meant by that is to make me healthier. If it was healthy, it would attract healthy people.


Here are the things my therapist suggested to me to be healthier:

1. Learn yourself.

Take yourself to a restaurant you like or have always wanted to try. Sit at your table all by yourself and order whatever you want.

Get a bubbly or stiff drink. Eat poached eggs or beef tartare. Take yourself to the movies. Read a good book. Take a dance class. Start writing.

Do what you want and try to find out the truths behind it. Maybe you prefer the outdoors or you really want to live in a city. Maybe you’re an introvert trying to pretend to be an extrovert. Go back to the beginning if you have to and do those things you loved to do as a child.

Do all this without judgment. You are very special and you should learn to love yourself.

2. Learn what you want.

Are there dreams or ambitions you’ve walked away from? Or you’re not sure about your present, but you know you don’t like it? I distracted myself with relationships to avoid pursuing the goals I wanted.

Are you planning to go back to school? Is there a trip you want to take? Do you need to change jobs?

Do it. now Why wait? You can shape your own life. You don’t have to wait for anyone else to do it.

3. Do things you like.

You will never be happier than when you truly love yourself and do things you love. Also, you will choose other people who will love you for you when they love you for you.

I did a lot of things when I was dating that I didn’t even remotely like. I attended raves. He wore earplugs to concerts. There is a difference between concessions and annihilations. It’s always good to commit to your partner (“Let’s go to your favorite band’s concert, and then go to the bookstore for me”), but I annihilated my interests. I pretended to care who my partner was at the time.

In this growing season, find those things you love, those hobbies or activities you couldn’t bear to be without. Do them until they are part of your life.

4. Get a community.

Many people often find a “community” while pursuing a hobby or activity. They join a cycling group. They sign up for a Bible study or start volunteering.

Whether you meet people while you’re changing or already have them, make sure you have people in your corner: kind, non-judgmental people.

5. Seek help.

I needed a therapist to work through some of my deep-seated childhood issues, as well as some of the trauma I had built up from dating not-so-old people. It also needed structure and accountability. My therapist provided it. Check out some free or low-cost mental health services here.

You may have great friends in your life who can provide for you. Just know that responsibility is painful and that the work to change entrenched patterns is difficult. You will need help and support along the way. You’ll need reminders that it’s worth it.

These steps read easily, but like so much in life, they are not. Real work requires real courage.

We all deserve to be healthy and have healthy relationships, and they are connected. The best advice I got during my growing up years was, “You’ve come a long way when you start making new mistakes.” You will always make mistakes, but if you do new them, it means you are growing and changing and taking risks.

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