After my first of two divorces, I began dating someone with an entirely different personality than my ex. I thought this was the right way to find a compatible person and not repeat my relationship mistakes.
I was wrong.
It took me two more relationships (including my second marriage) to learn the secret to finding people who weren’t bad for me.
I share that with you below, and what I did to get past repeat failures in dating and relationships.
The One Thing That Sabotaged My Relationships
There’s a bookshelf in my office crammed with books about relationships, collected through many years. Plus, I’ve read hundreds of dating and relationship articles.
Yet for years I continued to fail in the relationship department. Despite my best intentions, it seemed I was doomed to repeat one failed relationship after another.
I couldn’t understand why I was so “unlucky in love.“
If I could only find someone who satisfied a checklist of compatible interests and personality, all would be well.
It’s common wisdom that we’re attracted to certain types of partners. So, I figured I just needed to change my ‘type’ to find a better relationship.
The problem with that thinking is it left me out of the equation. There is no way to solve a problem when half the information is missing.
To understand what I truly wanted in a partner, I had to first look inward.
Why We Date the Same Type of Person (Even if They’re Wrong for Us)
In Do You Keep Dating the Same Type of Person? author Jen Kim says,
“…our adult relationships may be partly based on our relationships with parents or caregivers when we were children. This is because these early relationships are responsible for developing our patterns of attachment, or how we relate to others, especially in stressful situations.
The main attachment styles are:
Secure: Love and trust come relatively easily, about half of the population falls into this category.
Anxious: Wants to be close and intimate with others but is scared to be let down, so will often sabotage their relationships with counterproductive behavior.
Avoidant: Avoids intimacy and emotionally withdrawn; prefers to be alone and engage in solitary activities.”
Up until this point, I knew nothing about my pattern of attachment, about my childhood ‘programming.’ My style of attachment was everything but secure.
Even though I tried to find a different type of partner, and sincerely wanted a better relationship, these hidden patterns continued to rule and ruin every single relationship.
The Relationship Turning Point
My moment of clarity came after about a year of work with my last therapist. (I’m a slow learner when it comes to relationships!)
She asked me to list the major events in my life. No qualifiers, just list anything that came to mind.
Aside from a handful of good family and business events, I had a lengthy list of troubling events.
If you’ve ever been through therapy, you know it’s hard to shock a therapist. Yet as I read through my list, I watched her jaw drop in astonishment. (I don’t think she meant to do that, either.)
I won’t reveal the details of all the events here because I want to preserve all the players’ anonymity. The problem was, all these things I considered normal were toxic to me and in no way allowed for healthy relationships.
At one point as we talked about the events, I instantly saw the pattern that wove its way through nearly every personal interaction for as far back as I could remember.
I could finally see how my relationship problems evolved and why they continued.
My Relationship Programming
I grew up with an alcoholic, bullying, critical and emotionally unavailable father. My siblings and I lived in a constant state of fear and danger.
Throughout my grade school years, I’d try to disappear unseen under the covers at night, praying, “Please don’t let Dad kill us tonight.”
My mother worked nights and although she did her best to keep things together, she wasn’t there to protect us. And in our Irish Catholic tradition, she was also reserved and emotionally distant.
The bottom line is that what was modeled for me in relationships is how I was programmed…poorly.
What I saw was that every one of the events I listed for my therapist had people with some or all of the characteristics of my father. Or it had dynamics of the failed relationship between my father and mother. This could include,
- manipulation or
- destructive behavior.
It shocked me to discover that this is what I was attracted to, the very people and situations I wanted to escape since childhood.
I’m sure I’m over-simplifying, but the therapist explained that my subconscious programming guided my personal and professional relationships. It was hard for me to accept, but I was actually attracted to dysfunctional relationships so I could right the wrongs that happened in my childhood.
The problem is, of course, that we can never presume to fix another’s problems to suit our own agenda.
Plus, I had my own set of problems to fix.
Mistakes I Made About Dating and Relationships
Just before marriage #1 ended, I went to the first of several therapists. I told her I wanted to “fix the marriage.” In reality, I wanted out. I was trying to find a professional to agree with me that it was OK and who bought my BS.
But she kept asking me about my drinking. Imagine that!
At the time, I had no intention of giving up my favorite form of self-medication. “I can handle my drinking,” was my defense.
It didn’t help that I was always slightly drunk at these sessions. Although I wouldn’t admit it to any one else at the time, I had known since I was seventeen that I had a problem with drinking.
In short, I wasn’t being honest. It was impossible to understand anything about myself or my relationships in the midst of addiction.
It took me about ten more years before I made my way into recovery. In recovery, I learned to be honest. Honesty put me on the right path.
Final Thoughts About Dating the Wrong Person
Just before I started sessions with my last therapist, I had decided to give up on ever finding a life’s partner.
I had been in recovery for many years yet was still struggling to understand and maintain a healthy relationship. I figured that my emotional programming was damaged beyond repair.
So, I wrote myself off as a suitable partner.
But…I wanted to understand the “why” behind it all and booked a counseling session. Fortunately, that decision led me to those moments of clarity in my last therapy sessions.
The lesson? Don’t give up.
I’ve learned that if a problem persists, there is probably a solution. Someone else has gone through the same thing and come out wiser and better.
Daisy and I would never have met if I had given up on myself.
I also learned that people who are bad for me are not necessarily bad people. It’s a matter of compatibility. With the clarity I got from self-examination, I can now instantly spot people or situations who are probably bad for me and move on.
It took what it took to get me here, and I’m grateful for every step of the way.
Daisy and I share more of our hard-won lessons with you in Mature Dating Challenges – Problems and Road Blocks That Can Keep You From Finding Your Soulmate Later in Life