In one week I had about 3 different young women come to me baffled about how they ended up in another unfulfilling relationship or interested in someone who was emotionally unavailable. These were beautiful, intelligent, lovely young women, yet they all shared their experiences of being drawn to guys who could not give them what they needed in a romantic relationship. They seemed at a loss for why this kept happening and maybe a bit hopeless that their love lives could change.
It is not a rare occurrence for someone to continually gravitate towards people who are not right for them. The good news is that once you understand why you are drawn to a certain type of person or situation, you can make a change. To aid you in understanding yourself and your particular relationship cycle, here are 3 common reasons why you may keep dating the wrong people:
1) Modeling From Family
One possible reason we might be attracted to people who do not treat us well is our families of origin. We learn what is normal based on our experiences in our families as children. If we grew up in a chaotic home where maybe there was addiction, abuse or other dysfunctions we may not fully realize that some of these things are wrong because they were a normal part of life. For example a girl who’s father has an anger problem and often loses his temper at her and her mother will be less likely to break up with a boyfriend who yells at her because in her mind this is just what men do to women they love. So often these ideas are not fully conscious which makes them even more difficult to change. In a NY times article entitled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person”, Marion Fayolle breaks it down beautifully:
But though we believe ourselves to be seeking happiness in marriage, it isn’t that simple. What we really seek is familiarity — which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood. The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes. How logical, then, that we should as grown-ups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right — too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable — given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign. We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.
This is a startling reality. We are drawn to what is familiar and what is familiar may not actually be the best for us. So in order to be in relationship with people who do not perpetuate our negative relationship cycles, we have to step out of the familiar. This is incredibly uncomfortable. We don’t know what to expect and our old ways of being in relationship will not work here. This is a good time to have a supportive therapist to help navigate this new, unfamiliar relational territory.
2) Attachment Style
You may notice that you feel incredibly bored by someone who is more stable, kind and caring. I have sat with many clients as they wondered out loud, “What is wrong with me?! Why am I not attracted to this super nice, emotionally available person???” This could be related to your attachment style.
There are 4 attachments styles that we develop in childhood with our primary caregivers and carry over into our adult romantic relationships. We can be secure, anxious, avoidant or disorganized. For the purposes of this topic I am going to focus on anxious and avoidant attachment styles.
Having an anxious attachment style means that you need more reassurance that your relationship is okay. You are more sensitive to any changes in your partner’s attitude and might perceive threats to your relationship when there are none. Strangely, people with anxious attachment styles are often drawn to people with avoidant styles. Someone with an avoidant attachment style highly values their independence and is attuned to any threats to their freedom. They may get more easily overwhelmed by their partner’s feelings and emotional/relational needs and pull away. So you can see how this dynamic could be incredibly frustrating! The anxious person perceives that the avoidant person is pulling away and tries to get reassurance that everything is okay. This further overwhelms the avoidant person and they pull away even more! Their needs in relationship are opposed to each other.
An important thing to know is that there are no wrong or bad attachment styles. They just are what they are. What both anxious and avoidant people need is to be in relationship with someone who is secure. Securely attached people don’t feel overwhelmed by the anxious person’s needs for reassurance and they don’t feel threatened by the avoidant’s pulling away. Being with someone who is secure helps all the insecure types become more secure! But the problem is that we can confuse the drama of the anxious/avoidant dynamic with love and passion. When your avoidant partner finally pays you a compliment or takes you on a romantic date, you feel euphoric. You think this is love but really it’s the relief of your sensitive attachment system calming down. So when you meet a secure person, you don’t feel that relief because there is no tension. You might think there is no spark with this person or that they are just boring. But really they just aren’t stressing you out.
3) Scarcity Mentality (AKA fear of dying alone)
A common fear among both men and women who want to have a long-term, monogamous relationship is that there aren’t enough quality men or women out there. This fear can increase as you get older and watch more and more friends get married or enter into committed relationships before you. When we let this fear guide us, we settle for relationships with people who aren’t the best fit for us. We might be so happy that someone is actually interested in us that we ignore red flags. We also might try to twist and mold ourselves to fit what they want because if we lose them there may not be anyone else on the horizon. Being with someone is better than being with no one, right?
Most people I talk to after getting out of a bad relationship say they would rather be alone and happy than with someone who is not right for them. When you can’t be yourself with your partner and feel like you have to work to get them to stick around or care, it’s miserable. Don’t let this fear rule your love life. Nothing good comes easily and to be with someone who is truly good for you might take longer than you expected. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you, instead it may mean you haven’t settled for less than you want. I can say with confidence that the unfulfilling relationship you are now or were in is/was not your last and only hope for love.
Hope for You
There is good news for you. We are not doomed to repeat our patterns and carry on our family’s dysfunction. One of the most important parts of therapy is gaining understanding and insight into your feelings and behaviors so you can be empowered to change them. We cannot change something if we are unaware of it. But awareness, though important, is only the first step. Then we actually need to DO things differently. This might mean stepping back and thinking before continuing to go on dates with someone who feels familiar to those you have dated in the past. As you gain insight you learn what the red flags and warning signs are and can cut off an undesirable relationship sooner or not even start it in the first place. In addition you start working to believe that you are worth more than you have been given. If we were treated poorly as children and then in most of our romantic relationships, we will most likely have some negative and untrue beliefs about ourselves. These might sound like: “You’re not good enough”, “You are not worth people’s time”, “You are unlovable”. As you change these scripts and start believing you are worthy of love and care, it will be harder for you to put up with someone who does not give this to you.
Next, you might need to give someone a chance who you do not necessarily feel a strong connection with initially. If you really, really don’t like this person then don’t force it but if you see that they have lots of admirable qualities and you appreciate them as a person but just don’t feel a strong initial attraction, give them a shot. You may not ever feel an attraction and that’s okay but then again you might as you get to know them and get more and more comfortable with being treated nicely. I have had some clients articulate that they do not want to date someone who is nice to them because it will only be a matter of time before they realize they are not worth it. It takes time and new experiences to unlearn these long-held beliefs. But the more self-love and compassion we develop, the more able we are to receive love from and give love to others.
If you resonate with any of these reasons and are not sure how to proceed, I encourage you to contact me to schedule an appointment. Together we can understand why you have been doing what you’ve been doing and then decide how you can do things differently to experience more fulfilling and loving relationships.