a couple with their backs turned to each other after a fight

The Relationship Repeater: How to Stop Seeking Out the Wrong Partners

by Jeannie Assimos - June 25, 2013

Everyone has had a relationship that doesn’t work out, but not everyone repeatedly starts and ends relationships that so closely resemble the last one that failed.

What separates people who have good relationships from people who have bad ones? The degree of repetition and frustration. If you’re someone who keeps feeling frustrated that you’re not meeting The One, you might be what I call a “Relationship Repeater.” Simply put, a Relationship Repeater is someone who is stuck in a rut, making the same type of bad relationship decisions over and over.

Men and women who get stuck in this way aren’t crazy – just rigid and too set in their ways for their own good. They keep repeating the same mistakes because they have been unable to glean emotional lessons from their past relationships and learn from them. Healthy lovers, on the other hand, try to avoid what didn’t work the last time.

So, are you a Relationship Repeater? Ask yourself if you meet any of the following criteria:

•  You find yourself attracted to partners who don’t meet your emotional needs.

•  You find yourself attracted to the same characteristics that ultimately made you unhappy in the last relationship.

•  Your friends and family tell you that you prioritize the wrong characteristics in potential partners.

•  You struggle to find a partner who truly understands or ‘gets’ you.

•   You feel like you lack the ability to detect warning signs early, or you notice them but try to deny them or make excuses for them.

How to Get Un-Stuck:

If you’ve been unlucky in love so far, don’t worry: The truth is that you have complete control over your romantic future. Aren’t you tired of saying goodbye? Don’t you get sick of starting over with someone new? Follow the tips below and your future will thank you for it!

1. When dating someone new, keep the frequency of dates to a minimum, at least for a while.

There are so many rules about dating. There are rules about the rules, and rules about what happens if you don’t follow the rules. Well, here’s one rule I insist on: When you find someone you like, don’t see him or her too much in the beginning. If you have a history of unsuccessful relationships and you start seeing someone new too frequently and too intensely, I’m sorry to tell you that you are probably going to mess things up. It’s not your fault, but odds are that you will revert to your old, familiar behavior. The key is to slow things down so that you don’t blindly – or impulsively – make the same mistakes over and over again.

2. Gain insight into your problem and practice the art of detaching.

It’s normal to attach to someone you know and trust; it’s also normal to detach when someone hurts you and has shown a pattern of hurting you. The problem with men and women who are stuck seeking out the wrong partners is that once they attach to someone, they have a hard time detaching later when the relationship has stopped working. In other words, once they get attached to someone, they get stuck and cannot disengage or pull themselves apart – even if they’re unhappy.

You might wonder why people wouldn’t want to detach if they’re unhappy, but the sad truth is that having bad relationships is par for the course for Relationship Repeaters. In fact, most Relationship Repeaters came from families where there was significant chaos, addiction, or a painful separation (e.g., having an absent parent).

Relationship Repeaters don’t want to end their romantic relationships – even if they’re bad – because they’re sick of separations and they crave consistency, which they often haven’t had in their lives previously. If you have a problem detaching once you have already attached, you need to start engaging in behaviors that give you a greater sense of independence and inner peacefulness. Start on this course by going to the movies on your own or staying at home on an evening night when you would normally go out and socialize with others.

3. Talk to your primary care physician about obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

Men and women who have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder have a much more difficult time than others in having romantic relationships, as they tend to get stuck obsessing about things both big and small. Abbey and colleagues (2007), for example, found that the more severe one’s obsessions were, the more dissatisfied and less intimate the individuals’ romantic relationships were. It makes sense, too, if you think about it!

The vast majority of readers don’t have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but if you keep getting stuck repeating bad relationship patterns, you may have one or more obsessive-compulsive traits. Talk to your physician about whether you might have some of these symptoms, and whether these symptoms may negatively impact your approach to romantic relationships. If you do happen to have some obsessive-compulsive symptoms, there are lots of ways to reduce the severity so that you can function well in all parts of your life: medication therapy, talk therapy, or even spiritual or religious guidance from a professional who can help you meet your life goals.

4. Read a good book about how to stop repeating unhealthy relationship patterns.

I’m a psychologist so I make referrals for psychotherapy in my sleep. I love therapy and think it is one of the most helpful things a person can do in his or her life, but I don’t underestimate the power of a good book in helping people change. I wrote an entire book on how to stop repeating toxic relationship patterns, which is called Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve. You might find another book helpful, as well, which is called Obsessive Love, by my friend and colleague, Susan Forward.

You know what the worst consequence is when you keep seeking out the wrong partners again and again? You stop trusting yourself and your instincts, and you become haunted by a tiny voice in the back of your head that tells you that you’re programmed to fail in love. Oh, ladies and gentlemen, lock the doors and block out that voice. No one was put here on Earth to suffer repeatedly in relationships. We must learn from our mistakes and do better the next time. The final takeaway? Stop chasing, surrender, and let yourself have a consistently good relationship for a change.

Dr. Seth Meyers has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve

Reference: Abbey, R.; Clopton, J; and Humphreys, J. (2007).  Journal of Clinical Psychology, 63: 1181–1192.