09/08/2010 04:57 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Different Role in Love

They say that the definition of insanity is approaching a situation the same way every time and expecting different results.

When it comes to romantic relationships, do you ever find yourself playing the same role with each new lover, and yet unable to understand why none of your relationships turn out differently?

Take my friend, Rob, for example. Divorced and looking for love, he recently broke off his engagement with his new fiancée. Stating that she was "just as messed up as the last one," he complains to me that he can't find a woman who is different from all the others he's been with in the past.

I asked him, "Why is it that you expect the women you date to be different when you act the same in every relationship?"

He looked puzzled and asked what I meant by that. He wasn't the problem. They were the problem.

I continued, "You play the identical part in your relationships every time. You like being a caretaker. You enjoy having someone need you, but then you become frustrated and unhappy when they demand constant attention. If you want to date women who are different from the ones in the past, first you must change the energy that you project out to women."

He grumbled as though he knew I was making sense, but couldn't bring himself to admit that maybe he was the reason that he wasn't happy in love.

It's easy to blame others when our relationships head south. "The girls I date are always needy or the guys I date are always jerks," routine becomes tired, and rediscovering one's goals and motivations in a relationship can seem like a daunting task. But, how else can you figure out what you want in a relationship if you can't seem to shake off what you don't want?

Maybe people are afraid to step out of these roles that they play in relationships. It's hard to change one's energy. It takes time, effort and a deep commitment to yourself and to your desires.

Roleplaying is something that we all do. It's easier to play the game we know than to venture out and experience dating seemingly as a novice all over again. But, how can one move beyond their usual part and experience something new?

First, you have to acknowledge that the game you are playing just isn't working and that maybe it's time to try a new strategy to attract a lover more suited to you.

Second, one must begin to accept that playing the role of caretaker, for example, may only attract people who need taken care of. If you don't want to be someone's parent, you may want to audition for another part.

Third, you must actually attempt to change because wanting something just isn't enough. Approaching a situation with new vigor, determination and a positive attitude can seem almost impossible, but if you don't try, you are going to be in the same rut over and over again.

What did Rob do? Right now, he is in the process of licking his wounds and rediscovering what he really needs from a partner. He knows now that if he continues to date the same woman over and over again, by acting the same in every relationship, he will never find a partner that truly brings out the best in him. But, he informs me, easier said than done.

"My biggest problem," he states, "is that I find their neediness so damn irresistible in the beginning. I like playing the hero, I like being there for them, I like doting on the person I'm dating."

I don't disagree with him. In fact, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a nurturing lover. However, it must be a two-way street. The women he dates, he believes, never reciprocate. They just take and take, leaving him emotionally and mentally exhausted.

While I find merit to what he is saying, I remind him that in all of his relationships, he creates situations in which they need him. To blame them completely for his unhappiness in their relationship isn't fair. He doesn't allow his lovers to be independent. He can be smothering and controlling, which eventually causes his girlfriend-of-the-moment to succumb to his dominance, and give up on expressing herself as an autonomous human being.

(His ex-partners may also want to ask themselves why they always seem to play the part of doormat, as well.)

Whatever your role is in your relationships, ask yourself if you notice a pattern of behavior that you cling to every time when you are with someone. If you are frustrated by what you notice, take proactive steps to change how you interact with others in the dating pool. When you feel something bubbling to the surface that you would have said or done in the past, ask yourself if this is a positive thing to do, or if this is just an old habit of yours.

Yes, it can be hard to change your energy and approach a situation differently from how you did in the past. It can be frightening to step out of your comfort zone and experience relationships on a whole new level. But, imagine the freedom you will experience when you let go of the emotional and mental chains that weigh you down and allow yourself to experience dating as a whole new person, as an evolved creature, as someone who is ready to embrace their best self.