So many of my clients sit across from me hurt, angry and confused. It has happened to them once again. This time they were sure they had made the right choice. Relationship disappointment can shatter one’s self-esteem and confidence.
In this article, I hope to provide you with some thoughts, which might be helpful in understanding how we choose mates. If you have a history of relationship disappointments and frustrations, I will share some ways for making better choices.
Most of us can make a list of the characteristics and traits we desire in a partner. What determines our list is often conscious, socially and culturally sanctioned. Although, that list is important, it comes in a far second from the unconscious motivation that determines partner selection.
When we begin to understand more about the significant people in our lives—our parents, siblings, and their relationship behavior—our choices begin to make more sense.
(All names are fictional to protect confidentiality.)
Tina, an extremely attractive, educated young woman, sits facing me with tears streaming down her face and holding tissues in both hands. Another heartbreak has occurred and at the suggestion of her best friend she has come to see me.
Tina feels like a failure. She has had a series of long-term relationships with men who constantly frustrated her, weren’t as educated or ambitious and didn’t share her long-term visions. She finally recognized her part in choosing them, but was clueless as to why she did or how she could change.
During therapy, Tina began to recognize an intergenerational pattern of the women in her family as rescuers and “mother figures” to the men in the family. As she began to realize that she was fulfilling her familial role in the men she chose, she began to redefine a new role for herself.
Therapy was helpful, as the women in her family couldn’t help her change the only relationship patterns they knew. Women in the family made change more difficult for her. They criticized her healthy expectations as selfish, and at times, subtly excluding her from conversations and events. Tina began to do more positive things for herself and find other women with similar relationship goals.
Currently, although not in a serious relationship, Tina has begun to date men who are peers, not ones who she rescues. Tina is an example of many clients who can begin to face themselves and find new relationship patterns.
Clark had always been the life of the party. Extremely quick witted and sensitive, he could charm anyone—man or woman. He was a great student and ended up with several professional degrees. Clark was perpetually anxious and could never take time for himself so his weight and body image suffered.
His solution to the negative internal self-image was to meet and remain married to a trophy wife, who was a negative partner. He remained in the relationship terrified to feel his inadequacy if he was alone. Given no choice due to the deterioration and unsalvageable relationship, he now had to face himself.
Clark came to therapy wanting to feel better about himself and to prevent suffering the pain of another poor relationship choice. He must understand and heal his negative self-esteem and not rely on avoiding himself to dodge pain.
If you want to change who you select as a mate, here are some tools you can put into practice:
- Study your family interaction patterns.
- How did people in love relationships treat one another?
- What were the role expectations of women and men?
- What behaviors were tolerated by family members?
- How were feelings expressed and talked about?
- What are you doing to perpetuate positive and negative patterns?
Change always involves some discomfort and fear. Identify activities and ways in which you can learn to enjoy being alone. Find activities and friends that enliven and support you. If these new tools help you reach your goals that is great. Should more in-depth exploration and support be needed to facilitate change, you may want to consider psychotherapy.
If you would like to learn more about Relationship Therapy and choosing the right partner, please contact me at 201-445-0550