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‘Why Am I Attracted to Unhappy People?’

by Dr. Seth Meyers - August 4, 2016

Believe it or not, dating people who are unhappy is a problem for scores of men and women. If dating unhappy people sounds ridiculous to you, dig deeper into your own romantic past and you will probably find a person or two who was unhappy through and through.

Does it mean something if you have dated one or two people who turned out to be unhappy? Probably not. But if you have discovered a pattern of behavior – you know, you fall for someone hard and then realize they are unhappy in life – there is a real reason. Quick note: It is usually impossible to tell whether a person is an overall unhappy person when you first meet them, but there are definite signs in the first few weeks of getting to know someone.

People who are unhappy make negative, fatalistic comments; they appear to have low self-esteem or they are going through an emotional “funk;” they seem to look for a lot of reassurance; they feel pessimistic about romantic relationships lasting; and they either get depressed or lethargic easily or, conversely, seem irritated or angry at the slightest provocation.

Take a look at the reasons why people end up dating unhappy individuals, and this problem will suddenly make a lot more sense to you.

They feel more in control with someone who is dysfunctional than with someone who is functional. This is one of the most common problems men and women have in dating: investing in others who are dysfunctional because they imagine they will feel more in control in the relationship. Men and women who have a habit of falling for unhappy people would often feel stressed out if they were with someone who was attractive, super healthy, happy, and successful. By dating someone who is unhappy, you don’t have to compete with that person in terms of who has their you-know-what together or who is more successful. Men and women who fall for unhappy people are often “alpha” types or “control freaks,” or people who are always taking on another project. These individuals always need something to do, and you will always have something to do if you are in a serious relationship with a seriously unhappy or dysfunctional person.

They tell themselves that unhappy partners will be less likely to leave them than happy, functional partners. One of the statements that I regularly make to my clients is this: An individual who has significantly more severe emotional issues than you will significantly hurt you in the end. Why? Because that person won’t be able to meet your emotional needs consistently, so you will feel alone and frustrated, and perhaps you will feel angry with yourself for wasting all that time that is now lost. My old therapist used to say to me, “Dating is risky business.” Unhappy people aren’t less likely to leave you; they are simply more likely to make you feel unhappy, too.

They are unhappy themselves. There is truth in the saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.” If you have a habit of falling for unhappy people, there is a real possibility that you feel generally unhappy, too, and you unconsciously seek out these people because you feel that being with someone who is unhappy is actually comforting. The expression “misery loves company” stems from the reality that people often feel soothed by being around others who suffer from the same type of sadness, anger, or loneliness. The problem with these dating relationships is that two unhappy people rarely help other; they usually drag each other down farther until one leaves the other.

How labeling the problem can set you free. One of the most effective strategies you can engage in to find a healthy partner is to pay close attention to the similarities – what attracted you – among the people you have dated in the past. If you have found that there is a pattern of unhappiness in your exes, label the problem immediately – “I have been attracted to people who are dysfunctional and unhappy” – and share this epiphany with friends. Thinking about the problem on your own, in conjunction with hearing yourself talk out loud to others about it, is the way you set off on the course to change.


About the Author:

Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He 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