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Why Do I Keep Choosing The Worst Possible Partner?

By the time you've worked with hundreds of couples, you start seeing common patterns. Here's the big one:

We take the most difficult relationship of our childhood... and we marry it!

Ever wonder why so many children of alcoholics marry alcoholics? Ever wonder why so many abuse victim marry abusers? The numbers would shock you.

If you had a parent who was emotionally unavailable, or controlling, or anti-social, or non-supportive, you-name-it... there is a good chance that you fell in love with someone who shared that same quality.

Why? Because we get a sense of familiarity with potential partners who share that quality which we experience as sexual desire or 'chemistry'. That familiarity feels very attractive. In fact, what we are really experiencing is an unconscious desire to heal or fix the most painful relationship of our childhood.

It's how children of alcoholics are attracted to alcoholics before they even know they have a drinking problem. It's why people with a physically or emotionally abusive parent will be attracted to and date an abuser long before the abuse begins.

It's also one of the reasons that so many first marriages fail. We unknowingly take the very worst of our childhood and unconsciously drag it into our adulthood.

I've known people who have married the exact same type of person 4 and 5 times and still can't figure out why each of their marriages failed!

Of course, we're not aware that we are doing this. All we feel initially is the magnetic attraction. But as the relationship continues, our partner is eased into the role of 'surrogate mom' or 'surrogate dad'. We set them up so that we can say to them what we wish we had said to our difficult parent OR so that we can continue to play the role (caregiver, mediator, martyr, teacher, challenger, victim, etc) we played in our childhood.

So, what's the answer?

List your partner or ex-partner's worst qualities. Do any of these remind you of one of your parents? Step-parent? Older sibling? Those match-ups are the qualities you want to look for and AVOID the next time.

Want to take it one step further? List the best qualities of your parents. The ones you valued most. Add to that list the qualities you WISH had been in your family: More humor? Stability? Affection? Playfulness? What was missing? Now you have a list of qualities you are going to actively look for in a partner. No one may have them ALL but you'll be looking for what you NEED and WANT in your life instead of constantly winding up with the same toxic character again and again.

                                        ~~~Part 2~~~

I had a female client once whose abusive boyfriend had pressed her pregnant body against an anchor fence with his pickup truck. She was 24 years old and had five kids... all from a long string of abusive boyfriends.

In case you're curious, she had an abusive mom.

After I helped her get out of this relationship, she met a nice guy who really loved her. She was extremely uncomfortable dealing with someone who actually treated her lovingly! She would come to me one week saying, "He bought me FLOWERS! I didn't know what to say! Why do you suppose he did that?"

One time, she fell behind paying a utility bill. She owed $200. she didn't have. Her new boyfriend offered to give her the money. She refused. Then he offered to loan her the money. She came to me for advice. She said, "I can't help but feel like, if I take the money from him, he's going to expect something in return!"

I said, "What if he doesn't? What if he's offering it because he honestly cares about you?" That idea was preposterous to her. "No way does anyone care about ME without wanting something." I suggested a test.

"Let him loan you the money. If his attitude changes and he expects something in return then we'll know just what he's like. You can dump him. But if it turns out that he offered to help because he really loves you, he passed the test. Either way, you'll have learned something valuable."

He passed this test and many others. My client finally relaxed and, for the first time, fell in love with a guy who actually adored her. They married and moved to Florida... five kids and all. I got a Xmas card from her every year letting me know how happy she was.

When you figure out who will keep you miserable... you can begin to recognize who might make you happy.  :-)

musicbook musicbook 61-65, M 29 Responses Aug 11, 2012

Your Response


Also explains why I have yet to be married:) Thank you for the insight, it really helps in making conscious efforts in going outside your comfort zone to accept the love which you were programmed to give but not receive.

Huge revelation. Knew most patterns stem from childhood trauma, this is an interesting way to look at why we choose certain partners....repeat behaviors..I am a work in progress but am making positive changes to surround myself with worthy like minded souls.

Wow.. thank you...

Dear MusicB... I loved every word! Our subconscious is such a busy, low-flying part of our brain... :) How kind of you to write this post... Something in here for everyone. Than you!!

This sounds something like the process I went through when I decided not to be alone all my life. Consciously deciding what type of man I needed.

Being alone is not such a bad thing if you can handle it,it took me years but I am quite happy now and feel as free as a bird!


