Relationships and dealing with transference

Relationships and dealing with transference

Relationships, of all types, provide us with something that we do not get elsewhere, and this may be something different in each relationship. One of your relationships may be based upon trust and intimacy, another on a shared hobby while another provides support through difficult times. Some relationships are short lived and relate to specific times of our lives and when that time has ended, so does the relationship as the need has been lost. An example of this might by your relationship with work colleagues who you enjoy spending time with but struggle to keep in touch with after you change jobs. Other relationships are enduring and may fulfil a deeper or more long-lasting need.

You may have heard the seemingly apposing sayings that ‘opposites attract’ and that ‘birds of a feather, flock together’. Both these sayings can of course be true, depending on the people and the situation. Sometimes you may feel connected to someone quite different to yourself, who helps you grow.

When we enter into new relationships we take with us the templates of our experiences from our previous relationships. We transfer how we felt in the past about for example a previous partner or our parent in childhood and treat the person currently in our lives as though they were the previous person. Therapists call this transference. This can be unhelpful in starting a new relationship or when trying to repair a current one. If you find yourself being reminded of someone different in one of your relationships, consider the following:

  • Notice: explicitly notice, either in your mind or out loud, when the person reminds you of someone else. Then remind yourself that they are not that person
  • Spot the differences: look out for differences between the original person and the one currently in your life and focus on these when you are strongly reminded of the first
  • Consider the need: sometimes transference can highlight a specific need, for example a need to be understood. If your current partner does something that makes you feel misunderstood, then it may remind you of your previous partner who frequently misunderstood you. Name this need, to yourself, and if possible to your partner and recognise that the same pattern is not necessarily happening again – we all misunderstand each other at times


If you frequently find yourself in relationship patterns that involve unhelpful transference you may find our blog on avoiding negative relationship patterns helpful. A therapist may also be able to discuss transference and starting over in relationships with you. If you would like to discuss this further please call Dr Julie Hannan now on 07530 854530.