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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again

The title of this blog post could easily have been "Falling In Love with Ms. Wrong Over and Over Again."

Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again

A Recurring Pattern of Choosing "Mr Wrong" or "Ms. Wrong"
Whether you are a heterosexual man or woman, bisexual, or gay, the pattern is often the same: You leave a relationship where you feel you've been mistreated (or that person leaves you). You vow not to get into another relationship like that again.

Some time goes by. Then, you meet someone new and it's love at first sight again. You're "head over heels" about this person. You go out for a while. Everything seems wonderful at first. Then, gradually, over time, the same pattern emerges.

Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again

After a while, you find yourself wondering how you ended up choosing someone with the same problems as the last person. The relationship ends. You feel disappointed in yourself and very reluctant to meet someone new. After that, you take some time to yourself. Then, you meet someone new that you think is wonderful, and the pattern begins again.

It's not unusual for men and women to begin psychotherapy to find out why they keep falling in love with people who are not right for them. Usually, people come to therapy after they've gone through several cycles of the pattern that I described above. At that point, many people don't trust themselves to enter into another relationship because they're afraid that it will be another disaster. The problem is that they don't want to be alone either, so they're stuck between wanting to have someone special in their lives and being too afraid to open their hearts again.

Why Do People Keep Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" or "Ms. Wrong"?
Choosing a partner can be complicated, especially if you grew up in a dysfunctional family. There are so many unconscious feelings that are operating just under the surface when you feel attracted to someone. Often, these unconscious feelings affect your ability to choose someone who is right for you. If you have a pattern of choosing people who are wrong for you, you're probably repeating old patterns from your family of origin without even realizing it.

The following vignette which, as always, is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality, illustrates how someone continues to repeat the same pattern of falling in love with people who are wrong for her:

Marla:
When Marla began psychotherapy, she had just gone through the most painful breakup of her life. She met Neil at a friend's party. She noticed him immediately from across the room and he was already looking at her. She felt an instant "rush" and attraction before she even talked to him. They began dating shortly afterwards, and Marla fell in love with Neil very quickly. She felt that he was so kind and considerate, so much nicer than any man she had ever been in a relationship with before. All the other men in her life had cheated on her and those relationships ended in disaster.

Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again

She felt this relationship was different. This time, Marla felt that she had met "Mr. Right." Neil was so sensitive to her needs, so attentive to her, not like the other narcissistic men she had been with before who cheated on her. She and Neil also had similar values, and sex between them was very passionate.

Within a couple of months, Neil moved in with her. She said they were both very excited about taking their relationship to the next level. Everything was wonderful at first, according to Marla. They spent all of their free time together and had lots of fun. She had never felt so loved before.

Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again

Then, suddenly, things changed: Neil began spending a lot of time at the office. He said he had critical deadlines that he had to meet. Marla was very understanding at first. But when Neil said he had to start working weekends too, Marla was disappointed because they were hardly spending any time together any more. Even when Neil was home, he was tired, irritable and emotionally distant. He blamed it on his work. Marla missed being close to Neil and the good times they had together.

Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again

One day, Marla tried reaching Neil on his cellphone on a Saturday afternoon when he said he was at work. The call went directly to voicemail, so she tried him at his work number. But he didn't answer that phone either, and that call went to voicemail too. Since the office was not far from their apartment, she decided to go there to surprise him with a picnic basket for lunch. She missed him and she thought it would be a good way for them to spend some time together for an hour or so. But when she got to the office, the security guard told her that no one had gone up to Neil's floor all day. Marla thought there must be some mistake, so the security guard accompanied her to the floor and she saw for herself that the office was locked and lights were out.

Marla walked home slowly, feeling dejected and with a growing sense of unease. She tried Neil a few more times on his cellphone, but her calls continued to go to voicemail. She waited for Neil to come home that night. When he got home, he seemed very preoccupied and emotionally distant. He said he was tired and just wanted to go to sleep.

Marla wasn't sure how to talk to him about the fact that she went to his office and he wasn't there. But she summoned her courage and broached the subject with him. Neil had his back turned towards her at first, but when he heard her words, he whirled around and began shouting at her, "Are you checking up on me!?!"

Marla was very startled by his reaction. She had never seen Neil lose his temper. Before she knew it, she was on the defensive, trying to reassure Neil that she was not checking up on him, that she had only gone to his office to surprise him with a picnic lunch. But he was so angry that he refused to talk or even listen to her. He gathered a few articles of clothing in a hurry and stormed out of the apartment, leaving Marla in tears. He didn't even tell her where he was going or when he would be back.

Marla's head was spinning. She couldn't understand what had just happened. Then, she noticed that Neil had left his cellphone behind. Part of her didn't want to invade Neil's privacy by looking at his phone, but a bigger part of her wanted some answers. So, she looked at the phone and, to her shock and dismay, she found several sexually explicit text messages from another woman and Neil's equally explicit responses to this woman.

Marla felt like she could hardly breathe, but she felt determined now. After she read the text messages, she decided to check his email. She had never known before that his email was password protected. After a few tries, she figured out the password and got into Neil's account. She was heart broken to find dozens of sexually explicit emails to and from several other women, including nude photos of these women and emails making arrangements to meet at hotels during the same times that he had told Marla that he was at work.

All Marla could think at that time was, "Not again. I can't believe this is happening to me again." Every other man that she had ever dated cheated on her. It was the same pattern over and over again. In the past, there were some obvious signs that these other men were "ladies' men." Marla thought she could change each one of them. But it never worked. After several experiences like this, whenever she met a man where there were obvious signs that he cheated, she stayed away. But she thought Neil was different. He had been so kind and attentive to her. She felt like she was in a nightmare and kept hoping she would wake up.

