The Attraction of Bad Relationships and Why We End Up in Them

What qualities do you look for in a partner? Charming, sweet, good smile, sexy, smart, good to their family and so on? So many people look for similar qualities in a partner, but it’s common to see people in relationships where their partner can be hurtful, neglectful, disrespectful, or downright mean at times.

How did they end up with this kind of person?

Attraction is an interesting and tricky psychology, and in order to shed some light on why people at times choose partners who are unhealthy for them, it’s first necessary to understand how attraction works.

What Causes People to Become Attracted?

If your answer is “good looks,” believe it or not, this is hardly an indicator of what causes a person to choose a relationship. Finding a person to be “attractive” isn’t the same as being emotionally drawn to them.

Who we become attracted to has a lot to do with how we grew up. But it’s not as simple as finding someone who reminds us of our parents. What’s crucial in attraction is that we find a person who re-creates the psychological environment of our childhood — an emotional comfort zone — while also setting up the potential for the repair of issues that were present in our childhood.

This comfort zone was created psychologically as we grew up, based on the role we played with our caretakers.

How Do Our Parents Fit In?

Dr. Harville Hendrix, the founder of Imago Therapy, discusses attraction in terms of what he calls “The Lost Self.” Essentially, as we developed into the world, we learned to suppress emotional pieces of who we are based on experiences that we had. For example, if we learned through consequences that showing anger was bad, anger may have become a piece of our disowned selves since we learned to disconnect from anger.

We may have learned to smile when angry, or joke, or anything that will help us avoid being in touch with our anger, since experiencing anger was somehow threatening to us.

But with attraction, Hendrix asserts that we become drawn to someone who can connect to the emotional areas that we disowned — e.g. someone who can be outwardly expressive of anger would be very attractive to someone who’s disowned outward feelings of anger.

Hendrix also asserts that we are attracted to people who encompass positive and negative qualities of our caretakers. Early in relationships, the comfort zone described above brings a sense of euphoria…

Read more: Nathan Feiles, LMSW, PsychCentral


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