6 Reasons People Fall Into Unhealthy Love Patterns — And How They Can Be Broken

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man and woman in tense silence

Have you struggled to find lasting love because you seem to be fall into the same patterns with all the wrong people? Whether it’s an attraction to unavailable partners, narcissists, non-committal partners, or verbally and emotionally abusive partners, your unhealthy love patterns have you struggling to create the relationships you want — and need.

Finding yourself repeating relationship and love patterns with the wrong people can feel heartbreaking, like there is something wrong with you, and that you’re somehow destined to keep repeating this pattern. Why would you choose someone who would be mean to you, or harm you?

Once you understand the real reason you’re stuck in such an unhealthy love pattern, you can take a new approach to finding what you want, one where you don’t just rely on chemistry and attraction alone.

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Here are six things to remember if you want to break an unhealthy love pattern

1. You aren’t broken

Discovering that you’re stuck in an unhealthy love pattern may make you feel like you’re somehow broken. We can assure you that you’re not. As a matter of fact, the first step to breaking this cycle is to identify your unhealthy pattern, as well as its root cause.

Begin the process by examining the through line in your romantic relationships and looking for patterns similar to your family of origin. Can you identify the common denominator in all of your relationships?

While it may seem like you struggle more than your friends and family members, everyone suffers from a version of this dilemma. The need to heal the relationship with your parents through your romantic partnership is universal. It’s part of the human condition.

Many people grew up in a situation where healthy love was not modeled, so they don’t have an effective guidance system to show them how to create the love they desire. On some level, every person is not loved exactly as they desired in their family of origin.

This pattern doesn’t mean you’re broken, it simply means you’re human.

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2. Your love imprint might be defective

Your Love Imprint is the subconscious program you have for love and intimate relationships. It includes your limiting beliefs, your mental/emotional patterns, and your behavioral strategies for giving and receiving love. It’s formed in your family of origin and drives your choices in your romantic relationships.

When you’re an infant you have two emotional needs that must be met for you to survive and thrive in the world. You need to feel loved and safe. Your need for love and safety in your early childhood sets the coordinates of Your Love Imprint. You can think of it as your own personal GPS for love.

As a child, in order to get your needs met, you’ll take on any belief, behavior, or strategy necessary. For example, you may have learned in your childhood that you were more likely to feel loved and safe if you were quiet and didn’t speak up about your needs, that it was safer to sacrifice yourself than it was to get your emotional needs met.

Or you may have learned that love and rejection were connected. If your parents were incapable of accepting you for who you are, you may believe that you aren’t worth loving. The rejection you felt from two of the most important people in your life is intertwined with the need for love and acceptance.

This childhood wound significantly impacts how you interact with others, and also determines who you find attractive as an adult. The strategies you used to cope in your childhood become the strategies you use in your intimate relationships.

Ultimately, you may initially be attracted to people because they match your childhood wounds, and you end up repeating the same unhealthy pattern over and over again.

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3. You’re attracted to people because they feel familiar

When you’re attracted to someone who fits the wounding pattern from your childhood, that’s a love imprint match — your subconscious mind is highlighting certain characteristics as feeling familiar and you interpret this signal of familiarity as attraction and chemistry.

Just as you have a physical homeostasis, you also have a behavioral one. Your body’s temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate need to stay within a narrow range for you to stay alive. The same feels true of your behavior. You could think of it as your relationship comfort zone.

Your subconscious mind recognizes a match to your childhood wounds and highlights them for you. It’s as if a signal goes off in your mind and body saying, “This is familiar! This is familiar!” Unfortunately, your subconscious cannot tell you if familiar is good or bad because its job is to remain aligned with the relationship homeostasis of Your Love Imprint.

This causes confusion because the “This is familiar!” signal is a warning from your subconscious that this person matches your childhood wounding. Your body is producing adrenaline, increasing your heart rate, and making your breath shallow in response to the perceived threat. You’ve been misinterpreting those signals as chemistry, attraction, and love.

