“From error to error, one discovers the entire truth.” ~Sigmund Freud
It’s easy to remain objective when looking at other people’s relationships. We can usually spot the red flags, the warning signs, and the inconsistencies while giving ourselves a mental pep-talk that we are never going to get involved in a relationship like that.
Yet, remaining objective in our own relationships?
Not so much….
Objectivity is something that we either have, or don’t. There’s no grey area. When there’s no personal or emotional investment in a situation, we’re more inclined to remain clear-sighted about things. However, the toxic habits and patterns that we can easily spot in other people’s relationships, are the same ones we are blind to in our own — our common sense and intuition get exchanged for a pair of rose-colored glasses.
And, if they’re the wrong type of partner, they’re likely the one handing you the lenses.
Because of this, you may not ‘see’ that your latest relationship is a continuation of the emotionally unavailable or unpredictable partners before them. You might question why your relationships seem based on sex or good times (power and control) instead of love. Your guard may go up if your partner tells you about the dozens of relationships they had before you, planting the seed of suspicion as just another notch on their belt.
You may feel uneasy when they call you the same pet nicknames or feed you the same empty lines as others in their life. You may start playing detective analyzing what they say to make sure it’s adding up with what they do. You may wonder why there’s always this push-pull that is emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting…which always leaves you feeling empty, defeated and alone.
Or, you may get sucker-punched where they come across as the complete opposite of anything you’ve dated before — appearing to be an attentive “superhero” who is emotionally invested, authentic, faithful and honest — only to covertly reveal their true agenda by pulling the rug out from under you when you least expect it.
Yet, the same traits that have you questioning, doubting and putting your guard up are the same ones that have you hooked.
All too often you may find yourself in a relationship with what you instinctively know is bad for you, yet you get locked into a cycle that you may not (yet) be aware of. You can get hooked on the addictive rush of the honeymoon phase that always ends with the same toxic crash and burn.
You might be thinking it’s an exciting challenge to try and tame them, or that this time they’ll emotionally commit. You may be excited by their domineering and take-charge attitude where they appear cool, calm and collected while baiting you with manipulation.
You may be hooked in getting swept off of your feet with promises of fairy-tale endings by another charismatic charmer, who proves they’re no knight in shining armor. The hook may dig in a little deeper each time the cycle plays out, juggling between the highs and lows — always subtle at first, then gaining momentum as the relationship starts to fall apart.
There’s a reason you’re unconsciously drawn to the same type of person; a toxic repeat of the same old relationships with new players. It’s the same reason that therapists trace our client’s histories back to their childhoods. Your attachment style, fears, needs, patterns of behavior and personality help us sort through what may be keeping you falling for the wrong type of partner, and in turn, can help you break the habit.
Our lived experiences shape our adult behavior in more ways than we may be consciously aware of, and what becomes the unconscious foundation in what we seek in our partners. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs beautifully explains how we can forever be chasing our needs if they weren’t met with consistency in childhood.
One of the biggest mistakes made is unconsciously thinking a partner is going to be “the one” to complete or fill our unmet needs.
Because our earliest experiences help make us who we are, they’re also responsible for how we choose partners. We may claim we’re looking for something different this time around, but on an unconscious level we’re still choosing partners that keep us locked into our comfort zone and locked into our childhood conditioning; repeating the same patterns we learned in our earliest relationships.
For example, if you grew in an environment where you never felt safe — were unable to trust your caregiver to consistently care for you, or if you lived in unpredictable or dangerous living conditions — those can set the foundation for your future relationships. As a young adult, you may be drawn to rebellious friends, bad tempers, unpredictability, or someone who has a wild side which can morph into the same type of unavailable partners in your adult relationships, because it’s familiar.
People seek out what is comfortable even when it’s toxic.
And, while most of us claim to want security, love and faithfulness, on an unconscious level we may be shooting ourselves in the foot by choosing partners who keep us stuck in a complacency loop. This is the same loop that can have a person who grew up feeling unheard or silenced choosing the same kind of relationships that reinforce those feelings.
Or, things may pan out in the opposite direction— those of us who had our boundaries violated as children and often felt trapped or engulfed may ironically wind up with a cycle of partners who are insecure, intrusive or demanding — reinforcing the very feelings we never wanted to experience again.
Our earliest attachment styles replay in our adult relationships. Those with an avoidant attachment style are often (ironically) attracted to those with an anxious attachment style which ultimately strengthens the very experiences and feelings each swore off.
And, as long as they find themselves in a relationship with each other, they will continue to “trigger” each other’s core wounds, and prevent the healing that both need in order to thrive in a healthy relationship.
There is an allure in dating the wrong type and an appeal in falling for the wrong person. It can be the thrill or excitement and the danger of the familiar which becomes addictive for some. For example, Carter et al. (2013) and Campbell & Foster (2002) conducted research on the Dark Triad personality traits which include narcissism and found that those high in narcissistic traits were labeled as being unfaithful and skilled at starting new relationships based on assessing what prospective partners ‘need’. Similarly, those high in narcissistic traits scored higher in incidences of infidelity and more commonly chose partners seen as opportunities based on self-image, not love.
To someone who’s had a history of dating the wrong partners, the very thing they swore off becomes the very thing they’re unconsciously drawn to.
Understanding the Cycle
More often than not, we know the signs of when a relationship is starting to reveal itself as a continuation of a repeated cycle. There are nuances that operate as the red flags such as when the relationship starts becoming more intimate and it becomes harder to distract ourselves from it.
For example, when your partner (or you) are approaching a relationship based on habit or need, the other will instinctively know. Indifference, awkwardness or an overall feeling of emptiness can become more common, sparking the cycle into full gear.
Awareness of the cycle is not enough to stop it. Until we’ve thoroughly addressed our needs and healed our own core wounds, the cycle repeats as “familiar.”
While each relationship we experience tacks on lessons with it, the goal should be growth, not complacency.
In order to reach a place of growth in our lives, time alone is key in order to recognize repeated patterns, similarities between past relationship partners, and most importantly — in understanding and healing where our unmet needs are.
Check out my other related articles here:
Campbell, K. W., & Foster, C. A. (2002). Narcissism and commitment in romantic relationships: An investment model analysis. Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 484–495.
Carter, L. C., Campbell, A.C., & Muncer, S. (2013). The dark triad: attractiveness to women. Personality and Individual Differences, 56, 57–61.
Maslow, A. H. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd ed.). Harper & Row Publishers.
Skinner, B. F. (1974). About Behaviorism, New York: Random House.
Previously published on “Hello, Love”, a Medium publication.
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