It may be difficult to define what is a healthy relationship, but we can usually see the signs of unhealthy relationships. They are the relationships that literally feel like they are sucking the life out of you, make you feel guilty and resentful, and don’t allow room for personal growth. Even when you realize you are in an unhealthy relationships, you somehow find yourself stuck. You might break off the current unhealthy relationship, but just enter into another toxic relationship with someone who refuses to commit, is abusive, or is controlling.
Why are you in this cycle of unhealthy relationships and how do you break it?
The Principle of “Like Attracts Like”
If you paid attention in physics class, you know that like attracts like. This isn’t just true of the laws of the universe, but also of our relationships. As Psychologist Dr. Margaret Paul says, we attract someone who is at the same level of emotional health.
Note that being on the same level of emotional health does NOT mean you will have the same personality characteristics. In fact, it often manifests in a way that appears like opposites – such as when a quite, shy person attracts a dominate mate. They appear to be opposites, but are mentally on the same plane.
Psychologist Dr. Amy Wood explains it as, “The wonderful thing about dating is that we attract what we need to work on in ourselves.” I’m not so sure I would describe this as “wonderful” since it means that an insecure person is going to be a magnet for people who are abusive, dominating, and degrading. However, it is wonderful in the sense that, once you realize what type of people you are attracting, you will be able to see what areas of yourself you need to grow in.
Take a Look At Your Part in the Unhealthy Relationships
The rule of Like Attracts Like holds true for all relationships (not just romantic ones), but no one wants to admit this. Admitting it means you have to take responsibility for your own emotional state, and not just the state of your partners. It is easier to blame your girlfriend or boyfriend for being controlling, selfish, or narcissistic rather than ask yourself, “Why do I always attract such jerks?”
You can’t change the people around you, but you can change yourself. As Pamela Harper rightly says of unhealthy marriages, “If you see your spouse as the only source of your ills, you miss the opportunity to change the only person you can change, which means you bring the same old you into the next relationship.”
Repetition Compulsion as a Cause of Unhealthy Relationships
In psychology, there is a term for people who are repeatedly drawn into bad relationships: repetition compulsion. Under this theory, a person “repeatedly repeats a traumatic event or its circumstances over and over again.” Basically, we take comfort in the familiar. So, if your mother and father were in a narcissistic relationship, you will be drawn into similar relationships. If your father constantly withheld love, you will be drawn to men who also don’t give you the love you need.
It isn’t that we enjoy repeating bad relationships. Freud’s theory was that repetition compulsion is an unconscious attempt to rewrite history. You enter into the bad relationship with the hopes that it will come out differently this time. The problem is that these scenarios don’t end up differently. They have the same painful outcomes.
If you’ve ever said of a bad relationship, “But he/she can change!”, then you might be in the repetition compulsion trap. Take a look at the common threads of your unhealthy relationships and whether these reflect events of your past.
How to Break the Cycle of Unhealthy Relationships
Ready to break the cycle of unhealthy relationships for good? Here are the first steps to get you on a path towards healthy, intradependent relationships.
Awareness is the first step
The first step to getting out of the cycle of unhealthy relationships is awareness. It isn’t easy to admit you are in an unhealthy relationship. Doing so means you’ve got to own up to your part in the relationships and ask yourself why you are constantly attracting the wrong type of person. As Dr. Wood says, “This kind of personal work is tough because it requires facing inadequacies, inner demons, and fears of being alone.”
Understand the Difference between Addiction and Love
According to Psychology Today, addiction and love produce similar responses in the brain. In studies where people were shown photos of their beloved, it activated the same regions which were activated in cocaine addicts craving their drug.
A healthy relationship is based on much more than the rush you get when you think about your love. It requires commitment, trust, and respect. So, you’ve really got to separate the rush you get with the reality of the relationship. When you start craving that person (like when you have a longing to call your ex), remind yourself that it is just a neuro-chemical response in your brain which is causing those feelings of “love.”
Take a Break
Relationships, even bad ones (or especially bad ones!) are addictive. The best way to beat an addiction is to get yourself away from your drug. After a breakup, cut off all ties with your ex, remove them from social media, delete them from your contacts, avoid going to places where you will see them. Over time, the “cravings” should subside. No matter how lonely you feel, don’t enter into another relationship because it will likely just follow the same cycle as your previous unhealthy relationship.
Have a Plan for the Break
It helps to have a set plan during the break from relationships. Otherwise, it will be too tempting to get into another relationship – and this one will likely just follow the same unhealthy pattern as before. Ideally, your plan should include more than a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and Law & Order reruns. Take that trip you’ve been wanting to go on for years, sign up for a class, join a social club… Keeping yourself busy not only distracts you from the loneliness you may feel, but also gives you an opportunity to improve yourself so you can start attracting the right type of person.
Get a Life!
Whether you are struggling to find a relationship, having intimacy problems, or stuck in unhealthy relationships, the best relationship advice is to get a life.
What is meant by “getting a life”? It simply means to do things that you find interesting or make you feel good. It might mean having a weekly movie night with your friends, or taking a painting class, or volunteering with a church group. You can’t rely on your relationship for your sole source of fulfillment in life.
When you have a full, active life, you build self-esteem. You find it easier to face and fix your inadequacies. You become a stronger person, and will start to attract people who also share this emotional state. Instead of unconsciously seeking out unhealthy relationships, you find yourself in a healthy relationship without even looking.
Need help attracting the right type of person? Download our free dating manual here.