All that night, Marla cried and tossed and turned. She couldn't sleep. She couldn't believe that Neil turned out to be like her other boyfriends. And the worst part was that all of them were just like her father. When she was growing up, she vowed to herself that she would never be like her mother, who passively put up with the father's numerous affairs. But here she was again, back in the same situation.

When Neil came back the next night, Marla felt desperate to talk to him. Even though her rational mind knew that he was cheating on her, she still hoped that he would say something that would make all of this go away. But Neil behaved as if he was the one who was betrayed. He said he could never forgive her for invading his privacy and he was through with her. Once again, Marla found herself on the defensive. She knew that she shouldn't have looked at Neil's text messages and his emails and she acknowledged this to him, but she felt that he also owed her a big explanation about his behavior. Neil refused to talk to her. He just gathered more things and, despite Marla's pleading with him, he left again.

Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again

When Marla came home from work the next day, all of Neil's things were gone. It was obvious that he came during the day while she was out and took all of his belongings. He didn't even leave a note to say good bye. All he left was the apartment key on Marla's dresser. There was no other sign of him in the apartment. It was as if he had never been there. He never returned any of her calls. She waited for him outside his office building, but she never saw him. A couple of weeks later, when she tried to reach him on his cellphone, she got a message that the number was disconnected. And she never heard from him again. When she phoned the friend who had the party where she met Neil, her friend was very sympathetic, but she told Marla that she didn't know Neil well, she had not heard from him since that party, and she didn't know his whereabouts. When Marla called his friends and family, she was shocked that all of them said that they didn't know where he was.

By the time Marla came to therapy to sort everything out, she was at a very low point. She told me that she had gone through bad breakups before, but this was the worst by far. She just couldn't believe this was happening. She also couldn't understand how Neil went from being so kind and loving towards her to cheating on her and freezing her out of his life. She came away feeling that, since she had been in so many relationships where men cheated on her, somehow, it must be her fault. She thought, "Maybe I'm doing something that causes men to cheat on me."

With the help of once-a-week psychotherapy and the emotional support of her friends, Marla began picking up the pieces of her life again. Over time, she realized that she had not done anything to actively cause Neil or the other men to be unfaithful to her. She began to realize that, even though she never wanted to be with a man like her father, unconsciously, she kept choosing the same "Mr. Wrong" who was so much like her father.

It was true that, by the time she met Neil, she had gotten better at not choosing men who were obvious "ladies' men." But her unconsicous mind could still get attracted to a man from across the room who was a not-so-obvious "ladie's man."

This is an interesting phenomenon that occurs to many people with the unconscious mind. It's not only about infidelity. Instead of infidelity, you could also see this same unconscious process happen with regard to alcoholism, domestic violence, people who have problems making a commitment, and so on. It doesn't matter what the particular issue is, the unconscious mind often works in the same way to cause you to feel instantly attracted to "Mr. Wrong" or "Ms. Wrong."

How Does the Unconscious Mind Keep Choosing "Mr. Wrong" or "Ms. Wrong" Over and Over Again?
You might ask, "How could the unconscious mind know, without even talking to someone, that you're choosing the same type of person?" I don't think anyone knows for sure. But I've seen it happen countless times. Somehow, the unconscious mind picks up the nonverbal signals. Some people call it "a vibe." Whatever you call it, it's a common occurrence.

In Marla's case, at that point in her life, if her unconscious mind could talk, it would have said, "There he is! I'm really drawn to him. I must meet him. This time it'll be different. I'll change him." But, more often than not, the person in Marla's shoes doesn't change someone like Neil. What usually happens is that things seem wonderful at first. That heady in love feeling can sometimes cause us to lose our sense of discernment and good judgment. Also, people who engage in infidelity are often good at hiding what they do. Maybe they'll even be faithful for a while but, sooner or later, if they don't get psychological help, they usually go back to their old ways.

It's not that they're "bad people"--they're usually repeating their own old unconscious patterns too. So, the two of you come together in such a way that your unconscious patterns mesh in a dysfunctional way.  It took a while before Marla was able to feel emotionally safe enough to start dating again. We did a lot of family of origin work, and Marla learned to make the emotional connection between 1) her childhood trauma of being with a father who was usually unfaithful and often seemed on the verge of leaving the family for another woman, and 2) the unfaithful men that Marla was choosing as partners who engaged in the same patterns as her father.

Marla also needed to do a fair amount of grief work to work through her childhood trauma related to her father so that she wouldn't continue to repeat this pattern in her adult life.

We also spent a lot of time exploring her pattern of falling in love with "Mr. Wrong." It was a gradual process. She learned to take her time to get to know new men in her life. In addition to seeing the problem signs with new people, she also learned to recognize her own internal cues, especially if she felt that someone was immediately very compelling to her when she first met him. At first, she was afraid that she would be relegated to having only "dull" relationships because the heady feeling was missing. But, gradually, she learned not to go for the big, immediate emotional "rush." She learned to get to know men over time and not to get into a committed relationship before she knew a man well.

When she finally met a new man that she really liked, she was a little disappointed at first that she was not "head over heels" immediately. She missed that feeling. But she also knew that the immediate "head over heels" feeling had gotten her into trouble every single time. As she got to know this new man, Steven, her feelings for him deepened over time. By the time, they decided to move in together a year later, she experienced a deep, mature love that she had never felt before. She also felt confident that Steven was someone that she could trust and, over time, this turned out to be true.

If you find yourself continually choosing partners who are not right for you and you don't understand why this continues to happen over and over again, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist who has experience in this area.

It is possible to make healthier relationship choices for yourself if you are committed to doing the work in psychotherapy.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and EMDR therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.





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