I know a woman who married a man who turned out to be a monster. In public, he was responsible and loving. He had a respected position in their community. He said and did all the right things around others.
But in private, he was an abusive monster to his family. Their children were terrified of him. They learned early in life never to talk about what went on at home, because he was very concerned about his public image. His wife never knew what he was going to do. She couldn’t count on him when she was sick. Nothing she did was good enough. He screamed at her and belittled her at every chance.
The man cheated on his wife with someone at work. He was quietly fired, but he wouldn’t admit what happened. After he took another job and started cheating again, his wife finally divorced him. The guy never did admit to any error. He never confessed to anything. He just claimed to be misunderstood by everyone.
After this terrible experience, the woman eventually came to understand that her ex-husband was a narcissist. He met all the signs of narcissistic personality disorder. The woman spent quite a bit of time coming to understand what had happened to her — what kind of person she needed to avoid.
And then — six years later — she married again. This man was respected in the community. He looked successful. He said all the right things. There were warning signs before she married him, but she married him anyway.
Before long, she realized she had married exactly the same man she had married the first time. He might look different, have a different job and have a different name, but he might as well have been the same man.
She was miserable, but most of all — this bright woman had no idea how in the world she could have made precisely the same mistake again, even after thinking she had learned from her first mistake.
We’re very slow to learn from our mistakes. So we keep stumbling through life making the same mistakes over and over. It’s not that we see the mistake coming and decide to do it anyway. In fact, we frequently think we’ve learned from our past mistake and are wiser this time — but then we find ourselves in a mess that’s eerily familiar to what happened before. Why?
It’s not because we’re stupid. It’s because the same person who made the previous mistake — you — is still running the same internal programming that made the other mistakes.
We convince ourselves that the problems we have faced are all the other person’s fault, whether the problem is the wrong choice of mate or the wrong business partner or some other relationship. When we find ourselves in a mess with a partner of some sort, we tend to believe the other person is the problem, so if we just get rid of this person, we can choose somebody better.
But unless we change something dramatic in ourselves, the same thinking which led us to choose the previous mistake will lead us to make another mistake — because something dysfunctional in us led to the wrong choice. Yes, the other person might be unloving. He might be dysfunctional. He might be cruel. He might have a hundred faults.
But you are the one who chose that person.
Until you change whatever part of you allowed you to accept this bad choice and overlook what should have been obvious, you will continue making the same mistake.
When we’ve had bad business partnership or bad relationships, we love to blame the other person. Until we’re willing to ask ourselves why we chose that person — what emotional pattern allowed that person to feel right to us — we can’t begin to change our decision-making for the better.
I know a woman right now — actually, I know several to whom this applies — who is married to someone who’s a lousy husband. He mistreats her privately. He’s not there when she needs him. He’s unsympathetic and unhelpful. He screams at her and calls her vile names in private. And this woman doesn’t deserve this. She’s smart, educated, beautiful and successful. She could have had any man she wanted.
And I find myself wondering what dysfunction in her allowed her to make this disastrous choice.
I’m not just pointing my finger at others, of course. I’ve done the same thing. It’s just easier — and less painful — to notice when others have done it.
I’ve made stupid career choices. I’ve made inexplicable relationship choices. I’ve pursued unavailable women who were never going to love me. I’ve turned down women who would have been good for me. I’ve partnered with people in business who were precisely what I needed to stay away from. And I’ve made most of these mistakes more than once.
I can see my mistakes from the past. I can only hope I’ve learned enough about myself — and why I made those mistakes — to make better choices in the future. If I haven’t, I’m likely to find myself in love with the wrong person — again — and wondering why I’ve made such a painful choice.
If you find yourself in a terrible situation with someone — no matter what kind of relationship it is — it’s an excellent first step to admit the mistake and realize why you need to get away from this person, but that’s only a first step.
Unless you do the difficult work of learning why you accepted such a person into your life, you’re going to make the same mistake again — and you won’t even notice until it’s too late.
You can either deal with your own programming and change yourself — or you can keep choosing the same wrong people for the same wrong reasons for the rest of your life. The choice is that simple.