Past relationships can be pretty good opportunities to learn and grow – if you want them to be. For example, you might come to understand which characteristics you value in a partner or how you deal with conflict. That knowledge could then influence the way you act with future partners, research has shown.
That’s swell, you may be thinking, but remembering a relationship that’s over is the last thing you want to do. It’s in the past, after all, and there’s a reason you broke up. On the other hand, you might feel there are things worth recalling from past romances, even if they didn’t end on a positive note.
So when a lover affair is over, some people want to forget the whole thing, while others feel they can use the lessons of a dead romance with a new partner. Which attitude you take could have a very real effect on who you date when you are ready for romance again, according to research presented at the 2016 International Association for Relationship Research (IARR) conference.
Almost 350 participants were asked about their ‘most significant’ past relationship. Then the researchers had some of them flash back to the past. some were asked to think about a time they’d hurt their ex, for example, and if they felt bad and changed as a result. Others had to come up with a list of lessons they’d learned from being with their ex.
Next, people who were in a new relationship were asked if their current partner was similar to or different from their former sweetheart, and also how well things were going between them. The single people were asked whether they’d be into dating someone who had things in common with their ex, or if they’d rather find someone entirely different.
Lessons of love
The conclusion? In love we like what we know. People asked to think about what they have learned from their relationship with their ex are more likely to want to date a similar guy or girl. And if they’re in a new relationship, they feel better about it when their current partner had things in common with their ex.
People choose to keep dating similar guys or girls, and believing there are lessons to be learned from past relationships is one of the reasons. It makes sense, because whatever we learn from a past partner might only really be useful if the next person we’re with has important things in common with him or her. That way we can use the knowledge to increase the chances of the relationship working out well and to protect ourselves, say the researchers.
- Presentation at the IARR conference 2016: What’s Past is Prologue: How the Epistemic Value of Prior Romantic Experience Influences Connection Goals. Miranda Giacomin and Justin Cavallo.
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