Don’t repeat past mistakes…unless

how to learn from the pastIt’s amazing how often people repeat the same patterns in relationships, expecting to get different results while using the exact same strategies that led to emotional pain in the past.

You can probably guess how I try to intervene when one of my clients seems to be stuck in one of these repetitive patterns.

It’s easier said than done, but we work to identify a new approach that will leave behind key mistakes.

However, there are times when I do the opposite.

Sometimes I advise my client to continue with the same approach that led to a painful relationship outcome in the past.

Why would I do that?

The answer is quite simple. Sometimes, it’s just not your fault. Sometimes, things got screwed up because you did everything right but the guy you dated was wacky.

Many people forget this. They say things like, “That’s it! I’m done! Relationships just don’t work for me. I’m never going to put my heart out there like that again.”

Don’t get me wrong, I understand! It’s just that while my client is raving about how there is no relationship worth trying again… the face of this guy keeps popping into my mind… and I know the two of them would be perfect together!

But she doesn’t care! The last thing she wants to hear from me at that moment is, “Well, maybe you’re overreacting… because I know this guy…” That’s when I hear the door slam as she storms out of my office.

But the truth is, there are times where you should not change your approach… you just need persistence (with the same approach).

Persistence with the same approach is the way to go when you’re already on the correct path.

A friend of mine told me I had to read a hilarious article he found about the recent retirement of General James Mattis of the US Marine Corps (you may know him as “Mad Dog Mattis” if you follow news of this type).

I found the humor rather odd, and slightly offensive, but I couldn’t help passing on one of his strange quotes that has shown up in the media. It just fits so well with the message I’m trying to send you today.

Mad Dog Mattis was in charge of a lot of the recent military operations in the Middle East. One of the quotes I found in the article was this:

“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

And this during a meeting with Iraqi tribal leaders…

“I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f* with me, I’ll kill you all.”

If I remember right, I think he got in trouble with his boss, General Hagee, for that last one… counseled to choose his words a little more carefully in the future (um…yeah).

But truth be told, I know some women who kind of want to express this basic sentiment before getting into a relationship with a man.

Anyway, the idea is this. In the first quote, mad dog was counseling his soldiers how to interact with Iraqi citizens. Because the Al Qaeda do not wear uniforms, and often rely on sneak attacks (guerrilla warfare), the soldiers need to be wary of everyone.

You want to be polite and professional, but always have a backup plan ready in your mind.

how to learn from the pastWhat does a backup plan mean in the context of relationships? Basically, I’m saying you should stick with a good plan when you know it works, but watch for the telltale signs you’ve learned from the past. Have a plan to exit the relationship quickly if he’s not ready for a mature relationship.

The key to persistence is not sticking with a dead-end relationship. I’m not talking about that kind of persistence in this article. I’m talking about the idea of persisting with a good plan.

Sticking with a good plan means you keep trying, even if you have to quickly sidestep several false starts with guys who just aren’t right for you.

Be polite, be professional, but don’t let anyone get in the way of your persistent pursuit of the one guy you want to spend your life with.

Always on your side,


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56 thoughts on “Don’t repeat past mistakes…unless

  1. Lori said:

    What are your thoughts on a 51 year old man ghosting you – after 4 1/2 months? Days prior texts showed everything was fine – no indication. (they were texts because I was out of the country on vacation) He also knew I was hurt by the last 56 year old man on Christmas and the pain I felt.
    He plays a very positive, upbeat friendly guy 24/7. One that seemed they would have a heart and care about hurting you – esp after saying I love you and acting like he was really into you.

