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.
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. :-)