Center for Shared Insight, PC

Why Do I Keep Attracting the Same Partner? How Past Trauma Attracts Relationship Drama

August 9, 2017
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Posted By: Kristen Hick, Psy.D.
women reflecting on her life

Do you ever feel like you are attracted to, date, or even marry the same type of people over and over again? Do all of your relationships fall into a similar pattern and end due to the same dynamics? Does it feel like you attract or invite this relational pattern into your life, perhaps without consciously being aware of it?

If you experience these situations, you may be like many others I work with, who unconsciously – and compulsively – repeat relational patterns over and over again, hoping to achieve a different outcome. But why does this occur, you ask? Read on to better understand the origin of these dynamics.

You gravitate toward what is familiar

You’ve probably heard that you tend to date men like your father or women like your mother. It’s true that we more easily embrace and relate to the relationship dynamics we experienced in early childhood. There is something comforting about the familiar and attraction can be stronger when we engage in those types of partnerships.

But, there is more to this story. If you had attentive, warm, and available parents, you are lucky in the fact that you are likely attracted to similar partners as an adult. But, if you’re like many others, your needs weren’t met in early childhood. This could be do to having parents preoccupied with careers, their own relationship problems, or other siblings. Perhaps your parents dealt with their own addictions, shortcomings, trauma, and personal challenges, before your needs were considered, and therefore were not able to give you the time and attention you required.

As an adult, you’ll continue to attract people that allow you to unconsciously reenact these patterns. In some cases, they will help you work out these challenges and master these dynamics that resulted in early conflict in your life. For those interested, Sigmund Freud was the first to recognize this pattern and called it repetition compulsion. We attract those into our life who we believe can facilitate that healing for us, but it often doesn’t work out that way.

For example, if you had a parent with an alcohol addiction who may not have shown up for you in the ways you needed, it’s possible that you may be attracted to someone who is preoccupied with a similar pattern of addiction, or someone currently rehabilitating. You can relate to their challenges and you have empathy for their journey. On a neurological level, your brain even has a similar chemical response to them, generating feelings of lust and comfort even below the surface.

You hope that this time, you will be a priority over whatever behavior is addictive to your partner (e.g., alcohol, drugs, relationships, food, work, exercise, etc.). You try desperately, usually on a subconscious level, to master, or change, this type of relationship as it is a significant source of past hurt, trauma, and drama.

However, when someone is still preoccupied with his or her own addiction or healing, his or her capacity to give fully to a relationship is probably not possible. Likewise, when you are dedicated to making this type of relationship work, you too are not being a healthy partner because you are not being true to your own needs or setting healthy boundaries. This could lead to an unfulfilling partnership and/or repeat drama – the same drama you have been consciously trying to run away from, fix, or undo from your earlier childhood memories. It’s a natural and common pull to try and work out past pain with current relationship dynamics, and make every effort to heal by way of those mirror experiences.

This dynamic is not limited to parental relationships, but could be also the result of past traumatic, romantic or even sibling relationships, or any situation that left you feeling hurt, shamed, uncomfortable, or confused.

Taking back your power

You may wonder why you attract drama in the form of repeat relationship patterns. The truth is that all humans are pulled to overcome that which has not previously been mastered. Therefore, if you feel unresolved–consciously or unconsciously–in a previous relationship,  you will attract a similar relational drama in order to master and finally heal past dynamics.

When you recognize your choice of partners have similar patterns and dynamics, and your relationships seem to unfold in similar ways, take a step back and look within. Ask yourself whether you are trying to facilitate healing through your choice of partners, and whether that healing can actually take place with that partner, or needs to occur within yourself first.

Instead, take back your power and look for other ways to facilitate healing. These might include simple practices like journaling, joining a support group (like this divorce one facilitated at Center for Shared Insight), or even working with a psychologist who specializes in relationship therapy. Generally, building awareness, especially with the help of a neutral third party, accelerates healing and change.

To learn more about the relational work done at Center for Shared Insight PC in helping clients sort through situations like this, as well as a host of other relationship dynamics, request a consultation.  

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