  2. Confused said:

    Hi James- I was dating a guy for 4 months. After about a month and a half – maybe closer to a month we said we loved one another prior to sleeping together. I believe it was love: lust maybe more than in love. Things were high intense in the beginning and slowly I would see that he likes to “ spread himself thin…. always on the go and ‘ would communicate’ mostly when it was convenient for him… saying he had a hard time committing to a schedule of talking when he never knows how his schedule would play out. Outwardly he was super positive – friendly talker to everyone…. caretaker ( of daughters) and said he likes to live his life ‘ free of regrets’ – that is why he sleeps so well at night. !
    I would bring up lack of time and communication – maybe 3 separate times – gently. He would say that ‘ he seems to frustrate me and maybe he is too hard for me’…. I told him that was taking it too far and there was a middle ground.
    Recently I returned from a trip with my daughter from out of the country. I expressed prior how much it means to say safe travels and check in- on me. He knew we were coming home. That Saturday I sent a text saying we were back and would be in the car for 2 hours- sent a pic in a bikini ‘ just for him and said call me 😘
    There was no reply and noon the next day – sent another saying “I was concerned, is everything ok.!never got a reply, or safe travels, glad you are back , like the pic, call you later… fishing was his passion… often up at 4 with a buddy and out all day” I ended with hope eve is ok with you and us…’ read receipt was taken off and I was ghosted ‘ I felt like I had complained one too many times…. things were fairly well 2 days prior. Did I do something wrong?

    • Tracey said:

      Hi Confused,

      I’ve been where you are and it is a confusing place to be. What I do know is that this type of behavior is not because of something you did and you deserve to be with someone who respects your wishes for better communication.

      James wrote an article about it and I want to share it with you: Flaky Behavior in Guys? My top Solution

      Best wishes,

      • Confused said:

        Thank you Tracey! I needed to hear that!

    • Confused said:

      I would like to know James thoughts on this.- referring to my post recently.

      • James Bauer said:

        I have to say, that’s all on him. Unless there are pieces to this puzzle you have left out (not on purpose but simply not recognizing the relevance) then you’ve done nothing wrong. You’ve invited him into your world and given him plenty of time to respond. There’s nothing unreasonable about your attempt to receive some sort of acknowledgement from him.

  3. Dena said:

    I am a widowed lady since 5-21-16. Completely broken hearted and was ready to face the future as a single widow. My husband’s friend was helping me with a move, calling just to talk, then about a year ago things got more involved. Sometimes I feel he gets close then backs off, then gets close then backs. off. I have fallen for him, he has told me he loves me but seems to keep a distance between us. I told him I feel a wall between us and he stated, no I have no wall. I asked him if our relationship is progressing, he hemmed hawed and his response, I will not be with you everyday. He attends AA, has been married twice and has a 13 year old son which lives with his ex wife. He stays with me when he has work in my mobile home park and I feel uses his son as an excuse not to be with me. I know I have insecurities and want to be different but I have fallen into my same mode, love and give way too much, but that is what I do, yet I get upset when everything is determined by the guy. When we see each other, what we do. He lives with his mother who has grown very fond of me and his ex-wife lives in his house with their son. I get frustrated because he seemed much more into me before we got very close. It has been very hard to let my guard down for him and now it seems we are not progressing. I have expressed to him what I feel and he says it is not true, he loves me. I push, get hurt, and even angry so I think I must just roll like a river and not show so much emotion. Help me.

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Dena. I wonder if he has the same picture in his mind as you do when he thinks about what a good relationship looks like. Because it sounds like he expresses all the right feelings for you, but is perhaps oblivious to the ways his actions don’t match your needs and expectations for a satisfying relationship.

  4. CATHERINE said:

    Dear James.

    Thank you for your insightful information. It helps me greatly. Recently I got back together with a man I was dating who wasn’t ready after a recent divorce. Now that he has closure he’s ready to see each other and date again. However he wants to “reset and rebuild” a new foundation based on a solid friendship and not have physical intimacy yet. He said he needs to be ready to fully commit and make me a priority before getting initiate physically. He really wants to take things slow. I miss what we had however I do like that we are rebuilding. But I find him pulling away often once I get close. He knows I’m ready to settle down and have a serious relationship. But I’m willing to see how it goes. Recently we’ve had a few deep talks because I’m having trouble finding my boundaries and getting too close and wanting to see him more often. He travels a lot for work and so I see him sometimes only a few times a month. He doesn’t communicate with me daily. Not checking in to ask me how my day was. Now I want to make sure he knows I’m attracted to him but also giving him the space he needs. I’m a bit lost now when it comes to communications. Should I let him lead or reach out more often? It’s the “push-pull” that’s going on. I’ve been letting him message or contact me first. Seems to be ok but after reading this last article now I wonder if he thinks I’m still as attracted to him. Any suggestion is appreciated. Thank you for your time!!.

