NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Choosing Healthier Romantic Relationships

One of the main reasons why people come to therapy is to learn to choose healthier romantic relationships. This usually follows a long pattern of choosing emotionally unhealthy relationships where there has been hurt, anger, disappointment and, at times, abuse (see my article:  Are You Attracted to People Who Hurt You?).

Choosing Healthier Romantic Relationships

Confusing Sexual Attraction With Love 
There are many reasons why people develop a pattern of choosing unhealthy relationships.  Most of the time, these choices are unconscious so they are out of people's awareness.

One reason, as I mentioned in an earlier article, Relationships: Confusing Sexual Attraction With Love, is that people make decisions about relationships based on sexual attraction because they confuse this with love.

Falling In Love With Love
At the beginning of a relationship confusing sexual attraction with love often leads to confusing reality with fantasy as people fill in the gaps of what they don't know with what they think they know about a new romantic interest (see my articles:  Relationships: Falling In Love With Love and Are You In Love With Him or Your Fantasy of Him?)

What If You're Only Attracted to People Who Aren't Good For You?
This is a common problem.

What If You're Only Attracted to People Who Aren't Good for You?

Romantic attractions are complex phenomena that are based on unconscious patterns--whether they lead to healthy relationships or not.

All of us, to a greater or lesser degree, are attracted to people who remind us, on an unconscious level, of our earliest relationships with our parents.

People who were lucky enough to have grown up in emotionally healthy families are usually less willing to put up with unhealthy relationships because these patterns are unfamiliar to them.

If they do get into an a relationship with someone who isn't good for them, they're less likely to stay in it because they're aware that it's not good for them and they don't want it.

For people who were not fortunate enough to grow up in a healthy family, they're more likely to be drawn to romantic partners who will repeat similar patterns to the ones that they experienced in their early family relationships.

Choosing Unhealthy Relationships Without Being Aware of It

As I mentioned, for most people this is an unconscious process.

Becoming aware that this is your pattern is the first step.

The next step is changing this pattern in therapy so you don't continue to choose unhealthy relationships.

But many people despair that they'll either continue choosing unhealthy relationships, based on their attractions, or they fear that they'll have to settle for someone that they're not attracted to at all.

Given this perspective, people who make unhealthy choices in relationships often feel pessimistic about changing this pattern.

From Unhealthy to Healthy Relationships:  Developing an Attraction Over Time
Very often, people who become instantly attracted to someone who isn't good for them do so based on an instant attraction and fantasy of who that person is.

I don't know how many times I've heard clients in my psychotherapy private practice, who have this problem, tell me that they always seem to choose the one person in a crowded room who will eventually make them unhappy.

On the face of it, this seems strange:  How can this keep happening?

As I mentioned, attraction is a complex phenomena but, on an unconscious level, we're constantly picking up information about other people without even realizing it.  Some people think of this as "picking up a vibe."  So, there can be 100 people at a party and the person who keeps repeating the same pattern of choosing someone who is unhealthy for them will unconsciously find that person in the crowd.

This is why I usually tell clients to question overpowering instant attractions where they don't really know the person that they're attracted to.  These kinds of instant attractions, where people often feel bowled over by a new person, usually has the seeds of dysfunction.

This is why it's so important, if you're interested in getting into a healthy relationship, that you take things slowly and take the time to get to know the person.

Contrary to what many people think, attractions can develop over time as you get to know someone.  These attractions, which aren't based on fantasy or unconscious unhealthy choices, are more likely to lead to a healthy relationship than the overwhelming instant attraction.

For people who grew up with a lot of "drama" in their family this can sound boring.  They're used to high highs and low lows, so that if things are going on an even keel, they feel something is wrong because they're "hooked" on drama (see my article:  Hooked on Drama: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster).

Before they can get "unhooked" from dramatic and dysfunctional relationships, they usually need to work through a history of unresolved family trauma that is at the heart of these patterns of choosing romantic relationships.

From Unhealthy to Healthy Relationships:  Developing an Attraction Over Time

Attractions that develop over time are usually based on things that are more substantial than physical attraction.  Sexual chemistry can and does develop over time.

Becoming Emotionally Healthy Makes Dysfunctional Relationships Less Attractive
One of the problems for people who choose unhealthy, dysfunctional relationships is not only that they have an attraction for them, but they have a high tolerance for emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse.

As people become healthier in therapy, these unhealthy relationships become unappealing.

The challenge is often sticking with therapy long enough to work through the early family trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have a pattern of choosing unhealthy relationships, you could benefit from overcoming this problem in therapy with a licensed mental health professional who has experience helping clients with this issue.

This is a common problem for many people who grew up in dysfunctional families, and change can be challenging.  But many people, who seek help in therapy, do change.

Rather than going through your life continuing to choose unhealthy relationships, you can get the help you need to begin choosing healthy loving relationships.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing 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 (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.