Relationship Patterns

Spotting Relationship Patterns: the Rule of Three

The Relationship Rule of Three, a relationship pattern recognition tool for identifying trends and behaviors in personal connections. Learn how to understand patterns in relationships to enhance your awareness and improve your interactions.

Call it the “Relationship Rule of Three,” but it could be the Rule of Ten or the Rule of Twenty.

It may take more events or situations than just three. I’m not surprised if you can’t see a pattern if it happens only three times, but if you still don’t see it after ten or twenty times, then you’re purposely not looking.

When I mention the rule of three in relationships, I typically point out what’s wrong, though it can apply to what’s right as well. Positive aspects often stem from mutual creation, forming part of a larger pattern.

Relationships revolve around patterns—individual patterns and the merging of two. To truly understand someone, observe their relationships with others in a role similar to yours, be it romantic, platonic, or business. Humans are pattern-oriented, and breaking these patterns can mean fundamentally changing who we are. For example, if you’re overly self-sacrificing, changing that might alter your core self. You can plan to meet your own needs better, but your past actions often continue.

Understanding a person’s patterns requires observing more than one relationship. I’ve been in several long-term relationships, and only after my partners and I moved on did I recognize their true nature. (Or mine, for that matter.) Hearing from someone about their exes might not reveal the complete picture, initially, of their patterns.

One relationship is just a data point. The second starts a pattern, and if it’s a close repetition of the last data point, it can be insightful–assuming you know the truth of that data point. By the third data point, you have a trend. You can’t see a person’s patterns solely from stories about their exes, from them or from someone else who wasn’t in the relationship itself. You need to observe their subsequent relationships and look for similar situations.

Too bad that you sometimes don’t see the red flags until after the relationship is done.

It often took me several new relationships of my exes to see patterns in my exes. Post-breakup, I better understood their behaviors through their interactions with new partners, because those interactions were way too familiar.

Past significant others or business partners moving on to new ones often exhibit familiar behaviors–with someone new. Regardless of whom they’re with, their patterns persist. Initial love bombing might give way to the same issues seen before, like isolation from friends, verbal abuse, or domestic violence. Patterns don’t often change; just who gets the brunt of the pattern, good or bad.

Years ago, I discovered my then-boyfriend was cheating, overlapping relationships as–I discovered later–he had always done, because he would always hide his current relationship from new partners and disparage prior relationships while lying that they were over. Comparing notes with his newest partner and one of his previous partners, I realized his behaviors were identical with each new woman he started a relationship with. Right down to the gifts, the specific words and promises, the acts of service, and how he convinced each of us that we were secure in the relationship. It was all maddening and bizarre, but the weirdest thing was hearing another woman repeat a phrase that I thought was mine alone. I wasn’t the only woman who’d ever heard it–at least four others had and we each thought we were special. I guess he figured out what worked…until it didn’t.

Understanding this rule of three helped me recognize patterns in myself and others. I know myself quite well now and how to navigate my own patterns. It’s also helped me to look at others’ patterns with former significant others, friends, colleagues, business partners, or whatever role I occupy in their lives. Sometimes I don’t see it often enough. Sometimes I see it late and realize, “That’s just who he is,” and then remind myself I don’t have to be part of it.

When someone describes their crazy ex, they’re revealing their own patterns and how they’ll view you eventually. Patterns replay with each new person. This is where you can gain some perspective if you’re feeling bitter over an ex having a lovely life with your replacement.

Relationships are all about patterns.

When your significant other, best friend, business partner, etc. moves on to the next significant other, best friend, business partner, etc., you’ll see something familiar in how they treat that new person. And if you think back to their history with anyone in those roles prior to you, you’ll probably see that pattern there as well.

Your ex is the same person. It doesn’t matter if they’re with you or their ex or their future … whatever… They’re still the same person, living their lives in patterns that seldom change. The things they do early in the next relationship may be identical to what you experienced with them. To have had them love-bomb you when your relationship was new, you may now find it wrenching that a new person is getting something that you aren’t and maybe haven’t in a while.

But eventually, those patterns you’re enduring now will come out in that next relationship. Someone new is getting what you got when you were new, but when they’re not so new, they’ll be getting what you’re getting now. It’s temporary.

When I observe relationships objectively –or even some of my own– there eventually comes a time when I can look at a person and their patterns and think, “Oh, you think nobody sees that but I know EXACTLY what you’re doing.”

Look for that third data point. That’s going to tell you everything you need to know.

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