    • James Bauer said:

      Catherine, you are a deep thinker…something I appreciate and identify with very much.

      You’ve raised good questions here, the type that often have answers that look like a two-sided coin. Neither side fully represents the truth without the other.

      Still, I think you might find the following general principles to be helpful.

      1. Control what you can, but not at the expense of enjoying the journey.

      2. Resist the natural impulse to get a man’s constant approval or affirmation of his love for you, especially after he has already committed to building a relationship with you.

      3. Do not rob a man of his desire to pursue you by taking all the initiative upon yourself.

      4. When taking advice from James Bauer, never stop being yourself or listening to your intuition. 🙂

      • CATHERINE said:

        Thank you James!
        I appreciate the principles and agree with them. I’m a super positive loving high energy person so with that comes a lot of excitement and overthinking when things aren’t going in way I feel is right. I will follow these. Thank you Again! 🙂

  5. Sarah said:

    I’m dating a man who pulls away when ever he faces anything difficult.
    It happened fob6 weeks when we had been dating for four months.
    I Broke up for two months then we got back together.
    It’s over a year now and his aunt and then son died I’ve not heard or seen him for 3 weeks I’m thinking of breaking up with him is this unfair to him?

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Sarah. My opinion is that it depends a lot on what the relationship is like between the two of you when you are interacting. It also depends on whether or not he has given any kind of explanation in advance regarding his lack of communication with you. I don’t think anyone would blame you for breaking up with a man who simply ignores you for three weeks, but those are just two factors to consider as you think it through.

      • Sarah said:

        Thank You!

  6. Michelle said:

    This brought tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat. I’ve been feeling like I’m the problem all the time….and I feel just like that woman who storms out….

  7. Holly Proctor said:

    Thanks for the reminder! I agree with dog’s quote number one! I exited a relationship because there were telltale signs he was not up front- i.e. A liar! The exit PLAN was this: I sent a text saying I needed a man who would prioritize communicating daily with me and think I was worth the effort; thanks for the fun, and I wished him the best. That is my SAFE exit PLAN of action! It works every time! Gotta get through lots of frogs before you get the Prince!

  8. Maryellen said:

    Thank you for this. This is one of my favorites and comes at a very opportune time !

  9. Rena said:

    “Sometimes, it’s just not your fault. Sometimes, things got screwed up because you did everything right but the guy you dated was wacky.”

    Dear James, this is the first time I make a comment on this page. I follow your posts and the discussions here regularly and feel I have learned quite a bit.

    Now, just two days ago I was wondering whether I was crazy or not. Now I think that maybe I’m just OK after all. I had two dates with this guy so far. I like him and I feel attracted to him. On the one hand, he seems to trust me and spilled his heart out right on our first date, told me about all his family issues and other problems. I listened, just listened. And he seemed to enjoy it. On the second date though, he continued and then all of a sudden told me he was not ready for a relationship yet. I was surprised and didn’t know what to say – I hadn’t been thinking about a relationship. I tried to communicate that I definitely feel attracted to him, but that it would be nice if we could get to know each other before having this kind of discussion. Still I had the impression he is convinced I want a realtionship, which let’s him feel pressure. NOW I FEEL PRESSURED. It’s like I have to pretend not to feel attracted to him. I don’t really know what to do, but maybe I will text him I’d like to concentrate on other things for now and take things easy. What do you recommend?

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Rena. Pretending you’re not attracted is a bad idea. It’s one of those little white lies that eventually snowballs into something you never intended. If he doesn’t want to be in a relationship with someone who feels attracted to him, there’s something wrong with him (not you).

      He jumped the gun by telling you he doesn’t want a relationship. It was premature. It was his mistake. Let the relationship continue to unfold. Maybe time will smooth out these early wrinkles as you try to get on the same page.


      • Rena said:

        Thank you, James! I have told him I would like to take a step back and take things easy. I enjoy spending time with him and I will meet him soon, and then: Que sera, sera. Maybe he will be able to relax, maybe not. I’d definitely like to find out if we are on the same page.

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