Dr Becky Spelman discusses unhealthy relationships, why people are attracted to unhealthy relationships and how to start to change your tendency to choose poor relationships for yourself.
Hi, I’m Doctor Becky Spelman. I’m a registered psychologist, and I’m going to talk about unhealthy relationships. This is a very common human condition. It’s not something extraordinary. So many people actually suffer from this compulsion to go into unhealthy relationships time and time again, and it causes people so much pain. It might seem really irrational for someone to go into an unhealthy relationship. Essentially, they’re not receiving love in that relationship. Why would anyone do that to themselves?
Well, the clues are rooted in the past. People go for what is familiar to them. They tend to repeat their first experiences of love. And people’s first experiences of love are in their early upbringing, the caregiving they’ve received, how were their parents towards them. Some people have had parents who were very kind but maybe quite aloof. Perhaps they weren’t very good at understanding their children’s emotions. Perhaps they were somewhat emotionally neglectful towards their children.
And unfortunately, some people have had very painful traumatic experiences. So people tend to go for love that’s very similar to the first love that they’ve experienced. And this is why people will put up with things or go for relationships where the partner is very aloof or unavailable or in the most extreme cases, they will put up with domestic violence and actual physical abuse.
People will often stay in those cycles or repeat those cycles for many different reasons. And there’s two kinds of common theories that I want to mention. One theory is a Freudian theory called repetition compulsion, where people repeat the same experiences over and over in an attempt to try and get it right. And of course, they never get it right there. Keep getting the same outcome time and time again. And another theory is that people are just used to feeling a certain way that actually being truly loved in a relationship is so unfamiliar to them. They feel more comfortable in a relationship where they’re not receiving love and their partner is perhaps a bit on available.
So what do you need to do in order to break the cycle of going for unhealthy relationships? Well, first of all, you have to be aware that you have a tendency to do this. And second, you have to be truly committed to not repeating the same thing again and again because often, people who haven’t been cared for, haven’t been loved enough in early life will have this deep craving to be loved, and they’ll try and seek out love or accept love from anyone. In fact, they might be quite needy and their relationships and this is attracting the wrong kind of person. So they’re chasing love in the wrong places and going for partners who really can’t love them.
Some people, I advise that they need to step back and stay single for a while in order to just reflect upon things and to stop themselves from going or chasing are seeking out desperately to be loved in a direction that’s not going to serve them well.
I help people to spot the signs of an unhealthy relationship because often, it’s not obvious. So some people, while they won’t go for a relationship where they’re being abused either verbally or physically, but they will go for relationships where they’re not being respected, where there isn’t really mutual respect. And that’s a more subtle, unhealthy relationship. It’s harder for people to spot that actually this is a relationship that’s not making them happy and is not serving them well.
So when people can start to spot the signs of what is not healthy, they can start to really identify what would a loving relationship look like and what would truly make them happy. What kind of partner do they really want? Even if it’s so unfamiliar to them, even if they’ve never had a relationship like that before, they may just see their friends or other people being able to establish very healthy relationships and long lasting relationships. But this concept might be so alien to the person that they may not even be able to imagine themselves going for a relationship like this.
So I help people raise their standards of what they’re looking for and to only accept a loving relationship where their emotions are being respected and they’re being cared for and that their partner truly loves and cares about them. And if they’re not going to be able to find that, I helped someone be comfortable with staying single until they can actually find that and being very happy, being single rather than desperately chasing love and looking for love in the wrong direction.
I’ve worked with many clients who have the issue of going for unavailable partners or unhealthy relationships. One example is a client that I’ve worked with for quite a long time and he was quite obsessed with beauty and going for a lot of models. And his self-esteem was kind of validated by going for these gorgeous girls, and he took a lot of pride, and he really enjoyed being able to date beautiful women, but actually, they are quite unavailable to him. They didn’t consider his emotional needs. They didn’t consider his emotions at all. And actually these women were also quite damaged. They had troubled pasts, and he liked to play helper to these women. So it was kind of a compulsive caregiving type of attraction. He would always try to fix these women. They were absolutely stunning, but quite broken on the inside and perhaps needed to do a lot of work on themselves. And the relationships would end up being quite dysfunctional. He would feel very alone in the relationships. He would try very, very hard and feel he wasn’t receiving the same mutual respect and love back. And he’d desperately just wanted to be loved. However, he wasn’t going for women who were eligible for him or available to him. And unfortunately this caused him a lot of unhappiness. But we worked together for quite a long time.
I would say that he was in treatment for a year in total, and initially, I just advised him to step back from relationships. Stop dating altogether. We talked a lot about his cycles and what type of partners would really make him happy. And then he started to date people not based on their looks. Yes, he was still physically attracted to them, but this was not the first thing that he was looking for. He was actually looking for people who had the same interest in him, and he was very intelligent guy. So he decided that actually, it was very important that the woman he would date would also be someone who was quite intellectual. And he started to enjoy his dating life a little bit more and eventually found a partner who was very available who actually was able to read and understand and recognize his emotions and reply to his messages, picked up the phone, and there was a lot of functioning.
The way he functioned in this relationship was no longer unhealthy or dysfunctional. He had a lot of chaotic rouse in his last relationship, and this relationship was a lot more calm. Initially, this was something that he found very difficult to go for it because when he would go for available partners, he would find it quite boring. So we had to do a lot of work in relation to how he regulates his emotions or how he deals with emotions such as boredom for him to be able to enjoy being in a relationship that was a lot more calm and less dramatic.
So if you do want some advice about this topic and you really want to try and break out of the cycle of going for unhealthy partners, you might want to start by having a consultation with one of our therapists at Private Therapy Clinic. There’s no obligation to participate in therapy or anything like that, but you can get in touch and have an initial chat in confidence about your situation. Just ask a few questions and get a little bit of advice, and you may or may not decide to work on this issue at that point, but you will get a little bit of insight into where this problem has come from in the first place.
As I’ve said before, the clues are in your past. And this is something that at some point in your life you might want to try to break the cycle. It is possible. If you’re someone who’s attracted or drawn to unhealthy relationships, you can break the cycle, but it takes an awful lot of work and restructuring and the way that you deal with your emotions and in terms of what you’ll actually accept from a partner. You do have to change a lot of your behavior in terms of your relationships, and also probably look at your beliefs about relationships as well. So hope you find this video helpful. And if you’ve got any questions at all, you can get in touch.