Why Identifying Relationship Patterns Helps Couples Grow

Florence Williamson
6 min readMay 5, 2023
Couple identifying relationship patterns together
Photo by Julien Huggins on Unsplash

Do you get deja vu in your relationship?

Perhaps you and your partner are stuck in a relationship pattern.

For those unaware of this term, relationship patterns are behaviors that get repeated over and over, despite being with new people.

Every couple has repetitive behaviors. When they’re left unaddressed, they can damage your relationship. If you want to break that cycle, you and your partner are going to have to work on bringing changes.

One way of making those changes is by identifying relationship patterns.

They may not seem like a big deal, but they can make an impact on your relationship. Allow me to convince you why identifying your relationship pattern will help you and your partner in the long run.

Types of Relationship Patterns

Before I name those patterns, I’ll present a question that may be in your thoughts: what do they indicate?

One, they give away the type of people we involve ourselves with. Two, they give a glimpse of the behaviors we exhibit toward the people we’re in relationships with. And three, they tell us what we let those people say and do to us while we’re involved with them.

With that, here are 12 relationship patterns couples may be stuck in. These come from a Clark University study in 2022, which was published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.

Cactus/fern

This pattern sees one party looking for frequent closeness, while the other wants to maintain their privacy.

Why the cactus and fern analogy? Here’s an explanation. A cactus plant needs minimal attention to survive. On the other hand, fern requires consistent amounts of water, appropriate temperatures, and sunlight exposure to live. Now do you see where this is going?

Introvert/extrovert

In this pattern, one person needs alone time to recharge their social battery. Meanwhile, the other person craves company from other people to get their energy going.

Approach/withdraw

GIF by The Bachelorette on Giphy

Do you frequently experience instances where you want to interact with your partner but they feel overwhelmed by it? If so, you may be stuck in this loop.

Emotional/logical

Opposing mindsets clash here. If one person uses their emotions as fuel for their decision, the other prefers a more rational and logical approach.

Criticize/defend

This is how this pattern plays out: one person often criticizes their partner, leaving the other person to put up a defensive stance frequently.

Mutual avoidance

If the first few patterns have two distinct sides, this one doesn’t. For once, both parties are on the same side here. Unfortunately, what they have in common is their preference for avoiding discussions surrounding their issues.

Mutual blame

This pattern is similar to mutual avoidance. Only this time, both parties point the finger at each other for their problems, instead of avoiding them.

Mountains/molehills

I’m sure you’ve heard someone accusing another person of making mountains out of molehills. That idiom, which refers to overreaction over a minor thing, is the principle of this pattern. One person exaggerates the relationship’s issues, while the other party downplays them.

Spender/saver

Money is a touchy subject in relationships. It becomes more sensitive when you and your partner have opposing spending habits. If one person is frugal while the other spends money without much caution, there will eventually be problems.

Teacher/student

This dynamic has one partner taking on the “teacher” role because they feel the need to constantly guide their lover. On the other hand, the other partner feels undermined by the former’s actions and feels like rebelling against them.

Dreamer/realist

Love can be magical, yes. However, it becomes a problem if you keep fantasizing about its romantic nature. And if your partner prefers to look at your relationship from a grounded perspective, you’ll undoubtedly bump heads.

Conventional/unconventional

GIF by The Come Up on Giphy

Relationships aren’t always grand. Most of the time, couples spend their time together doing mundane things. If the other frequently craves adventurous outings, you may need to sit down and share each other’s thoughts.

Why Should You Figure Out Your Relationship Pattern?

Relationship patterns have been a subject explored in research. The study mentioned in the previous section suggested that couples can go through “relationship pattern labeling” (RPL). The process lives up to its name, making room for serious conversations about couples’ usual ways of interaction.

Does that sound intimidating? Here’s a bit of relief: your hesitance isn’t invalid. The study acknowledged that RPL can be difficult because of the potential emotional pain — especially if the conversation gets ugly. Tensions may rise and finger-pointing may happen.

But as challenging as it is, identifying relationship patterns can make things easier. When you and your partner sit down and discover your patterns, you’ll understand each other better and meet halfway to move forward.

Solving problems in relationships isn’t always pretty. Even the thought of mentioning them is enough to scare some of us off! However, breaking relationship patterns should be discussed if you want to progress in your relationship.

It’ll do you no good if you’re stuck doing the same things repeatedly because you’ll just end up getting the same results — and possibly the same consequences.

How to Identify and Break Your Relationship Pattern

Reading the 12 patterns above helps with the identification, but it’s only a small part of solving your problems. If you don’t want to be stuck in a draining cycle, take these steps to resolve your pattern’s issues:

Pinpoint the pattern

Identify your issues first before you get fixated on solving them. You can’t fix something you don’t know exists in the first place. You and your partner need equal cooperation if you want things to get moving.

Do none of the 12 patterns apply to your relationship? That’s totally fine. No two relationships are exactly alike, and you may be practicing a combination of a few of them.

Discover the pattern’s causes

GIF by WE tv on Giphy

What makes your relationship pattern repeat itself? Recurring problems have a common denominator (or two), and you may be unaware that you’re stuck in a cycle.

Figure out your possible contributions to your pattern

Every party in a relationship is an active participant. You didn’t just wake up one day to a partner beside you! You chose them and vice versa.

And with that, one person isn’t just the cause of a repetitive relationship pattern. Both parties played a part in its recurrence. Breaking out of it means taking responsibility for your contributions.

This part can be ugly. Why? No one likes admitting they made mistakes! But if you want a resolution, you’ll need to confront unpleasant truths.

Disrupt the pattern together

Now that you and your partner have heard each other out, this is the time to take action.

When you notice cues that trigger your pattern, practice careful intervention. Let your partner know your thoughts and inform them that you plan to de-escalate it. Your honesty will encourage them to act with you.

Reach out to professionals for help

There are problems that can get too heavy to bear alone. Do you and your partner feel burdened by your relationship pattern’s weight?

If so, don’t hesitate to ask for professional aid. Relationship therapists and counselors are great people to approach as their knowledge and expertise aim to help you get to a much better place.

Healthy relationships require work from both parties. Identifying relationship patterns requires your equal attention. How will you know what you’re working with if you don’t know what your partner’s patterns are? The conversations won’t be sexy, but they will help you take the necessary leap for growth.

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