Some patterns are good ones to establish (like signing up for Saturday morning spin classes), while others are... well, not so good for us (like Saturday morning hangovers). And then there are the ones that tend to impact people’s lives like no other — such as falling into the habit of dating the same person over and over again without really realizing it.
Of course, he or she always has a different name (and probably a different job) than the last person you dated. And each new love interest may even look slightly different from all the others you’ve dated in the past, but he or she always seems to come with the same immaturity issues and/or cheating tendencies as your previous exes did, too.
If you have difficulty with being able to tell the keepers from the ones who should move along and date other people, you’re not alone. Here are a few reasons why you may have been missing the bull’s eye lately in the relationship department — and what you can do to make things right going forward.
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Reason #1: You have a skewed belief system about love and relationships
“Relationships are places of habit and familiarity, so we choose people who feel familiar and reinforce our hypotheses about ourselves and love,” says Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist in California. “If you believe everyone you date is going to be unfaithful, not surprisingly, there is a greater probability of you choosing that stylistic type of partner.”
How to break the habit: Date beyond your usual type
Dr. Ramani first recommends looking for patterns in your past relationships. Are there lots of partners in your romantic past that reinforced the negative stereotypes you believe about their entire gender? Next, try looking at the connection between your early family life and your dating history (e.g., you had a parent who cheated, and now you always date people who also end up cheating on you, etc.). Then finally, move on to the fun part: “go on lots of dates,” says Dr. Ramani. “Have opposite-sex friends; date beyond your usual type. Breaking a cycle and instigating personal growth often initially generates discomfort, but that’s OK, because that’s when the good stuff also starts to happen.”
Reason #2: You’re into rescuing people, including your dates
This repetitive dating disorder can sometimes be more prominently seen in men’s relationship behavior than it usually is in women, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless. The “rescuer” typically thinks a potential mate is only desirable if that person also needs to be saved from financial woes, family drama, or similarly significant setbacks in his or her life.
How to break the habit: Resist the urge to “fix” another person
Having an “ah-ha” moment of clarity can strike at any time, but you can speed up the process by acknowledging your issue and taking steps to change things going forward. “I often went for needy, sexy women who were struggling with emotional, family or financial issues, and then I’d set myself up as a kind of ‘white knight’ who could ‘solve’ all their problems,” says author Van Wallach. “The relationship would revolve around the woman’s issues… rather than an equal partnership.” After dating a woman with massive, relationship-dominating issues (including an ailing parent and job difficulties), Wallach finally decided that enough was enough. He’s now in a more balanced relationship that’s been going strong for almost five years.
Reason #3: You think you can’t do any better in the dating department
Stephanie Branson* had a tendency to date “bad boys” — i.e., selfish jerks — who didn’t treat her right. Luckily, a caring boss took her aside for a long talk about it. “My main takeaway from [that] conversation…is that oftentimes, the person going back to the ‘bad boy’ doesn’t have enough self-esteem to think that [she] deserves or can even get someone better,” says Branson. “I realized and acknowledged that I do deserve better, and I’m not going to settle until I find it.”
How to break the habit: Know who you are and accept that you’re worthy of real love
Branson was fortunate enough to have a friend that helped her realize she’s worth more than the mid-grade fuel she was settling for, and that it was time for her to move onto premium, so to speak. But the good news is that you don’t need anyone to tell you that; all you have to do is look in the mirror!
Reason #4: You’re used to attracting nothing but jerks
Perhaps you keep dating the same type of person over and over again because that’s who keeps chasing you romantically. But the truth is, we all end up attracting a particular type of person each and every day based on the overall energy we give off to others. So, you might find yourself dating anyone who’s drawn toward you rather than the kind of person you really want to date.
How to break the habit: Change the way you present yourself to others, especially in public
Life management expert Kimberly Friedmutter says that if you’re not attracting the right person, it’s time for you to change your energy. Here’s an example: Friedmutter notes that online, you’re going to attract (or repel) a certain type of person depending on the photos you post and what information you choose to reveal about yourself. (In other words, think twice before posting your bikini photos from vacation or choosing a username like “Ready2BAHusband.”) “Until you consciously look at who you are attracting and take deliberate steps to shift [other people’s] perceptions, the same type of people will continue to arrive as potential mates,” says Friedmutter. “People are attractors and receptors that constantly pick up signals, and just like a beacon, they head straight for whatever’s projecting a light!”
Reason #5: Your ideal partner could be one of the characters in a fairy tale
You only date men who are at least six feet tall, are independently wealthy, and have abs for days — no exceptions. Or maybe you’re looking for a child-free woman who loves big, slobbery dogs and works out every day of the week. And while there’s no harm in wanting your Mr. or Ms. Right to be part of the limited-edition “Perfect Partner” collection, strict adherence to such rules might mean that you’re missing out on a good catch without realizing it.
How to break the habit: Eliminate anything that isn’t a deal-breaker from your list of dating criteria
When you’re looking for potential mates, “be sure your expectations are realistic,” advises dating and relationship coach Rosalind Sedacca, author of 99 Things Women Wish They Knew Before Dating After 40, 50, & Yes, 60!. She adds that coming into the dating game with a sense of flexibility, objectivity and overall fairness can help you meet the right partner and build a loving, long-term relationship together.
*Name has been changed to protect this person’s privacy.
Dana Robinson is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. Check her out at Dana-Robinson.com or follow her on Twitter: @DanaRobinSays.