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One of our most essential needs as human beings is to love and be loved. Because we are wired for relationships from the moment we enter the world, you’d think it would be easier to pick partners that suit us well. But the reality is that so many women end up with the wrong guys and can’t seem to understand why.

Why do I always date commitment-phobes? Why am I a magnet for men who cheat? Why do the men I date always want to control me? Why do I stick with guys who I know are just all wrong for me?

These are questions I'm asked frequently in my work as a therapist. And they can only be answered when we take a hard look at ourselves. Here are three common reasons we keep finding ourselves in the arms of the wrong men.

01. Fear

Let’s be honest, we have all made choices out of fear, but fear is one of the worst decision makers when choosing a partner. When we make choices out of fear we are ignoring a deeper truth. We tend to become good at weaving an internal narrative that says, “I have to lock a partner down fast, or else . . .”

In fact, research has shown that many women are willing to stay in unhappy and unfulfilling relationships because they're intimidated by the prospect of being alone. The reality is, what women should fear the most is spending the rest of their lives unhappily with the wrong person. If you are aware that you’re coupled because you are afraid to be alone, it’s important to realize that you are choosing to be unhappy now because you are afraid to be unhappy later.

02. Familiarity

We are often unconsciously drawn to the same dysfunction over and over because it strikes a familiar chord, reminiscent of the wounds we experienced in childhood. In fact, people tend to pick partners who share similar negative characteristics with their primary caregivers.

We all have mental and emotional wounds and when those wounds are deep enough and go unaddressed, it can become a pathology. The trouble is, in relationships, pathology seeks pathology. That is, we tend to seek out other wounded people, but especially those who feed or enable our pathology. We don’t do this because we are gluttons for punishment, but because we’re attempting to heal our original wound. For example, people who grew up with parents who were neglectful or absent, often, unwittingly, seek relationships with people who are similarly unreliable. When we date men we need to “fix” or find ourselves in a pattern of dating men who put us down, it’s likely we have some emotional wound that we need to deal with. Sadly, the healing we seek in our partner rarely occurs, precisely because our partners are limited and often damaged in a similar way our parents were, making them unable to give us any more or any better than our parents did.

03. Low Self-Esteem

Nothing interferes with the ability to have an authentic, reciprocal partnership like chronic low self-esteem. When operating from a place of low self-worth we’re more likely to ignore red flags and settle for relationships that don’t serve us well. 

The cultivation of self-worth is an inside job. No relationship with another can ever compensate for a personal belief that you don’t deserve true happiness. This kind of personal work can be tough because it requires facing inadequacies, inner demons, and fears of being alone. But in order to fully understand what motivates our choices we have to be willing to build awareness around our patterns. Once we have a sense of why we date the way we do, we can shift our negative patterns and make healthy, intentional choices.

As the writer Tim Urban profoundly stated, “When you choose a life partner, you’re choosing a lot of things, including your parenting partner and someone who will deeply influence your children, your eating companion for about 20,000 meals, your travel companion for about 100 vacations, your primary leisure time and retirement friend, your career therapist, and someone whose day you’ll hear about 18,000 times.” With that in mind, isn’t it time we faced our patterns and got intentional about choosing the right guy?

Photo Credit: Daryn Bartlett