Wise words. Words I knew were true before I read them here in your eloquent and amusing voice. I have done this exercise several times for over a decade and I still love who I love. Me myself, and Irene have decided not to try conventional relationships again they are too much for us all.

I don't need a partner to live the rest of my life with like some fairytale ever after. I just need to be able to survive for the precious few a care about and the only way I have found to survive is to just have as much fun as I can as often as possible.

As many times as I have read and recommended this post I am surprised I never commented on it. You are full of wisdom Musicbook. When I see a question about this subject I just send the person a link to your story.

As a therapist, can you please suggest ways to get confidence back being in bad relations. I fear of not being able to make in the world, after many failed attempts, so now **** scared of breaking away again after a few failed attempts. Each time I get older, situation gets worse, I have less finances and health and on goes the list. Things that motivated and I enjoyed are no longer so. It is constant fear now.

My heart is breaking because there is no way I can tell you my story. Well, not here, not yet. It was a stroke of synchronicity that I ran across you at all tonight. Just when I think EP is losing its soul, I stumble into you from some comment you made somewhere else and I had to check you out. And here you are, the very person EP needs to help people in traumatic situations. On behalf of all of us here who are or have been in abusive relationships, thank you!

Thanks. I'm glad you read something of mine that helped a bit.

<p>thank you for your story,I spent 7 years of my life with an abuser,I do come from an abusive family,after finally leaving him in spite of his threats of suicide,I was too afraid to fall in the same trap again( I know about psychology being a psychiatric nurse myself) I chose not to remarry,I don't really regret it seeing all the miserable marriages around me,the only thing I do regret is not having had any children,but not with that jerk of course!</p>

ok, i need you counseling haha seriously!

p.s. even if you fall in love with someone who is not very compatible with you(not abusive, though) that doesn't mean you don't genuinely love them, right? "I mean, like you said, nobody's going to be a perfect match, so how do you know when to draw the line?

You can love someone who you're not very compatible with...but, ultimately, compatibility will determine whether it's a successful and lasting relationship.

Oh! As for your question of where you draw the line... See my story on the Secret of a successful relationship.

I curious what you meant by "feel attracted to an alcoholic before they even know they are alcoholic"..I mean, are you saying people pick up on "alcohoolism" subconsciously?

Yep. Those who grow up with an alcoholic parent or caretaker often feel a sort of 'comfortable familiarity' around an alcoholic before they even KNOW that person is an alcoholic. That's how we manage to find controllers, abusers, any partners toxic to us. We mistake this 'comfortable familiarity' with sexual attraction. We are drawn to that person without even understanding why.

hahaha . . . yup . . . you're right . . . I loved part 2 . . . thank you for sharing this . . . 8D

Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I was aware of the poor choosing of a partner, but not how to avoid it next time.

Thank you!

Very true. I'm reading a book by Harville Hendrix at the moment called How to get the love you want. It's about this very subject and how you can deal with it. Very enlightening... Thank you for posting this.

Thanks so much! This article helps. We're all lucky because you're on EP

Thanks. That's nice of you. :-)

This is very wise.

Very well said, and I've been in therapy enough to know it's the truth.

"They may not have them all"

Aye. There's the rub.

Thank you.

Love this!! Especially the final line.

Very true, still shocking though. I know we spend alot of time focusing on qualities we don't like in a potential mate and give it so much attention that we attract people with undesireable character traits alot, but to have a nice person be there for you and not be able to see it , or for it to be a undesirable characteristic is a shock, that's a complex for sure.

This is eerily true for me at the present. What feels really weird is that the person is almost an exact of my abusive parent. At times, they even gang up on me as their views are so similar. It feels creepy to me, but I see the truth in your story. Thxs!!

Very scientific, clear and true. You makes sense of somthing doesn't make sense still drives us to the same circle of pain disaster and failure. I think you have found the antidote.<br />
Thank you!!!!

I loved Reading this..., I just wish I knew how or why I ended up with a drunk for a husband when I didn't grow up around anyone with a drinking problem... I've always attracted jerks I guess

how true what you say but this abuse still goes on perhaps one day we all will be able to live as well adjusted adults and bring our chiuldren up too! I keep hoping!

great story...

This is an excellent article. It is true. And when I look at Forever man, I see that he possesses the qualities that I love the most. And my soon to be ex, the worse. Your advice is practical. Thank you for this posting.