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5 Steps for Transforming Past Dating Experiences

A woman who loves a man hugging him outside.

We all have baggage from past relationships and dating experiences. Sometimes these experiences can leave us feeling weary and pessimistic, validating our negative beliefs about dating, or worse—ourselves.

However, the key to our transformation lies in our power to use past experiences as guideposts to move forward. By learning from the past, we become wiser, better versions of ourselves.  

Spiritual teacher Ram Dass called this inner reflection “grist for the mill”—the alchemy of making every experience meaningful and using each meaningful experience for personal growth.

So to help you find the meaning in your past dating and relationship experiences here are five steps to  transform the past and effect future change.

1. Make a thorough list of the gifts received and lessons learned from each past relationship.

Every relationship offers a gift, even if there was betrayal, hurt, or anger. Ask yourself, what did you learn and how did you change with each experience?

For example: Jon taught me how to get out of bad situations and voice my feelings and needs.

2. After you’ve clarified the lessons from each relationship, write a thank you note in your journal to each of those people. By wrapping experiences with gratitude, you find the freedom to move forward.

For example: Dear Jon, I realize that you were exactly what I needed when we were together. You showed me that I deserved more love than you were able to give.  Thank you for being exactly as you were and helping me realize my value . You were my turning point and for that I am grateful.

3. Now write down what’s unacceptable and what’s essential.

As we evaluate our experiences, it becomes clearer what’s unacceptable and what’s essential in the people we choose to spend time with. By naming it, we have guidelines for our future relationships.

For example: Unacceptable: rage outbursts  Essentials: ability to deal with conflict

4. Write a permission list for what you want to experience in your dating life.

For example: fun, sensuality, laughter, dancing, eroticism, boundaries, directness, eye contact, affection  

5. Visualize yourself living in a world where your permissions are granted to another person. Feel the sensations your body responds  when you visualize your reimagined life.

By visualizing a positive relationship and dating experience for yourself, you bring it into the present moment. By imagining the experiences you want, you transcend simple thinking. Your physiological state heightens to the visualized experience as if it was happening. The more detail you visualize, the deeper you’ll cultivate your well-being and empowerment.

Take your time with each step. Notice the changes in yourself, as you perform this inner work. And know that you’re moving forward. Grist for the mill.

Deva Joy Gouss, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Atlanta Georgia for over thirty years.  She and her husband give weekend couple retreat workshops called Nurturing Your Love. She also facilitates many other kinds of trainings and workshops including Council of All Beings, Tribe Time, Marrying Yourself, Yoga and Movement Celebration to name a few. She is author of Re-arranged, Never the same: The Nature of Grief and of Toolbox of Hope, For When Your Body Doesn’t Feel Good. Visit Deva Joy at

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