We’ve all been in bad relationships. Things aren’t going well, and we stay together much longer than we should. It happens, but for some of us, it happens all too often. And according to experts, that’s no coincidence. There are psychological reasons why we choose the wrong partner.
According to Jaime Bronstein, licensed therapist and author of MAN*ifesting: A Step-By-Step Guide to Attracting the Love That’s Meant for You, there are several reasons why we stay in relationships that are not serving us. For starters, if you haven’t done the work to figure out what’s good for you, you’re more likely to make choices based on what other people think instead of what you think. “I call this making the ‘fearful choice’ versus the ‘loving choice,'” says Bronstein.
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Pairing Off at All Costs
You’re also more likely to stay in unhealthy relationships or choose the wrong partner because you’re in it for the wrong reasons, for example, for money or a specific type of lifestyle. It might not be that you’re deliberately marrying for money, but you may subconsciously yearn for a certain level of security, says Bronstein. “This is human of us, and it often happens when someone grew up in a world where they didn’t feel financially or physically secure.”
Others might make bad choices out of desperation because they’re getting older and they don’t want to end up alone, or they may want to have children. “If you’re in ‘desperation mode,’ you’re more likely to end up settling with someone that you’re not truly in love with,” says Bronstein. If age is a factor in your decision-making, she says it’s worth looking at the other side of the coin to see what you would have done if you were 25 instead of 45. If you really care about finding a life partner, ask yourself honestly, ‘would you be with this person if you were 20 years younger?’
Clinical psychologist and marriage counselor Randi Gunther says that you may choose the wrong partner because they remind you of your early nurturers — for example, your parents — because “they feel like home,” she says. And often, those who start off this way continue to choose bad partners because they don’t learn from their mistakes.
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Not only do you need to know your baggage, says Bronstein, but you also need to know what you bring into a relationship. She says that sometimes individuals aren’t realistic about what they bring to the table. If you want someone who’s physically fit, for example, then you’ll likely also have to be physically fit. If you want someone who can travel with you, then you’ll need someone with enough job flexibility and money to do so.
Finding the Right Partner
Finding the right partner is more important than finding a partner because, says Bronstein, “feeling alone in a relationship is much more lonely than being physically alone outside of a relationship as a single person.”
You can avoid choosing the wrong person or staying in a bad relationship if you’re clear about your three “non-negotiables.” These are the things that are so important to you that you wouldn’t be happy if your partner didn’t provide them. They’re different for everyone, but they may include things like respect, honesty, having children, sense of humor and physical attraction.
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Additionally, according to Bronstein, it’s those who are whole themselves when they get into a relationship that tend to end up the happiest. Looking for others to fulfill unresolved needs means you’re more likely to choose someone based on the wrong reasons. “The best couples are two whole people that come together and start this entirely new entity together,” she says.
When it comes to finding the right partner, Bronstein says that it’s all about playing the long game. Finding your perfect match may take time, but if you’re rushed and feeling desperate, you’re much more likely to dive into something that you’ll later regret.