The attraction is so intoxicating and strong because your subconscious is attempting to warn you. You’ve misinterpreted a fear response to mean excitement.

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4. Your fear/excitement trigger needs to be re-calibrated

The first step to changing this pattern is to avoid potential partners who trigger this “danger/excitement” feeling. Rather than dive in headfirst when you experience this familiar signal, slow down and use caution. Start recognizing what you’ve believed to be chemistry is actually fear.

If you were to describe what love feels like to you, your description probably includes feeling off-balance, having obsessive thoughts, butterflies in your stomach, or inability to control your impulses. These are symptoms of a fight/flight response, not love and acceptance.

When you’re attracted to people who don't get you the love you want, you need to recalibrate how you think about attraction. Recognize the fear response attached to Your Love Imprint and avoid getting intimate with people who trigger those familiar feelings.

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5. You choose your partners based only on a feeling

When you’re caught in an unhealthy love pattern, you’re putting too much emphasis on your feelings while ignoring potential issues. Attraction is important for love to last, but it isn’t the only ingredient. Putting too much importance on chemistry can cause you to miss the red flags right in front of you.

Right now, you are attracted to the wrong people because they are familiar to you. If someone kind, sweet and emotionally available asked you out you would likely turn them down because they wouldn’t be charged for you like the other people you’re typically attracted to.

You have yet to experience being loved by a supportive nurturing partner who cherishes and values you. Or what it would feel like to be with someone who is curious about you and your feelings and who won’t allow you to go into sacrifice.

For you to find a kind person attractive, you’ll first have to change your relationship with yourself in order to recalibrate your internal GPS for love.

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6. You seek love in the wrong places

If you were to meet a loving, nurturing person who was crazy about you, you would reject their love because it wouldn’t match your internal image of yourself.

Notice if you have a critical inner voice, constantly criticizing you or telling you that you’re not worthy. Is it your voice or is it one of your parents’? It’s common to take on the stories your parents tell you about yourself as true, even when it isn’t to your benefit to do so.

Another reason you feel a strong attraction to the wrong people is that it feels familiar to the way you treat yourself. You’re attracted to unavailable partners because they match your subconscious belief system.

It’s important for you to begin a practice of self-love. One of the first steps is to start speaking up for your wants and needs, as well as setting and keeping clear boundaries. Treating yourself respectfully will allow you to be attracted to someone who treats you with respect.

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How to develop self-esteem and self-love 

A lack of self-respect causes you to tolerate people who don’t treat you with respect and deep-down hope that they will change for you. You end up doing things for others and wishing you’d have said “No” instead. Or maybe you find yourself apologizing for your behavior when there is nothing to apologize for.

Changing this pattern begins by making agreements with yourself and sticking to them. Instead of dwelling on the people who have mistreated you, decide today you’ll treat yourself with loving kindness — no matter what. Even on your worst day, decide you’ll find compassion for yourself.

Change your inner dialog from beating yourself up and internalizing your parent’s voice to one that is supportive, kind, and loving. You can become your own best friend, by saying nice things to yourself about yourself.

It’s time to forgive the little child inside of you who was doing the best they could. Find compassion for all that you went through as a little child, and now as an adult, you can make better choices because you have more resources.

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Don’t let a stranger define your lovability

You’re the only one responsible for your lovability. Treat yourself with love and compassion. Focus on healing the wounds of Your Love Imprint so that you can find a better caliber of person attractive.

Wishing and hoping that someone will prove that you’re lovable gives all your power away and leaves you feeling insecure and full of regret. No one can give you love. You share the love you already have within yourself with another. Focus on growing the love you have for yourself before looking for someone to partner up with.

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Orna and Matthew Walters are soulmate coaches who have been featured guest experts on Bravo’s The Millionaire Matchmaker. Their dating strategies report, The 7 Steps To Soulmating is available via their website.

This article was originally published at Creating Love On Purpose. Reprinted with permission from the author.