Do You Keep Attracting The Wrong Guy?
It’s time to put an end to toxic relationship patterns.
If you reflect on your dating and relationship history, do you notice a trend?
Do you have the sudden familiar feeling you’ve been here before?
Does it seem you are attracting the same type of person or that your relationships have a similar vibe?
Ugh...like a relationship version of "deja vu."
In my psychotherapy practice, it’s not uncommon for clients to tell me that they always attract addicts, narcissists, or someone emotionally abusive. It becomes hard for them to imagine meeting someone different—an appropriate and healthy partner they can thrive with in a long and prosperous relationship. But they are also in my office to try to make changes, so these patterns cease.
A significant part of figuring out how to change negative patterns is to explore why they keep happening. Next is to develop a plan of action to do differently. Looking at the “why” is to help you gain the self-awareness and insight necessary about the reasons you may attract and accept emotionally unavailable and inappropriate partners. Many of the reasons lie with our subconscious mind beneath awareness.
Here are three ways to discover why you repeat unhealthy relationship patterns or attract the wrong guy:
1. Explore your early family history.
What was your parent’s marriage like? Do your romantic partners have negative traits of either of your parents? Was there someone consistent and reliable in your life? Do you experience chaos or abuse? As a child, were you given adult responsibilities? Reflect upon how these early relationships and your family’s communication styles may have influenced your partner choices. There is often a comfort level or a familiarity about it that feels normal in a romantic relationship even if you know on some conscious level that it is unhealthy or making you unhappy.
2. Discover the themes in your dating and love life.
Write down each significant romantic relationship you have had. Include ones that were short but perhaps intense or ones where you were infatuated, but the feelings were not reciprocated. Include anything you think is important. Write down the general traits of each partner. Also, think about how each relationship ended. Are there similarities and themes you notice about the relationship or the individual? What does this information tell you?
3. Acknowledge your contribution to the relationship dynamics.
Do you tend to be overly anxious or insecure? Do you create drama or chaos in your life? Do you play the victim role? Might you be sabotaging potential healthy relationships? You may have traits and behaviors that perpetuate these patterns as well. You should also look at your expectations in relationships, understanding that believing in a perfect union or a “soul mate” will lead to disappointment. If you only blame your partners, you may not fully understand how you get stuck.
Insight without behavioral change is useless. Therefore, figuring out how you will act differently once armed with this new information about yourself is the other crucial piece.
Here are three ways to change your unhealthy relationship patterns:
1. Take a positive and cautious approach to dating.
Look at dating as “meeting another human” and nothing else. If there is a spark, that’s great, but you still don’t want to crank up your hopes about this person you just met. Slow down and think about what’s essential: similar values, life goals that align, no obvious red-flags, and so on. Don’t ever rush a romantic relationship. If it is meant to be, you won’t be ghosted or treated poorly just because you took it slow.
2. Believe you deserve a loving relationship where you are treated well (even if you don’t feel it yet).
We tend to have what’s called a “confirmation bias.” This is the tendency for us to interpret new evidence or information as confirmation of your existing beliefs. For example, if you believe you are unworthy of love, you will filter out information that tells you are worthy of love and instead accept the evidence that supports this negative view. This bias is a dangerous one that will also keep you stuck in the same patterns.
3. Focus on what you can effectively change, control, and fix.
Another person doesn’t fall into this category! You can’t change the past either, but you can learn and grow from it. You can make better decisions in your future. You can rewrite your life narrative that now includes partners who are consistent, reliable, emotionally engaged, and trustworthy. You can also have a fulfilling and purposeful life with or without a romantic partner.
Science tells us that we are wired to repeat problematic behavior. This is actually a psychological and physiological drive to resolve the problem once and for all. The obvious concern is when we apply the same solution over and over after seeing it didn’t work the first time. Figuring out new solutions and patterns takes a conscious effort, or our brains keep firing down the familiar neural pathway it always has. This is true for many things we do and why habits are hard to change.
Our love lives are not exempt from this fact. This is also why repeat patterns even when they cause us pain and don’t help up. When you try a new relationship strategy, it may feel strange and uncomfortable, but that should provide some assurance that you are moving in the right direction.
Dr. Marni Feuerman* is a licensed psychotherapist and author of Ghosted and Breadcrumbed: Stop Falling for Unavailable Men and Get Smart about Healthy Relationships available on Amazon and everywhere else books are sold. Sign up for her newsletter to keep in touch and get the latest content on love, dating and relationships.
*Author note: A version of this article was originally written for and appeared on YourTango.com.